TORONTO — Canadian funnyman Jonathan Torrens loves TV, but don’t try talking to him about the latest hit shows.
The Trailer Park Boys alum says he’s a little behind-the-times when it comes to mainstream faves, and prefers to wax nostalgic over such ’80s classics as Growing Pains, or the short-lived Chad Lowe comedy, Spencer.
“I was just telling somebody I recently discovered a show called ER,” Torrens says with mock seriousness. “I’m about 16 years behind everyone else but this (George) Clooney guy is very good.”
Perhaps it’s no surprise then that Torrens finds himself launching a show about the absurdities of TV on the retro digital channel TVTropolis, where he notes that decade-old series like Friends and Seinfeld can live on in eternity.
Featuring a mix of sketch material, streeters and comedic monologues, “TV’s JT” skewers the ludicrous stereotypes that have become commonplace on the dial — the evil twin, the renegade cop, the cutthroat reality show competitor.
Each half-hour episode lampoons a specific television genre, with the debut show focusing on reality TV and the second tackling crime procedurals. Torrens serves as the show’s creator, producer, writer, director and star, weaving in the interview, hosting and improv skills he honed on past shows.
“When I look back on my so-called career, so far it seems for whatever reason all the shows I’ve ended up doing are kind of hybrids,” Torrens says from Halifax, where TV’s JT is shot.
“The first show that I ever worked on was called Street Cents and it was kind of a host-driven studio show with sketch and in the States I did a show called the Joe Schmo Show which was like a reality show but fake and Trailer Park Boys is kind of a mock documentary. So to do any one of those things just isn’t as satisfying for me as getting a chance to do a little bit of all of them.”
At age 36, Torrens is already a veteran in the business, having started his career at age 15 with the CBC, where his early hosting skills were sharpened on the teen-focused shows Street Cents and Jonovision.
But early success in children’s television also threatened to typecast him, Torrens says, and so at age 30 he moved to the United States for about five years.
“It kind of helped to disappear for a few years and figure out what I wanted to do,” he says.
While in L.A., he worked at the Fox-owned network Fox Reality and went on several soul-crushing auditions for shows like Housebusters, in which a team of psychics, feng shui experts and interior designers would be dispatched to the home of someone with personal troubles.
“I got really good at saying, often in mid-audition, ’Are you sure this is a show?’ ” Torrens says. “I often didn’t get callbacks for things like that.”
“It’s astounding that I auditioned for a show called ’America’s Cutest Puppy,’ and found myself in that moment and time in my life thinking, ‘Why haven’t the puppy people called? Where are the puppy people?’ And then you kind of get out of it for a second and give your head a shake and think, ’What am I doing?’ Can you imagine saying, ”’Welcome to America’s Cutest Puppy,“ my name is Jonathan,’ week after week for a living? It would be soul-destroying. Cats, I could get behind.”
Torrens did find some success on the 2004 fake reality series, “The Joe Schmo Show,” in which actors were hired to portray stock reality show characters competing for a prize alongside a real, average, Joe. Torrens landed the role of Gerald “the gotta-be-gay-guy” on the show’s second season, loosely based on “The Bachelor,” but recalls a humiliating audition that cemented his gnawing feeling that he didn’t really belong in the bizarre world of Hollywood.
“I was waiting in the waiting room with three kind of ill-fitting-T-shirt-wearing, gym-handsome devils and the casting director comes out and looks at those three and goes, ’OK, hunk, hunk, hunk,’ ” he recalls.
“And she looks at me and goes, ’Um, gay guy and stalker.’ That’s who I was going to audition for.”
Soon, Torrens says he “couldn’t imagine a single job on TV that would be better than living in Nova Scotia,” so he returned home, and went on to craft a new identity for himself as J-Roc, the white gangsta rapper on “The Trailer Park Boys.”
He says his newest project is drawn from genuine affection for old TV series like “Three’s Company,” and “Family Ties.” Despite its occasionally biting tone, Torrens says his overall goal is to champion the best that television has to offer.
“So much of what’s on these days is kind of a smarmfest and mockery, that kind of ’Daily Show’ tone,” says Torrens, who co-wrote the series with his playwright sister, Jackie Torrens.
“To do a show about the nostalgic aspects of TV shows that I watched as a kid, it didn’t feel right to mock them and poke them with a stick. Some people deserve it, but the actual genre and the shows themselves I’m pretty fond of. Once we decided to embrace the cliches and celebrate them, then that made it really easy and fun.”