There aren’t that many Canadian celebrities that people get excited over, but George Stroumbouloupoulos is definitely one of them. A quick perusal of Twitter over the weekend showed a lot of Calgary love for the CBC host who was in town to emcee the CBC Culture Days concert. I was lucky enough to enjoy a lunch hour chat with Strombo – we discussed everything from veganism (we thoroughly enjoyed the curry soup at The Coup), to what’s currently on his playlist (Grizzly Bear) and where to get a great men’s haircut (ask for Ted at Brotherz Kutz in Forest Lawn). But the main conversation was all about what George knows best: culture and more specifically, Canadian culture. What you see is what you get with Strombo. He is exactly like he is on TV – straightforward, inquisitive, funny and just like your regular, everyday dude. Well, a pretty awesome dude at that. Here’s my go at interviewing the interviewer.
Q: What brings you to town?
A: I’m here to co-host Culture Days. There will be bands playing a free outdoor concert at Olympic Plaza – The Dudes, High Valley, Samantha Savage Smith. It’s going to be fun. I got into town last night so I could do the rehearsal a day early. I just wanted to enjoy the city today, walk around, eat here [The Coup on 17th Avenue], see my friends, and go to the Ship & Anchor.
Q: I was reading an article about Culture Days and it referred to you as “Canada’s Boyfriend.” What’s that like?
A: It’s insane. Look, I started it as a joke. I was on MuchMusic and I was so tired of talking about these asinine relationships with celebrities that I didn’t care about on any level. Something about Britney’s boyfriend came up and I was like, “I don’t give a shit.” So I went on the air and said, “I’m your boyfriend.” That’s it. I started doing it everyday and people were responding to it. It was funny that I went to CBC and continued to do it too.
Some guy wrote me a letter saying, “Don’t call yourself my boyfriend, because it confuses me.” So I was like “Aww, fuck it. I’m doing it everyday”. So that’s it, it started as a joke. But in a way, it’s my signal to the audience that I get it. I’m in on the joke. Like I know this is TV, we’re real people too and let’s have fun with it.
Q: You are like Canada’s boyfriend in some ways because you’re that “every” person that people can relate to.
A: Yah, I’m a regular dude. I’m a regular dude and I also happen to be single and straight which is why I can say it.
Q: So nobody is jealous that you’re being shared with the whole country?
A: No, I had a girlfriend. When I called myself “boyfriend” she didn’t like it. But y’know, it’s all just good fun.
Q: So the CBC is hosting the concert as part of Culture Days to promote Canadian culture. Why do you think that it’s important to celebrate Canadian culture and I guess Calgary culture in this context?
A: Well, I think we’re a nation of good storytellers and we should tell our own stories. Our stories are not just diverse, but they’re ever-changing. I think for a lot of people, their view of Canada is tied to an era, tied to a region and it’s generally pretty specific. I think we can celebrate all of it. One year it was in Toronto, one year it was in Vancouver, this year it’s in Calgary. So you can kinda show the rest of the country what’s going on and it’s a way to connect everybody. I believe that’s important, because if we don’t do it, who’s gonna do it? It’s our job at the CBC to go coast to coast to do this.
Calgary presents itself as a one-note city. It’s the power base, the oil, the prime minister and all that. But there’s so much more. So the rest of the country only sees the image that Calgary proper presents but if you come here, you will see that there’s so much more. It’s such a diverse place, it’s an incredibly artistic city which you never hear about. You never hear about it.
Q: C.I.A. hears about it.
A: You hear about it. But Calgary never presents it. Whenever it comes to Alberta culture, Calgary culture, it’s really just presented as one thing and there’s so much more going on. It’s a really cool place to be. So it’s our job, we should be doing this, we should be showing Canadians what we have going on here.
Q: You play an important role in Canadian culture too. How do you think George Stroumbouloupoulos Tonight adds to Canadian culture?
A: I think we totally play a role because there aren’t many shows like ours – an interview-based show, in primetime, on television, in Canada. There just aren’t that many. If fact I don’t think there are any. With my background, I’ve worked in sports, music, news talk radio and television so I’ve had a lot of different experiences. So if I talk about sports or music or film in this country, it’s not a second language to us. It’s our first language. I think because we have varied interests and we are passionate about it.
Q: So are you able to fit all those topics onto your show?
A: No, definitely not. But that’s why we use social media the way we do. We know the audience finds us in a lot of different ways. Some people watch the TV show, listen to the radio show and follow me online. So there’s overlap between all. There’s a lot of stuff that doesn’t fit on the show anymore so we put it online. It’s where the people are.
Q: What pressing topics have you been interested in covering on your show lately?
A: Well it’s been all about gay bullying and same-sex marriage. I’m open to debates and different opinions, but in this debate, there isn’t a valid opposition to gay marriage. There’s no opposition that’s valid in my opinion. Human rights – every citizen is entitled to the full rights as every other citizen. Full stop. So we’re strong on that.
Q: How do you think you can change perceptions on gay marriage and homosexuality?
I don’t think I can do that. There’s lots of people involved so we’re all working together. I think you take a strong position on this issue so the people who are watching you – who are 15 and gay – know that you’re there for them. That’s the first part. The other thing is to let people who aren’t supporting of this know that they are on the wrong side of history – I say this with respect. I’m not going to change people’s minds by saying, “Hey, you’re wrong.” But what I’m saying is that this is right and we’ll lead by example. You have the audience’s awareness and trust in your show – you just have to do that right, do right by them and do right for yourself. I get a lot of grief for it, but I don’t really give a fuck. You just have to be true to yourself in that respect.
Q: I agree – I find that you’re a trustworthy role model.
A: I’m honest, that’s it. Not everybody likes what I have to say. And not everything I say is right. Sometimes, I look back at shit I say on the air and I’m like, “Ugh, gawd.” I’m not an expert on everything, I’m just a person and I’m working on it. But I take the responsibility incredibly seriously. I don’t take myself seriously at all. That’s the switch. Take your job seriously, but not yourself.
Q: Last, but not least, what makes Calgary awesome?
A: What makes Calgary awesome is the people, but what makes Calgary interesting is that it’s a city that’s got to learn its identity. And its identity keeps changing. You can see that it’s a new city in a lot of ways. It’s a mono culture as it relates to a political system. You basically only elect one party ever. But you know there are a lot of people who don’t feel represented by that and a lot of people who do. That’s an interesting place to be as a culture when it is a behemoth economically because of oil, a flashpoint because of environmental concerns, and a defiant province in general. But you have all this going on and there’s going to be this subculture that simply doesn’t connect. That’s what makes it awesome is the fact that you have these two identities that have to find their way together. And that’s cool.