Degrassi Highs and lows

Degrassi Highs and lows
Pat Mastroianni (aka Joey Jeremiah) will always come back to his television alma mater

Leah Collins

Pat Joey Jeremiah Mastroianni

and Stefan Snake Brogren

John L Haar Theatre

Monday, 28 February at 6pm

As sure as your hand-me-down rabbit-eared television set can pick up the CBC, youve seen an episode of Degrassi.

Since Degrassi Junior High hit the air in 1986, youd be hard-pressed to find a young Canadian who couldnt warble a line of The Zit Remedys only hit single or admire the ever-changing height of Spikes signature coif. And with Degrassi: The Next Generation still going strong on CTV, several generations have now grown up with the shows pimples-and-all castsharing their stories of everything from anorexia to jizzing the bed.

But for actors like Pat Mastroianni, who is best known for his now ten-year tenure as the once fedora-wearing Joey Jeremiah (hes been with the series since 86 and is currently reprising his role on Degrassi: The Next Generation), being a part of such a pop touchstone is a part of his life that he cant let gono matter how trying the responsibility of being a Canadian icon of sorts is.

Ten years ago I didnt think Id be doing Degrassi in 2005; I just didnt see it. But I think a part of me has to do itbecause Ive grown up in television and because Ive been interviewed by people and looked up to by certain fans. Its a part of me.

Mastroiannialong with Stefan Snake Brogrenwill be sharing personal anecdotes, both about life on and after the Degrassi set, later this month at Grant MacEwan. Its a familiar role for Mastroianni whos been doing off-the-cuff Degrassi discussions on the speaker circuit since the early 90sdigging the chance to connect with fans. Its a real high to do this sort of thing live, he says. Its just a matter of talking about ourselves, and Ive been doing that for 20 years.

The two have been touring Canadian campuses over the past year and a half and have modelled their show after notorious Degrassi fan Kevin Smiths An Evening with Kevin Smith documentary series, after being impressed by Smiths fun and interactive speaking style.

Its a Q&A and its very relaxed, says Mastroianni of his show. Sometimes we go on for 45 minutes talking about Degrassi because these kids want to know what its like, some stories about behind the scenes and what happened when you did this or that. Really the audience dictates what we talk about for the two hours were up there.

While the talk is organized under the pretense of giving students a Degrassi Speaks-esque pep talk about the struggles of the post-university real world, Mastroianni suggests that the audience is usually more interested in digging up some dirt on the Degrassi stars: tales of backstage romance and what the stars have been up to since they graduated from their TV alma mater. As for the latter question, when Mastroianni wasnt doing gigs like the short-lived mid-90s series Liberty Street or CBCs Music Works, he was engaged in what he describes as a cool, manly job.

When Im not working on Degrassi, I work with my father with his construction company, driving a dump truck, driving a backhoe and a BobCat and working with the labourers on the job sites, and in the wintertime doing snow removal for my dadnot because I get a paycheque, but because I like doing it. Its such a rush getting out there and getting dirty and being part of a team and arriving somewhere and having to destroy something and rebuild it. Its a sense of accomplishment for me, because as an actor I enjoy creating and being artistic in that way, and to a certain degree being in the business with my father I get to do the same thing, he says.

As much as he likes the construction site, somehow Mastroianni always finds himself in Joey Jeremiahs shoes. Most notably, in 2000, he returned to the role for the Degrassi reunion special, an appearance that was supposed to be nothing more than a one-time deal.

But as the new series developed, the opportunity to become a regular character surfaced, and Mastroianni grabbed the chance to get back to his roots.

Ive always wanted to go back and do that stuff that we did in the 80s and 90s. I didnt quite have the skills to do the quality of work that I wanted to do. And here I was being given the chance to go back in time and relive a moment in my past that I really enjoyed doing and to play this character and to bring him full circle almost, to show him as an adult, and for myself, to show the industry that Im still deserving to be in this industry, that it wasnt a fluke.

There are worse things to be remembered for than being Joey Jeremiah, says Mastroianni, content to let the character be his legacy, his contribution to Canadian culture. But at the same time, he still realizes that hes clung to his famous alter ego for a longer time than most.

You know, I definitely feel like Ive milked the Joey Jeremiah character for all that hes worth, he laughs. I definitely feel like playing this character for ten seasons of television is a lot.

But Mastroianni isnt ready to hang up his fedora just yet. The Next Generation likely has just one season left (the cast is about to graduate, after all) and he intends to make the best of his time on set, if only to hopefully bring his character to a happy endingeven if the idea of such a thing happening seems a little un-Degrassi.

Joeys life is very much a disarray, he says, referring to the shows recent developments of trouble in Joeys business and personal life. I would like to see Joey get back on his feet again. … I think he deserves it. … Id like to see things come to a more positive ending for him, but not Hollywood, everythings-great ending, because thats not Degrassi, where everythings happy-happy. I dont want that, but I would like to leave the character with people saying, Hes going to be okay, because I want the young adults who are at university to understand that the next ten years are going to be pretty difficult and let them know that life will test them, he says.

I hope that by Joey coming around full circle and having more positive things happening to him, that it will inspire young people to say, Hey, if this guy can go through hell and back and keep a positive attitude and things are going better for him, then maybe thingsll go better for me in the future when things get tough.

And, just in case that argument for a happy ending doesnt work with next seasons writers, he adds, Besides, the fans feel they know us already because they feel theyve grown up with us. They would kind of root for us; they want to cheer us on.

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