Steven Kerzner may be the most famous TV performer you’ve never heard of. His hand has insulted some of the biggest pop stars in the world. Crouched just out of frame, he had a worm’s eye view of the heyday of Citytv and MuchMusic, and he tells Jesse all.

Episode Rundown

[00:00:21] “A man walked into my office with a satchel. We both knew what was inside the satchel. Inside the satchel was a sock. He never opened the satchel. If you are a Canadian of a certain vintage then you have spent a lot of time with this man. This man has spent a lot of time on the floor, crouching at the feet of celebrities, while his hand insulted them. His name is Steven Kerzner, you might know him better as Ed the Sock.” Jesse

[00:02:13] :Everybody knew what Citytv was which was the TV station that made it seem like, you to can get into the television business. You know it didn’t seem remote, and I say that in a good way. It didn’t seem remote, it didn’t seem elitist, it didn’t seem blonde hair/blue eyed across the board. It was someplace doing something completely different, which is something I’ve been doing running my cable station…I ran the smallest cable station in Toronto, it’s called Newton Cable. It doesn’t exist anymore. It was family owned, and I ran the programming and I did marketing and we had no money for anything. The owners would buy a couch and we would get the box from the couch, literally and we would use that to make a table for panel discussions. We would throw a cloth over it. So I determined because we had no money. If you are going to get good programming with no money, you do it on personalities. So the stranger or more odd or eccentric somebody was, the faster they got a show. And I had an entire program schedule of oddballs, and we just did things completely differently and the rest of the cable industry hated me, hated us.” Kerzner

“You were like Weird Al in UHF.” Jesse

“It was that for real. It really was and there wasn’t a day that went by that we, me and the guys and girls that we almost didn’t fall down laughing because the stuff was unbelievably funny and weird and we knew at the time to enjoy this moment because this kind of thing never going to live forever.” Kerzner

[00:03:59] “I had been doing political programming as me, there was a variety show that needed a co-host to help guide it along because the host was a brilliant funny but not really good at format, not really good at knowing what interviews had just run their course and needed someone to guide that format along…For one thing I wasn’t going to be a sidekick and for another thing I was doing this serious political shows. So I didn’t want to switch gears so I created Ed to be that co-host.” Kerzner

“And this was just your co-host is going to be a sock puppet.” Jesse

“This was a friend of mine and this was the least strange thing in his life. And the personality was based on two people he and I knew. The initial Ed personality was a merge of two people, two adults we’d been doing sort of lampoons of their personalities” Kerzner

“Were these famous people?” Jesse

“Oh no, not at all.” Kerzner

“Cause it seems like a type. It seems like a cigar chomping, Archie Bunker meets a Hollywood mogul.” Jesse

[00:05:22] “Initially Ed was named Ed because he was claiming to be Ed Asner( The man who did the voice of Carl from Up). The real Ed Asner for the Mary Tyler Moore Show as Lou Grant. And it just sort of took on it’s own life where it was fun and everyone enjoyed doing it…The very first Ed if you watch Ed’s stuff from early, even early City stuff to even the stuff that came five or six years later. The evolution in the character is fairly clear.” Kerzner

“How did Ed evolve? What was the character arc of Ed the Sock?” Jesse

“Well it was initially just insulting people. Doing semi Borscht belt stuff and just being a Don Rickles type. And grew to using that humour towards making a point about social issues and things like that. I remember in Season two of the City show. I decided, Marry With Children was on at the time which I loved but it had gone from a show that was a satire of the Cosby show and all that hypocrisy and bullshit especially now we know that. To a show that just sort of every week try to outgross itself and out shock value itself.” Kerzner

“It was bizarre actually. That show became abstract.” Jesse

“It was like sketches within a half hour that almost had the thinnest tissue of story just try to show sexual innuendo and gross out humour and I realize when you do something that’s based on that kind of shock you need to constantly increase that shock until you are past the point of peoples interest. And I didn’t want to do that.” Kerzner

“You just made me think of something just to interrupt you. Just stuck me like a thunderbolt, thinking back in that moment when Bill Cosby was everyones dad and Al Bundy was just like Fox schlock gross out. And look at today when Ed O’Neill is like so respectable like on a network sitcom and you feel really good about Ed O’Neill. And Cosby is Cosby now.” Jesse

“Well I hated Cosby at the time. I’ve always hated Cosby, I always thought he was condescending and patronizing and I’ve never liked Cosby. My wife loves Cosby, she used to love his stories about him and his brother Russell and stuff. But she was raised at Jane and Finch, this was an enviroment she was familiar with. For me it was like can you just get to the point. I was never a big fan of Cosby. Anyway I don’t want to go further gross out with Ed…So I remember the first episode, we did a thing about updating toys to make them more relevant. So we had the Fisher-Price US hospital and there was people outside who couldn’t afford to go in, like poor people and stuff like that. You had a nightstick, a police nightstick that was sprayed in the colours of the African flags to be more culturally sensitive while they are beating black people. City was not happy, cause all of sudden Ed using that comic licence, that bit to say something.” Kerzner

[00:08:36] Jesse again dating himself watched Fromage in high school.

“There’s message here in these music videos that people aren’t picking up on. People called it media literacy, pointing out what these images are really about and how horrible the messaging really was and using it to make a point.” Kerzner

“This is a question are there media critics in Canada and there used to be and they aren’t anymore. I never put Ed the sock on the list but I think I have to give Ed the Sock props. You were a media critic.” Jesse

[00:09:39] “If the machine wanted you to suck down Alanis Morissette then you are sucking down Alanis Morissette down all the time. It was jammed down your throat.” Jesse

“And you were told that this is good and you liked it. And let’s face it media voices are very persuasive because especially teenagers or younger audience but this is true of anybody. You don’t want to seem, when everybody says somethings good you don’t want to be the one who says it’s not good because then there attitude is well you simply don’t have any taste. And so when people on television telling you that this is the greatest thing, you want to agree with it because you don’t want to seem like you don’t have taste cause these tastemakers are telling you this is good.” Kerzner

[00:10:45] “Great kudos to CHUM Television because who today would allow that?” Kerzner

“Thinking back on that and it’s interesting to me to hear you say that you stepped in 93 and already had this big idea of CityTV. I actually in my head Ed is there with Steve Anthony and Monika Deol and Master T. There is like this weird moment where these, it looked kind of homemade and not everyone was super attractive. And there were still worthies like personalities that are kind of co-exist at this moment and it felt like, you hear people talk about it today still. Znaimer was shown the door apparently literally and everything got corporatized there. But there was heyday that people still talk about.” Jesse

[00:11:58] ” I really believe that retail television where you pull everything off the shelves at retail prices and put together a show is devoid of any inspiration. It’s antiseptic and it’s usually shit and it doesn’t really catch on anybody cause there is nothing there to hook them, it’s just teflon. Wherein at CHUM we would literally have an idea, grab a camera guy, go and shoot it, put it together. I did my own editing but other people would get an editor in their downtime whose yeah this is a cool project. Work on it and just present it, here’s a show.” Kerzner

[00:13:13] “I can’t say everyone was friends, that would be bullshit. But there was a sense, it was like high school in a sense except without so much of the drama and the angst. There were little cliques and so on but everyone knew everybody else. We all knew what we were doing and everybody felt like they were part of something. Like I don’t know if anyone today working in corporate tv feels like they are apart of something.” Kerzner

[00:14:07] “Fromage was a program and we are doing it again this year online at Metaleater.com. But it took music videos, usually the most popular videos of the year and deconstructed all the stupid, cheesy, you know obvious, pretentious things that are in these videos. The things that people at home were thinking and saying. Very few people on television did and sort of counted down to the worst transgressors. Initially it had been conceived as a program that was looking at only weird music videos that were never seen and then making fun of them. And my thought that was shooting fish in a barrel. Then the guy who produced fromage moved to Space and there was nobody to produce the show so it was just going to die. So this was 99, so my wife Liana and I said lets just do it. So we went and made it the millenium edition. The worst music videos of the 20th century and went through and dig up these videos. A lot of them were on three quarter inch tape which is an old format where the tape was falling apart. Oxide on arms and rashes from Mr Roboto from Styxs. And we put this hour long show together, completely on our own. Just the two of us and we handed in and they said

whats this?

I said it’s Fromage.

We thought we weren’t doing Fromage.

well here you go if you want to use it.

And they put it on and it did way better than any other previous Fromage did. And it became dollar for dollar their most successful in house production year after year, because we were getting numbers close to the Muchmusic video awards live broadcast. But costing nowhere near that. Plus they would run four hours of Fromage each year. And each year they add another hour so they run marathons…Which meant that they were running something that I’ve done three-four years ago and it was doing better than the stuff they were making now.” Kerzner

[00:16:34] “Absolutly he is (Moses Znaimer). And I’m far from a Moses psychofan. He and I had one really epic run in that went on for about ninety minutes to two hours once.” Kerzner

“What happened?” Jesse

“I think he wanted to bring me to heel was the nature. Moses had this thing that if he was rough on you and you snapped or bent or whatever you would be his vassal forever. However if you stood up to him in a reasoned and intelligent manner and showed passion for what you were doing and objected he left you alone. Because he’s realized ok here’s somebody who actually gives a shit. He had his visions of what Ed should be and I disagreed with him.” Kerzner

“What were his visions?” Jesse

“It was just some odd things like he said Ed should be promoting alternative lifestyles so every second show he should be in a dress. Yeah the face you are making was pretty much what I was making at the time. It was odd shit. And also Ed, this was when the show was still a talk show with a desk and couch. We abandoned that after the third season. He said Ed should be at the desk and the co-host should be on the couch. I said optically that doesn’t work, cause it’s a larges desk and a small puppet and then two giant, actual human beings on the couch its starts to make cartoony in ways I don’t want it to be…And he said our people can make it look good. And I said your people can’t affect relative sizes.” Kerzner

[00:19:00] “You still here things about the way he treated women?” Jese

“I never personally saw him mistreat a woman. Never personally saw that. I have a problem going on rumours because sometimes rumours build on rumours build on rumours. And it becomes a mystique. I don’t think Moses did a lot to dispel it. I don’t know how much he knew about it because he’s in one place and staff are in another. But this notion of Moses as a libertine when it came to sex and so on it was there. It as prevalent, it was a given in the way people spoke. But I never saw it, I never saw him treat women differently than he treated men. Certainly he promoted women into positions of authorities before other broadcasters did. So I have to question, I can’t believe that he only saw women as play things. He didn’t treat them that way.” Kerzner. Moses never did not have a bed in his office.

[00:20:26] This couch.

[00:21:00] “There is behaviour that is allowed in television that I just don’t understand. When I was working still in cable. When Newton cable was bought by Rogers and I went to work for them there was this one guy who was their star director. And he would yell at people, he would yell at the camera man, talk about their forefathers and just cursing and screaming and he came under my supervision I said no more of that. There is absolutely no reason for you to be acting like some auteur directing a cable show. These people who are volunteering are not here to be whipped. It’s not galley slaves. And what do you know he was capable of directing without the screaming and the yelling. People were like he needs to do that and well if he needs to do that he obviously can’t do the job. Because part of the job, in any job is treating people like human beings.” Kerzner

“So this is interesting to hear from you because you aren’t actually an abusive asshole, you just play one as a sock puppet.” Jesse

“Pretty much, Ed only ever goes after people who really deserve it, that asked for it. I remember when Vanilla Ice did a piece with him. And he was an asshole from the word go. I always gave people three strikes. and then it’s over, gloves are off. Ed’s about bringing down the targets that are too big for others to bring down. Ed had more interviews with big names celebrities, more repeats than anybody because it was never about insulting them. It was never about going in and trying to shame them or shock them or humiliate them. It was never about that cause that’s stupid. Great you’ll get one great interview and nothing ever again. And I never saw them as my purpose to insult them. It was to relate to them as human beings and you do that by kidding around. The same way you kid around with your friends. The same way your friends are going to elbow you and rib you about certain things that was the nature of the relationship is joking.” Kerzner

[00:24:02] “He (Lenny Kravitz) had been a bit of a pain in the ass the whole time he was there. He wore his sunglasses. Never smiled. Was really this troubled artists type and did an interview with him, with Ed. And Denzel washington was in sitting with him, hanging out. Within about 90 seconds, Ed asked him something and Lenny just paused and you would see the quiver in his mouth trying to maintain that ass he’d been and he couldn’t. It just cracked, like ice. He started laughing and sitting forward and laughing and Denzel Washington laughed so hard he leaned on a tray that water was one. And the tray all over the floor, it was this giant mess but he cracked at that point. And after that he wasn’t an asshole to people because you can’t maintain that distance when you’ve shown you’re a human being. The most human thing that people can do with each other is laugh together. It’s a very bonding experience.” Kerzner

“It’s also the construct with Triumph and Eminem. To try to maintain this dower tough guy attitude to a hand puppet makes you look like a god damn fool.” Jesse

“I should point out, Triumph the ripoff dog. Did everything after I did it.” Kerzner

“Lets quash the beef or amp it up. however it needs to go. I mean he came after. Was it a ripoff?” Jesse

“Yeah. And this is why I say that. I had been dealing with the lead talent person, the talent booker on Conan show. I had sent tapes. We had been talking about Ed come on as this character. And I was very excited about that. And then one day as I’m following it up they say no. We’ve decided it’s not going to work for us, just like that. Less than a week later, their head writer Smigel comes up with this idea for a acerbic cigar chewing puppet that takes shots at people. If there had been no, absolutely no way for them to have seen the program that be one thing. But this was a direct connection and I work in TV, I know it’s not hermetically sealed. If a lead talent booker was interested in it. Then it went to the writers. And so he claims he never saw and had nothing to do with it and he didn’t rip it off and maybe he believes that. But maybe someone suggested it to him that had seen it…Ed was doing interviews at the MMVA’s before the dog puppet was doing them at the MTV awards. It was always following behind.” Kerzner

“Have you ever had an in person encounter with Robert Smigel?” Jesse

“No but when Conan O’brien was brought into town to do shows by CHUM I was at the point of saying you know what who cares at this point. Water under the bridge. Why don’t we do a bit where Ed takes Triumph around certain special spots in Toronto. That wouldn’t be covered in a perly’s guide. And they said no. And I think I understand why, cause at the time. There was an interview with Entertainment tonight where Smigol admitted that sometimes he re-asked questions in post. That he hadn’t asked in person. So he was cheating, so people were reacting to not what he actually said. And if I’m him and that’s what I do, I don’t want to be unmasked by working with someone who doesn’t do that and whom maybe funnier than you.” Kerzner

“Ed the Sock doesn’t do reasks?” Jesse

“No.” Kerzner

“You have journalistic integrity about the Ed the Sock interviews.” Jesse

“I neer drop in something that wasn’t asked. No if it wasn’t asked in person it doesn’t go in. That’s just bullshit.” Kerzner

“You know Sixty Minutes does reasks?” Jesse

“That’s bullshit. I don’t do that. First of all, most of the time you’d see if it was the interviews with celebrities. Most of those were stand ups. It was just Ed and the person in the frame. There was no way to do cutaways and changes. But even when we did remote bits, and we go to celebrities homes and we made stories and stuff like, constructed stories. What was shot was what we used. There was no hanky panky and changing things afterward. If you can’t get it in the moment, then you didn’t get it. You are setting someone up. You have the chance to fuck with in post production. They don’t have the chance to fuck with there reaction. So you’re screwing with them and that’s cheap. It’s cheap, it’s disrespectful to your subject and if you can’t bring it when the person is there, don’t try to remake history so you look better at the expense of the other person.” Kerzner

[00:30:28] “Much music VJ’s were personalities. My wife Liana always said they weren’t the prom queen and the football captain. They were the chess club and the people that got pushed in lockers. They were people with personalities that the audience could relate to.” Kerzner

“I could see Steve Anthony pushing people in lockers.” Jesse

“Oh no, Steve Anthony would never do that. He might of stood there and sort of laugh but Steve Anthony would never push anyone in a locker.” Kerzner

[00:31:15] “I didn’t work with the initial popular wave. Like the first wave that got well known. Michael Williams, Christopher Ward, JD Roberts, Erica Ehm. I didn’t work with them. I came in as they were out. As they had moved on to different things. The people I worked with. No, never an attitude, the nicest people. It was a fraternity that included women. We were all in it together and there was very little separation between on air personality and crew. Nobody was treated with kid gloves because they were on air. And nobody wanted to be, everybody felt like they were simply doing their job in what we were doing. Nobody felt that their job was more important than somebody else’s. That’s why I’m still friends with camera people and audio people to this day. Rick Campanelli, George (Stroumboulopoulos) still friends with crew. Cause they just weren’t crew, they were people that were working with us. They were co-workers. MuchMusic eventually when I left had transitioned from people who were personalities to spokesmodels. And thats when people stopped knowing or caring who the VJ’s were. And this wasn’t a slight on those new VJ’s, they did what they were hired to do.” Kerzner

[00:32:59] “Muchmusic was youtube before there was youtube. It was video that you never knew what was going to happen. It felt hand made, it felt legitimate, spontaneous. It felt like the people doing it gave a shit about what they were doing. And as youtube came around and people started gravitating towards the net and videos and things like that. MuchMusic started going the other way. They started making their stuff shiny and pretty. They started going through the crowd that showed up and finding who they thought were the best looking people and pulling them to the front. And the people they thought were not the best looking would go to the back. Which was so counter to the ethic of Muchmusic which is you show up, and you get in early, you get in the front row. There was no elitism there. This became elitism and the more they did that the more their ratings dropped and dropped and they became irrelevant. I can’t imagine at any other time when a broadcaster pivoted so badly, so misread their audience that rather than say riding the crest of the youtube stuff by owning because this is what we did. They decided they wanted to be shiny and slick. More slick like MTV though with one/one hundredth of the budget or staff.” Kerzner

[00:34:32] “Denise Donlon was a visionary. When she came in I thought she was crazy. Thought she was full of crap. Cause she talked about making the channel relevant. Making music videos relevant. And I was thinking, that’s like making bubblegum relevant. But she was right. And there was a direction to what she was doing and she and I came to a meeting of the minds eventually. Though she says every time Ed was on camera she was chewing pencils. we knew that there was a backbone to what we were doing, a purpose. And when she left that went away. And listen there was a person who was in charge. Not the senior person but the person who was in charge of  making decisions at MuchMusic. Who told me point blank, our audience is stupid and they just want shit,so we are just going to give them shit.” Kerzner

“Well you can name that person who said that.” Jesse

“I’m sure I could but I’m not gonna. And it’s a name that will mean nothing to anybody except for the people who work with this person. But that is when I knew ok you don’t understand your audience. Cause Ed’s audience was smart, these were kids that cared about stuff and the emails. They would send and before that hand written letters were impassioned, were well written, were well thought out. You know obviously theres a lot more idealism than reality in what they were saying but they cared, and they were smart, and here I’m being told that the audience is just a bunch of idiots. and I never found that to be true.” Kerzner

[00:36:05] “One of the final straws for me was being told, our audience doesn’t remember anything that happened more than three months ago. So don’t reference anything that happened more than three months ago. And at the time I was doing these Smartass documentaries which I’m very proud of. Was a finalist for a CAB gold ribbon for documentary and social affairs, starring Ed. It was about hip hop culture and why it’s criticized.” Kerzner

“Are you hiphop head? A fan?” Jesse

“Not really. I went into MuchMusic not giving a shit about music. Being barely aware of who was involved and that was important because this was the fresh eyes that came in and allowed me to talk to people like they were just other people instead of being in worship of them. But the documentaries that we were doing referenced things that happened in the 60’s. Because we were tracing the history of stuff. and they said don’t do that anymore cause our audience can’t follow it, and they don’t understand. And I said the numbers for Smartass are higher than anything else you’re doing. So obviously what you’re talking about is theory and I’m showing empirical research that it’s not true.” Kerzner

[00:38:25] “What ultimately happened?” Jesse referring to why Steve/Ed left the building

“They wanted to dumb things down. There were new people in positions that were making decisions that were untenable to me. To me they lacked integrity. Lacked respect for the audience. Lacked respect for the staff. and it was no longer the place to be. One of the most important books I’ve ever read was Animal Farm by Orwell.” Kerzner

“I did not think this was going to come up.” Jesse

“I find so many instances in life where it becomes four legs good, two legs better. Where people rise because they want to do something completely different and change the system and eventually just go back to reestablishing the system. Because once you become a successful rebel, the successful part takes over. You start hanging out with people, the elitists and you don’t want to be embarrassed about what you do. You want to belong. So all of a sudden you start conforming to that sort of mindset. And you wind up betraying where you came from. I’ve seen that so many times and thats what was happening at Muchmusic. Four legs good, two legs better.” Kerzner

[00:39:56] “I stopped producing I Hate Hollywood which we did on channel 11 about a year ago. I’ve given up on trying to deal with TV because all I’m told by TV networks when they call you in and they want to do something. They say you know what we were talking about is Ed was so popular on CityTv and Muchmusic, we don’t know how we can make it work for our channel. What kind of fucking stupidity, how do you work in television when you think like that. A brand name that people recognized, thats money in the bank. Only in Canada will they say that’s a bad things, only in Canada will a recognizable name that will draw people in immediately. Be a bad thing.” Kerzner

[00:41:02] Ed Ghomeshi post