Is Jonathan Torrens the nicest guy in Canada? How the former Trailer Park Boys actor became a Twitter therapist during the COVID-19 pandemic

In the winter of 2000, the Canadian television star Jonathan Torrens broke his femur in a car crash. Torrens was 27. He had been an actor since high school. At the time of the crash, he was entering his fifth year as host of “Jonovision,” an after-school show for teens that combined talk-show style interviews with sketch comedy and musical guests, filmed with a live audience. “Jonovision” was fun and weird and full of random delights; in one skit, Torrens played all five members of a boy band singing a power ballad in a music video. The car crash left Torrens in a wheelchair for weeks, then on crutches. Months later, he was still walking with a cane. The cane was a problem because he’d promised his friend, the producer Mike Clattenburg, to play a role in a new TV show. The character was based on a type of guy Torrens and Clattenburg had gone to school with in Halifax — guys “with major bravado and great senses of humour,” Torrens said. “But none of them walked with a cane.”As filming approached, Torrens was nervous to tell Clattenburg he couldn’t do it. But when they finally talked, his friend told him not to worry about the cane. “Just rock it,” Clattenburg said. That’s why J-Roc, Torrens’s do-rag wearing character on “Trailer Park Boys,” carries a cane, without explanation, in the first season of the show. Because Torrens was recovering from a broken femur. Torrens, now 48, told this story on Twitter recently, to make a point, in a very Jonathan Torrens-y way — warm, cheerful and unapologetically sincere — about leaning into your own perceived weaknesses.“Whatever your ‘cane’ is,” he wrote, “just rock it.” Torrens has been dispensing bits of wisdom, encouragement and affirmation during the darker moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, making his Twitter feed a rare sunny reprieve from the crushing year many have endured.In March 2020, early in the first lockdown, Torrens wrote: “Good chance this has been the weirdest week of your life. Maybe you snacked more than you usually do, or drank more, went to the gym less. Don’t worry. You’ll find a routine in this new normal. Cut yourself a little slack, will ya?”At the height of the second wave, he wrote: “Look if you’re doing the best you can do right now then that is the best you can do right now and I’m going to have to urge you to stop being so hard on yourself.”The replies to his tweets are full of thanks and praise. “Following you sometimes feels like I’m following a meditation app,” one fan wrote. Torrens has received none of the get-lost backlash celebrities sometimes invite when they dispense advice from their California mansions. Perhaps it helps that he lives in a log home in rural Nova Scotia, with a hickory shed from which he conducts his creative business and shares a relentless stream of soothing sunset and nature photos. (Torrens begins every day in the barn, shovelling horse poo with his wife.) “I want everyone to know that (Jonathan Torrens) is my therapist,” one fan wrote. “He doesn’t get paid cause he’s already rich.”“As your therapist,” Torrens replied, “I would tell you to AIM HIGHER WHEN CHOOSING THERAPISTS.”Torrens has gained tens of thousands of followers with his wise words and simple greetings, like “Have a nice day.” I am one of them. Over the past year, I found myself “liking,” and truly liking, many of his tweets. And wondering: Why? The cynic in me would normally roll my eyes at anything resembling a motivational speech or an inspirational quote. What was it about Torrens’s words that resonated?“Ask as many people as you want for advice. But deep down you know what you gotta do,” he wrote in February. “You know.”That week, I had spent four days consulting various friends and group chats about a decision I was perfectly capable of making on my own. When I saw his tweet, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.There was something about his calm acknowledgment of our collective fatigue, and his unwavering empathy for people facing challenges both minor and extreme, that seemed to be exactly the right thing for the time we were in. One day, I noticed something else. Replying to a thank-you message from a follower, Torrens described his tweets as “daily affirmations to myself, more than anything.” They were like “diary entries,” he said. The therapy he dispensed was meant for him as much as anyone else. Which led me to wonder: Is Jonathan Torrens OK? Torrens has joked that he intends to write a book about Canadian show business called “Jono’s Vision: How I Made it to the Middle in Three Short Decades.” His self-deprecating sense of humour downplays, somewhat intentionally, I think, a career that has been interesting, varied and sustained for far longer than most careers in Canadian show business. Torrens got his start in 1989 with “Street Cents,” a consumer awareness show for teens that was filmed in Halifax, where Torrens was raised, and aired on CBC Television. The series was a bizarre mix of sketch comedy, parody and journalism that w

Is Jonathan Torrens the nicest guy in Canada? How the former Trailer Park Boys actor became a Twitter therapist during the COVID-19 pandemic

In the winter of 2000, the Canadian television star Jonathan Torrens broke his femur in a car crash. Torrens was 27. He had been an actor since high school. At the time of the crash, he was entering his fifth year as host of “Jonovision,” an after-school show for teens that combined talk-show style interviews with sketch comedy and musical guests, filmed with a live audience. Jonovision” was fun and weird and full of random delights; in one skit, Torrens played all five members of a boy band singing a power ballad in a music video.

The car crash left Torrens in a wheelchair for weeks, then on crutches. Months later, he was still walking with a cane. The cane was a problem because he’d promised his friend, the producer Mike Clattenburg, to play a role in a new TV show. The character was based on a type of guy Torrens and Clattenburg had gone to school with in Halifax — guys “with major bravado and great senses of humour,” Torrens said. “But none of them walked with a cane.”

As filming approached, Torrens was nervous to tell Clattenburg he couldn’t do it. But when they finally talked, his friend told him not to worry about the cane. “Just rock it,” Clattenburg said.

That’s why J-Roc, Torrens’s do-rag wearing character on “Trailer Park Boys,” carries a cane, without explanation, in the first season of the show. Because Torrens was recovering from a broken femur.

Torrens, now 48, told this story on Twitter recently, to make a point, in a very Jonathan Torrens-y way — warm, cheerful and unapologetically sincere — about leaning into your own perceived weaknesses.

“Whatever your ‘cane’ is,” he wrote, “just rock it.”

Torrens has been dispensing bits of wisdom, encouragement and affirmation during the darker moments of the COVID-19 pandemic, making his Twitter feed a rare sunny reprieve from the crushing year many have endured.

In March 2020, early in the first lockdown, Torrens wrote: “Good chance this has been the weirdest week of your life. Maybe you snacked more than you usually do, or drank more, went to the gym less. Don’t worry. You’ll find a routine in this new normal. Cut yourself a little slack, will ya?”

At the height of the second wave, he wrote: “Look if you’re doing the best you can do right now then that is the best you can do right now and I’m going to have to urge you to stop being so hard on yourself.”

The replies to his tweets are full of thanks and praise. “Following you sometimes feels like I’m following a meditation app,” one fan wrote. Torrens has received none of the get-lost backlash celebrities sometimes invite when they dispense advice from their California mansions. Perhaps it helps that he lives in a log home in rural Nova Scotia, with a hickory shed from which he conducts his creative business and shares a relentless stream of soothing sunset and nature photos. (Torrens begins every day in the barn, shovelling horse poo with his wife.)

“I want everyone to know that (Jonathan Torrens) is my therapist,” one fan wrote. “He doesn’t get paid cause he’s already rich.”

“As your therapist,” Torrens replied, “I would tell you to AIM HIGHER WHEN CHOOSING THERAPISTS.”

Torrens has gained tens of thousands of followers with his wise words and simple greetings, like “Have a nice day.” I am one of them. Over the past year, I found myself “liking,” and truly liking, many of his tweets. And wondering: Why? The cynic in me would normally roll my eyes at anything resembling a motivational speech or an inspirational quote. What was it about Torrens’s words that resonated?

“Ask as many people as you want for advice. But deep down you know what you gotta do,” he wrote in February. “You know.”

That week, I had spent four days consulting various friends and group chats about a decision I was perfectly capable of making on my own. When I saw his tweet, I felt like he was speaking directly to me.

There was something about his calm acknowledgment of our collective fatigue, and his unwavering empathy for people facing challenges both minor and extreme, that seemed to be exactly the right thing for the time we were in.

One day, I noticed something else. Replying to a thank-you message from a follower, Torrens described his tweets as “daily affirmations to myself, more than anything.” They were like “diary entries,” he said. The therapy he dispensed was meant for him as much as anyone else.

Which led me to wonder: Is Jonathan Torrens OK?


Torrens has joked that he intends to write a book about Canadian show business called “Jono’s Vision: How I Made it to the Middle in Three Short Decades.”

His self-deprecating sense of humour downplays, somewhat intentionally, I think, a career that has been interesting, varied and sustained for far longer than most careers in Canadian show business.

Torrens got his start in 1989 with “Street Cents,” a consumer awareness show for teens that was filmed in Halifax, where Torrens was raised, and aired on CBC Television. The series was a bizarre mix of sketch comedy, parody and journalism that was clever and at times pretty funny.

Hosts like Torrens declared products that didn’t live up to their advertised hype “fit for the pit” and threw them into a fiery hole. It was meant for 12- to 17-year-olds, but the Saturday morning time slot gave them an unintended audience of hungover 20-somethings. Torrens was asked to audition after a producer saw him perform in a musical at his downtown high school. He was 16, blond and full of energy. For his first episode, he ate nothing but fast food for a week. He was supposed to be a guest star, but ended up joining as a co-host.

Then came “Jonovision.” If you were a teen in Canada in the 1990s, you probably watched the show at some point, wrote Adria Young in an oral history of “Jonovision” for Vice. “Not just because it featured rising stars like Ryan Gosling, Sarah Polley, and Tom Green, bands like Wide Mouth Mason and rappers like Choclair, quiz shows and contests, Degrassi High washups, sex educator Sue Johanson motioning handjobs, and the struggles of kids just like you, but because television was one of the only connections to the wider world.” Jonovision’s popular Degrassi reunion, in which the show brought the original cast back together for a two-episode series, has been credited with inspiring “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” the show that launched Drake’s career.

In “Trailer Park Boys,” which premiered on Showcase in 2001, Torrens took on his most notable role: J-Roc, a white rapper who believes he’s Black.

He and Clattenburg, the show’s creator and producer, had worked together on “Street Cents,” and were roommates in Toronto during his Jonovision years. (“No matter what room you are in, Jono is still the funniest guy in the room,” Clattenburg once said.) Fans loved J-Roc so much that when Torrens left the show in 2016, after 10 seasons, three films and two specials, saying that he felt the character had run its course, viewers began relentlessly asking him to return, and haven’t stopped.

In the years since, Torrens has taken on roles as a performer, host, writer, producer and director, in shows like “Mr. D,” “Letterkenny” and “Call Me Fitz.” He co-hosts a podcast, Taggart and Torrens, with his friend, Jeremy Taggart, the former drummer for Our Lady Peace, and they have written a book together, “Canadianity: Tales from the True North Strong and Freezing.”

“I’ve concluded I don’t do any one thing particularly well,” Torrens told me recently on a video call from his car, which, due to an unforeseen morning disruption, was parked in an industrial area in Dartmouth, N.S. “There are way better actors than me, funnier people than me, people that do more sketch. But my virtue is kind of that I’m a Swiss Army knife. And so I can find a little implement to use in just about any situation.”

Torrens had found a quiet place outside a building where his wife, Carole Torrens, who was preparing to open a clothing store that week, had a morning meeting. An overnight snowstorm had upended their plans for the day. School had been cancelled, which meant that their girls, Indigo and Sugar-Daisy, 9 and 11, were on holiday. They decided the whole family would drive to Dartmouth for Carole’s meeting.

Carole had taken the children inside. Torrens had the car to himself. Even though he was running late for our call, and he had spent an hour driving through the aftermath of a snowstorm with his family, he didn’t look frazzled when he appeared on my screen sitting comfortably in the front seat. He was calm and relaxed.

I was frazzled enough for both of us. The night before, I had woken at 3 a.m. to the sound of a crash on the main floor of my house. I ran downstairs and found my husband, James, in the bathroom, trying to turn the shut-off valve on a pipe at the back of the toilet that had cracked, spontaneously, while we were sleeping. The crash? James had slipped in the water that had pooled in the hallway. He was bleeding from the elbow. One floor below, in the basement laundry room, water rained from the ceiling. We were up until 5 a.m. cleaning the mess. Our children woke us an hour later.

So when Jonathan Torrens emailed that morning to say, very apologetically, that he was running late, I was fine with it. I needed the extra hour. And I needed Jonathan Torrens’s wisdom, encouragement and soothing East Coast sensibility.

Torrens sat in the driver’s seat of his Lincoln Navigator, his phone resting on the dash. He still has the golden mane, but it’s longer now, parted in the middle and cut in a wavy bob. I told him that his presence on Twitter had been a form of therapy for me, and for others, too, from what I’d seen. Where was it all coming from? I asked.

“I made a conscious decision about a year ago to use the ‘Canadian celebrity’ platform that I have to put out good vibes,” he said. “And I was surprised how little a statement it would take to really resonate with people.” A simple “How is everyone doing?” would draw dozens of honest and often raw responses. A few words of encouragement brought replies like, “Man, you have no idea how much I needed to hear that today.”

“ ‘We’re all in this together’ is sort of a common refrain and something we hear a lot,” Torrens said. “But we’re all in very different versions of it at the same time.” Some live in apartments in COVID-19 hot zones and have to leave home for work. Torrens lives in Nova Scotia, which has kept its COVID cases close to zero since the first wave. His rural home, about an hour’s drive from Halifax, is surrounded by forest and streams and hiking trails. He knows he’s fortunate, so he’s happy to pass on good cheer when he can.

“If buddy from ‘Street Cents’ saying ‘I hope you have a great week’ resonates for you, that’s something easy I can do,” he said.

One of my far-fetched theories about Torrens was that he had a secret side hustle as a therapist. He does not. But he does run a business that rents movie trailers to film crews, which he says has helped him even out the financial peaks and valleys of freelance work. He also flips the odd house with a friend.

At 48, Torrens said, “I’m kind of in the valley of acting opportunities, between J-Roc and Uncle Matthew from “Anne of Green Gables.” So it has been handy to have other things on the go, especially during the pandemic. “If I’d been relying on my extraordinary acting ability this past year, it would have been lean times,” he said.

Torrens has lived in Nova Scotia since 2008, when he moved back after six years in Los Angeles, deciding that being able to take his aging mom to the dentist was more important than competing for spots in shows like “America’s Cutest Puppy.” He was born in Charlottetown, but first moved to Halifax with his mother and siblings when he was 12. His father had died four years earlier, after a long illness.

“The hardest part of the whole thing was adults looking at me with sad eyes,” he wrote of his father’s death in “Canadianity.” “That actually made me feel worse, like my life was somehow worth pity.” It forced him to find a way to make people feel comfortable, which wasn’t fun for an eight-year-old, but turned out to be good training for a career as a television host, and perhaps for moonlighting as a Twitter therapist, too.

Torrens left Halifax in his 20s for “Jonovision,” which was filmed in Toronto, and then went even further away, to L.A. But the magnet that draws Maritimers home eventually pulled him back. “I went to L.A. in pursuit of making ‘it’ and didn’t know what ‘it’ was. It took me a while to figure out that ‘it,’ for me, is balance. And I could achieve that, in rural Nova Scotia. That, for me, is what I need to keep grounded.”

Nova Scotia also led him to his wife, whom he is not bashful to gush over. Torrens loves telling the story of how they met. After his return from L.A., his agent was bugging him to have new headshots taken, but he kept putting it off. He was rethinking his life and couldn’t be bothered. When he finally agreed to get the photos taken, his photographer friend brought a makeup artist named Carole along for the shoot. Torrens says that when he saw her, he thought: There you are.

They have been married 12 years. He remains smitten. They were fortunate that their two daughters were at a great age during lockdown, Torrens says; independent but not yet teens, fun to have adventures and play board games with.

By the time I got around to asking him The Question, I already knew the answer: Jonathan Torrens is OK. He is filled with a kind of joy so free of self-consciousness that he can confidently make fun of himself, talk about how much he adores his wife and be his truest self, even if that self is a little sentimental and uncool at times. He’s almost 50. He’s a dad. He loves his family. Who cares what people think?

Torrens is truly happy, and so he tries to spread it around, via Twitter, in a gentle and reassuring way, recognizing that people don’t want positivity forced on them, especially now. “It is a little earnest, and it is a little sincere,” he admits. “But if someone’s going to roll their eyes and say what an A-hole for saying ‘I hope you have a great week,’ then that’s kind of on them.”

When I told Torrens that I had two small children, and that they’d been home from school and daycare recently with colds while my husband and I both worked full time, he gave me a validating eyebrow raise.

“With a four-year-old and a one-year-old, you’re not getting much done for yourself in the run of a day,” he said. “You’re probably working and surviving.”

This was very true.

“So, look,” he said. “Keep the bar nice and low and that way you’ll never be disappointed.”

Now is not the time for huge ambitions, he told me. Just focus on getting through each day.

“What I do ‘preach,’ for lack of a better word, is there is joy around, if you look for it,” he said. “And sometimes you have to create it and manufacture it and it’s not authentic. But joy is at a premium these days and we’re all kind of junkies, so do what you need to do to get it. And if that comes in the form of chips or, you know, phoning in bored to work, then do it.”

Torrens has said that he believes the longevity that defines his career has come from choosing to walk away at the right moment. He has always strived to leave a gig before his time is up, before viewers start to feel like it’s over. He left “Street Cents” and “Jonovision” when the shows were popular. He left “Trailer Park Boys” when fans, at least, weren’t ready to see him go. But the longevity might come from something simpler, too: Torrens is nice, and people enjoy working with him.

“I don’t think there’s too many people out there that have a story of Jonathan being an A-hole to them,” said Jeremy Taggart, his friend and podcast co-host. Over their 20-year friendship, Taggart has observed the way actors, directors and producers who have worked with Torrens in the past respond when they run into him. “They all love him like he’s the best person they ever worked with,” Taggart said.

I couldn’t find anyone calling Torrens an A-hole, but there is at least one person who has clashed with him.

In November 2019, media critic and noted sourpuss Jesse Brown invited Torrens to be a guest on his podcast. In an introduction to the episode, Brown said he had been “trolling Jonathan Torrens since 1995,” when, as a high school newspaper editor, Brown had been a “difficult” teenage guest on a “Jonovision” panel about student rights. “There’s just something about Jonathan Torrens’s blond, affable, friendly TV presence that really brought out the jerk in me, and still does,” Brown said.

Now it was decades after “Jonovision,” a few months before the pandemic hit, and Brown, publisher of the news site and podcast network Canadaland, had invited Torrens on his show, where they would discuss, among other things, a sore point between them: a music video Torrens had produced for the CBC for Canada’s 150th anniversary that Brown had roasted on Twitter.

In 2017, Canada’s sesquicentennial year, Torrens had written new lyrics to the song “Thank U” by Alanis Morissette, thanking the country for hokey bits of Canadiana like Beaver Tails and shinny hockey. Brown called the video “the worst thing ever” and “everything that’s wrong with this country in four minutes.”

But something interesting happened during their 40-minute conversation. As they talked about Torrens’s career and their mutual experience in Canadian media, Brown softened. He became less antagonistic. A little nicer. It’s hard to dislike someone who is funny, easy to talk to and doesn’t take themselves seriously. “Even I roll my eyes when I hear I’ve been cast in something,” Torrens said during the interview. “My reaction is, isn’t there anyone else?”

By the end, Torrens and Brown had a date to have a lobster roll together in Halifax. (The date, I’m told, fell through; Brown was only in town for a few days, and Torrens had to cancel because he had a commitment come up at his kids’ school.)

I asked Brown about the interview and whether he agreed with my take: that Torrens’s affable, friendly presence ended up winning him over. He didn’t deny it.

“I think I gradually came to accept that Torrens is exactly as guileless, upbeat and corny as he purports to be,” Brown wrote to me. “That doesn’t change the way he makes me feel (bad about myself). But it does change my opinion of him.”

“I suppose I like him, and I enjoy insulting him on Twitter.”

Brown continues to antagonize. In June, Torrens wrote on Twitter: “Start the day with the GOTTA DO’S. Then reward yourself with the GET-TO-DO’S.”

“I know he’s just being himself for those who enjoy him,” Brown wrote in response, “but every tweet feels like an act of violence, directed at me.”

Torrens says he’s unbothered by what people think of him. “I think it’s a muscle I’ve developed. I don’t think it was always there. Certainly, in my younger years, and earlier in my career, I probably cared more. I think it comes with being happy with yourself.”

Brown will be Brown. Jonathan Torrens is happy being Jonathan Torrens.

In March, as much of Canada entered the pandemic’s third wave, Torrens sent another string of wise words into the world, this time about his childhood.

“My dad died when I was 8,” he wrote. “Every week a few of the dads on my hockey team would offer to tie my skates. Not in a big showy way, in a quiet kind way. They filled the gap.”

Then, as he does, Torrens distilled the story into a message: “Find a way to fill the gap for someone,” he wrote. “It’ll make you both better.”

Amy Dempsey is a Star reporter and feature writer based in Ottawa. Follow her on Twitter: @amydempsey

Source : Toronto Star More