George Stroumboulopoulos: Rebel with a cause
From sporting a life-sized lizard suit to interviewing Bono for MuchMusic, it’s safe to say that George Stroumboulopoulos has come a long way over the course of his 20-year career.
Now hosting and producing an award-winning TV show, George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (formerly known as The Hour), currently in its ninth season on CBC, Canada’s self-proclaimed boyfriend admits: “I still have no idea what I’m doing.”
“When you’re professionally ‘you’ for a living, you don’t know what you do,” Stroumboulopoulos, 40, says during an interview with The Uniter while in Winnipeg for a speaking engagement at the University of Manitoba in early February.
“Somehow this career happened. I don’t know how - ... this wasn’t part of the plan.”
Strombo studied radio broadcasting at Humber College in Toronto in the early ’90s.
His first gig was an internship at rock radio station 104.7 The Lizard in Kelowna, B.C., where he hosted a metal show and dressed up as the station’s mascot.
“When you’re super drunk and fucked up in a lizard costume at 4 a.m. in B.C. ... I’d like to think that was the peak of my career,” he says with a laugh.
“I really only wanted to get into radio, I never really thought about journalism or television. I obviously consumed lots of it as a kid - read a lot of newspapers, watched the news all the time. I always wanted to be smarter than I was and I wanted to be more informed than I was.”
When MuchMusic came knocking, Strombo was wary of making the leap to television.
“I never had cable and I didn’t grow up watching MuchMusic. When they came and offered me a job at The NewMusic, it was a show that I had watched - (a show) where they interviewed bands like The Clash, Jesus and Mary Chain and Grandmaster Flash. They brought hip hop and metal to us, and so I thought I would go and do that.”
Over the course of five years as a Much VJ, Strombo interviewed all the big names, from Britney Spears to Bono - the latter of which he deems one of his best interviews of all time.
Since leaving Much in 2004 for his current gig, the Torontonian has become a CBC staple, whose long-time Sunday night radio program, The Strombo Show, is also broadcast on CBC 2.
Having spoken with everyone from Al Gore to Margaret Atwood, Strombo comes across as genuinely interested and knowledgeable during every interview.
“The art to interviews is not in the questions, but in the follow-up questions. I just present it, let them start the ball rolling and then start digging,” he says.
Exuding as much charisma in person as he does on air, Strombo enthusiastically riffs on different topics - his shameless affection for Coldplay and the movie Love Actually, his choices to be both vegan and straight-edge, and his ultimate passion: motorcycle racing.
Strombo says his only fear is inauthenticity, and, in the spirit of keeping things real, he kept his lofty last name as part of his public alias.
“I refused to change my name because some WASPy person says, ‘Stroumboulopoulos is too ethnic.’ I reject that. What I didn’t realize is it’s important to keep an ethnic name, not for you, but for what it means to other people,” he says.
“It’s important for people that come to this country to see a name that isn’t typical. Because we’re ethnic, man. And being Toronto ethnic is even more ethnic than ethnic.”
Naturally, Strombo has some tips for aspiring broadcast journalists.
“Be patient and be smart. The younger generation hasn’t really figured out how to figure things out yet. You guys only know how to search things; you’re a Google generation. You have to really work on your critical thinking, your analysis and your ability to figure things out - be it a story, an angle, a moment - those things really are the art of this.”
While he’s an avid mentor to the student body at his alma mater, Strombo also acknowledges the fact that he’s constantly learning with every day on the job.
“I’m never satisfied with a show because the show to me is craft, and craft is not a stagnant thing. I like elements of it, and then there are other elements I want to change.”
Still, Strombo has never taken life too seriously, a mark he attributes to his upbringing.
“I was very lucky that my mother never raised me with expectations; it’s very liberating.
My family’s dream for me was to be a bus driver,” he says.
“Kids today try to prove themselves, (but) you have to let yourself off the hook. You got out of bed today? You win.”
Published in Volume 67, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 21, 2013)