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James Duthie and Jay Baruchel on stage at The Rec Room in Toronto. Photo by Greg Oliver
Jay Baruchel was pretty sure what he wanted his hockey book to be like: “I adore Ken Dryden's The Game, and I was, like, I am going to attempt to write a fan's companion piece to that book, which is the macro experience of what it is to watch hockey your whole life.”
The result is a lot like Baruchel—hilarious, poignant, thought-provoking, and profane, and Canadian-Canadien through and through.
It's entitled Born Into It: A Fan's Life, and was released at the end of October by Harper Collins, but as a concept, it's been around a long time in Baruchel's mind.
The actor, writer, and director grew up in Montreal and, for a five-year stint, lived in Oshawa, Ontario, coinciding with Les Canadiens ascending to the Stanley Cup for the last time, in 1993. He now calls Toronto home.
So Born Into It is as much about his love of the Montreal Canadiens as it is about hockey fandom, with a fascinating and revealing side trip into his upbringing, especially his relationship with his late father. There's his period of hockey “atheism” as well.
What the book isn't about is Baruchel's acting career, only mentioning a name here or a TV show or movie he appeared in as a passing mention. The obvious exception are his hockey movies: Goon, which he co-wrote and starred in, and Goon: Last of the Enforcers, which he wrote and directed. (For my money, Goon is my favourite hockey movie ever, greater than Slap Shot even.)
As a movie star who has stayed humbly Canadian, he's a natural for a book tour. I was out at Baruchel's first stop, at The Rec Room in Toronto, on October 29. He'd spent the day doing the rounds of TV and radio stations and immediately, Baruchel and his host James Duthie from TSN clicked over interviewers not reading the book before the interview. (Duthie's had a couple books now too.)
Sitting on a couch, the two struck up a conversation, with Duthie having highlighted plenty of passages to read aloud and then discuss. Baruchel, wearing a black Canadiens baseball cap, a light black jacket over a hoodie, and tennis shoes with bright yellow laces, moves a ton when he talks, and is very self-deprecating, looking down a lot rather than out at the audience, and at times seems embarrassed by the attention.
But he's quick on his feet. After Duthie read out a piece, Baruchel said, “That's a good line. I'm a big fan of my book.” It was one of many times where the audience broke out into big laughs.
Why a book, asked Duthie, why put your passion onto the page? “Basically I saw and experienced this thing that, everywhere across Canada, which was the phenomena of all of us watching hockey together. It sounds super simple, but no one had really given it the homage I thought it deserved. We're well-versed here in the romance of, like, pond hockey and getting your stick, and all that stuff,” began Baruchel. He sees his book partly about “the culture of watching games together” whether it's in living rooms, bars, or the nosebleed seats at the Bell Centre.
Born Into It feels like a stream of consciousness rant at times, a love letter to hockey at others, and it also includes a short story on hockey, and some poems (“sorry about that,” he quipped). Then there's the “hate” letters, where Baruchel fashions combative missives to the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Quebec Nordiques.
The man loves to write. “I've loved writing since I competed in the Ontario Catholic Teachers' Association Creative Writing competition when I was in Grade 3. It was brutal and beat the piss out of me, but it was also fucking rewarding. And if there was a great paragraph, that made it all worth it.” (Oh, did I forget to mention the swearing? There's a LOT of it, mostly for descriptive emphasis rather than used as a verb.)
Looking at Baruchel's credits at IMDB.com, it's a natural to ask him, as I did, about where he found time to write; the book is quite timely, and laments how the Vegas Golden Knights can make the Stanley Cup final in their first year, but the Habs haven't been there since 1993.
“Thank you for saying that I'm busy. I appreciate that,” Baruchel began. Basically, he wrote “whenever I could. When you've got a lot of shit going on, there's kind of never going to be the right timing, so you have to force the right time. My poor fiancee, Rebecca, is here tonight, God bless her, she had to suffer through months and months where I was just useless as a human being, because I would go down in my basement for hours, all day.”
It wasn't just at home though, but nature conspired against him. “I had this stupid idea, I'll rent this cabin, away from distractions, and I'll type. No, that's not what happened. I took a bunch of naps, got bit by a bunch of fucking shitload of mosquitoes, and went home two days early.”
He estimates that he tried to come up with a minimum of 2,500 to 3,000 words a day. “If I did that, I'd feel like, 'Okay, I can relax for a second.' But what I found was that after getting 3,000 words out of my head, I fucking had nothing come out of my mouth, so I was kind of a zombie.”
There was no straight line to the finish. “It was a lot of going down a path, thinking there was something here, realizing that this isn't a chapter, this is a line, this is a piece of, maybe, one paragraph. Or the best of my chapters would present themselves, which didn't always happen.”
The best example of a chapter that came together was the “epiphany” of realizing that the great 1970s Canadiens teams mirrored his dad's virility, and Jay and his sister are the two Cups in the 1986 and 1993, or, as he put it, “two bright spots.”
“When I saw that moment, I was like, 'Oh shit. I think my dad is those '70s Habs and this connection, I think there's something there.' Those moments were the coolest, but they were often hard to come by.”
The final question of the night brought out the filmmaker Baruchel rather than the comedian. He has been hard at work on his film, Random Acts of Violence, out next fall/winter, which he wrote and directed. (The IMDB description: “A pair of comic book writers begin to notice scary similarities between the character they created and horrific real-life events.”)
Asked what would he do to improve watching hockey on TV, he called it a “wicked question.” Duthie then cracked, “That's from one of the producers, by the way, of Hockey Night in Canada.”
Baruchel would like to see at least one film camera, like NFL Films, so that replays days later could be more special. He believes there are still “cool vantage points that haven't been explored yet” like the overhead cameras used at the Olympics, and have cameras where the photographers are in the corners, with a steadycam, where “you could get some really, really interesting images.”
Also really interesting is Born Into It, even if it is, as Baruchel says, “full of self-important asshole sentences.”
For upcoming appearances by Jay Baruchel to promote Born Into It, visit here: https://www.harpercollins.ca/jaybaruchelbook/events/.
Alan Livingstone MacLeod is having his book launch for From Rinks to Regiments: Hockey Hall-of-Famers and the Great War on Saturday, November 24, from 2-3:30 p.m., at the Victoria Public Library, at the Central Branch. We will have more from MacLeod in an upcoming column.
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