The three former hosts of the ’90s Canadian kids show appear as a fictional band on the new CBC web series The Plateaus. We used it as an opportunity to reminisce.
There are many reasons for Canadian music fans to watch The Plateaus. The CBC Music web series is part Canadian indie scene satire, part showcase for CanCon cameos from the likes of Sam Roberts, Fred Penner and The Kids In The Hall’s Kevin McDonald. But, if you’re around the same age as I am, there’s probably one aspect that will capture your attention more than any other: the Popular Mechanics for Kids reunion.
The show, created by Annie Murphy of Schitt’s Creek (who has a window into the music world through her husband, Menno Versteeg of Hollerado), follows a fictional band called The Plateaus as they attempt to follow up their Indie 88-core hit “YNG LUV” after their lead singer dies while writing the follow-up. Along the way, they feud with their rival band Kiss Me I’m Stylish, played by Elisha Cuthbert, Jay Baruchel and Tyler Kyte, the three original hosts of Popular Mechanics for Kids, the ’90s Canadian show that taught kids the science of gravity through tennis balls and roller coasters and showed them how to make boogers. Seeing them onscreen together in 2015 is a direct stimulation of whichever neurotransmitters are responsible for nostalgia.None of the hosts of PMK have left the public eye. Both Baruchel and Cuthbert are major Hollywood actors now. Tyler Kyte, Baruchel’s replacement in season two, went a more musical route. After playing in Sweet Thing for a number of years, he’s now one of the leaders of the cover group Dwayne Gretzky, which is practically Toronto’s house band. He’s also largely responsible for getting the old PMK gang back together.
Sometimes someone will say “I know you, did we go to high school together?” I know right away it’s “you watched me on TV every morning.” TYLER KYTE
I couldn’t resist the opportunity for some unabashed reminiscing, so I met Tyler Kyte at a Toronto coffee shop to talk about his days as a child star, watching his former co-host’s rise to celebrity, how he accidentally met Jay Baruchel for the first time at last year’s Polaris Prize gala, why playing covers is cool, why every party needs Mac DeMarco, why the best Canadian comedy lives online, and a lot of other stuff both nostalgic and otherwise.
Chart Attack: Elisha Cuthbert said on Q that this Popular Mechanics For Kids reunion came together because of you. How did you do that?
Tyler Kyte: Annie Murphy was the one who approached me about The Plateaus saying that she thought it would be great to get the PMK team together. [The Plateaus creators] knew Jay [Baruchel] because of their Montreal connections and so they got him onboard. And then they asked if I could reach out to Elisha. And I kind of… I said yes, but I didn’t really think that she would respond. I hadn’t seen Elisha for 10 years, or maybe more. We found each other on Twitter maybe four years ago and just sort of said a quick hello. But I was like “I guess I might as well.” So I wrote her a message on Twitter and she got back within like an hour being like “yeah, I’m in, here’s my info.”
How was it reconnecting with those guys?
Well I had actually only met Jay the year before, because I went in when he left Popular Mechanics after season one. I did three seasons after that. I met him actually during the Polaris Prize last year. I play in a band called Dwayne Gretzky and we were the house band. Jay hosted the gala, so I met him then. But then with this we all got to work together and spend a couple days on set together.
I kept joking last year that instead of getting Jay Baruchel to host they should have gotten Jay Baruchel and Elisha Cuthbert to co-host. And then I realized, wait a second, Dwayne Gretzky… there’ve been two hosts of Popular Mechanics here the whole time!
It’s crazy. That show, it feels like a lifetime ago. It was finished when I was 16. I’m 31 now, so it was a long time ago. But it still continues to be something that people recognize me from.
Do you like that?
I mean, sure. Of course. It’s nice. I played in a band Sweet Thing for a number of years, and we did college tours and frosh week stuff. I was still 23, 24 and all the kids were kind of the perfect age to have grown up with PMK. So that was sometimes a little bit much. But now it happens more rarely. Sometimes someone will say “I know you, did we go to high school together?”
I mean, kinda.
I know right away when they’re like “how do I know you?” It’s “you watched me on TV every morning.”
So I’m 29…
Exactly. But I was sort of at the bridge where I saw both eras, first when it was hosted by Jay and then after when you replaced him.
A lot of people had a hard time with that, you know. Like even one of my best buddies Dave, after awhile he told me “I was really upset when you took over Jay on PMK.” This is one of my best friends we’re talking about.
I read an interview with Jay Baruchel, actually very recently, where someone asked him “what do you get recognized most from?” And he said “Well, it depends on where. In Canada, I’m still mostly recognized for Popular Mechanics for Kids.”
That’s awesome. Well, I guess it was one of those things. It was just on every day. So people grew up with it. It was either before school or after school, or whenever they watched it. It was just a part of their routine.
They chopped it up and it was between shows, too.
Yeah, little snippets of it.
I think part of the reason that it so hits people’s nostalgia centres is that it’s something that’s only Canadian. People outside of Canada don’t necessarily know it. And now you guys are all still out there and doing stuff, so it’s like “we knew about these guys before you did.”
Tell me about it. I went to a small town high school in Lindsay, Ontario, very much a farmer high school. And I was still there when Elisha came out on the cover of Maxim. That was awful… for me. Just every day someone saying something, always inquiring, “did you and Elisha ever… you know?” And it was always like “no, thanks anyway though.”
But no, yeah, seeing them, their success has been amazing. For Elisha it was already sort of in the works at the end of PMK. She was constantly going down to LA and doing things. You could tell that she was going to pursue this career. And then Jay, he’s a powerhouse. He’s done some amazing things. I really love the movies that he’s made and what he does. He’s amazing.
I continued acting a little bit, but I sort of went right into music. I didn’t go to university. I moved to Toronto when I was 19 and just started pursuing a career in music. And that’s led me to Sweet Thing for a number of years and now Dwayne Gretzky, which has been fantastic.
So you weren’t interested in pursuing acting as your main career after the show ended?
Man, I was playing in a band, smoking weed, living in Lindsay, Ontario. I was not wanting to act. All my friends in Lindsay, we all sort of connected and started playing music and that became everything. That’s when I fell in love with music. I knew then. I was probably 17 and I was like “this is what I want to do.”
I was finished [with the show] when I was 16 and I was done. I told my agent “I want to take a break.” It was the opposite of “I’m going to use this to propel myself.” You know, I was hosting. It wasn’t quite acting. And that’s kind of something that comes more naturally to me. Acting, I do have some experience doing it and I do enjoy it, but it’s like anything: you have to put everything you have into it to really make a go of it. I’ll go out for auditions or book things based on the way I look or this and that, but music’s something I feel like I can control, that I can be in charge of, and that I can schedule my life around. That’s more my thing.
Did it bug you to see Jay and Elisha go on to become these big actors?
I was never like jealous or any of this. I was always happy and excited for those people. I mean, Jay getting to be in Tropic Thunder with Steve Coogan and Ben Stiller was just wild. Or Million Dollar Baby with Clint Eastwood. When I got to hang out with him on set of The Plateaus I did get to pick his brain and talk to him. And he was so amazing and open about his experience. That’s a pretty amazing thing to get to work with one of the greatest directors of all time and win Academy Award for Best Picture. Where do you go from there?
You were from Lindsay, but PMK shot in Montreal, didn’t it?
Yeah, it was pretty nonstop. The links were shot in Montreal with me and Elisha and the adventures were all over Canada. We shot from May to October. So I went back to school in between and then head back on the road again. In a way it’s prepared me to be in a touring band. It was just constantly with a team, lots of gear, moving from place to place with an objective, going in, and then heading onto the next place. That’s what I do now.
Have you done much acting since PMK?
Oh yeah, I did Instant Star, which was a CTV show, for four years. I did bit parts on Murdoch and Doyle, making the rounds. And I still audition. But I’m musically so busy. I play in an act overseas called Ryan O’Reilly. He’s a songwriter. I write songs with him and we tour around Europe. That takes up four to five months of the year, when I’m over there. So those blocks that are booked off, I can’t audition for stuff that shoots during that time. So it makes it challenging. I do still go to auditions, but… I’m due, let’s just say that. I’m due to book something at some point.
You’re in Dwayne Gretzky, and for awhile there in Toronto there was Sheezer, there was the Spice Girls tribute, there’s Vag Halen, Hervana. It was weirdly a cool thing…
…to be a cover band, yeah. Well when we started playing we weren’t aware of that. Because I was in Sweet Thing and I was the drummer. What ended up being Dwayne Gretzky was just a chance for me to sing and play and do songs that… You know, we would all get together and watch the hockey game in the jam space and literally between periods we would play like Tom Petty and Springsteen, kind of just for fun. But then we were like not bad at it. So we started challenging ourselves to learn more epic songs, without ever playing any shows. Just for fun. So by the time we started playing shows we had this repertoire of songs that we loved playing. And that was all it was about.
You have a huge repertoire.
Now we do. I just compiled a list of songs we’ve performed and it’s at about 320 right now. Over the past four years. So it keeps me busy, which is really, really good.
And you’ve popped up at a lot of different kinds of gigs you wouldn’t necessarily get in Sweet Thing. Like the Polaris Prize, for instance.
That was amazing. We were very excited to be there, and that ended up being a really fun party. But we played WayHome this summer. And that was like “really, we get to do this? We’re like a real band.”
I remember the Polaris afterparty last year. That was the first time I’ve seen people really dancing at one of those. I’m sure the free booze helped a little bit…
You know, Mac DeMarco helped a lot with that. We started playing to a bit of a scattered room. It was a fine vibe, but I remember thinking “oh, this is going to take a lot.” And then Mac DeMarco and Win Butler walked up towards the stage and all of a sudden the room started coming in. And then Mac jumped up on the speaker and, boom, chaos ensued. He was the life of the party. He loved the songs, he was singing along, it was infectious. And we were all like “thank you.” It ended up turning into a real shit show. We’re doing the afterparty again this year.
Was that where you met Jay?
It was during the rehearsals, during the day. I walked up at one point and he was like [in a pitch-perfect Jay Baruchel voice] “Tyler Kyte! Wow, this is great! This is years in the making.” Because, like I said, we had never met before.
So getting to work with him on The Plateaus was amazing because those guys, Elisha and Jay, have worked so much on set. I’ve done my fair share of work on set as well, but not quite to the extent that they’ve done it. Just to sort of be with them and see how they handle themselves and how they assert themselves and when… they were great. For me, it was a very fun bonus experience.
How did you get onboard at The Plateaus before the other guys?
I actually went for the readthrough and read for a bunch of characters. So I got to meet everybody then. It’s a good group of people. Everybody was firing on all cylinders. It was really like being on a pro shoot. Everyone worked so hard, so many different people working in so many different ways of pulling that together. And it’s awesome to see people create work for themselves, younger people who are not sitting around waiting for an audition or waiting for someone to call them with an opportunity. Rather they’re going out and making opportunities for themselves.
Yeah, it seems like most of the best Canadian comedy is on the internet, not on TV.
I feel like more and more it’s becoming a viable avenue because everyone has the internet and people’s attention spans are going down so short episodes are great. And there’s a lot of that going on in Toronto. Like Space Riders: Division Earth, that web series I think is just out of control good. I sing the theme tune on that, which is awesome. And The Amazing Gayl Pile, which is another web series that Morgan Waters created and starred in. That gives me nightmares, that show. Amazing. It’s great to see that. Why wait around for an opportunity when you can just create it yourself?