On a cold Friday night, I found myself leaning against the sticky black walls of a dingy, low-lit venue in Toronto's west end. A mix of the retro rock pumped through the stage’s PA system as people found a place to sit. Canada Goose parkas and Hells Angels jackets were slung next to one another on the backs of beer-stained seats. At some point it dawned on me, we were all here to watch an adult puppet show—we were here to see Ed the Sock.
The green-haired, cigar-smoking puppet grew to fame on Canada’s MuchMusic. He represented all things weird and dear to Canada during the ‘90s and early ‘00s. He interviewed everyone from Mark Hoppus to Mark Hamill. He sang backstage with Destiny’s Child and even crafted a flirtatious rapport with a young Avril Lavigne.
When he wasn’t interviewing musicians, he was hosting Ed & Red’s Night Party on Citytv —a variety show where B-list celebrities soaked in a hot tub with topless women, while Ed and co-host Liana K conducted nonsense interviews. Sometimes there were blowup dolls. Though Steven Kerzner, the man behind the puppet, isn’t exactly what you’d expect— short, softly spoken, and on the surface, somewhat reserved. For a while he identified as a Conservative, idolizing the likes of Thatcher and Reagan. Since then he’s denounced his right-wing leanings, in favour of a centrist view.
Like most Canadians who grew up in the ‘90s, I was raised on MuchMusic. It’s what I binge-watched before the advent of Youtube or Netflix. Music videos, live performances, tree tosses, award shows, and of course Ed the Sock. But whenever Ed made an appearance, I was told to change the channel. He was too crass a commentator for my pre-teen ears. Sooner or later, Ed became someone I looked forward to watching, if not because he was hilarious, then because the thrill of hiding it from my family made it even more exciting.
In the 10 years he’s been off the air, Ed has fired shots at MuchMusic, co-hosted the short-lived Ed’s Night In, and launched the FU Network on YouTube with his wife Liana. Now, nearly two decades since this all began, I found myself sitting in a room watching him crack jokes at the expense of SJWs, the alt-right, hotel bed stains, and cucumbers.
I was skeptical of who he was trying to appeal to. The audience was made up of people in their late 20s to 50s. While it was a slightly more diverse crowd than I anticipated, most of them were white; the majority of them, men. Some of them, rough around the edges. So when Ed asked us for the definition of political correctness and someone from the front row—who I could only describe as that guy—yelled “pussies,” I wasn’t surprised.
They interspersed discussions of nuance with punchlines like “cocksuckers do good work.” One minute he talked about outrage culture, the next he was calling Bill Maher a douchebag. Near the end, we were looking at a slideshow of dicks on a projector.
I wondered, is Ed relevant anymore?
I listened as he and Liana used outdated pop culture references ( SCTV, Gilbert Godfrey, and Moby, to name a few). When we spoke briefly before the show, I asked him if he’s ever going to put down the cigar and pick up a vape he sternly answered, “no.”
Despite this, some critics feel he’s more relevant than ever. To some degree, it makes sense. If you’re going to joke about societal taboos (where some may feel you’re crossing the line), why risk being pilloried? Just get a sock to tell those jokes for you. Considering he’s more politically charged than some are used to (or interested in), most of his fans would be more inclined to listen to Ed, than Steve.
So I figured I’d ask this new Ed, along with Liana, why? What’s the point of all this? Why come back at all as a puppet from the 90s?
Here’s what they said.
VICE: What audience are you trying to reach, if any audience in particular?
Ed: All that you see online, on news websites or cable news, is circus freaks- extremists of both the right and left who are willing to set themselves on fire to get attention. And so the moderate dialogue, the objective sensible dialogue that should be going on, isn't going on. There's nobody out there for that vast majority of people who don't identify as conservative or liberal. Most of them go issue by issue, election by election. There’s nobody out there speaking up with the voice of reason, and that’s what I’m here for, that’s what I’ve always done.
You know people watch me and say ‘hey Ed the Sock, you’re saying the things I’m thinking.’ That’s been missing. Liana’s been doing it online with her YouTube channel and now I’m joining, bringing it to people directly because I think there's a lot of people out there all across the political spectrum that just wanna have fun talking about politics and have these difficult conversations, in ways where you’re not at each other's throats.
So what then do you hope will come from these talks that you’re doing?
Liana: Oh I mean, that people have a good time first and foremost. Seeing that they learn a bit of stuff. I was really surprised when they wanted the history of the cheongsam garment, that was a pleasant surprise. But people are learning things, people are laughing and people are feeling a little more relaxed on hot button political issues. But at the end of the day, it's about entertainment, people just coming to have a good time.
Ed: We want them to show up with an open mind. And if you show up with a closed mind we’re gonna pry it open with a crowbar of humor.
You mentioned the cheongsam garment. Last night when you brought that up and you were asking for crowd participation, there was a little bit of hesitancy before people were willing to engage. Where do you think that hesitancy comes from?
Liana: Well there’s the obvious—we were asking politically charged questions right? What is political correctness? What is cultural appropriation? So the whole point of the experiment is to show that they’re jargon terms, that, there's actually no firm consensus on what they mean and that's why they're used as weapons. It puts people in a mindset that they're going to be called on. They have the opportunity to speak; they're no longer a passive audience. I find it always takes a while for the audience to get into that idea.
Ed: As far as I’m concerned, it’s because a lot of people are very very brave these days, sitting anonymously behind their keyboards. But when you ask them in a crowd to speak up and give an opinion, they're now responsible for what they say. They’re responsible the crowd knows who said it. So they have to measure their words because you’re speaking in public. You can't just be a flaming asshole...other than one drunk guy, and I understand he’s a flaming asshole when he’s sober. Other than that, people aren't really asked anymore in public discourse, in a place that’s not charged by or a safe environment, to give an opinion or give the fodder, have a question about hot-button issues. So people say “wait what is this? Oh yeah, we used to be able to do this.” and people would slowly start to speak. But I think it’s because we’ve become a world of people who abandon all social niceties because nobody knows who they are, and they’re sitting behind the keyboard just intending to piss people off.
Yesterday we spoke a bit about how a lot of where that stems from is people curating this world that reflects the one they want to live in—not willing to challenge their own beliefs—which is why context is so important. But I’m wondering how you approach offering that kind of context to people who are skeptical of your own views.
Liana: I think because we sort of have a point-counterpoint you should know, somewhat diversity in views is represented so Ed can be Ed and people don't feel like they're having an opinion forced on them, even during the show last night there was a bit of disagreement about things like Black Panther costumes and things like that. I think, not only are we representing more than one view, but we’re also showing how people can disagree without hating each other.
Ed: First of all, people know that I sit firmly in the middle. I don’t look to be liberal or conservative, I look for the weak arguments and the stupidity and the ignorance on both sides. So they know that both sides are gonna get it from me. I’m not an agent of one side or another, so I think that gets people a little more comfortable. Using humour is really the best way to turn down the temperature on hot button issues and actually be able to have a conversation. Humour is the spoon full of sugar that makes the medicine go down.
So how do you then seek reconciliation if you’ve been cast out?
Liana: On the one hand if you get ostracized by one side you find another group, that’s what I’ve been doing all my life. There are plenty of people out there. People are really down on social media but social media allows you to connect to people all over the world. So when one door closes another door opens, and I truly do believe that the people who aren’t in the politics of ostracization, based on my own experience in even gaming, and being excommunicated by the so-called progressive feminists in gaming, that people like that don’t laugh.
People like that control the dialogue, they become very brittle as things break where people who are willing to have conversations will find each other- pendulums swing. You don't want to be too far out on a limb when it swings back because you’ll be left behind by the next social wave. History has done that over and over and over again. I always tell myself if I want to be heard, if I want to be given a fair hearing, I have to do that for other people as well. If you approach it with that mindset there’s no way it can’t be productive if everyone involved takes that view.
Ed: You know, in the ‘70s there were two popular posters. One with a little orange kitten holding on to a tree limb that said ‘hang in there baby,’ the other one was ‘you can’t soar with eagles if you fly with turkeys.’ So if you find that you’re offering an opinion that might not be part of the orthodoxy, and you’re doing it in good faith and people throw you out...good! You were with the wrong people in the first place— they did you a favour.
You ever go to the movies and you sit in there with everybody and then you go to the bathroom maybe half-way through and you walk back in, and can’t believe how bad it smells? But you didn’t realize how bad it smelled when you were in there because it was growing slowly, and if you never left the theatre and came back, you wouldn’t realize how bad it stunk. That's basically it. Sometimes with political groups of opinion, you don’t realize how toxic and how thin-skinned and how narrow the group you’re in is until they throw you out or you take a step outside and say, you know what, this theatre stinks and I don’t know how I didn't notice it earlier. Sometimes being thrown out of a place is the universe trying to push you to where you actually ought to be.
What views of yours, if any, have changed over the years? Things that you’ve maybe reconsidered?
Liana: Well I know that working on Ed & Red’s Night Party, interviewing people in the adult industry, my views on sex work changed completely. I mean you, you can’t really get a sense of the people do that work until you actually meet them and talk to them, and see them as people. They were some of the funnest, smartest people I’ve ever met. They made me realize that you know, adult film, any sort of sex work, even prostitution, is not just something people go into because they don’t have any other options and are forced into it, there are people that do go into that line of work completely consensually, and they really enjoy it. I think that space has to be made for all types of people, including people who do that sort of work that might make people insecure or uncomfortable or threatened.
Ed: Hey let’s face it, in every business you’re gonna get screwed, but in the adult industry at least they have lube on hand. As far as me, I was saying back in 2000 on my show I support gay rights, gay marriage, gay adoption, ‘stop stigmatizing people.’ I said I was sex-positive before I knew that was a term. Basically saying let women show their sexual power if they so chose to. Don’t pressure them, but let them show their sexual power and use it. Because let’s face it, the reason that religion and societies have forced women to cover up over the years is that women’s sexual power is so powerful and men fold like paper bags in front of it. So they force women to hide it. So I was promoting, no, if this is something you’re comfortable with, you be proud.
The only other thing that may have changed, is I’ve become a little more aware over the years what transgender people go through. I’ve always been supportive of them. I don’t have a problem with anybody who has gender dysmorphia, I don’t care. It’s how you treat other people. How do you treat me in the workplace? Are you doin’ your job? That’s all that really matters and that's all that should matter to anybody. Why anybody gives a damn about somebody else's personal struggles, except if they care and want to help, I don't know. That to me is a strange mindset. But I think I’m more sensitized to the issue of transgender.
Other than that well, I think I’ve pretty much been consistent all the way through. The thing is because the political discussion has been pulled so far to the right, me being in the middle now seems like I’m on the left. So you get people on the right saying “you’ve sold out, you’re a cuck.” I haven't sold out. I have the same opinions I've always had, except back in the day if I had an opinion that somebody just disagreed with, they were understanding of the fact that the world is full of people with other opinions. People didn't just cloister themselves away in their smartphone world where they can decide what they want to hear, what they want to read, what they want to believe. You understood there were other people in the world, and if you wanted them to accommodate you, you’d have to accommodate them.
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