Jonathan Torrens has been a mainstay in Canadian television since starting on Street Cents 30 years ago. In this interview, he shares with us his two cents on why he created a ‘next generation’ financial literacy web series and how competition for eyeballs in this consumer-friendly era has changed.
Francine: You have a new web series called Your Two Cents and, of course, you started your career on CBC’s Street Cents. Can you tell us some of the similarities and differences between these two shows?
Jonathan: I suppose the biggest similarity is that both shows are about financial literacy, aimed at an audience that doesn’t tend to get much education in that area. Your Two Cents skews older than Street Cents did, but whether you’re in your teens or 20s, there are simple decisions that one can make now to ensure smoother sailing as the years go by. Especially for people who work in the arts. Your income will probably ebb and flow so there’s a good chance you might have to rely on savings or another revenue stream to get you through the lean times.
What we discovered quite quickly during the development process for Your Two Cents is that young people are desperate for hardcore financial education and advice. The example we kept using in trying to define the strike zone for this show was “are we making Game of Cones, Game of Phones or Game of Loans?” We opted for a combination of the topics that multiple people requested coupled with the things we wish we’d known at that age.
The biggest difference between then and now is that people would sit through an entire episode of Street Cents even if a certain piece didn’t appeal to them. Not today. There’s too much competition for eyeballs in this consumer-friendly era, so you have about 30 seconds to get someone’s attention. We made the decision to roll out just one episode every few days. If you’re interested, you’ll watch it and hopefully share it. If not, there’s another episode on the way.
Dylan Playfair with Jonathan Torrens shooting a segment of Your Two Cents in Sudbury, Ontario.
The Internet has created an entirely new layer of financial pressure for 20-somethings.
Why did you think the time was right to create a ‘next generation’ show offering practical advice for young people?
The Internet has created an entirely new layer of financial pressure for 20-somethings. Your friends might be posting selfies from Ibiza on Instagram while you’re working at a gas station. Forget the Joneses, this generation is trying to keep up with the Kardashians. How do you do that on minimum wage? This is a very real issue and one we heard about a lot in polling our target audience. From Uber Eats to Canada Goose to photographing your sushi, technology has ratcheted up the need to compete and compare, real or perceived.
Your Two Cents makes finances and economics entertaining and accessible for a young audience. If you were asked to do the same for politics, what ideas might spring to your mind?
Access has never been easier, thanks to social media. Making politics entertaining is another matter.
In this first episode of Your Two Cents, Arkells band members discuss the business side of show biz, plus tips on how to pay down your student loan and how to pick a good cell phone data plan.
Things are changing ever so slowly but we live in an instant gratification universe, so the progress doesn’t feel fast enough.
There are two common reasons people aren’t engaged in politics. One is they don’t see themselves reflected in elected officials. They don’t hear the issues that pertain to them being raised so they feel their voice doesn’t count. The second is it’s easy to think nothing ever changes so “what’s the point?” The truth is, there is some validity in both of those reasons so I get why people are cynical. Here are a couple of other truths: things are changing ever so slowly but we live in an instant gratification universe, so the progress doesn’t feel fast enough. Look what U.S. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has accomplished in a year? She went from being a server (which I know many ACTRA members can relate to) to almost single-handedly holding Republicans accountable for their sketchy actions in Washington. Look at ACTRA member Samantha Bee. Look at how Canadian YouTuber Lily Singh has used her platform to advance causes that are important to her. Technology has its merits and this generation should use the skills they have developed to educate and empower themselves (and us!) plus get access to politicians to get their questions answered.
Either that or make comedy sketches about politicians being dumb to get your point across. That works too. It’s the Canadian way.
Here in Nova Scotia, we’ve seen first-hand how quickly our industry can change as a result of an election. With a federal election around the corner, how might seasoned performers encourage young ACTRA members to become more politically engaged?
“Morgan Free-man” and “Johnny Debt” in Your Two Cents. Nicole Frosst is the puppeteer for both characters.
It’s up to all of us to do research on which parties support what we do, and which parties have plans to make cuts if/when they’re elected.
Look, to be blunt, the divide has never been greater nor have the stakes been higher. We work in the arts. Some parties see our sector as frivolous or over-funded. It’s up to all of us to do research on which parties support what we do, and which parties have plans to make cuts if/when they’re elected. The information is pretty easy to find. If it’s not clear for some reason, ask the people running in your area what their plans are. It sounds dramatic, but here in Nova Scotia we’re just starting to pick up the pieces after four years of reeling in the wake of idiotic cuts that still make my blood boil. Get involved now because preventing is way easier than repairing.
Can you pick a 1980s pop song whose title could be an anthem for the next federal election (extra points if it is Canadian)?
“Rise Up” by the Parachute Club.
Francine Deschepper is a Halifax-based actor, Past President of ACTRA Maritimes and an ACTRA National Councillor.
Jonathan Torrens is a proud member of ACTRA, WGC and DGC. His credits include Jonovision, Trailer Park Boys, Mr. D, Call Me Fitz and Letterkenny Problems. Jonathan lives in rural Nova Scotia with his wife Carole and their two daughters.
Top image: Kassidy Mattera as “Daenarys” in the Game of Phones segment in Your Two Cents.