Talking with The 'Bridge
For those on Twitter, the fake Peter Mansbridge has proven to be a constant source of hilarity and mundane insight. From the account's beginnings during last year's federal election, fake-Mansbridge has grown into more than just a political parody, but an amusing caricature of the CBC's beloved newscaster. In today's post, I get to chat with the shadowy figure behind The 'Bridge, and see what it takes to impersonate The National's main man.
Why Mansbridge? Where did the choice for that particular Canadian personality come from?
The idea was born of my own election night war room, where I just kind of hunkered down with the Mansbridge [on television] and created the profile. I was hearing all this talk about how the CBC was going to be following the Twitterers as the election results came in, and I was just basically going to sit there and geek out and watch the election results pile in anyways, so I figured, why not register this Twitter account as Mansbridge? I had never used Twitter before - it was my first night - but I had heard about it through the CBC and all the hype machines starting to rev up around it. So I registered the account just on a whim. It was low-key; I didn't actually intend to use I after election night.
How many followers would you say you had after election night?
You know, I can't remember - I really didn't even understand how Twitter worked then in a lot of ways, so I was following every random slice of Canadiana - just all sorts of random people who were all tweeting with election search terms, and who were active during the election. So I sort of built up this broad and weird user base. It grew from there to people who I would just add, and kind of screw with them a little bit, because they would have no idea why the "maybe" Peter Mansbridge would want to view intimate personal details about them.
On election night, when they were cutting back to this online coverage, [his co-host] turns to Peter and says, "Peter, I see you've been on here Twittering all night!" And he gives her this blank look, like, "What? I've been here all night." I knew at that point that just after three or four hours on the service, news services were picking up on what may or may not have been a joke.
What was your reaction like when the CBC first confirmed the existence of the fake Peter account?
There had been some other pickups before then by the likes of the National Post, and I think they were fooled, because they referred to the Mansbridge account - along with both PM Harper and Dan Aykroyd - as "both heartwarming and humorous." I think that's sort of how I built it up from the beginning, because it's not like a [regular] parody account. I love Peter Mansbridge and I've got nothing but respect for him. He's an incredible journalist, the way he handled all the candidates during the election, and asked the tough questions no other newscaster would. The guy is the man. So it comes from a place of love, more than a place of parody.
I think his early tweets sort of reflected that, and they were so offside that if you read them closely, you couldn't possibly think it would be the real Peter Mansbridge. A few not so reputable news sources thought otherwise and published accordingly. So when it was picked up by CBC, there was sort of the "no shit, it's pretty obvious" response.
What have your follower's reactions been once they realize that they are not, in fact, following the real Mansbridge?
My favourite was right when it became sort of blatantly obvious that it was fake, and it was abundantly clear that, make no mistake about it, this was not the real Mansbridge, someone sent me a message saying, "I thought you were witty." But after finding out that I'm not the real Mansbridge... [laughs]. I thought that was really funny - some people are just incredulous.
Do you have any particular favourites which The 'Bridge likes to follow?
There's a few. I really love @Scroll, who's a Toronto journalist who really throws it down really well ever day, who can reference pop culture without being crass, and he's in touch with a lot of the best things in journalism. I like Burce LaBruce. I've really been loving the right honourable Sir John A. Macdonald on there. To see John address Louis Riel and say "Sorry I killed you, bro" it just shows you the fun you can have, and how you can take these things a little less seriously.
Also, before that, there's also one genius who I can't hold a candle to, and that's fake Pat Foran, from CTV news. He's sort of a lone gunman out there, dropping knowledge, and the kind of guy who reports on that obscure consumer nonsense.
How long do you think you'd keep on going for?
I don't know. Every time I think about it I've still got something left to say, and the 'Bridge resurges.
Do you find you have to make more of an attempt to actually follow the life of Mansbridge for new material?
A little bit. But the best part of the Mansbridge character is that even when he's clearly working on the National, I can tweet what Mansbridge is doing by the fireplace. There's a real disconnect, and it's almost just the spirit of Mansbridge. I'll watch the National a lot of the time, and pay attention to him that way. But when it comes to relatively major details about his personal life, he's not a heavily covered media figure. He's more of a reclusive father figure enigma, which I think lends a bit of a license to have fun with the absurd elements of it. And I'm sure the man has a good sense of humour.
Final thoughts or words for those following The 'Bridge?
If anything, I'd like to extend an olive branch and a bro hug to the young Mitch Burke [who, for the uninitiated, was quickly chastised by The 'Bridge's followers for notifying Twitter of his lack of authenticity]. I think people went a little to hard on that kid, and he's just a kid up in Ancaster, and people were just shaming at him, and I think he felt bad because he just took things a little too seriously. I'm sure we all did at that age, though, so God bless. I hope someone up there in Ancaster is giving him a noogie.
Original photo by Dustin Rabin, via The Ottawa Citizen.
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