Kevin Callan
Credit: Kevin Callan

I almost set the Canada AM studio on fire!

(click "Canada AM" link to see)

Those stormbound matches sure do work. Once they’re lit, it’s almost impossible to extinguish them.

This is good news if you’re stuck in the wilderness and trying to get a fire going during a wet, cold day. It’s not so good, however, if you’re in a television studio, complete with a sprinkler system.

It was, what my friends labelled, a “Kevin moment.” It seems more times then not, when I’m on some TV or radio show, they introduce me as an "outdoor expert." By the end of the segment, I’ve proven them wrong.

Not sure If I’ll ever get invited back to Canada AM. Maybe. After all, trying to blow a stormproof match out like some hysterical fool makes for good television.

Have a read on one of the chapters from my book Dazed But Not Confused: Tales of a Wilderness Pornographer. It explains why I’m an idiot — and why I’m OK with that. 

I’m an Idiot 

I had worked with Kip Spidell, a film producer from Toronto, for over a dozen years before I finally asked him why he chose me to be the host of his films; to be the guy on camera, to do all the media interviews, and to get all the attention. It was an evening around a campfire in Quetico when I asked the question. We were sipping good bourbon and talking about old times shared together filming in the wilderness. His answer wasn’t what I expected. “Because you’re an idiot, Kevin!”

It’s not that I was expecting something like, “Because you’re talented,” or, “Because you’re good looking.” I’m a little more humble than that. But being called an idiot was a bit of a shocker — that is, until Kip explained.

“Kevin, you seriously have the worst luck in the world. Honestly, I knew right from the start that if we put a camera in front of you, something odd would happen every time.”

I had to admit, Kip was right. My life can seem like a blooper reel at times. For example, standing in the snow with just my boxers on wasn’t my idea. The producer of my online camping show, titled The Happy Camper, thought it would be a good idea to show the layering system used for dressing properly in off-season conditions by having me dress from bottom up, showing layer after layer. I had a serious problem doing the deed. We weren’t in a remote area for the shoot, but rather a public park just outside my home in Peterborough. I didn’t have a problem with the backdrop at first; our budget was tight and none of us had the time or money to travel any farther for the segment. But I didn’t know I would be standing almost naked in a public park.

“What if someone walks along the trail?” I asked. The producer basically ignored my concern, reminding me that we had seen no one all day and that it would take just a couple of minutes to film the scene.

His words seemed comforting enough at the time, so I disrobed and stood there, showing off my black boxers and pale, glossy white skin to the elements. A minute into the dialogue, however, three men wandered up the trail. They stopped in their tracks and gawked at the mostly naked guy who had two cameras pointed at him, a mic boom pole hovering over, and a producer yelling “Action!”

In my earpiece the producer whispered, “Kevin, for once in your life, say nothing. Just let them walk by and we can continue the scene.” His suggestion seemed responsible, but there’s no way I can’t say anything. So I simply waved to the gentlemen hikers and said, “It’s okay, we’re just shooting a film called The Happy Camper.”

Three women then came up the trailhead, who we assumed were their wives catching up on the walk. And that’s when the producer’s words of wisdom seemed prophetic — one of the male hikers quickly held up his arm to stop their female counterparts from continuing up the trail. “Hold on there, honey,” he said, “Someone’s filming some dirty male porn film called The Happy Camper.”

Needless to say, the crew made up nicknames for me the rest of the day, all of which referred to porn actors. I hadn’t known this before then, but supposedly if you add your street name and middle name together, it becomes your porn name. Mine is John Thomas.

I’ve had my worst blunders during live morning shows on television. I’ve shot off emergency flares by accident, and was the reason why one of the hosts of Canada AM was run over by sled dogs. (She refused to interview me for an entire year after that.) On the same show, with a different host (of course), I innocently agreed to do a winter-camping segment. What could go wrong? I thought. I winter camp all the time and consider myself a bit of an expert.

High winds were blowing off the nearby highway, the temperature plummeted to minus twenty-one degrees Celsius, and the only place to set up my Snowtrekker canvas tent and wood stove was between two old spruce trees decorated with Christmas lights. But I handled the circumstances. I’ve dealt with worse conditions while trekking in the frozen north. Then the host came out to the do the interview and the camera was turned on. That’s when the wind blew down into the stove pipe and filled the tent with smoke. I came out to greet the camera looking like one of the characters from the classic Cheech and Chong movie Up in Smoke. To make matters worse, I had cut my hand on the stove pipe, but because I was so numb from the cold, I didn’t feel it. The producer took notice of the red blotches on the snow, and when I looked down, I realized my winter glove was absolutely soaked in blood. I was bleeding like a stuck pig in front of the entire crew. Crap! How professional did that look?

Kip’s right, though. All this makes for good film. I must admit that my foolish nature has benefited me in the past. My first initial television blooper was on some little-known television talk show. I was scheduled to chat about my latest book, but I knew books were boring to talk about on TV so I gathered a bunch of the latest and greatest camp gadgets from my local outdoor store and planned on showing them off to spice up the interview. The items ranged from mosquito repellent for your dog to a solar-powered radio. I also had a Peemate, a urinary device that enabled women to pee while standing up. The crew and female host looked over the gear prior to the live broadcast, especially the plastic, tube-shaped substitute-penis contraption. So they knew full well what the darn thing was and how it worked.

The male host didn’t, however. He walked on set seconds before we went live, blatantly told me he thought camping was silly, began barking commands at the crew, and loudly declared, “Let’s just get this over with so I can go for coffee.” The camera light went on, we were live, and he grabbed the first gadget in front of me — the Peemate.

“What’s this,” he asked. I’m not sure what prompted me — maybe it was that I just didn’t like the guy — but I answered, “It’s a whistle. Give it a try.” He did. His less-arrogant female counterpart and the crew fell over laughing. The segment instantly became the joke of the century, at least in the world of morning shows, and almost every talk show in the country phoned me the next day asking to be on their show to talk about my book — and the urinary device.

The fact that I benefit from having bad luck became even more apparent just before I gave a presentation on wilderness protection at the Princess Theatre in London, Ontario. It was the first presentation of a very long speaking tour I had organized, and I was quite worried no one would show up for it. I arrived two hours early so that I had plenty of time to set up for the show. When I arrived, a crowd of people were lined up in front of the theatre. As I walked past I innocently asked the last person in line what movie was playing, thinking it was another showing of Avatar before it went to rental. She replied, “It’s for Kevin Callan. My husband says he’s the Ed Wynn of the paddling community.”

I ended up having to do two shows that evening. The theatre seated only 250 people, and there were well over 400 standing in line.

Don’t worry. All the attention definitely didn’t go to my head. Well, it did for a little while, but my high came crashing down when I woke my young daughter up for school the next morning and told her the good news about how famous her dad was. Her reply: “I hope you had your fly up this time. Mom said you didn’t during your last presentation.”