Les Pavelick: aka Metro
Still wearing the original costume from the 1970s, Pavelick as his alter-ego Metro. Rock 'n' roll, observations on life, and laugh-inspiring malapropisms.
Are you kiddin’ me!?” Les Pavelick, the man behind the highly credulous comic character Metro, is frequently gobsmacked by how simple things can get so complex.
“We gotta have some fun, learn to lighten up a little,” he says briskly.
These are words to be taken seriously from someone who started his career playing with dance bands, took a short pause as a printer’s apprentice, and spent the balance of his creative energy in radio and television and teasing laughter out of audiences as Metro. Being “retired” hasn’t dulled his conviction that creating fun and funny things is the highest priority if you’re going to do anything worthwhile.
Metro, the character, is an east European Canadian living in rural Saskatchewan. Metro is the king of one-word, letter, or inflection changes that render a common phrase hilariously inappropriate (standing ovation becomes “Standing Ovulation,” the title of his new book). Metro is what would be called today a “race-based” or “culture” humorist. Metro is inside the culture he uses to generate his humour; he is not outside it looking in. He doesn’t mean any offense.
The persona of Metro was born on Halloween 1967. In need of a costume for a party, a quickly assembled bag of used clothing at the Salvation Army produced something Pavelick recognized. It was the perfect profile for the voices that emerged from his youth living in East European immigrant communities—communities that had to survive the hardships of emigration while learning a completely new language, English.
The mind of Metro proved to be a prolific one. Pavelick lent the soon-famous orator to radio and television ads, taking a national award with one ad and gaining scores of deeply amused listeners and happy clients. Being Metro, the voice of radio and television ads, and an increasingly sought-after performer for community events, meant Pavelick would become part of the broadcast network that included not only on-air personalities but celebrities from sports, politics, and business.
An ear for the funny and a musical background made comedic song writing a natural extension for Metro. Pavelick wrote “Five Golden Rings (of Kubasa)” for his first vinyl recording, “Metro’s Eleven Days From Christmas.” More albums would follow as the years went by. Many of the songs and concepts were developed as Pavelick carried on with his day jobs creating broadcast ads.
But comedy can be complicated. In 1977, The Canadian Magazine noted Pavelick’s humour and called it “prairie crude.” The attention took the comic by surprise, a surprise which turned to deepening anxiety as Ukrainian cultural organizations and the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission took aim at his work. A potentially devastating radio interview turned the tide. Pavelick was live on-air with a representative of the commission. The commission had issued a letter stating their concern with Pavelick’s act.
“The announcer asked the woman from the commission how many complaints they had,” says Pavelick. “I was just sweating here thinking this was a no-win. The woman hesitated but finally said they had maybe five or six. Then I was asked how many albums I had sold and I told him about 15,000. ‘Mr. Pavelick,’ he said, ‘ If I were you I would look into hiring yourself a lawyer and getting the SHRC to retract their statement.’ That was the end of it.”
That was an unexpected happy resolution to a sticky situation.
Fast forward to 2008. Pavelick was down to working a handful of shows every year and was right on top of being 65 years old. “I got tired of it,” he says. “I stopped for a year and I was all right with that.” But a chance to do a small gig at his own family’s reunion and the old Metro was back in form.
A “deeweedee wideo,” video, was soon in the works and new songs were being composed. More importantly, the Met was back on the road touring small towns for fundraising events.
“This will be our fourth season for the Metro Show,” he says. “This has been the busiest year in the history of Metro. Are you kiddin’ me?”
More than a rediscovery of his favourite alter-ego, the exit from retirement also revitalized Pavelick the community organizer. To date, the Metro Show has helped small Saskatchewan communities raise more than $140,000 for projects ranging from playgrounds to new roofs on civic buildings. Pavelick not only performs at the events, he rallies his old colleagues in the broadcast network, helps community groups strategize to bring in corporate partners, generates media coverage and generally rallies regular folk for whom fundraising is a new thing.
“I think people remember the character,” says Pavelick. “We get so excited by all this. We probably raise a minimum of $5,000 per show for community projects. Small towns say they’d have to hold bingos and meat draws for eight years to make that kind of money. We’ve done 40 or 50 shows since we re-started.
“I’ve never had one complaint,” he says firmly with reference to race-based comedy.
Perhaps Metro was simply ahead of his time and people are getting this stuff now. Russell Peters, the well-known comedian whose entire act pillories racial characteristics, defends his work by saying, “I’m gonna say it because it’s the truth and that’s how I do my comedy. The drive for me is to hear people laughing. I love when people laugh.”
Les Pavelick knew that a long time ago. “If it’s funny, it’s funny,” he says, waving off pressure to explain what he does. “In my show, I’m a little edgy but not over the edge. My wife tells me I’m blessed with the ability to make people laugh.”
Visit www.metroscomedy.com to learn more about Metro.
NOTE: Les Pavelick passed away at the age of 71 on Tuesday, January 22, 2013. He will be missed. http://saskatoon.ctvnews.ca/les-pavelick-better-known-as-metro-dies-at-age-71-1.1126287