TORONTO (CP) _ He’s known as the wisecracking bandleader of the Barenaked Ladies, but in a new television show debuting this week, Ed Robertson tries his hand at a series of decidedly different jobs.
In an upcoming episode of "Ed’s Up," Robertson is thrown around a football field like a rag doll while practising with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In another, he wheezes through a day at a steel mill.
Later episodes show him battling forest fires, pulling up his sleeves at a cattle ranch, and slogging it out in a rock quarry. Each task begins with Robertson, an avid pilot, receiving a set of coordinates directing him to some unknown Canadian destination. Once he lands his Cessna, he’s assigned a hard-slogging blue-collar job typical to the region.
"That’s part of what’s horrible about it but also part of what’s fun about it," Robertson said earlier this year during taping.
"I don’t know where I’m going next, I don’t know what I’m doing when I get there. I think the bulk of the drama from the show comes from whether I will actually survive the things that I’m doing."
Roberts, who has played music with Steven Page, Kevin Hearn, Tyler Stewart and Jim Creeggan for 18 years now, jokes that back in high school he spent more time in the band room than gym class.
One of the roughest assignments he had on the new show was navy boot-camp training, which followed on the heels of army boot-camp training, he says. It consisted of a mile-and-a-half run (2.4 kilometres) followed by a 900-metre swim in the ocean.
"Halfway through the last 300-metre lap my calf was so cramped up I couldn’t even straighten my leg and you have all these navy guys going, ‘Come on!"’ laughs Robertson, who says he covered 16,000 kilometres for the show.
"And I’m not just thinking about making it, I’m thinking about surviving. I’m feeling like I’m gonna drown, you know."
There were plenty of naval divers on hand to rescue him, but Robertson is proud to say he pushed through and finished the swim.
"I didn’t come last, either," he boasts. "I came in second last. To a girl with a foot injury."
The closest call came from one of the simplest tasks. The guitarist says he almost lost his fingers while helping to build a bridge on the Churchill River just outside of Goose Bay, Labrador. An electric wrench he was holding suddenly pulled his fingers toward a girder.
"I just let go and dropped it, but if I hadn’t, it would have pinched all the fingers off my right hand," he says.
"They would have been gone. It was one of those things where I went, ‘Whoa, wait a minute. I’m in a rock band. I already have a career."’
Although he leads a privileged rock star life, Robertson says his family is full of blue-collar workers. His dad was a foreman at Honeywell, his grandfather was a farmer in Coldwater, Ont., and his brother was an arborist with the city of Toronto.
"All of the stuff I’m doing on the show I know is out of my element as a rock star but it’s kinda where I live at the same time," he says.
"I feel very at home doing these things that I’m doing because it’s kinda my family, it’s my country, it’s where I am."
The 13-part, 30-minute series starts Wednesday (check local listings).