For Canadian millennials, there was a special time in ’90s television where all of your favourite shows landed on a single station and you could spend hours watching without interruption. Rushing home to sit in front of the TV was absolutely a thing and YTV was the network where you could catch it all. Shows like Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Goosebumps, Batman, or Breaker High had the television on from after school until dinner time and our babysitters: PJs.
At a time before the rise of the Internet, reality stars and influencers we looked up to YTV’s program jockeys and their animated co-hosts, like Snit and Elvays. PJ Phresh Phil was the guitar-playing host of YTVs The Zone, which aired weekdays around 3:30 p.m. Covering topics from family to following your dreams to parking tickets, PJ Phil—born Phil Guerrero—was like the cool older brother that gave you valuable life knowledge from the same familiar little room every day.
Phil was recently tapped to promote the ‘Keep It Weird’ collection by YTV and Retrokid, an apparel brand by Canadian Space Jam voice actor Eric Bauza. The new capsule includes T-shirts and hoodies featuring exclusive hand-drawn designs of iconic YTV shows from back in the day, such as Camp Cariboo, UH-OH, Video & Arcade Top 10, and You Can’t Do That On Television. There will also be a limited number of the classic Camp Cariboo Keener hats are available, with proceeds going directly to Kids in Camp, a charity that financially assists families looking to send their kids to camp. The pieces drop tonight at 9 p.m. and can be copped here.
We caught up with PJ Phil to talk a little about ’90s nostalgia, keeping it weird, and the new collection.
You were a staple in Canadian millennials households in the ’90s, can you talk about how you got yourself into the position of PJ at YTV?
I’ll try and keep it short. My best friend from private school, he was in the acting business. He got the gig For YTV and because he knew that I wanted to do that kind of stuff he got me an audition to be a co-host For YTV Rocks. I didn’t get it but YTV called again and they said, “Well, we do this thing called PJs and it’s kind of for the preschool kids, but we’re thinking of maybe doing an after-school version.”
So, I just had three days a week, a six month contract, right? And it [The Zone] was just this living, rolling organism. No producer. We turned an office into our studio. The cameraman, he had to be like, up against the wall. It was really neat and very loose.
“If you think it’s weird, that’s OK. If other people think it’s weird, that’s OK. My thing is, be yourself. It’s totally cool.”
It didn’t really seem scripted. I was looking back on some old clips and in one episode you were talking about a parking ticket you had just gotten, which lead into you talking about responsibility.
Right. You know, the one thing I realized was not to talk to kids like they’re dumb. I learned that kind of early. Like, you can learn something from everybody. You know, like a 10-year-old could open you up to something where you never thought of it that way. So I always spoke to kids like I did because really, I was speaking to the cameraperson. And I guess it was relatable but I wasn’t trying to teach responsibility.
You know, one thing I remember when parents always came up to me in the ’90s, they’d say, “You know, what I really like about what you do is you make mistakes. And it’s OK that you make mistakes.” I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just like, “Yeah, I totally get it.”
“Keep it weird” was a popular phrase on YTV in the ’90s. What would you say your definition of keeping it weird is?
Keep it weird is really being a nerd… and unapologetic. When I think of a nerd, I think of someone who’s so passionate about something, it’s really special. You know, whether it’s music, or Dungeons and Dragons, or calculus, you name it, you feel that passion. And the more you have, the better. You know, keep it weird, be weird. If you think it’s weird, that’s OK. If other people think it’s weird, that’s OK. My thing is, be yourself. It’s totally cool.
You see the nerd culture now. It’s fine now. But back then it was—remember Revenge of the Nerds? It was parodied. Like, these are the cool guys. But yeah, my thing is whatever your passions are, good for you. Don’t be ashamed that it’s a weird, nerdy thing. Be yourself, be unapologetic. And the more true you are, it catches on, right? People feed off of that energy.
How do you reconnect to your inner child? Do you collect Pokemon cards or like comics, anything like that?
I am constantly open to whatever inspires me or lights a little fire. I will nerd out on something, maybe suck it dry, and then move on to something else. I’m always trying to find that thing that excites me.
I went to private school and I would go to my rich friend’s house–we were middle class–and their parents would have these amazing stereos where you’re just like wow. So nerding out over COVID, I put together the stereo that I always wanted. Now I have a really high-fi stereo that I always admired and my friend’s parents houses. I’ve nerded out on that in the last couple of years.
What was your favorite YTV show?
Imagine, when I was doing this I was in my 20s. So out of all the shows I was introducing, the ones I was the most excited about were ones that made me feel nostalgic and that was the old Spiderman and the old Batman. Those were the ones that were just reliving my childhood. Those were my favorite shows.
So we’re here to talk about the Nostalgic apparel Collection from Nelvana and Retrokid with throwback ’90s YTV designs. Have you seen the collection? Which one will you be copping?
I’m excited about it. During COVID I’ve just gotten used to [wearing] sweats. I have never been more comfortable in my life. So I’m excited about it all because it’s all kind of sweats material.
I like the Video Arcade Top 10. That one with the YTV logo with the purple TV, I think I still have that in a plastic somewhere, packed away. I honestly want one of everything. I love Camp Caribou because there’s something about the notion of a camp sweatshirt. You know what I mean?
It’s a thing.