'This Is the Thing' Paints Hamilton as the "Centre of the Universe in Canada"

"There's tons of charm and a lot of great hidden gems, but it'll punch you in the mouth if you're not careful"
'This Is the Thing' Paints Hamilton as the 'Centre of the Universe in Canada'
Tell me you're from Hamilton without telling me you're from Hamilton. This could only ever be a rhetorical question, since most Hamiltonians won't hesitate to tell you.

Likewise, you won't have to guess where This Is The Thing sets its scene. On the new Hamilton-centric series, record store employees (and wannabe-comic and YouTuber, respectively) Mike Mitchell and Tim Ford can't help but declare their love for "this town."

Inspired by their real lives in the Hammer, the two 30-somethings face everyday challenges: unbearable retail customers, bombed standup sets and temperamental local musicians. The miniseries premiered earlier this month on Bell Fibe TV1.

Exclaim! spoke with Mitchell about how the show came together amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and became a full-circle moment for the city's exceptionally entwined arts community, as well as the truth about his connection to Kim Mitchell — after all, "Patio Lanterns" is a hell of a tune.

Can you tell me about the genesis of This Is The Thing? It's your first foray into production, acting, the whole ordeal?

It's a first for everything across the board! My day job was with Sunrise Records; I was the Head of Marketing and Tim [Ford] was the VP of Purchasing. We had this idea to make some content for the Sunrise YouTube channel called The Vinyl Countdown, where Tim would talk shit about bands in a comical way. I always knew I wanted to make a show set in Hamilton and was like, "This should be the show!" — where it's two guys that work at a record store. But even though Mike's trying to be a comedian and Tim's trying to be a YouTuber, they like their jobs; I think that's different than most workplace comedies. That started to come together January 2020-ish, then I saw Bell was taking pitch submissions.

It's quite the pandemic project!

We still have our production meetings and were talking about how it didn't occur to us that this would be an insane undertaking in a pandemic. The other producers work in film, but this is my first time executive-producing literally anything. It did get in the way — we wanted to do a big scene with a live concert and we couldn't — but I think we rolled with it pretty well.

Speaking of, how did the collaborations with local musicians come together? What was it like working with them?

It was awesome working with them! The thing with Hamilton is everybody in the arts scene is pretty aware of each other. I've known the Dirty Nil guys for a while; I used to host a punk radio show on Y108, so I had them on for interviews. We shot a Sunrise Live session with Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs, so we knew their management and the guys from that. I remember playing shows with Terra Lightfoot's punk band back in the day at the Burlington YMCA, which our producer/assistant director Ashley Sloggett used to run shows at — everything's kind of coming full-circle with this. Tim used to own a venue in Brantford and he's booked B.A. Johnston hundreds of times, so they go way back.

Who would you love to have as a guest on the second season?

I don't know if you've seen the show, but there's a lot of references to Kim Mitchell.

Yeah, I saw that coming.

Tim was working with Kim Mitchell's manager before he left Sunrise. He goes, "I work with this guy, Mike. He's a massive fan, can you send him anything autographed?" And now I've got this one-of-a-kind signed print. I would love to have him on, that'd be really funny! And Monster Truck, Arkells, LTtheMonk. It'd be awesome if people saw the show and were like, "I want to be involved in this!" — people we'd have no shot in hell of getting. I'm putting it out there so it might happen.

I'm rooting for it. Obviously you have deep ties to the community, so are you Hamilton-born-and-raised?

Oh yeah.

What led you to stay?

I've always loved Hamilton, especially with it being as rough around the edges as it is. It's 45 minutes from everything you would want to do in Southern Ontario, so I've never really felt the need to leave? That's maybe a weird townie mindset...

But if it's true, it's true, right?

Totally! We have a great music scene, an awesome comedy scene; the arts scene is fantastic. Over the last 5-10 years, with Supercrawl turning into a big festival, more cool things have started to happen. Even jobs — you don't have to leave to get a job in Toronto now that everybody works remotely, or it's a quick commute on a train. Toronto thinks it's the centre of the universe in Canada; I'd say it's probably Hamilton.

Yeah, people might argue with you on that one.

I'll argue with anybody about that!

That'd be great to see on the show. I can count on my hands the number of times I've been to Hamilton over the years. How would you explain its zeitgeist?

Hamilton is everything you want in an arts city, but it's also a bit dangerous: you wouldn't go downtown in Hamilton for anything prior to like 2005. There's tons of charm and a lot of great hidden gems, but it'll punch you in the mouth if you're not careful.

That's a good description. So you're saying the arts scene is very interconnected, with music and comedy feeding off of each other. What's that like?

On any given night, you can go to a comedy club and see members of your favourite bands hanging out, or a concert and see your favourite comedians. Hamilton artists really pump each other up; if one person in Hamilton succeeds, then everybody in that scene kind of succeeds. A lot of touring bands are very unapologetically Hamiltonian — there's a certain sound that comes out of the city. It's the same thing with comedy: you can always tell a Hamilton comic.

I was thinking about that sense of solidarity in the context of record stores. Do you think they're important community spaces?

Absolutely. The owners of the record stores in town started as employees of other record stores. They're very ingrained in the neighbourhoods they're in. Everyone moves, but stays in the scene and does whatever they can to make record stores as community-focused as possible. Everybody tries to visit all of those stores at a certain point — nobody's loyal to one specifically.

Were all of the wacky customer characters inspired by real experiences then?

Oh my god, yeah. I worked retail for years and the Looky Lou character is very real. The amount of times I said to customers, "Hey, how are you doing today?" and they yelled "JUST LOOKING!" at me. Sorry I asked? The Roadie Rick character — everybody knows somebody in Hamilton that has a Helix or Teenage Head story and they love to talk your ear off! But Roadie Rick isn't even a customer; that's just a downtown Hamilton person you'd run into.

Fellow longstanding community members! Do you look at that like, "Oh my god, that's my future?"

That's exactly it. There was a houseless person in Hamilton — his name was Dwight — and everybody that goes to shows in Hamilton knows who he is. Bands would give him shirts so you'd see him wearing new merch a lot of the time! He passed away not too long ago and it was devastating for the music community. People started a GoFundMe to get funeral costs in order and make sure this guy had a proper send-off — and that's just a character you meet outside of shows. Everybody knew him and nobody knew him at the same time, and that's very Hamilton.