4 ‘Scott Pilgrim’ Jokes That Americans Had Zero Chance of Getting
The story of a 22-year-old Canuck bassist who has to murder several of his girlfriend’s exes (thereby turning them into currency) has proven to be surprisingly enduring. First came the Scott Pilgrim comics by Bryan Lee O’Malley, then the film adaptation by Edgar Wright, followed by a slew of video games, trading cards and now an animated Netflix series: Scott Pilgrim Takes Off.
As fun as the franchise may be for the average American fan, as one of Scott’s neighbors, I can personally attest to the fact that it plays even better for those of us who reside in the “mysterious land of Toronto, Canada.” The Scott Pilgrim-verse contains at least a handful of jokes that likely make no sense to viewers and readers South of the 49th parallel — and also Canadians who, understandably, just don’t give a shit about Toronto. Like how…
Honest Ed’s Was a Real, Existentially Terrifying Store
While it’s sadly no longer in business, Toronto’s mammoth discount store Honest Ed’s is briefly seen in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Its glittering sign is hard to miss, shining through the window of the Pizza Pizza where Scott ices his wounds with a conspicuously-placed can of Coke Zero.
Honest Ed’s plays a far more critical role in the comics. In Scott Pilgrim & the Infinite Sadness, Scott is challenged to a battle inside the store by Ramona’s vegan third evil ex, Todd (the one with the vegan superpowers). When they first enter, the pair are dumbfounded by the “existential horror” Honest Ed’s elicits, which has apparently confused a number of fans over the years.
Honest Ed’s was not only an actual store but was also as mind-bendingly chaotic as in the comic, like an overstuffed K-Mart designed by M.C. Escher. But its puzzling layout was part of the long-time Toronto institution’s charm. A slogan outside the building proudly invited customers to “Come In and Get Lost.”
While the sequence didn’t make it into the movie before it was scrapped, co-screenwriter Michael Bacall visited the store for research and called the comic a “pretty accurate depiction of Honest Ed’s,” remarking that it would have been fun to destroy the building “kind of like the Death Star.” Unfortunately, condo developers ultimately beat him to it.
The Director of ‘Talk to the Fist’ is Well-Known to Canadian Movie Fans
Scott’s fight with
Captain America Lucas Lee takes place at a “totally awesome castle” called Casa Loma, where the movie star is filming a new action flick. Of course, this is a reference to the fact that Toronto is a prime filming location for productions in need of a cheap substitute for New York (with Scott literally getting knocked clean through a backdrop depicting Manhattan’s skyline at one point), but also to Casa Loma being used in several Hollywood productions, from X-Men to Chicago, to (shudder) The Love Guru.
As an added meta gag for locals, the director of Lee’s movie Talk to the Fist is played by Canadian actor and filmmaker Don McKellar.
McKellar is known for working on acclaimed arthouse movies like Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould and the top-notch apocalypse drama Last Night, starring Sandra Oh and David Cronenberg.
So it was extra funny for Canadians to see him behind the camera of a goofy action movie starring a jacked meatball with a god-awful beard.
Amazon Was Still a Novelty in Canada at the Time
Scott’s plan to romance Ramona Flowers involves ordering a package from Amazon, whom she delivers for, and pressuring her into dating him before he agrees to sign for the delivery (not cool, Scott). Of course, this was back in a time when Amazon deliveries weren’t just anonymously hurled onto your porch by a speeding van full of bottled urine.
When Scott puts his plan in motion, he has to ask his roommate Wallace: “Amazon.ca, what’s the website for that?” This moment obviously pokes fun at Scott’s innate dopiness, but it’s easy to forget that Amazon was still a novelty in Canada back then. The first Scott Pilgrim book came out in 2004, just two years after Amazon first opened up north of the border.
This is important because it ties into one of the central reasons that Scott finds Ramona so alluring: She’s American. While it may seem kind of lame today, at the time, Ramona working for Amazon was cool to Scott and evidence of her exotic appeal. Canadian culture is often playing catch-up with the USA, a point further underscored by the joke involving Ramona’s subconscious shortcuts because while Canada may have Amazon, they still don’t have Subspace travel.
In the new series, things are a bit different: Ramona delivers DVDs for Netflix — presumably because Netflix didn’t want to give any free advertising away to the company behind one of their streaming rivals.
This, incidentally, doesn’t make any sense because Netflix’s DVD-by-mail service was never available in Canada.
Scott’s T-Shirt Is a Reference to Toronto’s Pandemic Past
It just wouldn’t be a story about early aughts indie rockers without a crapload of graphic T-shirts. Many of Scott’s tops feature references to distinctly Canadian content, like the one featuring the logo for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) or the one promoting the ‘90s Halifax-based band Plumtree, whose song “Scott Pilgrim” inspired the character’s name.
Perhaps the oddest of Scott’s shirts is the one that just reads “SARS,” seen in both the comic and the movie.
This isn’t a reference to some obscure, terribly-named indie band; it’s a tongue-in-cheek nod to the respiratory disease. Shortly before the publication of the first Scott Pilgrim book, Toronto was hit hard by the 2003 SARS outbreak. This epidemiological event wasn’t without its connections to the city’s music culture either. Following Toronto’s newfound association with SARS and a controversial travel warning made by the World Health Organization, musical acts like Elton John, Billy Joel and Kelly Clarkson all canceled shows.
The city’s salvation came in the form of geriatric rockers the Rolling Stones, who headlined a massive outdoor concert to help “boost” Toronto’s reputation and raise money for health-care workers, which also featured bands like AC/DC and Rush — plus, weirdly, Dan Aykroyd and Jim Belushi. Officially, the concert was billed as “Molson Canadian Rocks for Toronto,” but everyone called it SARSStock.
For anyone who lived through that time, Scott’s shirt has a whole other layer of significance.
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