The city that parodies itself

Toronto has a secret hidden satirical website and angry people are laughing.

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Does every city have these? Local news websites obsessed with uncovering the latest “secret” craft cocktail/smash burger/glamping destination.

Toronto has numerous of them, all clamouring to outrank the others on Google searches and social media with their non-critical coverage of, say, a strip club that’s reopened as a raw bar, or Drake’s latest publicity stunt.

The sites can almost seem like parodies of themselves…

…so it can be hard to tell when an actual parody surfaces.

BlahTO appeared out of nowhere on Facebook about three weeks ago with some spot-on mockery.

The page takes particular aim at its namesake BlogTO, Toronto’s reigning king of clickbait. Each post hilariously proclaims something to be “secret” or “hidden,” and/or making people “angry,” “mad” or “furious.”

In short order, BlahTO has amassed thousands of followers and lots of gleeful engagement, so it soon launched a fast-growing Instagram account. Related merch is apparently coming soon. Not bad for a brand without any actual content, as you’d learn if you clicked through to the BlahTO homepage.

Daily posts take the piss out of clickbait content. But the best ones simultaneously poke fun at the absurdity of the city itself.

Amid a seemingly endless, confusing and arbitrary lockdown, Torontonians apparently crave an outlet to let out some steam and laugh at themselves.

So who’s the satirical mastermind behind it all? Is BlahTO a Beaverton spinoff? Is it the work of an underemployed comic waiting for comedy clubs to reopen?

“I work in robotics, and before that banking,” says the voice at the other end of the phone call. “I’m a vice president in robotics.”

Not what I was expecting.

The mystery man behind the mirth is choosing to keep his identity — like Toronto’s best hidden barbershop inside a vegan cupcakery — a secret.

“I think people would be grossly disappointed” if they found out, he self-deprecates.

“This is the first foray into anything comedic I’ve done in my entire life,” he continues, sounding surprised but genuinely pleased by the reception. In the last few weeks, he’s had “daily requests for writing assistance from people in the comedy field” plus “a couple of offers for writing gigs.”

I ask whether his intention is to skewer Toronto in general or BlogTO in particular. His answer? Both.

“Art imitating life, I guess, right? I think that there’s enough satirical situations in Toronto that present themselves,” he says. But “BlogTO has definitely set a voice and a tone. And it brings a familiarity to that absurdity, when the stories are done in their voice and tone.”

He was inspired to launch the Facebook page, he says, by witnessing an increased propensity for BlogTO to prioritize clickability over useful information.

Just as important, he says, “I think everybody needed a laugh.

“I didn’t think we needed to have too much of an agenda. I don’t think it has to be all that serious. People have just been very receptive to it and it’s strange to me that we have never had a white space like this, where we’re just completely mocking our own existence in Toronto and just how absurd things are.”

He says he has no intention to make money from his side hustle. When he starts selling t-shirts and other “stupid, very Toronto-centric” merch, “it would be entirely for charity. I would not take a cent off of it.”

Instead, he’s energized by his newfound ability to make people mad — with laughter for a change. Including himself.

“I’ve laughed more over the past week than I have in a long time.”