Letterkenny, Ireland, the urban center located in County Donegal with a population of just under 20,000 people, is probably the most important Letterkenny in the fighting world. It is, after all, the city where UFC Lightweight and erstwhile Featherweight champion Conor McGregor knocked out Paddy Doherty in just 4 seconds in 2011.
But there’s another Letterkenny (population 5000 people and at least as many problems) that’s making contributions to fight culture in its own unique way. The fictional Canadian town even features a sharp-tongued tough guy who has vanquished and humiliated all of his opponents. And it’s arguably far more entertaining than any energy drink-tossing red panty night could ever be.
Based on the beloved viral YouTube series Letterkenny Problems, Letterkenny is a comedy series that’s rapidly gaining cult status in its home and native land. Despite the show’s relatively small reach—it streams on the fledgling Canadian service Crave TV and sometimes airs on the cable station The Comedy Network—it’s received consistent and unrelenting word of mouth support since its first season premiered in February.
In terms of hard numbers, Letterkenny has had the biggest debut of any series on Crave since the service launched in 2014. Letterkenny Problems has over 21 million views on YouTube. In anecdotal terms, pretty much every small town Canadian weirdo has become rather obsessed with the show and dedicated to spreading the good word of Letterkenny far and wide. And I am one of those weirdos.
As the former resident of a Letterkenny-esque place called Welland, Ontario, the show appeals to me because it skewers the politics, subcultures and hierarchies of predominantly white small town Canada with an accuracy that might be painful if it weren’t so funny and it never forgets that small town trash and intelligence are far from mutually exclusive. As a comedy lover, I’ve taken to the series because it is unrelentingly clever and its dialogue is so rapid-fire and densely packed with references that even the throwaway lines would make leave the comparatively lightweight Gilmore Girls winded. It’s basically what The Trailer Park Boys would be like if it were written by the playwright Tom Stoppard.
But I also love it as someone who has spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the culture of fighting—and as someone who maybe tried to start something by yelling snarky things at a dude in a TapOut shirt in a Southern Ontario Legion hall in the aughts—because it’s one of the smartest, most thoughtful, and most accurate portraits of fighting (or at least street fighting) psychology that I’ve ever seen.
For all of the insult-trading and schemes and (sick) ostrich fucking that happens on Letterkenny, it is, at its heart, a pretty classic tale of a warrior seeking redemption and dominance set against a backdrop of warring factions. “This is something that comes from my own hometown of Listowel, Ontario,” Letterkenny star and creator Jared Keeso told The Suburban last February. “I’ll be pulling from a lot of first-hand experience there, growing up in a town where getting your (butt) kicked is a legitimate concern on a day-to-day basis. We'll explore the different groups in the town and why they don't get along."
And that life experience really shows in the stories. In the series premiere, Wayne (Keeso), who has recently been dumped by his long-term girlfriend, sets about reestablishing himself as The Toughest Guy in Letterkenny. The residents of the town all seem to believe that his relationship made him soft and he’s eager to prove them wrong. This kicks off a series of confrontations, trash-talking and fights with an endless parade of challengers that plays out like a mix of classic pro wrestling booking and the current MMA promotion cycle.
Every single moment of the fight, from first word to the last punch thrown, is so brilliantly and accurately rendered.
Wayne’s pre-fight psychological game is ingenious.
The fights themselves are also well done. Not in the sense that they’re good fights, but in the sense that their internal logic, choreography, and execution are pitch perfect for undisciplined tough guys who have honed their craft, such as it is, behind schools and bars in places like Thorold, Penetang, and Sudbury (where Letterkenny is shot). And the accompanying soundtrack is always amusing.
But perhaps most impressive of all, though, is how beautifully the show captures the psychology of the small town brawl and the small town brawler. The posturing, the blood-lust, the pride, and even the lack of anything better to do are all explored with the toughest love and the sharpest wit.
In a trailer that dropped yesterday, the Letterkenny crew revealed that they’ll be bringing this same keen eye to Wayne’s latest opponent, “an amateur MMA asshole” who asks him to “engage in aggressive altercation,” and challenges Wayne in season two (dropping on Crave on Christmas Day).
The clip also features the boys spewing alphabetical alliterative descriptions of the fight as fast as Joanna Jedrzejczyk generates jabs.
Although the amateur MMA asshole seems to fare better against Wayne than most other men have so far, my money would still be on him over McGregor if anyone ever wants to find out who the toughest guy in any Letterkenny is.
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