By Charelle Evelyn on November 16 2015
There were two framed portraits in Rich Abney’s bedroom that probably seemed a little out of place for a teenaged boy.
The fact that Norm Macdonald and David Letterman – two dry, sometimes polarizing, comedians – had places of honour on his wall says something important about the CKPG sports director.
Abney, 29, who recently had the chance to see his childhood hero Macdonald live in Kelowna, lights up when talking about the Canadian comedian who was famously fired from his Saturday Night Live Weekend Update gig in 1998 – only to immediately appear on the Letterman’s Late Show and laugh the whole thing off.
“I really think he’s the best at bombing in the world. Like, when it might to seem to some people like he’s bombing, if he’s on Letterman or something, he’s getting joy from it,” said Abney. “I think, to this day, if I say some silly joke in our news and it’s crickets – that’s almost better to me than some obvious, laughout- loud joke.”
Abney’s penchant for telling bad jokes and reeling off corny puns during the nightly broadcasts is nothing new. But this summer, one of them seemed to strike a chord.
Following a story about lettuce grown on the International Space Station, Abney chimed in a crack about it being better than the romaine getting harvested from Uranus. Co-anchor Camille MacDonald made a gif-worthy face and the clip went viral.
“I was amazed,” said Abney, who was fielding a flood of Facebook friend requests from strangers and interview requests from places as far-flung as Australia and Spain (which he turned down).
He was the subject of clickbait headlines on GQ and EW and Time magazine’s online properties.
Abney took it all in stride, kept on with his normal work and eventually the furor died down – though he still deals with the occasional “Uranus” called to him from while stopped at a red light.
Raised in West Kelowna, Abney wanted to parley a passion for sports into a career behind a sports desk. A well-bruised and reassembled hockey player, he applied for BCIT’s broadcast journalism program before wrapping up high school. A rejection letter sent him to Okanagan College where he began a path towards becoming an elementary school teacher. But after playing in the college’s now-defunct hockey league, Abney was recruited to do press for the team.
“I remember seeing my stuff in the newspaper and thought ‘well this is fun.’ I liked interviewing the guys, getting the stuff, sending it in and seeing it sort of manifest itself the next day when people open up the paper,” he said. He reapplied for BCIT and was off to Vancouver within a couple of months for the two-year program where it was at times trying for a sports-oriented WHAT to navigate a school looking to produce the next Peter Mansbridge.
But Abney stayed on task and was hired halfway through his studies (he finished his diploma remotely), coming to Prince George last November where he made it his mission to put the local back into the sports package of the nightly news.
“No one’s watching CKPG to find out how the Canucks did the day before and I haven’t shown a pro sports highlight in a year and a half,” said Abney, who works seven days a week to make that happen.
For a 10-minute appearance on television, Abney is putting in exponentially more work. A oneman sports department, he also shoots and edits all of his stories. “I think it’s way more exciting for people to see themselves or their cousins or neighbours or classmates on TV, so the response has been really good,” he said.
The fact that he didn’t run any Super Bowl or World Cup highlights is point of pride for Abney.
“If you told me two years ago I would know the name of every high school football player in Prince George or girls’ hockey or whatever it is, I would have called you crazy but the feedback and the reaction is more than enough to make me want to do it.”
Another point of pride his is national Radio Television Digital News Association award. He picked up the hardware at a ceremony in Toronto in June for a story on acceptance and sportsmanship at an elementary school relay race that also earned him a provincial honour.
“I’m comfortable being myself on air. I get to tell positive stories,” said Abney. “I get to do something pretty cool every day.”
REPORTER FOR THE PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN
Journalist, west coast native, music lover. Made in Canada.