"Stroumboulopoulos" premieres on CNN at 10 p.m. ET Sunday. On June 14, "Stroumboulopoulos" will begin airing at 11 p.m. ET Fridays.
George Stroumboulopoulos: 'I like having good conversations with people'
A seasoned radio and television host, the Canada-born-and-raised “Strombo” spoke to CNN this week about his new show, upbringing, career in broadcasting, motorcycle collection and more.
CNN: Tell us a little bit about your upbringing.
GS: I was raised by my mom in Toronto, Canada, and I've got a sister called Natasha, as well, and it was a small family. We just kind of grew up reading newspapers and my family was really engaged in what was going on in the world. My uncle used to always sit down and open a newspaper and he would hand me a section and I would read the news and we'd have to talk about it. I was really young at the time and he would take me to movies, so I was always raised to watch and read things that were older than one would normally at that age. I never wanted to live a relatable life, I wanted to live an aspirational life. I didn't want to see people who had my life on TV. I wanted to see other lives, right, and so I was always trying to get as much of that stuff as I could.
My family was really into that so we just talked about what was going on in the world and somehow I ended up in this job. It's a super immigrant family that I'm a part of, so there's a lot of differences of opinions and a lot of connection, assimilation, trying to hold onto your own culture, your own identity. All of those things were sort of happening in my family and in my neighborhood as I was growing up. It was a very ethnically diverse neighborhood and I think growing up in that environment helped me be a curious person. Helped me want to learn different cultures and different ways of looking at the world.
CNN: You’re a bit of a broadcasting buff. Who are your favorite interviewers of all time?
GS: I grew up watching Tom Snyder interviews. I loved him. There was a TV show that came out of the UK called “Dave Allen at Large” that I grew up watching and I really loved that. I think Howard Stern is an incredible interviewer. And of course I love Larry (King)! Who doesn't love Larry? Larry's great, Barbara's great, Oprah's amazing; and Bill Simmons.
CNN: You were also largely influenced by radio, weren’t you?
GS: I love radio and I've spent so much time listening to radio and being a part of radio that I would sit at night and I would listen to -- before there was satellite radio and all that -- I would get Howard Stern on an AM radio show that would ONLY come through when it was dark out. And as the sun would rise, the AM signal would fade so I would just, I would ride home from work and then I would sit at the end of my bed and I would listen to Howard Stern's voice until it crackled off and then was replaced by some other local radio station.
CNN: Favo(u)rite obscure Canadian reference: Stompin’ Tom or The Tickle Trunk?
GS: Tickle Trunk is the best! I mean, because Stompin' Tom is only obscure down here. At home, Stompin' Tom is Stompin' Tom. … The Tickle Trunk SOUNDS really inappropriate, and if a kid told their parent something about The Tickle Trunk, the parent would call the police, right? But The Tickle Trunk was actually a good thing on Canadian television growing up. What a weird name for it, too. Super creepy.
CNN: Name a Canadian stereotype that isn’t true.
GS: We're polite but we're not passive. I think that's the big difference. We're not a passive bunch. We'll hold onto it for a while. We're very patient. But I think it's a very polite country. ... I don't know, what are some other Canadian stereotypes?
CNN: Well, there's aboot (when saying the word “about”).
GS: Aboot's totally true! But that's only because we pronounce it the way it's spelled. There's a 'u' for a reason. America has so MANY different accents! People from Georgia do NOT speak the way that people from Minnesota speak and they do not speak the same way as people from Boston. There's so many accents down here.
CNN: What would you do if you weren't in broadcasting?
GS: If I wasn't in broadcasting I would like to grow a gigantic beard; and I would like to open a motorcycle garage somewhere in the desert in Nevada and I would disappear and work on bikes, make them really fast. I would love to just race motorcycles for a living if I could do it, but I'm just not that good at it so this is what I'm doing.
CNN: What kind of motorcycle do you ride?
GS: Well, here's the thing: I don't have any kids or dependents or pets or plants -- so I just have bikes. I have several. I like sport bikes, I like race bikes; I used to drive more cruisers. I used to like to ride a more laid back bike, then I sort of got into sport bikes now. So I'm currently bombing a monster around town. I like the Ducati Monster. For longer trips it's a BMWF800 GS that I ride. The GS is the name of the bike. Some people think I spray-painted my initials on the bike. I'm not a DB.I wouldn't do that. I would HOPE I wouldn't do that. I think the longest I've done on the road -- I don't know what it is in miles but 6,600 kilometers. I rode from Toronto all the way down, I was in Memphis, Nashville, down to New Orleans across the South, spent some time in Austin then bombed up and around into Roswell. I basically wanted to go to Lake Havasu in Arizona where London Bridge is. London Bridge was moved to Arizona. And if you've seen the "Pirhana 3D" movies -- and if you haven't: why haven't you? I'm just kidding. Or am I? That lake -- the original London Bridge is there. The guy bought it and moved it there, so I just rode all the way down, wanted to check it out, then rode into Joshua Tree and into Los Angeles. And you're SO stiff by the end of that kind of trip.
CNN: What has been the best interview of your career so far?
GS: I interviewed a woman called Temple Grandin and Temple, before the interview, said to me: “Alright listen, I don't understand sense of humor or nuance so your questions have to be very direct” ... so it was an interesting process kind of connecting to Temple and getting her to tell her story in that fashion. I loved talking to Temple Grandin.
CNN: Who’s your dream interview?
GS: I think I'd love to interview Bill Gates. Bill Gates would be really -- and Neil Young! -- but Bill Gates would be, kind of the bar, if you think of all the spaces he's occupied, just the idea of doing what he did in the tech world and then becoming the philanthropist that he is, but being a really progressive and even aggressive philanthropist in the company that he keeps I think is really interesting. So Bill Gates would be the guy. But if you're gonna interview Bill gates you gotta interview Melinda Gates as well because she is 50% of that story, and maybe more so. And so the combination of the two of them would be, I think, the right chat.
CNN: How will your CNN show be different from your CBC show?
GS: What I do, really, is just getting involved in people's lives. I like having good conversations with people; and I do that there, I'll do that here at CNN, I'd do that if I was sitting on a streetcar beside somebody. So I just like having conversations with people and I don't really think that has to change, because the audience just wants you to kind of explore the person sitting across from you and that's what I'll do.
CNN: Any plans to sprinkle a little Canadiana into the mix?
GS: Here's the thing. You can't do an interview show with celebrities or others without having a whole bunch of Canadiana because there's SO MANY OF US down here. There's so many of us! Ryan Reynolds, Ryan Gosling, Jim Carrey, Mike Myers, Ellen Page, Martin Short, Howie Mandel. You start going down that list -- CNN's Ashleigh Banfield. Invariably you will come across them. So, yes, there will be some of that. The Canadiana just will come out in its own way -- in its natural way.
CNN: Which story should CNN be covering?
GS: When the heat of a story goes away, I think you have to stay there. I think Syria needs to be covered every day. People need to really know what's going on there. What's really happening? What are the rebels doing? How is it changing? Who are the rebels? Jake Tapper did amazing coverage of the story. It's important to be nuanced. Good journalism is crucial. Good journalism isn't easy so I think it's less about what story and more about the layers and context that need to be explored in the story. That's one of the reasons why I'm excited to be a part of CNN. This is the kind of place that you can do that.