Revisiting the heyday of slime on Canadian television

BY SARAH BERMAN | VICE.COM

As a kid of the 90s, there was a not-insignificant portion of my psyche devoted to slime. Neon sludge falling from the sky somehow felt within the realm of possibility, and my childhood dreams reinforced this too-real threat.

This came back to me while watching Kristen Wiig get sprayed with sticky green ghost vomit in the Ghostbusters reboot, which got me wondering if slime is due for another cultural moment. For a solid decade, you couldn’t turn on a kids channel without seeing a cast of goggled, baggy T-shirt wearing middle schoolers ready to be “slimed” at any moment. If I understand anything about the nostalgia industrial complex, there must be some TV execs out there figuring out a way to bring this back.

With this in mind, I decided to track down one TV personality I still associate with slime—Scott Yaphe, the host with a shiny hair-cliff on YTV’s Uh Oh!. The Canadian game show, which launched at the tail end of slime popularity in 1997, was one of the network’s longest-running programs, in which kids spun a wheel, answered dumb questions, competed in “mayhem” challenges, and generally tried to avoid being slimed by a dude in a bondage-y wrestling mask and hockey gear.

Even as a kid, it was pretty easy to tell that Uh Oh! was Canadian. I was too young for the cheap sets to give it away, but the Quebec geography trivia and the Canadian Tire-brand prizes were cues even I could catch. What I didn’t know was that TV slime itself is a Canadian invention, started more than a decade earlier on Ottawa’s local CTV channel.

“In our YTV bubble, we had thought that Canada started it first, as it kind of happens with the States sometimes: they will take a look at what we’re doing here, and rip it off,” Yaphe told VICE. “They made it bigger and bolder and more expensive… and never had to give credit.”

Yaphe said this on a hunch. “I have no proof,” he told me. But it was easy enough to fact check, and sure enough he was right. Canada served as a sleepy test market for goop-splattering kids before America mass produced the experience.I should note the story of slime has been told before—there’s even a book on it—but these versions, shaped by Americans, gloss over Canada’s contributions to the slime canon (and slime cannons) before Nickelodeon adopted it as an identity.

You Can’t Do That On Television, which aired for the first time on Ottawa’s CJOH-TV in 1979, is considered the definitive birthplace of slime. It was a sketch show written from a kid point of view, on which Alanis Morissette and other tween actors got dumped on for saying the words “I don’t know.” Like lots of Canadian-made TV of that era, creators were given a long leash, leaving plenty of room for mediocrity and weirdness. Slime could override any kid’s stiff acting—and so the ultimate recyclable sight gag was born.

“If you want to get into the details, the original slime was oatmeal of a certain consistency with green food colouring,” Josh Morris, a writer on the show for several years, told VICE. You can see this in YouTube clips of the early episodes—a chunky, paste-y slop that piled on the kids’ heads and shoulders. “That stuff destroyed people’s clothes. If you waited any time at all to wash it off, the clothes were finished.”

Morris says the show also experimented with bulk cottage cheese, since it could easily wash out, but later abandoned the cheese-slime because (surprise) it smelled awful and appeared too watery on camera. “That early slime looked great, really gooey and viscous. Cottage cheese slime doesn’t look as good,” he said. Future incarnations would use combinations cream of wheat, vegetable oil, and baby shampoo. It helped that the kids were paid a $50 slime bonus.

Nickelodeon, a new network at the time, started buying You Can’t Do That On Television episodes in in 1981, and from there the slime phenomenon caught on like wildfire. “Slime was this signal of irreverence,” Morris said of its instant popularity. “It said we’re just going to laugh and see cool things. We won’t be learning lessons on how to be nice to other kids.”

Read More: Everything I Learned From ‘ReBoot,’ the 90s Kids Show That Predicted the Future

Through the 80s, Nick added slime to a slew of new shows—Double Dare, Wild and Crazy Kids, and Figure It Out to name a few. Morris recalls something of a slime arms race, writing one You Can’t Do That On Television episode with an unheard-of eight kids getting slimed. When You Can’t Do That On Televisionfolded in 1990, YTV carried on the gross-out tradition north of the border, buying old episodes and launching its own slime-friendly variety show It’s Alive!in 1993.

Yaphe was a cast member, or “couch potato” on It’s Alive!, which bookended shows like Power Rangers and Are You Afraid of the Dark? in its first season. Looking back, the show rode a wave of quite hilarious and shameless product placement, and billed itself as “the least educational show on television.” On that show, says Yaphe, “the first sketch of Uh Oh! was born.”

But Yaphe wouldn’t score his glittery blazer and hosting gig until after It’s Alive!went off-air. He even played the slime-dumping “Punisher” in a sketch version before breaking out into the game show format as “Wink Yahoo” on Uh Oh!. For over 200 episodes he would hang upside down with a hairnet, a blow drier and Ice Mist hairspray to make that cartoon head shape happen.

For Yaphe, his stand-out memories of slime also have a lot to do with smells. “They had to make so many vats of it, because they had to prepare for every kid who’s spinning the Uh Oh! wheel to land on Uh Oh!,” Yaphe recalled.

“We would shoot four episodes a day, and we would do it for two straight weeks… The goop would sit in a room for the next day, so the stench would pick up,” he said. “At the end the kids would say, ‘You reek, get away from me, you smell like vomit,’ And they did, they stank.”

Today, Yaphe still keeps in touch with Uh Oh! cast, and does some voice acting gigs. But mostly he focuses on an energy healing practice.

When I ask about a possible slime resurgence, Yaphe has some clues. “I’ve been approached by someone, I think even yesterday on my Facebook page, saying ‘Hey, we’ve got a big event coming up, and we have to produce large amounts of slime—we were hoping you could help us.”

That, and Uh Oh! gear Yaphe has hung onto absolutely kills on Bunz trading zone. “Those kids who watched are 25 to 35 now,” he said of his fans. “When I was younger they didn’t come up to me, but now they do.” Based on Yaphe’s experience, at least, I’d say the the forecast is clear, with a good chance of slime.

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