Probably no fictional character has had a bigger impact on my daily life than Degrassi Junior High’s Joey Jeremiah. He is the real reason that I’ve been wearing fedoras for over twenty five years. It’s true! I remember that I was back to school shopping with my mother at the local Zellers store in 1988 for my first year of high school when I spied a blue felt fedora and told my Mom, “I want that hat! I want to look like Joey Jeremiah.” My mother responded, “You’ll never wear it.”
“Yes I will! I’ll wear it for the rest of my life,” I pleaded. My mother had a change of heart and she bought me the hat. Over two decades later, the fedora has not only become synonymous with my identity, but it has gone far beyond a simple fashion accessory. It is an extension of my soul, and it was all because of Joey Jeremiah and Degrassi Junior High.
Ironically, actor Pat Mastroianni, who played Joey Jeremiah in the legendary Canadian teen drama, which ran from 1987 to 1992, no longer wears fedoras. However, his portrayal of Joey had a profound effect on an entire generation of Canadian teenagers that had nothing to do with their fashion sense. Noteworthy for its hard hitting topics and staunch realism, Degrassi Junior High was ground-breaking television in the 1980’s and attracted a strong fan base not only in Canada, but around the world. Dealing with topics such as teenaged pregnancy, AIDS, homosexuality, drugs, abortion, abuse and nearly every subject that American counterparts, such as Blossom and Saved by the Bell, were either afraid to touch or tried to drown out with laughter, the students of Degrassi became nationwide icons. But despite the series’ ensemble cast, it was Pat Mastroianni who climbed his way to the top of the heap as the show’s standout star. With equal parts confidence and vulnerability, Joey Jeremiah became the show’s central character. Whether he was hanging out with Snake and Wheels, striking out with Caitlin Ryan, walking naked through the school cafeteria or trying to become a rock star with “The Zit Remedy”, Joey became the most important player on Degrassi with his own larger than life bravado.
When Degrassi ended in 1992 with the controversial TV film “School’s Out”, Mastroianni put away the fedora and tried to graduate to other roles in film and television, but the shadow of Joey Jeremiah seemed to loom over him, resulting in years of struggle as he tried to break typecasting. Rejecting his Degrassi fame for years, Joey eventually returned to the role, sans fedora, for a number of seasons of the Degrassi sequel, Degrassi: The Next Generation, where he not only had a chance to continue some of his own story lines, but also interact with the new generation of Degrassi kids in a parental role. But in 2006, Matroianni finally retired Joey Jeremiah forever to finally focus on the next stage of his career.
In recent years, Pat Mastroinni has successfully broken away from the hold of Joey Jeremiah and has been seen on episodes of Rookie Blue, Saving Hope, The Listener, Cracked and Bitten; appeared in the direct to DVD, High School Musical sequel Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure featuring Ashley Tisdale, and is featured in the holiday film, A Very Larry Christmas. Furthermore, in 2013, Mastroianni began making public appearances for the first time since his earliest days as Joey Jeremiah at Canadian comic book conventions. Learning that he would be making an appearance at the Hammer Town Comic Convention in Hamilton, Ontario, I put on my fedora and made the three hour journey to meet one of my childhood icons, and to personally thank him for introducing me to the fedora. One of the pop culture icons I have wanted to interview for years, meeting Pat Mastrionni was easily one of the most epic celebrity encounters of my entire career.