Mark Rendell

Flamin’ Raven Revealed

The story behind one of YK’s most popular websites

Yellowknife! The mysterious identity of the city’s cheekiest spokesbird has been keeping you awake at night. We know. We’ve lost sleep, too.

So, with the permission of Flamin’ Raven, we at EDGEYK.com decided to squawk.

(Lights centre-stage, curtains up, cue water-cooler banter)

The tricky bird is none other than songster, comedian and Twitter Glitterati, Mel Leonard.

Inspiration came mid-summer in the form of the City’s byzantine busking laws. Mel was working on a trial-run article for EDGE YK Magazine, but seeing the busking guidelines, the article morphed into satire: City releases new guidelines for homeless people.

“I just thought the language in the rules for buskers was kind of ridiculous,” he said. “The article wrote itself.”

Sensing more satirical fodder in the political landscape, Mel decided to launch a website. He hadn’t written satire before in a formal sense. But working in marketing, he’d mucked around with caricature.

“I often joke that when coming up with a marketing strategy, I always throw out the worst possible idea, which ends up being a satirical take on the situation.”

To create buzz, he started a Twitter account and Facebook page in July. Then, with technical help from Rob Davenport and cartoon wizardry of Joel Levavasseur, Mel launched the website mid-August.

In just over six weeks, flaminraven.com has already seen around 35,000 visitors.

The rumours began to abound. Who was behind the cawing: CBC morning show host Loren McGinnis, photographers Pat Kane or George Lessard, or perhaps Up Here Business magazine staffers Herb Mathisen and Tim Edwards? Even our own Brent Reaney was fingered as a suspect.

“I didn’t intend to be anonymous at first,” said Mel. “But someone asked me if I was Flamin’ Raven and I joked that I wasn’t, and that became really fun.”

“It was also a bit of a marketing experiment,” he said.  “I made my Facebook page public and during the height of the fires, I did a stupid, ‘NWT unveils its new logo’ – it’s just NWT with the words ‘On Fire ’- and it was shared 120 times.”

“For pure statistical joy, I wanted to see how [Flamin’ Raven] would organically grow without a name tied to it, whether that would affect it negatively or positively.”

Mel says he’s been blown away by the response – both the uptake on social media and the buzz around town.

“The fact that I walked into a gas station once and heard people talking about it was really cool. I think the anonymous nature and mystique of it helped.”

What irked the bird

First there was the busking rule. Then the City seized Nick MacIntosh’s Wildcat tee shirts.

“There’s a subtle change to the gut feeling of a city that seemed like a string of ridiculous decisions,” said Mel. “It made me go, what! The City is taking itself a little too seriously. In an alternative universe where the city is Batman, I’m the Joker saying, why so serious.”

Not everyone is pleased with the Raven’s irreverent take on politics. The site’s pointed barbs and anonymity have caused some grumbling in the corridors of officialdom around town.

Mel, for his part, says his comedy is about boosting critical discussion.

“If you’ve lost confidence in your elected officials, and I’m not saying that’s true, what’s your course to affect change?” he asks.

“You can go down and tell them you feel that they’re all incompetent – but how are you going to get heard that way? … Or I can write a humorous article about it, and get more people talking about it … I don’t have to be the guy standing up in the council meeting.”

That said, Mel thinks it’s time to drop the incognito act.

“Everybody has a right to an opinion, but everybody also has to have the consequences of that opinion. And if my name is not out there, I don’t have the consequences,” he said.

He also wants to expand the website and bring in more writers –simpler, by far, if he can approach people openly.

What’s next for Flamin’ Raven?

More jokes, for sure; and more editorial writing now that his name’s out in the open. He’ll be writing a weekly exclusive column for EDGEYK.com. He also says he’s eager to try his hand at satirical videos – really anything that will make people laugh and help Yellowknife through what he calls an identity crisis.

‘’I think Yellowknife is in between our history and what we could be,” he said. “Does Yellowknife exist because we have to, or are we on the verge of becoming this thing outside of the diamond industry and government buildings.”

“Because that’s up in the air some weird shit is going to happen, and I’m here to talk about that weird shit.”