American pop culture has produced its fair share of iconic father characters over the years, from Ward Cleaver to Homer Simpson.
I grew up in the Pittsburgh area, so for me that pantheon includes Pittsburgh Dad.
As depicted in more than 300 online videos and counting, Pittsburgh Dad is a blue-collar everyman, coping as best he can with the aggravations of modern life.
In an accent as thick and chewy as a Primanti’s sandwich, he riffs on trips to Ikea (“This is the only place I know where you can buy a lounge chair, batteries, wrapping paper and meatballs.”), Thanksgiving (“How about we turn off ‘Game of Thrones’ while we’re eatin’?”) and his own qualifications for president (Job Creator: “Yinz can clean the gutter out ‘n’ put the patio furniture up in the shed.”)
The character originated in 2011, in a couple of homemade online videos shot by director Chris Preksta and actor Curt Wootton. He is loosely based on Wootton’s father.
The clips were just a lark, intended to amuse family and friends. To their creators’ surprise, they went viral.
A robust cast of off-screen characters populates Pittsburgh Dad’s world (wife Deb, Jeffy, Uncle Rick, neighbor Tom). His creators show off not only their affection for the Steel City but their familiarity with the obscurer corners of its lore.
Pittsburgh Dad shines during the NFL season, offering weekly takes on the Steelers’ fortunes from a basement rec room decked out in City of Champions swag. I never miss an episode.
In 2017, following the Steelers-Patriots game in Week 15, he offered a master class in Steeler Nation catharsis.
Late in the fourth quarter, Jesse James had caught a touchdown pass that would have given Pittsburgh the win. The officials overturned it.
Beginning with possibly the longest bleep in recorded history, Pittsburgh Dad uncorks a soliloquy that would have done Hamlet proud, had Hamlet been the type who waves a Terrible Towel from the battlements of Elsinore.
“I don’t know what a catch is anymore,” he expostulates. “Bitcoin makes more sense than a catch in the NFL. ... Why don’t yinz take a close look at the Immaculate Reception and take that away?!!”
My favorite episode is “Dad’s Goodbye to Kennywood’s Log Jammer.” Kennywood is Pittsburgh’s beloved local amusement park, the setting for countless youthful memories and source of the idiom, “Kennywood’s open.” (Translation: “Zip your fly.”)
As Dad explains to the kids, Deb worked at the ride back in the day. One day, he rode it 21 times, just to see her.
“She had that red polo and them blue shorts,” he reminisces. “Primped hair. Tasmanian Devil earrings. Gorgeous!”
He boards the Log Jammer for one last good-bye. You watch a grown man enjoying a children’s ride, remembering. It’s shot in slow motion, with “Hard to Say I’m Sorry” as background music. (Yes, the song is by Chicago, but it works.)
It’s completely ridiculous, of course. Brings a lump to my throat every time.
— Tim Stuhldreher is an LNP staff writer. “Unscripted” is a weekly entertainment column produced by a rotating team of writers.