At first glance, Val “Kinky Kopper” Graham and Lil “Little Kopper” Huston don’t seem all that threatening.
But if you give them bobby hats and a couple of batons – well, you better watch out.
“We’re rebels in our own little hearts,” said Huston. “I might be little, but I’m mighty.”
Huston and Graham are two of Whitehorse’s most experienced Keystone Kops. And they’re about to take to the streets once again to keep the city’s beardless men and garterless women in check.
The Keystone Kops – named for the incompetent policemen of early 20th-century silent films – have been a staple of the Rendezvous Festival since 1965. And these days, it’s not just the beardless and garterless that run the risk of incurring their wrath.
From Wednesday to Sunday, all residents can order a hit on a person of their choosing – their boss, for instance – as long as they can cough up a $30 bribe for the Kops. The unfortunate targets will end up locked in a cage behind the original 1965 paddy wagon until they sing, dance, joke or bribe their way out.
Over the years, the Keystone Kops have nabbed a few high-profile prisoners. They got Rick Mercer years ago, just as he was finishing dinner at the Edgewater Hotel.
“We dragged him out and he sang to us and told us a couple of dirty jokes,” Graham said.
They’ve taken Premier Darrell Pasloski a few times, too. Huston said he likes to plead with onlookers until they pay the Kops enough to get him out. Last year, they tried the same thing with Mayor Dan Curtis and former MP Ryan Leef, but people didn’t seem as keen to pay money to set them free.
Graham and Huston explained that most of the bribe money goes back to the community, to groups like the Glacier Bears Swim Club and Big Brothers Big Sisters. Last year, they donated about $4,000.
But the best part of the Keystone Kop tradition is seeing what people will do to get out of jail. Graham likes when they sing her love songs. Huston prefers dirty jokes.
“And it has to be something that we like,” Huston said. “It’s not easy to get out. Your song, your joke, your dance, whatever, better be good.”
The Keystone Kops haven’t always had such a wholesome reputation around town. Years ago, they were a rowdier bunch with a tendency to seize people in downtown bars without their jackets, drive them across town and leave them to make their own way back.
“They did a lot of picking people up at the airport, too, I heard,” Graham said. “They would just pick them up and take them downtown and leave their luggage up at the airport.”
Not everyone took kindly to this treatment. Graham said there are still some in Whitehorse who hold a grudge against the Kops, even though that kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore.
But for her and Huston, donning their hats and climbing into the paddy wagon is a great way of getting into the Rendezvous spirit.
“When you get that costume on and you get in that big old beast,” Huston said, “you’re like a whole different person.”
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