If you grew up in Canada in the 1980s, there are some familiar TV catchphrases that can’t be forgotten: “Take off, you hoser”; “Wok the heck”; “Four more… three more…”; and “All the way with Stephanie Kay!” The last one, of course, refers to the iconic character played by Nicole Stoffman on Degrassi Jr. High. After leaving the show, Stoffman would go on to star as the daughter of a professional wrestler on the sitcom Learning the Ropes. She recently talked with SLAM! Wrestling about the move from Degrassi Street to Badstreet.
“I was wanting to leave Degrassi,” she recalled, “and this opportunity was the perfect next step. My agent got me the opportunity — I auditioned (for Learning the Ropes), and got the part.”
On Learning the Ropes, which aired on CTV for one season from September 1988 through March 1989, Stoffman played Ellen Randall, daughter of Robert Randall, who was played by legendary NFL star Lyle Alzado. Alzado’s character was a teacher and vice-principal of a private school, who secretly moonlighted as professional wrestler the Masked Maniac on nights and weekends.
Created in co-operation with the National Wrestling Alliance, the show featured guest appearances from many NWA stars of that era, such as the Road Warriors, Tully Blanchard, and Jimmy Garvin, and clips of actual matches. While working on that show sound like it would be a wrestling fan’s dream, Stoffman wasn’t among that group.
“Unfortunately (not),” she admitted. “Perhaps I should have taken more of an interest, (but I was) more into books and stuff. I think I’m probably more open-minded now. (However), I heard clips of The Ultimate Warrior on CBC radio when he recently passed away, and it reminded me of the circus and of clowning; big overblown characters. So I can appreciate its theatrical value and the wrestlers’ dedication to putting on a good show.
That dedication also extended to the regular cast and crew, and Stoffman describes the atmosphere on the set as being both friendly and professional. In particular, she enjoyed working with Alzado.
“He was very warm and kind,” she remembered. “A very professional actor, and a real dad — Lyle beamed when his family came to visit on set. He had a very cute, little blond son who was a toddler at the time.”
“(One day), Lyle brought in his Super Bowl ring which was covered in diamonds. I remember we were sitting in the classroom part of the set, and we all put it on. I was surprised when I heard about his illness (Alzado passed away in 1992 after battling a brain tumour). As far as I could tell, during the show, he was healthy as a horse.”
Alzado’s strength was often on display during the show, though it’s noted that “Dr. Death” Steve Williams was the one that donned the Masked Maniac costume for the matches that aired on the show. The show was interesting in that it somewhat blurred the lines of “kayfabe.” The outcomes of the matches were often referred to as being “real” in terms of wins and losses (in one episode, Alzado’s character was so intent on getting his first win that he broke Jimmy Garvin’s leg out of sheer aggression), but between wrestlers that were friends backstage (in the same episode, he visited Garvin’s hospital room to apologize and offered to help tutor him through veterinary school if Garvin had to retire). It’s a bit surprising that this side of the business was portrayed in this way, since, at the time, the business was still pretty protective of its scripted nature. Stoffman was never officially “smartened up” by any of the wrestlers, but did have her suspicions.
“I think it was understood that the matches were all rehearsed and choreographed,” Stoffman said. “I think I may have confronted a wrestler or two about it, and they were always coy in their answers. They also insisted it was a realy display of skill and strength.”
While it would be interesting to watch the show today using today’s “sports entertainment” filter, unfortunately, that may not ever come to pass, since there has been no official DVD release of the show. Even Stoffman hasn’t seen the show recently, noting that her interests don’t even involve much current TV. Notwithstanding, she does acknowledge she has a fondness for the show.
“I wouldn’t have been privy to any conversations about a second season, but of course I would have been interested,” she noted. “I think it was a very good concept to try to capture the wrestling audience by designing a sitcom that would appeal to them. It gave the wrestlers the opportunity to have fun as actors and horse around, and it let fans get to spend more time with them. I also liked that it was an opportunity to show my comedic side.”
Today, Stoffman’s passions tend to be more of a serious nature. After leaving the show, Stoffman went back to school, then later did some more acting, including a leading role in the feature film called Anchor Zone, and some theatre gigs. Theatre school followed, and then she formed a jazz band, called Nicole Stoffman’s Jazz Bohème, that saw her tour across France. She has since finished a degree in Film Studies and an Honours BA in Politics with high distinction.
Most recently, Stoffman has become a major advocate for adoption, working with the Adoption Council of Ontario.
“I would like Ontarians to know that there are 4,500 crown wards awaiting adoption in this province, and as many as 40,000 across Canada. If you are an aspiring parent and want to learn more about the joys, surmountable challenges and rewards of adoption, please visit the Adoption Council of Ontario. You can also sign up to view some of these wonderful kids on our photo listing, Adopt Ontario.”
As her passion for helping others doesn’t allow for much time in the spotlight, Stoffman hasn’t made a lot of public appearances lately on reunion shows or on the convention circuit, unlike some of her former Degrassi co-stars, and indeed like some of the wrestlers with whom she appeared on-screen.
“I think that when I did my own thing I fell out of that circuit,” she considered. “Which is what I wanted. I mean, I wanted to grow and explore and stretch my talent and challenge myself. And I think I have succeeded!”
Which doesn’t mean that she doesn’t appreciate her time on Learning the Ropes, Degrassi, and her other acting and performing pursuits. And more importantly, to the fans that have supported her throughout.
“I’d just like to say ‘thank you’ to all of them,” she said in summation. “In all sincerity, without you, there’d be no show.”