As It Happens

Meet the man whose imagination spawned Gritty, the 'unsettling' Flyers mascot

He has been been claimed by the left and the right, inked onto protest signs and human bodies, and dubbed "the stuff of children's nightmares." And he's the branchild of David Raymond.

Philadelphia city council passed motion officially welcoming the 'fuzzy eldritch horror'

The Philadelphia Flyers mascot Gritty skates between periods of the game against the New York Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center on Sept. 27. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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Gritty the Philadelphia Flyers mascot has been been claimed by the left and the right, inked onto protest signs and human bodies, immortalized in Internet memes, and and dubbed the "stuff of children's nightmares"

On Wednesday, Gritty was officially welcomed by Philadelphia's city council in a two-page resolution that called him, among other things, "potentially insurrectionary, ridiculous, horrifying, unsettling, and absurd."

And he's the brainchild of David Raymond, who spent 16 years wearing the Philadelphia Phillies Phanatic costume before he started designing sports mascots of his own.

Raymond, founder of Raymond Entertainment, spoke to As It Happens guest host Megan Williams about his fuzzy orange creation.

Here is part of their conversation.

What was it like to hear city council pay tribute to Gritty?

This whole thing has been somewhat of a surprise when it reached a different level of decibel, if you will, in terms of the acknowledgement and the acceptance, because going in, certainly, we were preparing for it to not be accepted in any way, shape or form.

And it did come in negative very early, but in a short 24 hours, it had completely reversed. And now suddenly Gritty is a phenomenon.

A fan reaches out to Gritty during the game against the Colorado Avalanche on Oct. 22. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Why were you expecting such a negative reaction?

Well, have you ever been to Philadelphia? [chuckles]

I'm not sure who you're insulting there. [laughs]

I'm going to take a pedal back here for a second.

I'm a huge Philadelphia sports fan. I grew up in Newark, Delaware, which is just about 45, 50 minutes from Philly and I love Philadelphia and it's a fabulous town. It's one of the best places to be. And our fans are very, very discriminating.

So when you throw some marketing at them, or they sense that this is some, you know, sneaky way to get people to love the Flyers, they're against it.

Making an announcement that this is going to be the Flyers' new mascot — an organization that never really liked mascots and were clear that they weren't going to have a mascot — they knew as an organization that the negativity was going to come first.

Then when it came, they embraced it and had fun with it and that flipped the switch.

Philadelphia's city council says Gritty has been called 'a 7-foot tall orange hellion, a fuzzy eldritch horror, a ghastly empty-eyed Muppet with a Delco beard, a cross of Snuffleupagus and Oscar the Grouch, a deranged orange lunatic, an acid trip of a mascot, a shaggy orange Wookiee-esque grotesquerie, a non-binary leftist icon, an orange menace, a raging id, and an antihero.' (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Gritty, as many people have pointed out, is not exactly pretty. Was that intentional in a way? 

What happens is we get together with our client and the first thing we tell them is that it does not matter what it looks like as long as you do two things first.

Number one is the commitment to the project. It's going to be our entity, our guy, our gal, our it, and we're going to stand behind it and nothing will deter us from weathering the storm and negativity to make sure everybody knows that this is serious fun and we're not going to be slowed down.

The second was before you figure out what it looks like, you have to tell a story. 

David Raymond played the Phillies Phanatic for 16 years. (The Power of Fun!)

Then the design comes in and the qualities of Gritty come from the backstory. So he was somewhat like a troll living in the underbelly or the catacombs or the bowels of the [stadium] and when that was destroyed, he moved over to the construction of the new arena, and he's been there ever since, unnoticed.

And they found him because they were doing renovations and they disturbed him. And when they saw him, they said, "Oh my gosh, he looks like a dyed-in-the-wool Flyers fan. He's orange and black. He's hairy. He's wild looking."

You know, we protect our guys. So when it started going bad and then people outside of Philadelphia criticized him, our fans said, "Hey, wait a minute. He's ugly, but he's our ugly."

When the Pittsburgh Penguin wrote a dismissive tweet that said "lol ok" and then Gritty wrote back "Sleep with one eye open tonight, bird" that's when our fans, I think, really fell in love with them.

Gritty has also been claimed by people on both the left and the right. He's become an icon of the left wing anti-fascist group ANTIFA ... and the right has objected to that. They've been mad about that sort of appropriation of Gritty. What do you make of all of this?

What other politician has ever been able to capture the affection and love of both sides of the left and right?

Knowing Gritty intimately as you do, is he more left wing or right wing?

He's a right wing, but on the ice. He can play left wing or right wing.

A demonstrator holds up a protest sign with an likeness of Gritty outside the Philadelphia Convention Center during a speech by U.S. President Donald Trump on Oct. 2. (Matt Slocum/Associated Press)

Are you worried about a backlash? That Gritty could be a flash in the pan?

He will be a success for a long, long time. Like the Fanatic celebrated his 40th anniversary this April, Gritty will be celebrating his 40th anniversary and beyond 40, 50, 60 years from now. That I'm sure of.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Richard Raycraft. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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