Author: Erik Brady
You remember Totes. The city of Niagara Falls introduced him in 2015 as a sort of mascot for recycling. The terrifying man-goat ended up breaking the internet. Time magazine wrote about him. So did Cosmopolitan. We all had a good laugh. And then we sort of forgot about him.
The internet, of course, never forgets. So it was that Sunday night, on HBO, Totes McGoats got his 15 minutes of fame all over again on “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.” Or make that 30 minutes, roughly the length of “Last Week,” which blends comedy with advocacy in ways frequently featuring mascots.
Sunday’s segment was about how plastics are in everything now — from the clothes we wear to the water we drink — and how we ingest a credit card’s worth of the stuff every week.
“Plastic really is ubiquitous,” Oliver said. “It’s in food packaging, it’s in building materials on planes and cars. … But for almost as long as plastics have been around, there’s been the question of what to do with them after they’re used. A question any number of creepy recycling mascots have tried to answer. From the Recycling Wizard in South Carolina, to Recycling Ben from Georgia, to Muncie, Indiana’s Mr. Blue, who appears to be a bag of recycling or an asphyxiated sausage. To my absolute favorite, Totes McGoats.”
And then, on screen, came the image you probably remember well. Totes was big news in Western New York in 2015, mostly for making news everywhere else. Buffalo News reporter Maki Becker wrote the best story on all of this. It introduces the world to Brook D’Angelo, a city worker in Niagara Falls who came up with the concept for Totes with her collaborator, Chris Stoianoff.
Oliver showed an old clip of D’Angelo explaining why Totes looks a tad unnerving to little kids: “Sure, yeah, you know what? I’ve seen children cry at the Easter Bunny and Santa Claus as well. But our target audience isn’t 3- or 4-year-olds, of course. It’s someone who’s learning about the environment, so middle school, teenagers, people who maybe aren’t so afraid of goats and clowns.”
To which Oliver responded: “Well, hang on. Who said anything about clowns? No one would ever mistake that thing for a clown.” At least clowns make an effort in creating their appearance, he said, while the mascot’s head looks like the first thing that comes up in a search for goat masks on Google.
That is, in fact, pretty much what happened, as Becker’s story makes clear. D’Angelo started Googling and found the mask on Amazon. The whole costume — from goat mask to white gloves to blue T-shirt — cost $101.70.
For all that has been written and said about Totes, Becker’s story has the best line. She calls him a “creepy, recycling-loving, goat-headed mascot that looks like it is straight out of a David Lynch film.”
Or, as it turns out, a John Oliver segment.
Oliver loves mascots — creating them as much as mocking them. “Vulture,” a website from New York magazine, counted about two dozen mascots that have appeared on the show over the years, from a blind iguana for the Department of Justice to a barbershop-squirrel quartet telling off a coal baron. The show’s first mascot, in 2015, was Jeff, a Marlboro-inspired diseased lung, who appeared some months before Totes was born in Niagara Falls.
So, of course, it was only a matter of time before Totes, too, appeared on “Last Week Tonight.” Oliver said it made him uncomfortable even uttering the name out loud, “just on the off-chance that he’s like Beetlejuice and saying ‘Totes McGoats’ three times somehow summons him into …”
Totes wagged his vaccination card.
“Wait, you got the vaccine? How the (blank) are you eligible for the vaccine?”
The answer came in a gruff goat voice: “Hypertension, John.”
“Oh, bull(blank)! You know what? I don’t care! You need to get out of here! Get out of here! You’re so much worse in person, Totes!”
The segment goes on to make important points about the environmental impact of plastic and how so much of it that you think is recyclable really isn’t. If you recycle things that aren’t recyclable, you risk contaminating the items that are. And if you do that, Oliver said, “there’s a nonzero chance that you’re going to end up angering Totes McGoats.”
“No, no!” Oliver sputtered. “Absolutely not. No! Leave this place!”
That’s John Oliver for you. Even his recycled gags are good ones.
Erik Brady was sports columnist at the Courier-Express when it folded in 1982. He retired in 2019 after 36 years as a sports reporter at USA Today.