"I was actually pretty strict and commanded a disciplined classroom and managed the kids. That would be the biggest difference that a lot of people that knew me as a teacher would say: 'He joked around but he was also very serious sometimes.'"
– Gerry Dee
(First few minutes are missing.)
Gerry Dee: I took kinesiology and I loved it. And then what do you do with a kinesiology degree? Well, you can go into physiotherapy or med school, which I couldn't have done. Physio I might have been able to. But I thought maybe I'll be a teacher. And even to get into teachers college you needed high marks so I had to pick it up a bit in my last three years of university.
Guy MacPherson: Total teaching was more than five years. How long was it?
GD: Seven. Seven years. First year I wasted. Literally. Then I did a four-year undergrad, and then I did two years to complete my teaching.
GM: But how many years were you teaching?
GD: I taught for ten years.
GM: There's a bit of crossover between teaching and standup in that you're performing, in a way, for the class.
GD: Both require you gain the attention of an audience. I think that's the only parallel. You're really not encouraged or told to teach class with humour, but those that have it, use it. Use it whatever you can to gain that attention. Whereas with standup it's all about the humour. But it was certainly a nice transition from an oratorical point of view in being able to speak in front of a group of people and talk well and that part of it. But completely different, obviously.
GM: Did the students call you Mr. D back when you were a teacher?
GD: Yeah. Mr. D or Mr. Donahue. I was Gerry Dee towards the end when I was starting to make a name for myself in comedy. "Gerry Dee" – just kinda the older kids joking around.
GM: And that's when you switched it professionally?
GD: I switched it starting standup. I didn't want anyone to know that I was a teacher and I was trying standup so I came up with a stage name like a lot of actors or performers and it just stuck.
GM: What was the biggest difference between the real Mr. D and the fictional Mr. D?
GD: The real Mr. D was actually fairly strict, believe it or not. What's similar is that I didn't know history, geography which I taught. I didn't know what I was really doing. What's not similar is I wasn't the goofball you see on TV; I was actually pretty strict and commanded a disciplined classroom and managed the kids. That would be the biggest difference that a lot of people that knew me as a teacher would say: "He joked around but he was also very serious sometimes."
GM: Being a basketball fan, I love that you start out with seeing your face on Larry Bird's body. But you were a hockey guy, not a basketball guy.
GD: Yeah, yeah. My character loves the Celtics on the show. I'm a big Leafs fan. I played university hockey. Yeah, golf and hockey were the two sports I grew up around. In fact, basketball could be my worst sport. So that's irony for you.
GM: Is the show set in Canada? It's never really mentioned.
GD: Yeah. It's never really... Yeah, it's set in Canada.
GM: Being on the CBC, you'd think you would cater to the stereotypes but you didn't do that. You'd think hockey would be the natural.
GD: Yeah, I think when you're doing a show, you try to leave it as open as possible. If you do create a great show, you want to sell it internationally and I think that's always a goal for many producers in the starting stages. But you look at our show and we've had Mike Cammalleri and Paul Henderson on, two pretty well-known hockey players. And we've had Nathan MacKinnon for three seasons so we have not gotten away from hockey by all means.
GM: Your greatest interview was with Charles Barkley. I enjoy watching it whenever I see it.
GD: Yeah, that was fun. That was a fun one.
GM: I covered the NBA when we had a team out here. I had a great interaction with him. He's just the best.
GD: Yeah, whenever I did those interviews, obviously I had a different approach than you did, but it was three parts to the interview: How good was I that day? Did I come up with some funny things?; How big was the personality I was interviewing? Were they a big name?; And then the third part, which was hit or miss, was how good were they? And he was awesome. He was a massive star and I worked well with him. So you had all three on that interview firing at the same time.
GM: A lot of times sports reporters think an athlete is funny but they're just funny for an athlete. But Barkley's genuinely funny.
GD: Yes. Very much.
GM: Is your wife a teacher?
GD: She is. She's off. She raises the kids with me, but it's mostly her. I don't know if she'll go back to teaching. It's a busy household here with three little kids. It never stops.
GM: I thought maybe she keeps you up-to-date in the trenches.
GD: No, her brother does. He's a teacher.
GM: There's a long line of teachers!
GD: Most of my friends are teachers because that's where I started. But my mom and dad weren't teachers. My dad was a bus driver; my mom was a dental assistant. So nothing like teaching.
GM: Since becoming a comic, you were driven pretty early on.
GD: As far back as I can remember, I always remember wanting things. We didn't have a lot of money. I'd go to a friend's house and they had money and a pool and a blender and they made milkshakes, and I'd be going, 'Man, these milkshakes are unbelievable. I wish we had a blender!' So it was just being around kids whose families had more money and I just always wanted to be like that. So I was very driven to be successful as far back as I can remember. And always thought I would be. I never realized that you can't just think it and it happens. I was very lucky that I thought it and made it work. I believe in anything you do, if you set your mind to it, there's a good chance you can go very far; you just don't know how far it's going to take you. But you need to be realistic with yourself. A lot of my push in standup was mostly other people telling me I was funny. I remember talking to my dad about it and he's like, 'Well, that's pretty vain to think you're funny.' So then I just put it away. 'Okay, maybe he's right. Maybe it's vain to think you're funny.' And he was funny. And then I just kinda overcame it and figured out, you know what, I think it's just a characteristic to someone that they're a good storyteller and they're funny. So it's not a vain thing, I just came to the realization from hearing from other people that I was funny. So that was what started the standup. And then I was always intrigued by hearing stories of Russell Peters and these guys that were making tons of money and had tons of success. Dane Cook. And when you hear that, you think, why don't I try to get that? Why don't I try to get as big as I can? So I've always been driven. Anyone that knows me would always say that I was ambitious and driven. I'd never want to be the fourth line; I'd want to be the first line. I always wanted to be the top of everything. I never really have been, but I've always tried to get there. I think that's part of becoming successful is just trying to get there.
GM: Is your dad still around?
GD: Yeah, he is. He's getting up there but he's very proud of what I've done. But he's not one to sit and think I'm funny. It's a strange thing to explain to people. My dad came to one show in '99 and that's it. I don't invite him, I don't tell him when I'm on TV, but he's proud of it and if he catches it, he catches it and he usually critiques it and we move on.
GM: And he thinks you're vain.
GD: No. He doesn't think I'm vain; he always thought when I wanted to try standup that it was vain to think you were funny. I never really got that but at the time I bought into it. I'm like, 'Yeah, maybe it is vain.' It's like saying I'm really good looking and I want to be a model. You have to, at some point if you're going to be a model, say, 'I'm good looking.' Is that vanity? I don't think so. I think it's honesty. So he put it in my head to just keep being funny but don't think you're funny. It's a very Scottish mentality. Very British. Humble. That's just how I was raised. That was his approach, but my dad's hilarious. But if you asked him, he wouldn't think he was hilarious. But I know deep down he knows he is.
GM: Yeah, it is funny to get up on stage and want everyone in the room to listen to you talk.
GD: Yes. I know what my dad means, trust me. I get it. But at the same time, it wasn't a good enough reason for me to go I'm not going to do it. I think being able to sing, being able to tell funny stories, being able to be a model, being able to tap dance, I think those are skills that you can use to help other people enjoy their lives, their moments. So if it's a God-given talent, then you should be aware of it and use it. And I believe standup is you have it or you don't. I don't think it's something that you can sit around and be the least funniest person your whole life and then think I want to be a standup. There's an innate quality to it that I think exists. But I think that exists in anything. Look at pro athletes. I think a huge part of their ability is innate.
GM: You talk about your role models, Russell Peters, Dane Cook – these guys that were really successful – but in Canada...
GD: They weren't role models but they were guys I looked at and saw what they were doing and thought it was very impressive what they've done.
GM: But in Canada, there's not that many who've achieved that level of success.
GD: No, there's nobody. Yeah, Russell's not even here. Then it drops to people doing theatres and there's very few of us even. I neither grew up watching standup. I grew up idolizing guys like John Candy. Just loved everything they did and every word that came out of their mouth was hilarious. I love to laugh. It's a weird business, standup. It's very different.
GM: Do you consider yourself a standup more than an actor? Or equal?
GD: Equal. Very equal. I think the acting is a lot more to show. I think the standup, I'm going to get a lot better still, so I'd say equal. A lot of room to improve on both, that's for sure.
GM: When did you get the idea for Mr. D?
GD: Well, the first time I got it, I was in California and I was in this comedy competition and all the American comics who live and pitch shows were like, 'Your standup is a sitcom.' So I started thinking about it then and jotting down ideas. That was '03. Then I started thinking about it again in '06. Then in '07 I started the pitch process. From that in '07, I think we shot our first pilot in 2010. It took that long.
GM: How long did you spend in LA?
GD: Well that time I was in California for three weeks for a contest. Then I came back. And then in '03 I packed up and moved to LA. Furnished an apartment, the whole nine yards. Bought furniture and thought this is it. I did that for about 18 months. But that was a little bit a waste of time. I was doing nothing. I was just going backwards in the industry. That's where I saw Dane Cook and those guys. I remember saying one day, 'You know what? I just gotta go back to Canada and try to make it there. I'll be quite happy with that.' If I make it to a level where I can come back here, I'll do that if I even want to.
GM: It worked because...
GD: Yeah, it worked.
GM: You got Last Comic Standing from Toronto.
GD: Last Comic Standing was a big start.
GM: You were pretty successful up here before that. But was that a big break for you?
GD: Yeah, it was a big break. I was good at pounding the pavement in LA. I got a lot of no's but I always made sure people knew who I was. And that's what helped me get on Last Comic. Barry Katz was the manager of Dane Cook and Barry Katz was the one who started Last Comic. I just made sure I always got in rooms where he was. So I was always good at that business side of things, trying to lay the groundwork. Then I got on season 2 for a little bit, then I got a little more on season 4, then I got as far as I did on season 5. Yeah, that was a big launching pad for me to take that and do something. I always tell people it's not how far you go in certain things, it's what you do with it. Look at Amy Schumer. She was on my season. It's what you do with it. That's what we've done, although she's done it to a much larger scale.
GM: You came in third. Who was ahead of you?
GD: Lavell Crawford. And Jon Reep won.
GM: Is it hard to switch gears for you? You're business-oriented and wanting to be seen by the right people, but then you can just switch gears and be silly and fun and light on stage.
GD: No. It's a good question because most of my life is conversations like this. I'm very business-oriented, I have a very serious side to me, and very family-oriented. Once I get around my friends – my childhood friends, college friends – you see a different side of me. Once I get on stage or in front of a camera, it's a different side. It's not an act; it's just I know when to turn it on and off. Usually I tell people if you're around a comedian and you're just at a restaurant and they're just always on, they're usually not that good on stage. That's just my little thing. If they're always on, and it's not natural, they're usually just average on stage.
GM: And it can be tiring.
GD: It's just like, enough. Especially when it's around me, right? Because I'm living that business. But the good comics I know, they're not trying bits on you when you're out, they're not trying to be the centre of attention. I was desperate to be the centre of attention in parties in high school and college. Now the furthest thing I want is to be the centre of attention when I'm out. I just want to kinda eat privately and enjoy my time with my family and friends. But fans are great in this country and without them, I'm not where I'm at. So you always keep that in the back of your mind, too.
GM: A lot of comics don't have that work ethic.
GM: They could be great or not as comics. Do you find they admire your work ethic or do they resent it?
GD: A lot of them would resent what I've done. That's just the nature of business. If you've ever talked to Russell – he's said this publicly, too – he said, 'What I always remember about Gerry is he always wanted to know how he could do things. He always wanted it way ahead.' And he was right. I always wanted to do Just For Laughs right away. I never wanted years to go by. I was never patient. So I think a lot of them would know the hard work I put into it. And some would resent it, and some would say good for him.
GM: But you don't want to do anything too soon, though, do you?
GD: No, and I made that mistake a lot of times. And that's the advice I give young comics now is don't let Letterman see you too early, don't let agents in LA see you too early. Because it takes years for them to look at you again. And I did that. I mean, I was doing things at 18 months! I had a TV special at 18 months. That's silly. It's not common, for one. I was headlining after eight months in the business. You just don't do that.
GM: Do you look back at that special now?
GD: Oh, yeah. I look at ten things I did. I wish the US saw me for the first time right now. Because they'd be like, 'Where the hell did this guy come from?' But they saw me at the beginning, where it was like, 'Why the hell are we looking at this guy?' So that was my impatience. And you don't know that until you mature. So I'm not in a rush now to do things.
GM: Turning to your show, which I love, by the way...
GD: Thank you.
GM: It's clearly your vision. Are you an executive producer?
GD: Yeah. There's two of us, but I'm the one that it's about. It's obviously my life that we're dealing with for the most part. But we both weigh in as producers. It's just that I'm the one that taught. But I've got great writers, too. We're in our fourth season so some of the stories now are about what happened to those writers in their lives. This season we had a great writers room. It was a lot of fun. It really helps. But certainly by no means is it just me that is involved. I might drive certain stories but there's a lot of people that are contributing.
GM: Apart from the writing, it's the tone that I like. That could go a lot of different ways and you guys play it pretty much perfectly. The kids aren't emoting and being big. They look like students. You look like a teacher.
GD: That tone is from Mike and I, the producers. But you know, a lot of the comedy tone is me because Mike's not a comedian, obviously. We set a certain tone we wanted. You try to make a show that you'd like watching and you'd think was funny. That's really the best thing you can do in comedy. If you're watching your show and you think it's funny, and no one else does, you probably should get out of comedy. Sadly that's the case for shows sometimes. The creator of the show just probably thinks it's hilarious and you watch it and go this is absolutely atrocious. How did anyone think this was funny? And that's what people do with comedy. And sadly it exists.
GM: Also in Canada we hear a laugh track a lot.
GD: Oh, yeah. Yeah. But I'm not into that.
GM: And actors going too big, over-the-top kinda thing.
GD: We have a lot of talented, funny cast and that helps. The other things that's important is the people running the show have to be the funniest person on the show. In some sense, they have to be one of the funniest. If it's a guy running a show that's never stood on a stage or tried standup and failed at it, and actors that are funnier than him or her, that's tough.
GM: Have you had any success in selling the show to other countries?
GD: Yeah, we're in six right now, Australia being the biggest of those six. I don't really follow a lot of that. We have a distributor. We're in Israel, I think, and Turkey, Russia, Brazil. But it doesn't mean a whole helluva lot, really. Britain, US – those are the two big markets that would certainly change a lot of things. But we're always working on that. It's harder than people think.
GM: It's kinda cool, though.
GD: Sure, yeah. I mean, we could all be huge in Turkey, we don't even know it. We could be massive in Turkey right now.
GM: The character you've developed on the show, in sports reporting, and on commercials I see as a sort of earnest stupidity. How would you describe it?
GD: I have a British influence, obviously, from my family. I like the British style of humour. I like small humour. I don't like big humour. I like awkward humour. But my favourite humour is where you're saying things that people wish they could say but no one does. Joan Rivers was great at it. Ricky Gervais is great at it. It's the balls to say stuff that everyone wishes they could say but they don't want to be the person to say it. That's the humour I grew up on. That's very Scottish and it's very much what I like. That's not our whole show but that's certainly what kind of humour I like. Very subtle.
GM: Dame Edna is like that, too.
GM: Is there a name for your tour?
GD: It's The Real Mr. D, which just means the real guy behind the show. It doesn't really have anything to do with the content.
GM: Do you have an opener?
GD: Yeah, I'm bringing a guy named Graham Chittenden, who's wonderful. Very talented. He kills it every show.
GM: I've heard lots of good things about him.
GD: He's wonderful.
GM: Okay, thanks for talking to me.
GD: Thanks so much. You take care. We'll see you in Vancouver.