Most of us who have attended some kind of educational institution can recall a teacher that made an indelible mark on our lives, for whatever the reason.
From the lovable and relatable Mr. Kotter to John Houseman’s intimidating figure, Charles W. Kingsfield Jr., from the film Paper Chase, those unforgettable teachers have also crept their way into popular culture.
The latest to make it into our collective conscious, whether we want him there or not, is Gerry Dee’s Mr. D.
A character from Dee’s semi-autobiographical comedy series on CBC-TV, this lackadaisical academic is teeming with confidence to compensate for his incompetence as he tries to instill his vast knowledge to students in his social science class.
About to bring The Real Mr. D Comedy Tour to Vernon, Dee (born Donoghue) will be sharing his experiences as a teacher-turned-comic-turned-teacher, albeit a fictional one, along with his other observances on life.
“I am thankful for what I have,” said the affable and charmingly frank Dee while talking to The Morning Star from his office in Toronto recently.
“I think I’ve hit a peak these past five years, but for most of my life I’m a dad and husband. I started this other thing later in life, so it’s been easier to stay grounded.”
Dee, 44, is referring to his now life as a comic turned sitcom star. However, before that, as you can guess, he was actually a teacher.
A student at De La Salle College, then an all-boys Catholic secondary school in Toronto’s exclusive Rosedale neighbourhood, Dee went on to get his degree and later returned to De La Salle (which became co-ed) to teach physical education, and history.
“I was a fish out of water there,” laughed Dee.
He also coached the varsity hockey team (in Mr. D, his character Gerry Duncan coaches basketball.)
“I coached every night. We were not the best in the academy, but I gave my all to my school. But I’m not complaining about all that at all.
“My biggest beef now is how teachers are always complaining. There is a percentage that are whiny. It’s not who I would connect with as a teacher or a student.”
Dee taught for 10 years before leaving the school in 2003 for other pursuits, namely comedy and acting.
Already a regular at comedy clubs and on festival stages in Canada, he did what many Canadian comics eventually do. He made the arduous journey to L.A., living in a rented apartment, trying to make a name for himself.
“My stand-up dream was to be in a sitcom,” said Dee. “But unless you’re down there for a long time, it’s tough. Now if I went down there, it might be OK. You have to have something behind you. Then, I was not in a situation to sell a sitcom to the U.S.”
Dee did, however, appear on CBS’s Star Search (hosted by Arsenio Hall), and on the Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn. He later appeared on NBC’s comedy competition, Last Comic Standing, placing third, the highest ranking for a Canadian comic on the show.
It’s back home where he really made a name for himself.
A former three-time Canadian Comedy Award winner for Best Comic, Dee found a niche for himself as a slightly stunned, overly confident sports reporter on The Score (now known as Sportsnet 360), where he interviewed, or attempted to interview the likes of NBA superstar Charles Barkley and numerous NHL players.
“Athletes, more so in general than the entertainment industry, are jealous and self-absorbed. But many of them are part of a team. When they fail, it’s humiliating. I can relate to that,” said Dee, about his alter-ego, a cross between Ron Burgundy and Ron MacLean, if there can be such a thing.
“Now that I am no longer at The Score, I’m not sure what to do with that character, but there is some of him in Mr. D.”
Renewed for a third season, the sitcom is what Dee is focussing his attention on now.
He credits the CBC for taking a chance on him, and giving him a venue for some of his edgier, non-PC material.
“I like the fact we are injecting some youth into it. Old people die, so it has to keep reinventing itself. But then people in their 80s watch the show,” said Dee, revealing some of the wisdom he shares with his students as his character.
Asked how his former students have reacted to him now being a teacher on television, the author of Teaching: It’s Harder Than It Looks is equally frank.
“I know a lot of kids probably hated my guts. If every kid loved you, you were not doing your job. But some of my students became friends,” he said.
Dee also alludes to the few who have left comments on social media sites, or written blogs, about knowing the real Mr. D back in the day.
“Ninety per cent of the comments on social media are positive, but then there is that 10 per cent that say you suck and I hate you,” he said. “Teaching and stand-up help build a tougher skin. And I come from Scottish background, so my dad never let you get over-confident.”
And that, kids, is coming from the real Mr. D.
Presented by PokerStars.Net, Gerry Dee’s The Real Mr. D is at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Saturday, Dec. 14 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $59 at the Ticket Seller, 549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.