Paul Gross the comedian

by Angela and Dave Pressland

Bicycle drill!"I think it's far preferable to have a giggle than to be moany and groany all the time!"

But what is it exactly that makes this man giggle? I've checked our FAQ page and can find no reference to him being ticklish. It's unlikely I'll be permitted to research that so it looks as if we'll have to find something else to go on!

Perhaps we should begin by looking at Paul's own style of humour. He is undoubtedly a superb comic, being quick-witted and gifted with a wonderful sense of timing. As host for various award ceremonies, he has displayed a natural talent for making an audience laugh (often at the expense of sending himself up). He denigrates his skill at this by describing it as "completely a fluke"; and being a stand-up comedian is not something he'd feel particularly comfortable with:

"I can't think of anything more brave than stand-up comedy. I have no idea how these people do it."

But he's definitely not afraid to let his style of humour shine through in his writing. Certainly some of his country songs - songs traditionally full of angst and pain - manage to raise a smile. Take the title track of his Two Houses CD…

"Don't call me for supper if you don't mean to feed me.
Don't tell me you love me with that gun in your hand"

Well, he was hardly being serious with this, was he? Written with David Keeley by "trading lines and making each other laugh", it's a gentle, tongue-in-cheek parody of country music. Even the guitar playing has an element of buffoonery about it. And, judging by the antics of Huey and Dewey in Mountie Sings the Blues (due South, season four), he wants us to laugh about it.

As Pamela Wallin observed when she interviewed Paul:

"There's real pain in there too, but it's funny. I mean there's humour in looking at relationships. due South is filled with all this kind of stuff."

Paul agreed:

"I do think that somehow, always in the core of drama there is something funny or you can find humour in it. Not that you're laughing at the event itself but there's usually something in any human situation that is [funny]."

"When we're [due South] at our best, it has that kind of combination of things; a collision of real human drama and the absurd. And they do coexist in our own lives and it's nice when you can actually get them to work together on television."

And there can be no better example of this than the due South scripts that Paul wrote or co-wrote. due South was always quirky - offbeat is a word that the schedulers were fond of - but Paul managed to add a new dimension of absurdity to the show.

ATQHFor season two, Paul penned All the Queen's Horses (along with John Krizanc and Paul Quarrington) and Red, White or Blue (with John Krizanc).

MOTBFor season three, he wrote the blazing opening episode Burning down the House and the breathtaking two-parter Mountie on the Bounty (with R B Carney).

COTWAnd for season four, he wrote the feature length grand finale Call of the Wild (along with R B Carney again). In addition, for the later seasons, he did the final drafts on all the scripts.

Aficionados of the show are adept at spotting the episodes or scenes which Paul had a pen in, without the benefit of the credits. They are very distinctive and were clearly coloured by Paul's own comedy influences.

"I think the humour in due South is very English. It should be because I was brought up on Monty Python, Beyond the Fringe and more recently, The Young Ones."

It's not easy to describe this 'odd' kind of humour to the uninitiated and, undoubtedly, the best way to go about this is to give you some background to each of these shows. Follow the links below and pass through the sensibility barrier to find out more, and also to take a light-hearted look at how this unique style of comedy relates to Paul's work.

Monty Python | Beyond the Fringe | The Young Ones

Several episodes of due South, including two he penned himself, gave Paul an opportunity to work with "the Canadian actor and comedian, Leslie Nielsen, who hasn't yet received the Order of Canada - long overdue!"

On the set of COTWIn an interview in The Calgary Herald, Paul said of Leslie:

"His style of humour, which he seems to have patented, is how the humour works in due South. He's such a great guy. For a man of not inconsiderable age, he's got enormous stamina. He'll leap up on a horse or stand around in the snow."

Leslie has earned himself a reputation as a bit of a practical joker and a dab hand with a whoopee cushion! Now he appears to have taken on Paul as his apprentice ...

"He gave me one of those things and said 'I've got to pass this on to you. I'm getting old and someone has to take this up!' " (from due South:The Official Companion by Geoff Tibballs)

But back to Paul - the man terrified of stand-up comedy. Here are a couple more shows where he's displayed his aptitude for making people laugh ...

The Red Green Show

Paul plays Kevin Black, a property developer from the city who consistently fails to appreciate that life is very different around Possum Lake. There's no gas, electricity, communications or even roads and if you want a water supply then you dig your own well! There is, however, an abundance of mosquitos, plenty of swampland and some apparently simple local people who are not as daft as they seem.

Although in this show Paul is very much a foil for Red Green's jokes, he demonstrates once again the importance of both timing and acting skills to the delivery of good comedy.

Town boy / country boy Kevin: You know guys, I don't mean to be rude, but I really don't think you grasp the concept of business management.
Red: No we don't. And we really appreciate the compliment.

Royal Canadian Air Farce

Paul appeared on this satirical show on New Year's Eve, 1997 in a sketch entitled 'due South - the lost episode'. He was dressed as Benton Fraser but for once, when he put on the suit he wasn't entirely in character. Accompanied by Diefenbaker's replacement, Norm (a large toy dog), he told how he had been missing in Canada for two months attempting to rescue the love of his life - singer Rita MacNeil. Rita had been captured by the notorious Rankin family and held at a "remote location in Cape Breton. Where exactly? Doesn't matter - everywhere in Cape Breton is remote."

When I'm calling you-oo-oo-oooooo!
Paul Gross, and Luba Goy as Rita MacNeil, singing the Love Call from Rose-Marie

Our Mountie was on her trail for weeks, not only exposed to the perils of the wilds but worse still “running dangerously low on hair gel.”

Here's Paul, re-united with "Rita" following her rescue and doing what Mounties do best - bursting into song!

And finally, there's the humour in his plays - which remain, sadly, unpublished. Some reportedly contain a blacker humour and one reviewer described him as having a "macabre wit". Others, however, have highlighted different facets of his comedic style. In a theatre article from 1986, Robyn Butt had this to say:

"...this predisposition to the surreal may be a generational thing. Young Toronto theatre artists now - Gross, Judith Thompson, Jim Millan, VideoCabaret, the Clichettes, a host of actors and performance artists - seem drawn to this form of expression. Three things characterise this form on stage: the passionate belief in humour, the startling image and the wave of non sequiturs and absurdities that constitute a modern monologue."

The things I do for research!
Is he laughing?
Today, Paul's belief in humour is just as passionate. Let's hope we can all enjoy it for many more years to come.

In the meantime, I do hate incomplete research and I still want to find out if he's ticklish. So if you'll excuse me…