Gerry Dee
Gerry Dee and Donovan Bailey co-starred in an episode of Mr. D. Photo: CBC.

Canadian comedian Gerry Dee is a former physical education teacher who got his big break in stand-up comedy in 2002. Dee, the star of CBC’s Mr. D, showed off his running skills in a race against Canadian sprint legend Donovan Bailey and was seen wearing a runner’s favourite piece of clothing: short shorts.

Canadian Running caught up with Mr. D as he’s popularly known, about his connection to running and his time as a physical education teacher before getting into comedy.

Are you a former runner or do you still incorporate it into your weekly routine?

Right now I’m doing it mostly for fitness. When I was young I did some track meets in secondary school but played hockey while at university. More recently I’ve had issues with my metatarsal and I was running in shoes that were too small. It got to the point where I had trouble even walking. I got orthotics recently and I’ve got back into my routine of a morning run, usually about 5K.

How did you first get in contact with Donovan Bailey for a recent episode of Mr. D?

We ran into each other a few times at events and when the episode was scripted, his name was at the forefront. We were looking for a celebrity runner and once we committed to Donovan, we built the story around him. He was such a big star. I remember watching his Olympic gold medal performance – it was a drop-everything-and-watch moment. Then, of course, his race against Michael Johnson over 150m at the SkyDome.

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Who’s idea was it to wear short shorts and speedsuits?

Me and my team of writers break stories together so there’s no one person who takes credit for notable moments. One thing I can tell you though is it’s the only time you’ll see me wearing short shorts.

What’s a typical day look like for you?

My three kids are up around 7 a.m., so I try to get an hour of exercise in before spending time with the family. I’ll do weights or hit the treadmill. The rest of the day is a mix of shooting my television show, comedy gigs or travelling.

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You had a long career as a physical education teacher. What did you find effective in engaging kids in a healthy lifestyle?

I had the kids run a mile every day. That’s something I firmly believed in. I figured if the kids didn’t have a big takeaway from class, at least I got their heart rate up. Some kids became runners, some didn’t. Running was the most important part of my class and I gave marks for effort and improvement to encourage kids to do their best. I would also bring in some marathon runners to show them what a 4:30 mile looked like. I didn’t really care much for the rules of the games – I wasn’t a time waster. You came to class and first thing you did was run. No sitting down, no attendance, just sweat.

Was there one particular moment when you remember taking the leap of faith and committing to comedy full time from your previous profession as a teacher?

In 2002 I went to the San Francisco International Comedy Competition. It’s a who’s who in comedy. Robin Williams, Dane Cook and Ellen DeGeneres have performed there. The whole experience really opened my eyes to comedy. I ended up winning, becoming the first Canadian to do so. I figured, maybe I’m on to something. So when I returned to Toronto, I told the principal at the private school I worked at that I was taking a sabbatical.

Want to see the showdown between Bailey and Mr. D? The full video can be found here.

This Q&A appeared in the May/June 2016 issue of Canadian Running.

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