Cock'd Gunns' Brooks Gray talks humour

Actor stresses persistence and writing to students

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

(L-R) Leo Cherman, Andy King, Morgan Waters and Brooks Gray

Gazette File Photo

UMM, DON’T HURT US? The cast of rock-umentary Cock’d Gunns. (L-R) Leo Cherman, Andy King, Morgan Waters and Brooks Gray, probably could beat us in a fight. Gray, who plays Barry Ciccarelli, was at Western on Monday.

Before he had a taste of Canadian comedic fame with the rock-umentary Cock’d Gunns on the Independent Film Channel and Showcase, Brooks Gray was a history student at McGill making short, comedic videos on a camcorder with his buddies.

Monday morning, Gray was back in a university classroom, giving a guest lecture to Western’s humour writing class.

Gray " who plays the untalented yet highly affluent drummer Barry Ciccarelli on Gunns " stressed persistence and dedication to the class, urging students not to make the same apathetic mistakes he did.

“I used to spend way too much time resisting writing because I worried that I didn’t have the perfect idea or the perfect story and I’ve only recently come out of that,” Gray says.

“The only thing you can do if you’re a writer is write " just write like crazy whenever you can and don’t worry about whether it’s all gold or not because that’s the only way to get better.”

The humour writing class is taught by Mark Kearney, a freelance writer who has co-authored eight books. He brings in a guest speaker every year to give his students insight from an individual who has found success in the industry.

“The students in this course will eventually get out of university and have to find jobs,” Kearney says. “This lets them see that humour writing is a viable option and that some of the techniques the students have been learning can really be useful.”

Past speakers include Irwin Barker of This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Patrick McKenna of The Red Green Show " both heavily funded CBC programs. Gunns, on the other hand, was produced on an exceptionally low budget, which is often the case for Canadian comedy shows not privy to the CBC’s wealth of public funding.

“I think he’s a good person to have because he has a show that has been on TV and he can talk about the business,” Kearney says.

“I hope that students took away a sense of how fun and interesting that kind of career can be. Here’s a guy who is in the business and making a living from writing funny stuff. I want them to see what that’s like and how to get into that position.”

Throughout Gray’s talk, the 34-year-old stressed a back-to-basics approach to writing comedy.

“A lot of people, myself included, like to think they don’t have to follow screenwriting conventions, but without scene and plot structure you’re hopeless and your narrative will fall flat,” Gray told the class.

“With comedy especially, it really turns out a lot better if you keep it simple " no one wants to watch some long, bizarre narrative that doesn’t make sense.”

Gray also touched on the inherent enjoyment one receives from writing comedy.

“The great thing about comedy is you get to torture people. You take this character and whether you like the person or not, it’s really funny when you just keep making awful things happen to them.”

Gray " along with Morgan Waters of CBC’s The Morgan Waters Show and Gray’s university buddies Andy King and Leo Schulman " produced, wrote and acted in Gunns. The show, which received zero promotional funding from both IFC and Showcase, follows the eponymous band and their manager as they seek fame and fortune.

The first season of the completely improvised show was a hit with television critics and earned nominations for three Gemini awards in Best Comedy, Best Writing in a Comedy and Best Ensemble Performance.

Gray and company left the Geminis " after winning the latter two awards " with high hopes for a possible second season; however, the show was not renewed by IFC and now, 18 months after the first episode aired, chances for another season are remote at best.

Certainly Cock’d Gunns must be the victim of some cruel anomaly in the industry. How often does a low budget, critically acclaimed, award-winning show get canned after just one season?

“You would be surprised, it actually happens quite a bit,” Gray reveals. “I don’t want to say that it’s a curse, but often times in the industry shows win awards and get great reviews but are still cancelled. The Canadian television landscape is bizarre to say the least.”

Gray did not hesitate to share his ill-fated experience in Canadian television to the class.

“If you want to get rich and famous, Canadian television is not the place to do it,” Gray admits. “I’m on a TV show, I’ve won Geminis " but I drive a ’95 Corolla.

“The highest paid Canadian talent is not doing that well compared to their American counterparts and if you’re on the low end of the totem pole you probably aren’t even making a living.”

Despite Gray’s grim depiction of the industry, the talk did not discourage fourth-year music theory and composition student Nick Hyatt from pursuing a career in comedy.

“I definitely got the impression that there is a market for comedy writing if you apply yourself. He got together with a bunch of friends, made some contacts and wrote a show. It may or may not have been that successful, but he was able to do something he liked and there’s potential for future projects because of it.”

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