Neil Grahn’s comedy career: The laughs started in Red Deer

The comedy writer/actor reminisces about where it all began

Neil Grahn’s Red Deer childhood was both horrible and inspirational enough to put him on a successful career track in comedy.

The former member of the successful Edmonton comedy group Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie, is now writer/actor for CBC Radio’s The Irreverent Show, and a filmmaker for Telus, and other clients.

He’s also a member of Lindsay Thurber’s Wall of Fame — his most surprising achievement, since Grahn’s early high school days were anything but meritorious.

He neither studied, nor attended many classes, and was a brat to teachers who “sucked” at their jobs. Grahn recalled being pulled aside by the principal one day.

“He asked me ‘Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kick you out of school?’ ”

Grahn responded that he wanted to study acting at university. When the principal brought up his 60 per cent average in drama, Grahn vowed to pull up his mark. It was 90 per cent when he graduated in 1980 — largely because of his inspiring theatre teacher, Stephen Carney.

“He was one of my biggest influences.”

Grahn eventually studied at U of A (his classmate was Shaun Johnston of Heartland) after spending a few years in Toronto honing his comedy chops with future Kids and the Hall members Mark McKinney, and Bruce McCulloch.

Comedy was a natural fit. “I just always felt like I can do this,” said the 53-year-old — although he’s unsure if his confidence stemmed from growing up as the “pink sheep” among his macho brothers, or his early success as a class clown.

After university, Grahn could have joined Ontario’s Stratford Festival, but chose to dive into sketch comedy with Three Dead Trolls, best known for The Toronto Song. He later became writer/director, producing such the Gemini/AMPIA award-winning, or nominated, projects like the Taking It Off TV series, Get A Laugh special, and the Fish Out of Water series.

On The Irrelevant Show, he finds humour by twisting reality. Sketches have involved a couple who settles for kids after their pet owner dreams are dashed, a guy whose bee circus wreaks havoc, and a robber whose gang members all want the same code name.

“People can relate to it because we’ve all been in a group with idiots!” said Grahn.

While his docs (many can be seen on Telus Optik TV or YouTube) are more serious, the topics can be surreal— such as extreme female bodybuilding. “From the back they look like muscular dudes.”

The married father of two daughters recently started his Coyote Productions company in Edmonton. But Grahn regularly returns to this city to visit his mom, and “I always tell people I’m from Red Deer!”

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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