“The brand you’re trying to sell is yourself, your act and your persona. It’s how you handle fans. When you drive in public, do you give people the finger? If you do that, your business will go down. There’s no booking agent looking out for you as much as you are. They’re not putting up posters in hotels and bars. I’m doing that,” he says.
Dee, a former school teacher—a career that provides plenty of material in his act—says a lot of young comics don’t realize the amount of work that goes into getting their personal brand off the ground and building it up so it doesn’t burn out and fade away.
“Apathy gets you nowhere. You need to be aggressive with your pursuit of the business. Gerry Dee is a company. I’ve got to get people interested and buy into the company. That generates revenue,” he says.
Prior to getting into stand-up a decade ago, Dee earned his business chops running a hockey school in Toronto.
“I took that (experience) to comedy. It’s show business. A lot of stand-ups forget that or they don’t have the drive to put into the business side of things. Some comics wake up in the morning, check their messages and go where their agent tells them to go that day,” he says.
“This whole business is trying to keep your face out there. I had my chance on Last Comic, now I’ve got to back it up.”
And boy does he have back-up. Dee maintains his own website, a Facebook page and a mailing list. He sets up his own interviews with various media in the cities where he performs and arranges his own auditions for commercials. (He currently has four commercials on Canadian television, one each with Rogers Communications, Nissan, KFC and Wiser’s whisky.)
Dee isn’t afraid to enter corporate boardrooms either, as he negotiated the sponsorship rights to his cross-Canada tour with 7-UP and WestJet Airlines.
He is also a regular on The Score, a national sports channel in Canada, where he plays “Gerry Dee, Sports Reporter,” a character who believes he’s among the best at his craft in the entire country when, in reality, he’s one of the worst. His assignments have included interviewing batboys at Toronto Blue Jays games, attending a yoga workshop (“Who’s the best yoga player in the world?”) and covering the Rogers Cup tennis tournament the day before the players arrived.
“The score is repetition, that’s the key. If you’re constantly in people’s faces, they can’t forget about you,” he says.
Dee is hoping to take a giant step further in television by starring in a sitcom. He has one in development with a Canadian broadcaster that centers on his act, his Scottish parents and his teaching career. The hope is to start shooting in the spring.
“A sitcom would be the pot of gold for me,” he says. “You’ve got to keep composing things, keep adding snow to the snowball. If you don’t, it just fades away. [That’s what would have happened] if I had sat on my ass after Last Comic. But I immediately had a special on Comedy Central and boom, I’m back in your face,” he says.
Dee says he’ll never complain about his job because he knows he’s one of about six Canadian comedians who tells jokes full-time. But until he makes the big-time, there are certain inconveniences he has to endure. For example, he sells his own merchandise after the shows.
“People are looking at me like I’m a big thing, getting my autograph and taking pictures. Then I’m shuffling through T-shirts trying to find a medium. When [I’ve] finished my set, I have to run right through the crowd (to the merchandise table). It’s like a Neil Diamond show. People are high-fiving me like it’s a gospel convention,” he says.
“Anything you can do to try to whore a few tickets, that’s what it feels like when you’re not a huge name. I’m whoring T-shirts, tickets, everything. I have to really let people know that I’m here. It’s not like one of the radio DJs says, ‘you’re not going to believe who’s coming to Winnipeg, Chris Rock!’ and it’s done, sold out. With me, it’s ‘he’s the guy from this.’ I’m totally fine with that. One day, I think I’ll be at that level,” he says.
Dee likens budding comedians to start-up companies. “Look at Robin Williams, Chris Rock or Dane Cook. At some point, they were struggling comics with potential. If you had said, ‘I want to buy some stock in them,’ you’d be loaded right now. [Their stocks] would be better than anything that’s performing in the market right now,” he says. “Imagine the press you’d get from that: ‘Canadian comedian goes public with his company.’”
Perhaps the only downside to Dee’s branding efforts is they consume so much of his time that otherwise could be spent developing new jokes.
“With my wife, young daughter and travel, unfortunately I have very little time to work on new material. I’m writing scripts. The writing side for stand-up is [influenced by] my wife, and I will talk about something and I’ll think, ‘hey, that’s funny. I’ll give that a chance.’ A lot of times I’ll tell the crowd [how the joke came about],” he says.
Finally, Dee says through fan letters, Facebook posts and e-mail, he’s been able to determine the public perception of his brand.
“People have said to me, ‘you take me back to fun times, in high school or grade school.’ Or their uncle died or the stock market crashed and they came to [the] show and said, ‘man, I needed that Gerry Dee tonight.’ That’s really the best compliment you can get. You have the ability to do that to complete strangers without knowing you’re doing it. It’s a pretty amazing feeling,” he says.