Jon Dore is an accomplished comedian and actor who has spent years contributing to Canadian Comedy. Many will recognize him from his self-titled show, The Jon Dore Television Show, which ran on Comedy Central for 2 years. Since then, he’s gone on to grace the stages of Comedy Festivals and TV Shows across Canada, including a stint as a main cast member alongside Sarah Chalke and Brad Garrett on How To Live With Your Parents in 2013. The following year, he appeared in two episodes of Comedy Central’s Inside Amy Schumer.
In 2020, amid pandemic shutdowns across the world and for Hollywood studios, Ottawa-born Dore pitched a concept to CBC for a show called Humour Resources. The show parodies a modern-day HR manager (played by Dore) who is caught up in today’s workplace culture norms and buzzwords, while interviewing notable comedians. The contrast between his rigid corporate approach and the comedians’ unstructured creativity makes for some hilarious moments that play on real world experiences within our new remote-work landscape.
We caught up with Dore to discuss the inspiration behind his Humour Resources and his best memories from Ottawa, where he launched his career.
What was your childhood in Ottawa like? Do you have any special memories of the city?
My memories of Ottawa are really great. No matter who you are or where you grow up, there are always some defining moments. I grew up in the lower to middle class suburbs. Dad made sure I got out and played football and baseball. I remember sunny, humid summers and skiing in the winter. I have nothing but fond memories of growing up in Ottawa.
I’m sure you were a funny kid growing up, but how would you describe yourself? Were you the class clown? Or were you quieter, and only found your voice after high school?
I think it was a little bit of both. I was definitely shy at times, but I think once I got comfortable, my true colours came out. I was definitely always fooling around the house. I think my parents hooked me on praise at an early age, they rewarded me for being silly. My dad would show me CTV episodes of SETV that I didn’t really understand as a kid, but knew that it made my dad laugh, so I would try and impress my parents by trying to imitate those characters.
At school, I definitely wasn’t a class clown. I think I feared authority, I didn’t want to get into trouble. I would definitely try and make jokes with my friends, especially getting into early high school. But yeah, definitely not like a class clown.
Then you went on to study broadcasting at Algonquin College. At one point, did you want to go into media? When did that change to wanting to pursue a career in comedy?
Towards the end of high school, I had no interest in doing anything. I was failing out of school. I was not a happy kid. I was running with a strange crowd of human beings and I had a terrible relationship with my parents. Felt the weight of the world. That type of thing.
I ended up dropping out of the high school I was at and going to another high school. I started hanging out with a new group of friends, eventually graduated through summer school and night school. With my last few credits I could just graduate high school. After that, I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I was working in restaurants in the summer. I went out to Banff and worked there for a summer as a bartender. When I came back, my dad was working with editing equipment at home. And a friend of mine was studying TV broadcasting. And I thought, oh, that’s interesting. So I enrolled. The second I got to that class and was exposed to editing equipment, film equipment, and a screenwriting course, I was instantly in love with producing television. It was everything that I really loved to do. For the first time in my life, I loved going to school. I couldn’t wait to get to school. I’d stay late and play around with the nonlinear editing equipment, the Avids.
How supportive were your parents when you started to get into comedy?
They’ve always been very supportive, and I think they were just happy that I had found something I loved. My father is extremely supportive. Both my parents are extremely supportive, but I mention my father because he was an art history graduate and then went on to a short career in radio broadcasting before he became a teacher. I think that was a much more stable job for someone raising kids. So he had a window into the arts and production world.
I think they both understood it. But most of all, they just knew that I loved it. And I think they liked the idea of a happy kid versus a miserable, successful kid.
Tell me about your first stand up comedy show. Do you remember it? How did it go?
This is a weird one. So around 2000, maybe ‘99, There was basically one comedy club in Ottawa. And then a second comedy club opened up on Bank Street.
Back then, getting a spot and doing comedy wasn’t something that existed in the way it exists in culture now. Today there are open mics everywhere. People are performing and being creative online, so people are exposed to comedy at a very young age. Back then, it was still kind of a secret underground activity.
I hadn’t been exposed to stand-up comedians, really. I knew Bill Cosby, Jim Carrey, you know, Ellen DeGeneres. I’d heard of the big-name comedians. But that’s all I really knew. And I knew that you got up on stage and you’re supposed to try and be funny. That’s all I knew about it. And yet I was fascinated by it.
So, I’m in my first year of television broadcasting and this comedy club opens up by my neighbourhood in Centretown on Bank Street as the old Blue Moon Cafe. It became a comedy club called Goodfellas. I would drop by the comedy club every single weekend asking about amateur night, and I got to know the owner. I still hadn’t done any stand-up comedy, but I’d watched lots of it. And then one Thursday, I went by to only inquire about new talent night. But the emcee had cancelled, and the owner needed someone to fill in.
Now, the owner didn’t know a lot about comedy either, he just had a club. I also didn’t know a thing about it. But I think he mistook my passion and excitement to try comedy for knowledge.
I thought, well, this is probably how it happens, you know? You see these stories on TV about people who just hop on stage and the next thing you know, they are on a TV show. So I said I’d do it. For the next two hours before showtime, I was just a nervous wreck.
Then the show begins. I walk up on stage and it’s busy. I mean, it’s a small place, but it’s packed, there’s 80 people. I think I welcomed everyone to the show, and I was extremely nervous. I did an impression of Jerry Lundegaard, the car salesman from the movie Fargo, William H. Macy. And it’s a dumb reference because not everyone had seen Fargo. And it was a poorly constructed joke. It made no sense.
I had no idea what it was to warm up the crowd. So that fails. And I felt so awful. And so I just jumped into asking the audience if anyone was celebrating anything. Someone said ‘ya, a birthday over here’. And I said Happy Birthday. And then I just brought up the first act. It was the worst experience. I was terrified to go back up on stage and bring another act up. Even the other acts realized how green I was. They said, “just bring me right up!”.
So that was my initiation into performance. After that, I took a good six to eight months off before I called in to Yuk Yuk’s to do a set there.
How did the show Humour Resources come to be?
I really saw a major cultural shift with social media and the current attitudes towards harmful language and acceptable behaviour in the workplace. We thought it would be fun to play with that. I think myself, Adam Brodie, and Dave Derewlany, the co-creators of the show, thought it would be interesting to take stand-up comedians and make them report to a human resources manager. We wanted to take these people, who are creative and are in a career where they’re supposed to make mistakes before they succeed, and expect them to be perfect before they even get out on stage. Put them in the corporate world.
We had pitched that show to Quibi like a year prior to the pandemic. They passed on the show. Comedy Central was interested to some degree to do it as a digital short form, which is what we were initially pitching it as. But we passed on that offer because it was low, so it just kind of sat around.
And then we’re in the middle of this pandemic, in March of last year, and we were approached by Just for Laughs. The production company had called my manager to ask about any ideas that any of his clients had that could be produced independently. Because at this point in the pandemic, Hollywood had completely shut down, and Toronto was shut down. So they called and said, can you expand it into a 22 minute format? And we had this idea of shooting the show safely by using the devices that we use in our everyday lives: your laptop cameras, your nest cameras in your house, your cell phones, your Alexa cams. What if we shot a show that existed on those cameras? So that it felt like we were being spied on, and we could tell the story safely that way. It was a nice way of putting in a storyline that reflected the theme that I was preaching to the stand-up comedians in their interviews.
We were approached by Just for Laughs, we rewrote our pitch, and then we pitched it to the CBC. All of this happened virtually through Zoom and telephone calls, and they agreed to do it. I think they were a little unsure as to what it would look like, but I think they’re pretty happy with the end product.
How did your character, the HR Manager, come to be?
I’m so lucky to know Adam Brodie and Dave Derewlany and to be friends with them. They’re so smart and they always know about story and tone and they love incorporating ‘sad’ qualities into characters. So in developing my HR guy, we took stories from my real life: my relationship with my girlfriend who I moved to Alaska with, my relationship with her child as a bonus parent, and me trying to manage my time so I can do my work well remotely. The show takes place in Squamish, B.C.
We were trying to explore a lot of these themes that exist in real life that people can relate to. But we also wanted to make sure the character is a little bit sad, a little bit corporate, and doesn’t quite get it. It’s like this character has fallen in love with HR speak. Words like onboarding and other HR buzzwords… he loves them, but missuses them. A lot of these are pretty simple words, but we imagine that probably a lot of people in my age group are out in the world really trying to adopt them. Words like heteronormativity… so we try to make it funny but keep to these real-world experiences.
Do you ever get a chance to come back to Ottawa? And if so, what are some of your favourite spots to eat or visit?
I miss Ottawa and I want to go back so badly. I want this pandemic to lift, I want to get into Ottawa, and I want to do anything and everything. I want to be at an outdoor concert. I want to be at Bluesfest. I want to be around 50,000 people sweltering with the sun setting, listening to music. I want to go to Tooth and Nail Brewery on Urban Street in Ottawa.
I want to go to the Gatineau Hills and walk around Pink Lake. I want to drive around my high school. I want to live a John Hughes movie in my head.
I want to order Milano’s Pizza. I want it to arrive at three a.m. at my parents’ house while they’re asleep so I can go up and answer the door quietly. Yeah, I want to sit in my parents’ backyard and smoke a cigarette, listening to the crickets at nighttime. I want to do anything and everything and not take it for granted.
How does it feel to know that your work has resonated with so many viewers?
I think I’m very lucky to have been born and raised in Canada. I got to make a television show for the Comedy Network that developed a very small, but unique group of audience members that continually come out to see live performances. I feel fortunate that I was able to, you know, create television shows with my friends that resonated with a group of people. So that feels good. The only reason I get to do this, is because they seem to want more of it. It feels great to have that connection. When you do a live show and someone in the audience references something you’ve done in the past, it’s undeniable that that feeling is great. It feels like you’ve affected someone in the world. Like a pleasant cult. You’re not trapped, you’re free to roam.