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IN THE NEWS… Neil Crone, exit laughing

REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION BY THE STANDARD NEWSPAPER GROUP – MAY, 2017

Neil Crone by Jonathan van Bilsen

I first met Neil Crone in 1996 when we each launched a book at a writers’ festival in Pickering. I immediately became a fan of the comedian, and am pleased to say, a friend as well. There are very few people in Canadian entertainment who are as funny as ‘Fred Tupper’, Neil’s recent character on ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’. His latest film, Bon Cop, Bad Cop 2, was released last week, where Neil, along with Colm Feore, keeps law and order in Middle Brook.

Neil has just finished a lengthy film stint in North Bay for yet another of his many Hallmark Christmas flicks. In this one, the working title of which is ‘Unexpected Christmas’, Neil plays opposite Andie MacDowell (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Groundhog Day). I still get a kick out of One Starry Christmas, the Hallmark festive movie from two years ago.

Over dinner recently, Neil and Kathryn announced they were leaving Port Perry, for a more rustic life, just north of town. “We love to walk our dogs in a country setting,” they explained. “It is simply a natural progression for us.” Neil and Kathryn regularly walk their dogs, Owen and Dooly, at trails in the area. “It will be great to have our own property where they can run free.”

I recall, several years ago, how easy it was to spot Neil around town. Every time you saw a bright yellow, Volkswagen Beetle and noticed the faint smell of French fries in the air, it would be Neil.

He had converted his car to run on vegetable oil, hence the interesting odour. “I love the concept,” Neil said. “I get free fuel at local restaurants and I help the environment.” he smiled, “I do find I get hungry a lot and constantly crave an order of fries.”

Neil Crone was born at St. Mike’s hospital in Toronto and grew up in Agincourt. The second youngest of six kids Neil had a good childhood in a family where his mother, a nurse had met her husband when he was in a body cast as a result of an accident. Neil attended Sir John A. MacDonald Collegiate whose alumni boast the likes of Mike Myers, Deb McGrath and Eric McCormack to name a few. While attending high school, Neil worked as a landscaper, a busboy, a waiter and a roofer. As he put it, “Great jobs to fall back on in case the comedy wasn’t working.”

Although he was comedic in school, it wasn’t until his last year of high school when he decided to attend Ryerson, and enrol in the radio and television arts program. Unsure of where he was heading, Neil went to Teacher’s College at U of T and became a high school teacher in King City, teaching Drama and English.

Like most of us at the end of our teens, we lack direction and Neil was no different. He attended Bible school in upper New York State for two months and although he wanted to be in front of an audience, a career as a minister was not for him.

His education and practical experience solidified his longing to be an actor, more so a comedian. He did a few rounds at Yuk Yuk’s and cut his teaching to half time, allowing him to participate in auditions. One such effort with Second City proved successful, and Neil was on the road to comedic greatness.

In 1989 Second City wanted Neil to join their touring company, which gave him the opportunity to travel across Canada. Neil Crone never looked back. “Acting is a tough business,” he admitted. “No matter how good your current gig is, when it’s over you start from scratch again.”

Fortunately for Neil, his past successes have allowed him to receive some great roles. He has been in 124 movies/television roles including ‘Eerie, Indiana’, ‘Free Willy’ and the ‘Red Green Show’. Neil had many recurring roles in television such as Mr. Chesney in ‘Goosebumps’, Ollie Jefferson in ‘Wind at My Back’, and of course, memorable, Coach Harry Strand in ‘Power Play’.

I asked if working on ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’, was as enjoyable as it seemed. “When it’s this much fun you feel guilty at having to call it work,” Neil replied, grinning. “We shot part of the show in Regina and met up with the ‘Corner Gas’ gang who were out there at the same time. Regina has never been the same.”

‘Little Mosque’ has finished six seasons and is seen in more than 100 countries. When he is not in front of the camera Neil does voice-overs for commercials and many animated shorts, guest speakerships at corporate events and writes his syndicated, ‘Enter Laughing’ column. His downtime is spent with Kathryn and his two sons, Colin and Duncan.

Along with numerous stints on Murdoch Mysteries and his recently completed cartoon series, Kody Kapow, Neil has written several books. From poetry tomes to the popular ‘Farmer’s Secret Midnight Dance’ and of course who can forget his hilarious novel, ‘Who Farted?’ Several years ago Neil had a nasty bout with Colon cancer, but he has survived and became the spokesperson for the Colorectal Cancer Association. He even wrote an awakening book entitled ‘Semi-Colon’.

I asked him how he measured his success. His best compliment was from a reader who said she had put his newspaper column on her fridge. He smiled humbly. “Directors now know me and let me do my own thing, which is amazing. I recently received a script and all it said was ‘Neil acts Crazy’.”

I am still mesmerized by Neil’s wit and humour. His column and books crack me up, and his on-camera spots are usually hilarious. I’m sure you will agree that one of Canada’s funniest comedians lives right in our own backyard.

Jonathan van Bilsen is a travel photographer, author, columnist and keynote speaker. Follow his adventures at photosNtravel.com

 

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