The Funny Accountant
Photo Credit -- Unknown
Rob Ross, would you like to give a quote on my article on Greg Eckler? "I don’t know what this is. Is he dying?
-- Rob Ross Stand-Up Comic/ Comedy Writer
“Greg Eckler is Fergie Jenkins favourite comic, not many people know that!”
-- Chris Finn Stand-Up Comic/ Comedy Writer
“He was quite young when he owned his first home. But yet an adult. He owned one before anyone of the rest of us though. Some solicitor came to his door … he answered it … and the solicitor said … are your parents’ home?”
-- Rob Ross Stand-Up Comic/ Comedy Writer
"If I write 100 jokes for Rick Mercer, he will use 12, if Greg writes 100, he will use 100.”
-- George Westerholm Stand-Up Comic/ Comedy Writer/ Musician
The definition of a modern Renaissance Man is the idea that humans should embrace all knowledge and develop themselves as fully as possible. The term “Renaissance Man” is used for a very clever man who is good at many different things. Mr. Greg Eckler certainly meets many of the characteristics of a Renaissance Man. He never stops learning and is loyal to those who have helped his career. A throwback to a different generation who stays off Social Media, and only phone is a traditional landline. Greg Eckler has made an impact in Canadian Television as a comedy writer, yet those outside the industry have no idea what Greg does for a living. Mr. Eckler likes the anonymity.
The author, David Reuben, first met Greg Eckler sometime in 1988. Mr. Eckler was starting out on amateur night at the Yuk Yuk’s at Yonge and Eglinton in Toronto. Greg was hanging around Yuk Yuk’s and decided to take the plunge into the murky waters of the famous Yuk Yuk’s amateur night.
Sixteen-year-old Greg started to scout amateur nights at Yuk Yuk’s. He saw Steve Fromstein hosting. Killer pro spots by Simon Rakoff and Chris Finn. And of course, all the amateurs who didn’t make it look that difficult for him to compete. He wrote some stuff, practiced, and remarkably had the wisdom to know he was too young.
Greg Eckler went back two years later when he was 18. “I’d signed up but my name wasn’t on the list. I explained the situation to MC Tony Krolo and unbelievably, he put me on in the #4 spot. It was a very dead crowd and the first 3 comics got nothing. Then I went on, stood in a shockingly hot and bright light, told the crowd it was my first time, and proceeded to annihilate. Every line, every pause, it all connected huge. Afterwards, Tony came into the green room and said to me ‘You’re going on every second act!’ Clearly, I was brilliant.
Then I bombed the next 8 sets in a row. Eventually I understood the initial success was a function of the crowd feeding off first set energy and cheering you on. Although yes, I did have better lines than most amateurs and regrouped to the point where I started to do pretty well most of the time.
Four weeks later, I showcased for Mark Breslin and he promoted me to ‘regular nights’. Extremely exciting moment in my life. I was lucky Mark was into the wordsmith type of thing. Also insanely lucky we were in the middle of a gargantuan comedy boom and they needed warm bodies on the road immediately. The way they need family doctors right now.”
Mr. Greg Eckler stopped and re-started his stand-up comedy career numerous times while studying to become a funny accountant. “The issue then, and for most of my career, was how to connect on a personal level with a club crowd. I usually did well in settings that were more formal, like a theater or banquet hall. I have a 12-0 lifetime record at events where elected officials are present. Tapings for TV and radio were favorable environments. But clubs and bars took me decades to figure out. A lot of sports material helped sometimes in the bar shows.”
“I owe so much to Mark Breslin, Mike Bullard, and Rick Mercer for wanting to work with me. Also, they say 90% of any job is showing up, and thank god so many of the most brilliant people are unable to do that.”
By the mid 90s, Greg was managing a chicken restaurant. A chance meeting with producer Joe Bodolai led to his own episode of Comics! on CBC, so Greg hit the road with Yuk Yuk’s to develop that material in ‘96.
Around the time of Greg’s Comics episode there were rumblings that Mike Bullard was going to get his own Talk Show on The Comedy Network. Mr. Greg Eckler got into the Television Comedy Writing business because Mike Bullard gave him the job! Plain and simple… “I got in because Mike Bullard put me there. Which is amazing as he never saw me have a good set, because I was following him at the height of his era as a dominating Yuks MC. But he’d be at the back of the room laughing. He also was a pure adlibber who found the process of writing material a little mystifying, so when I’d add new material every single show over a 5-night stay in Niagara Falls, he was impressed. I was kind of lucky that so many of the comics who emphasized writing in their act had left Yuk Yuks in a hipster exodus in 1990, so someone like me really stood out to Mike.”
All the comics in the writers room were young and bratty with no TV experience. “In a room of seasoned people, my insecure behavior would’ve gotten me fired quickly.” The head writer was the late great Lawrence Morgenstern, who worked with Greg and Rob Ross. Mr. Eckler says, I got to learn how to write jokes from watching a colleague named Rob Ross. The most consistently prolific, funny writer who could do any topic.”
After almost 7 years, The Mike Bullard Show was canceled by Global TV where they had moved from CTV in season 7. As luck would have it, Rick Mercer and Gerald Lunz of The Rick Mercer Report were part of This Hour Has 22 Minutes when Mr. Eckler turned them down to remain loyal to Mike Bullard.
As soon as they knew Greg Eckler was a free agent, The Rick Mercer Report contacted him. Veteran Comedy Writer/ Stand-Up Comic Chris Finn remembers when Greg was hired by The Rick Mercer Report. “I recall very well that Greg joined the Mercer show when the show he was working on went down. We had all been talking about how great he would be on RMR. I didn't know if our Gerald Lunz knew Greg, so I went into his office to recommend he hire Greg... Gerald was already on the phone with him. Greg was there the next day, he raised the level of the writing immensely, he's a great guy to work with and perhaps the classiest comedian I’ve ever worked with.”
Mr. Greg Eckler spent the next 14 years at The Rick Mercer Report ‘til Mr. Mercer decided to move on to other projects. Now a seasoned comedy writer, Greg insists that he survived on RMR because of the other writers in the room. Besides Chris Finn, the writers room included George Westerholm, the late great Tim Steeves, the Brilliant Irwin Barker until his untimely death, Corner Gas show runner Paul Mather, and Rick Currie.
Greg is very humble about working on The Rick Mercer Report. His survival at the beginning depended on the kindness of people like Chris Finn whispering “shut up” when Greg was running his mouth in a potentially fatal way. And Tim Steeves providing punch lines when Mr. Eckler’s work wasn’t strong enough on its own. Steeves was also great at calming Greg down when he’d be panicking about an impending deadline: “We’re huge, brother. All we have to do is come up with three things that don’t exist yet.”
Greg’s dear friend, the late great Tim Steeves, had a telephone chat with the author about two weeks before Tim passed away. “Greg has a very high IQ; he is very bright. Greg has the ability to break down bits, is very efficient with his words. We have very different styles. Greg is very methodical in his approach to comedy writing, while I come from left field. Greg Eckler is an old school talent, sweet, genuine, and a nice guy.”
Rick Currie another close friend and writer for The Rick Mercer Report also raved about Mr. Eckler. “I owe my writing career to Greg as he recommended me to The Rick Mercer writing room. He is not chasing fame, just wants to produce high quality work. Greg is insightful and is able to pick out the contradictions in life. He still cares about the work and is a genuine person. Mr. Eckler has always been loyal; we have been friends since the early 1990’s when we worked together at the Ottawa Yuk Yuk’s. During the years of The Rick Mercer Report Greg quietly went around and gave everyone gift cards at Christmas time.”
Mr. Greg Eckler was born in Toronto ON and grew up in the suburbs. His family was upper middle class. His parents’ generation of Jewish people generally liked comedy and showbusiness. “If I wanted to recreate Hee Haw in the basement, there would be an audience. If I wanted to stay up and watch SNL at the age of 7, this was fine.”
Growing up Greg lived his life through his family’s television set, and really hadn’t any idea of the outside world or how real people interacted. “Strangely sheltered. I remember watching Rod Stewart performing Young Turks on SNL in ’81. As he jumped around in spandex with spiked hair after midnight, I thought ‘I feel sorry for his parents.’ Net effect was I felt like an outsider wherever I went and was pretty ill-equipped to talk to a nightclub audience when all that got started, because I had no idea what people are thinking when they’re in a nightclub.”
Greg’s parents liked comedy and could be humorous, but the only hardcore comedic person he recalls in the family was his Great Uncle Harry Eckler.. "He was a top athlete who might have made the major leagues in baseball if not for WW2. It was enough of a foothold in sports that he was able to form a partnership with CFL legend Joe Krol, and boxing Hall of Famer Slammin Sammy Luftspring. Together they opened the Mercury Club, a nightclub that had gigantic music and comedy acts and was the hippest place to go in Toronto in the 1950s. Krol and Luftspring provided the star power but Harry was the personality.
Whenever I was on TV or got mentioned in the newspaper, Harry would call and say ‘You’re stealing my thunder.”
A graduate of the prestigious Upper Canada College. A bright child who skipped a grade, Greg Eckler won a scholarship to Upper Canada College prep school and stayed to throughout high school. “What I remember from my teen years is being tired the whole time. I stayed up to 1:30 am to watch Letterman and had to get up at 6:45 for a long commute to school, so I was operating on about 5 hours of sleep. Maybe comedy impacted my childhood more than my childhood impacted my comedy.”
Greg then went on to get a Bachelor of Commerce at the University of Toronto. He missed a lot of classes to do one nighters in places like North Bay and Arnprior. One of his first jobs out of University was doing sports updates on CJCL 1430 just before it changed to all sports radio station. Since Greg was doing the late-night sports updates, he was not even made aware that the station changed to a all sports format and changed its call signs to 590 The Fan.
The first stand-up comic young Greg saw live was Mr. Richard Lewis at the O’Keefe Centre in 1975. “One more little harbinger, from when I was 5 years old. My parents took the family to see Sonny & Cher at the O’Keefe Centre. 1975. The opening act was something I didn’t know existed: a comedian. Here was a guy who came out with no instruments, no magic tricks, no things to juggle. He just talked and people laughed and then he left. I had no idea what he was talking about, but the concept was mind blowing. They had programs in those days. Afterwards I looked at it and it said, ‘Opening Act: Richard Lewis.’
Never forgot the name, and 8 years later when I saw him on Letterman, I knew that was the same guy. More than 20 years after that, I saw a U.S. print interview where Richard Lewis said his first big gig was opening for Sonny & Cher in Toronto.
He’s one of the greats and I love having this story, but for the record: I’m still not 100% sure what Richard Lewis is talking about.”
In 2005, while working at The Rick Mercer Report, Greg Eckler was invited to perform at the Winnipeg Comedy Festival. "It was one of the best sets I’ve ever had. And then I shut it down for 10 years as far as stand-up. It was too exhausting to compete in a writers room with the likes of Chris Finn and Tim Steeves and also keep up a viable act.”
In 2014, Mr. Eckler decided to put his toe back into stand-up comedy. He was a successful comedy writer and was curious. Greg soon found out that the business of stand-up comedy had changed. Yet, he enjoyed it more because the pressure of trying to make a living in comedy was gone. As his writing room colleagues told the author, David Reuben, “there was nothing at stake, Greg was not chasing fame, and he just wanted to see if he could still do it.”
Greg himself says, “just to see if I could get laughs in the iPhone era. Booked a weekend of middling at the Ottawa Yuks and gave myself 3 months to get ready, developing an act virtually from scratch. That was wild because I chose not to impose on Mark Breslin for stage time. Didn’t think I merited it.”
Mr. Eckler hit the Toronto open-mic scene, “I went to open mics and pleaded for spots from a lot of people I didn’t know and learned very fast that this business had changed. Just because it’s a non-paying show in a basement far out of town, doesn’t mean you’re getting on the show no matter what your credentials supposedly are. Also discovered that whatever obscure hole in the wall you walk into, there’s probably going to be some great acts on the show. Talent was freaking everywhere. Wasn’t fun following that talent, but I absolutely loved meeting them. Also on the bright side, there’s way less heckling now. I was never good at that part of it.”
Greg continues talking about stand-up: “Bombing at open mics late at night in front of 6 people over and over is so exhausting and demoralizing, but that’s the heavy lifting of stand up and it truly works. Those 2014 middle spots in Ottawa were probably the best club sets I ever did. Ultimately, I got to implement a lot of the simple lessons about performing that eluded me for a quarter century. Act like you want to be there, or even better yet really want to be there. Say a genuine hello to the crowd when you start. Be real, be upbeat. I mean, you don’t have to do any of those things if you can make it work a different way, but they’re good rules for most of us.”
“I don’t do a ton of stand up now unless I’ve been asked to perform somewhere and have to get material together. But there’s another reason I’ve done a handful of short sets this year. Rick Mercer had a huge stand-up tour and needed to get ready. I’ll usually go along to his spots to see what works and take some notes. In a lot of those cases, I’ll go on right after Rick so nobody on the show has to follow a famous person.”
Yet, Greg says that he really enjoys stand-up now.” Didn’t enjoy it back in the day because I wasn’t a strong act and the stakes were so high. I whined about a lot of things- crowds, other acts I thought were hacky- when the problem the whole time was me. Now there are no stakes and the worse the gig, the more I love it. Love the audiences, the other acts, the sound of the popcorn machine in the back, the smell of an overflowing grease trap.”
Mr. Greg Eckler has had success in comedy beyond most performers grasp. He remains centered and loyal to those who helped him, especially, Mr. Mark Breslin, Mr. Mike Bullard, and Mr. Rick Mercer. His writing room colleagues not only became friends, they became family and think the world of Greg.
Greg credits his early success in stand-up to Mark Breslin who allowed him back into the Yuk Yuk’s comedy clubs, after Greg repeatedly quit stand-comedy.
His writing career happened because Mike Bullard gave him a chance and continued because Rick Mercer hired him. “Like Mr. Magoo, I walked from one steel beam to another with no idea why or how I landed safely. But I see it now. I had a career as a TV writer mainly because I came along at a moment when people like Rick Mercer and Mike Bullard created a space for topical joke writers in Canada that didn’t much exist before them and might not exist in that form going forward as the TV medium dies.”
In the summer of 2022, the author David Reuben, was lucky enough to work with Greg at an out-of-town bar gig hosted by one of Greg’s heroes in comedy and life, Ronnie Edwards. Mr. Greg Eckler was as sharp as ever on stage, and really seemed to have fun. As luck would have it, we live in the same neighborhood of Midtown Toronto, and I got a ride home from him. On the car ride home, we caught up on each others’ careers. Quite honestly, an hour and a half car ride talking about stand-up and comedy writing was the catalyst for this article.
It has been a thrill to reconnect with Mr. Greg Eckler. And I am humbled that this very private man has let me write about his career in Canadian Comedy. Normally, at this part of the article I say where you can find “the subject of the article” on Social Media. Well, in this case you cannot find Greg Eckler on any platform but The Comedy Green Room Dot Com
Mention you found out about Greg Eckler on www.thecomedygreenroom.com