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Hard of Hearing, Sharp of Wit

Hearing-impaired standup D.J. Demers takes his act from the stage to the small screen in a new workplace sitcom about the kooky staff at a rundown sporting goods store

After over a decade of basing his standup comedy on his own experiences, including the challenges of being hard of hearing, Ontario native D.J. Demers had no hesitations writing a sitcom based on his life. “I worked at a used sporting goods store when I was in high school,” he explains. “I wrote this thinking of a universe that I would want to live in. My mind went back to that time — being a teenager, looking at life through rose-coloured glasses, remembering the salad days of my youth.”

One More Time — a workplace comedy that centres around D.J., the manager of a second-hand sporting goods store, and his motley crew of oddball employees — may be a soft representation of Demers’ salad days, but the lead character sure is reminiscent of the real McCoy. “D.J.’s kind of a dumber but better version of me,” jokes Demers, who serves as star, writer and producer on the single-cam comedy. “Actually, we’re both dumb, but he handles everything with a smile on his face, the way I probably wish I did. I try to, but he is very optimistic — naïvely so, you might say. I don’t know if I’m quite as naïve as him.”


And indeed, creating a character not too different from his own persona was a strategic move. “Being similar to the character [I play] helped, because it’s easy to be in the moment, as a neophyte actor,” he says. “I don’t have to imagine what this character would do in this situation, because I’m like, “Well, what would I do?” And maybe I go a bit more heightened. But just to go to set every day and be like, ‘I’m going to be this super-positive, upbeat guy,’ helps me be the best version of myself off-camera.”

What has also been a new experience to Demers is the collaborative nature of television. “I normally work on my own as a standup comedian, just doing my own thing. I really love having a smart, funny person to bounce ideas off of,” he says, referring to showrunner Jessie Gabe, who previously wrote on CBC’s Run the Burbs and Workin’ Moms. Gabe deflects the compliment, pointing out that there is no One More Time without its creator. “D.J.’s hearing is a big part of the core of the show, and a lot of the stories you could only tell on this show because of D.J.’s specific perspective,” she says. “There was a lot of fodder to draw from, bouncing off of D.J.’s personal stories and certain challenges and experiences.”


Of course, Mr. Demers says he would be lost without his ensemble. Geri Hall plays Cynthia, the assistant manager with a secret. “She’s just so good,” says Demers. “As the season goes on, we reveal that she’s not completely who she seems to be. Geri was really able to walk that line between being prim and proper as present-day Cynthia, but also maybe have darkness in her past.” Fargo’s Dan Beirne was familiar to both Demers and Gabe. “His audition for Wayne, he killed it. He wasn’t even supposed to have that hair but the day before we were about to shoot, one of the hair people happened to have this mullet wig and put it on him,” Demers recalls. “It was like the clouds parted.” Meanwhile, The Expanse’s Dayton Sinkia was a new discovery. “His cadence and his delivery, he’s just a little off-kilter. Everything about his timing is slightly off. It’s like nothing you see on TV and it made us laugh so hard,” says Demers. Hiring Elise Bauman as the intense Jen was like art imitating life. “We envisioned that Jen would be this powerful athlete, really competitive with a fire that burned within, and Elise said as much in her audition. She was like, ‘I am Jen, you must give this all to me.’ And we’re like, ‘Yes!’ ” says Demers. As for the character representing his own, teenaged self, well, Seran Sathiyaseelan certainly embodies Demers’ spirit. “He’s got that youthful teenage energy that we really wanted Keeran to have,” says the creator. “He’s got that wide-eyed innocence.”


Gabe credits Demers for setting the tone for a joyful experience from the start. “D.J. has got such a welcoming, positive vibe, and I really think that trickles down,” she says. “Everybody felt it, from the writers’ room to the crew. The cast felt it the second they showed up, like they were making something special.” Much of the hilarity stems from Demers’ ability to make fun of himself and his disability. “It’s my life. If I can’t joke about it, nobody can, you know?” he muses. “I really do miss a lot of stuff, hearing-wise. And I do get into some funny situations because of it. It’s such a unique thing for me that if I wasn’t going to joke about it, these jokes are just not going to be told, or they’re going to be told by somebody else. And I’ll be like, ‘Damn, why didn’t I do that?’ ”

One More Time premieres Tuesday, January 9, on CBC

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