Assignment: Fred Penner

About six years ago, Fred Penner came to town and I was very excited. I was freelancing for the Yukon News at the time and I pitched the idea of a profile to my editor.

Alas, it had been promised to someone else.

But now I am an editor and, when I heard Mr. Penner was coming to town again, I assigned the story to myself.

I only have two perks as an editor: the first one, my own parking spot, doesn’t even count because I work from home.

The second one, however, is that you get the first pick of assignments and you have a greater chance of interviewing your heroes from time to time.

“Hero” is a strong word, but, yes, Fred Penner is a hero of mine and it isn’t because he regularly runs into burning buildings to save people or because he scores more than one goal a week in the NHL.

It is because he is a good person.

He uses his celebrity to advance children’s causes and he never forgets his responsibility as a role model.

That’s how I rate heroes and that is why my Mom and Dad are on that list: a good life, lived well.

But what made me giddy about interviewing him was the fact that I associate his CBC television show, Fred Penner’s Place, with many pleasant mornings with my children as they grew up.

Now, I can tell you, the reader, that I was giddy because we have this connection. But I absolutely could not tell Mr. Penner I was giddy because I needed to play the role of hard-nosed reporter.

Well, not so much, we at What’s Up Yukon tend to let the other papers in town topple governments. We are more about upcoming events and the people behind them. So, really, my goal was to find out what his Whitehorse audience could expect to see on stage.

Still, I have to be professional.

OK, here’s the deal: celebrities, like Fred (he told me to call him, Fred! Hee, hee!), pick up on hero worship pretty quickly. I probably tipped him off when I knew about the hollow log and the Word Bird.

But I continued to play my role and asked insightful questions, and he played his role and answered them in a prose that was easily quoted. Let’s face it, I doubt I asked him any questions he hadn’t heard yet.

I interviewed Ron James over breakfast some years back and he, too, had been asked the same questions over and over. His comedy is brilliant and he is in demand across the country. In each town he probably gives, on average, four interviews. That’s a lot of interviews.

I noticed that he was answering a question of mine with a pre-canned schtick because he didn’t miss a beat as he picked up the various packages of jams between us and examined each one. He seemed relieved when he noticed I had put down my pen, wanting something more from him.

I think we both had fun after that. I found out that he is extremely interested in everything and everyone and that contributes to a graciousness and concern not easily translated in a 20-minute interview.

I had no preconceptions going into that interview with Ron, but with Fred, we had history. And I was scared to death that he would be a jerk and that would ruin many great memories.

To be fair, I have only ever interviewed one famous person who turned out to be a jerk. All of them meet you at a level of professionalism that you both need, and most of them are still pretty jazzed to be where they are.

Fred is not a jerk, I am happy to report, and I enjoyed getting to know him in a new way.

At the end of the interview, I was able to let down my guard and thank him for many wonderful mornings.

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