FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Dave Kelly
January 26, 2016
You’ve seen him around town, on your TV – he’s done commercials and plays, he’s a community activist and a former school teacher. He’s fun and funny – and I found him completely serious too, a guy who ‘knows his business’. And he recognizes he’s had some fortunate turns-of-events. Meet Dave Kelly:
He says, “I feel the struggle to live a great life is a worthy and always challenging struggle.” And while he’s enjoyed much success, there has been much struggle from humble beginnings and some fortunate breaks – being in the right place at the right time and seizing an opportunity …
Born in Ottawa (1963), moved with his family to Edmonton when he was 10. He’s #2 of 10 children; 6 boys followed by 4 girls. Mom, stayed home! Dad is in the stucco, drywall and ornamental plastering business (look for his work on the ceilings in the old-restored-historic section of Calgary City Hall). He came from a conservative home – no TV growing up. High school (“I was an average student”) in Edmonton (St. Mary’s – now called J.H. Picard), bummed around a bit – L.A. for two years, U of A for B.Ed., taught school for eight years – but theatre and acting had a stronger pull. He'd done some acting in school. After teaching language arts and drama … he was off to Toronto.
“In school I had a hard time concentrating, had a hard time fitting in. In my early days teaching, in front of kids, if you are nervous – they can eat you alive. I loved it. They’re an audience …”.
While he doesn’t brag himself up as a singer, his early stage credits were in musicals – Man of LaMancha (working with Michael Burgess), Crazy For You (working with Mickey Rooney). Work took him back to Edmonton where he did a show called Homework Hotline on Access TV. The Ralph Klein government sold Access to Moses Znaimer. It seems Mr. Znaimer saw some tapes of Dave in action, called him at midnight saying, “Dave, this is Moses” – that call that night led to a full time gig doing Help TV and learning more about the TV business …
“I didn’t want to be a grumpy old teacher one day.”
An offer from Alberta Theatre Projects brought Dave to Calgary to do a show called “Hank Williams, the show I never gave”. While lounging in the lobby of his hotel he met the Craigs from Brandon who were launching A Channel in Calgary. They came to see the show, and they liked his tapes. They hired Dave to co-host The Breakfast Show along with Jebb Fink – from ’97 through New Year’s Eve 2009. As the last-man-standing from the original group he felt he needed something new. “TV had changed so much … and I wanted to work with my brother.” Spruce Meadows TV (“there’s something about horses”), and “I love telling great stories – getting at the human story.” Their company, Kelly Brothers Productions, has a crew of eight. Their business involves Dave's productions but also has a bread+butter business doing commercials, websites, corporate videos and Dave 'as speaker, moderator, panel leader, interviewer and ring-leader' gigs.
Also in the works: a play, “Dad Day One” about his first 24-hours as a dad. “Happiest moments of my life. It’s a personal, and vulnerable, show – as good a day as I could have had.”
As our tight-time interview evaporated .. some snippets of important pivotal moments, being in the right place at the right time: doing a YPO gig in Toronto as 2nd banana to Dan Rather was exciting, made more-so when Rather called in sick. Dave ‘had to’ do the whole thing. A lucky break? Or something else?
He’s currently writing a couple of plays, and running his production company – readying a Kelly Brothers production that opens Feb. 17, Dave Kelly Live at the Grand.
Why are you successful?
“I’ve been lucky – being able to figure out/recognizing ‘things that fit’. Teaching, to acting – fit better, TV fit both. Dave Kelly Live is closest – it FITS’. I’ve always wanted to be good at whatever I was doing”.
What has held you back?
“I wish I’d not been afraid to risk more, sooner. Could have worried less, tried more …”.
How do you see your business – a communications and entertainment business - going forward over the next quarter?’
… different, challenging, shifting radically. We seem to be changing – we’ve learned to be nimble, working harder to find less money. We were profitable in December/January, which is a first for us in those months. So …we are hopeful for a good year.
And over the next five years?
… I see a big shift. Video will grow. Cost of equipment is much cheaper, cost of getting an audience will drop too. Still, great storytellers are needed.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… values. People who are like my dad – kind decent people. Loyalty.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Dave Kelly and Kelly Brothers Productions, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… my wicked good looks! …. Seriously, I think they relate to a sense of ‘we are all in this together'. I am able to make people feel comfortable …
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… not SERIOUS, I try to bring a sense of humour, I strive for things to be done well – by example as much as I can.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… a sense of wondering, ‘that I should have a plan’!
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my dad – a steady decent man who worked really hard, always valued kindness more than anything. High school graduation speech auditions - I didn’t make valedictorian, but I won that competition to do the funny speech. I killed!
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… I know the term. But I still don’t have it figured out.
… biking, hanging out with kids for serious Lego-time. Second marriage for Dave – he’s married to Blythe Butler. They have two children, five and three, one of each.
What do you read?
… business things, lots of non-fiction. Books that stretch my ‘mind set’. I know that sounds self-helpie. I loved Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge …
… 2006ish VW Jetta with 30,000 km on it that I bought from a little old lady …
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