Having worked with George Burns, who was still making people laugh at 100, Canadian icon Gordie Tapp knows the secret to longevity: keep doing what you enjoy.
Tapp celebrated birthday number 90 last month and is still active telling jokes and singing songs, as will be the case Sunday afternoon at the Commercial Tavern in Maryhill.
He has no plans to slow down, as he’s no fan of the alternative.
“Staying active keeps you young. I’m only 90,” he laughs down the line from his home in Burlington.
“I’m afraid of retirement. I had a lot of friends who retired and I don’t have them anymore.”
Performing has been a part of Tapp’s life since he stepped on stage, harmonica in hand, to sing at a school show at the age of 5.
“There’s a Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder,” he said of the Al Jolson song on offer that day. “Funny the things you remember. I remember it clearly, like it was yesterday.”
By the time he’d reached double digits, he and his guitar were part of local performances in and around his London-area home.
After a stint in uniform with the “Army Show” from 1942-46, he graduated from Lorne Greene’s Radio Arts Academy in Toronto in 1947 and helped launch radio stations in Niagara Falls and Guelph. From that experience, he became a founding member of the Main Street Jamboree on both radio and television, broadcast from Hamilton. Tapp later joined Country Hoedown – the precursor to The Tommy Hunter Show – bringing with him the character of Cousin Clem. Both Tapp and his alter-ego would go on to international fame in the long-running Hee Haw, which aired from 1969 to 1993.
After so many years in show business, Tapp has plenty of tales to relate, which is an ideal situation from the man comedian Foster Brooks introduced to U.S. President Gerald Ford as “the world’s greatest storyteller.”
You can bet some of those stories will be part of the mix Sunday afternoon. Listen, for instance, about how the hat once used as a prop by the legendary Jimmy Durante became Cousin Clem’s topper to this very day. Or how, while on one of his many trips to entertain Canadian troops, he was in Egypt when the Six-Day War erupted.
“I’ve entertained ever since I was 5 – I’ve got some stories to tell,” he laughs, noting the goal has always been to entertain an audience, no matter the size or location.
“I just enjoy making people enjoy themselves.”
Just how successful he’s been at doing that – as evidenced by his Order of Canada and Order of Ontario – is summed up in his autobiography, What’s On Tapp?, released in 2007. He’s likely to have a few copies of the book, along with CDs, DVDs and even some old cassettes, available while in Maryhill.
“I tell people all the proceeds go to a poor family of which I’m the head,” he jokes.
The legendary Gordie Tapp, joined by the Weber family, performs at the Commercial Tavern July 8 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $20, available at the venue, 1303 Maryhill Rd., or by calling 519-648-3644. For more information, visit www.commercialtavern.ca.