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Gord Paynter Leaves 'em Laffin'

Gord Paynter inherited his love of laughter from his father, and in Grade three decided he wanted to become a comedian.

But when he lost his eyesight in his early 20's from diabetes while hitch-hiking across Europe, he thought his lifelong dream was over. He sank into depression and battled his way out of it by relying on humour.

Paynter gives a lot of the credit for his turn-around to the Canadian National Institute for the Blind's Adjustment to Blindness course, which he attended in 1979.

"I was re-introduced to my sense of humour," he says. "It exposed me to other people in similar situations and provided an opportunity to talk about the events of the day, our successes and failures, and laugh at some of our mistakes and reactions from the sighted public."

The comedian studied theatre and English at Brock University in St. Catharines from 1974 to 1977. His first attempt at stand-up comedy occurred at a residence talent show in 1976.

"That was the first time I got up in front of a lot of people and said, 'I'm a comedian, I will make you laugh.' ... Unfortunately, I hadn't rehearsed any of my material and I bombed."

But Paynter persisted!

"I worked on video projects in London for two years in the early 80's, and as a result of those projects and some of the people that I came into contact with, I got involved with comedy contests, which were called 'So You Think You're Funny'." In 1982, he finished second and won 50 dollars. The following year, he finished third and won 150 bucks.

In 1985, Paynter was involved in the theatre company, "Rolling Thunder", based in his hometown of Brantford. It was comprised of both able-bodied and disabled performers. He stayed with the company over a year.

But Paynter's breakthrough in comedy came in 1984 when he performed at one of Yuk Yuk's Comedy Cabaret Amateur Nights in Toronto, where he was a big success. He began doing regular performances at their clubs across Canada.

Paynter is a big sports fan. When not on the road, he splits his time between his wife, Catherine, and the golf course, and can tour Brantford's North-Ridge course in fewer than 100 strokes.

In 1999, he made international headlines when he struck a 184 yard hole-in-one at North-Ridge.

"My regular caddy and helper couldn't make it, so my niece, Mallory, came out to help me," Paynter recalls. "She's the one who set me up and pointed me in the right direction. All I had to do was swing the club."

And when asked what he shot for that round, he jokes, "Six thousand and four."

Once, after one of Paynter's shows, a member of the audience told him he was inspired by his routine.

"Part of me was hurt because it wasn't meant to be inspiring. It was meant to be funny. But another part of me saw it as an opportunity. I thought I could write inspirational and motivational messages, sandwiched between lots of comedy."

He started Leave Them Laughing in 1987 and has been delivering his inspirational messages to students, seniors, corporations and service clubs ever since. Today, Paynter tours throughout North America performing as both a stand-up comic and motivational speaker.

A considerable part of his on-stage routine revolves around his blindness. Using humour, Paynter takes his audience's preconceived notions of the vision-impaired and flip-flops them, often with hilarious results.

"Blindness allows me to create jokes about something--blindness--that most people regard as a taboo topic."

Paynter has been featured at the international comedy festival, Just for Laughs, in Montreal and has appeared on the Comedy Network's Open Mike with Mike Bullard, Club 54, CBC's Fifth Estate and the Nature of Things with David Suzuki. He's been honoured several times for his work, including the Ontario Government's Community Action Award.

He is currently collaborating on his autobiography, which he hopes will be released in the spring of 2005. This is a book that will both motivate and inspire.


Paynter also promises, "Throughout the book, readers will be compelled to laugh out loud."

When asked for advice for the budding comedian who might wish to follow him, Paynter says: "I love it; I always wanted to do comedy. Unless you have that same desire, you won't be in it for the long haul. There's no point being in it for the ego."

Photo: Head shot of Gord Paynter.