My Biggest Failure (and How it Led to Where I Am Today)

Actor Andrew Herr, best known as Jonesy on the Canadian sitcom Letterkenny, on his circuitous route to success.

Like most Canadians, I played hockey growing up. My dream of making it to the NHL got more and more unlikely with each year. I was fast on my skates and had a decent hockey IQ to get by, but I had bricks as hands, and I knew that I wasn’t going to have a professional career in hockey. Around the same time I came to this realization — as I headed into my final year of high school — my family had to relocate to a new city. And so I lost my friends, my sense of comfort, and the small amount of confidence I had gained up to that point. I completed my first semester of grade twelve and, luckily, continued to play hockey, which did help me make new friends. (Shoutout to Dillon Hulton and my guidance counsellor Len Whalen for taking me under their wing.)

Andrew Herr as a young hockey player.

Perhaps because I loved film, or because I watched too much Entourage, or because I was so eager to make new friends, I decided to audition for a play to be performed at the Sears Drama Festival. My audition was truly terrible. I was extremely nervous and had no clue what I was doing, but thankfully Kristina Miller, the director, still decided I would be right for the play. This is when I got “the bug,” as they call it when you fall in love with acting for the first time. I got it when I first stepped onto the stage performing Never Swim Alone by Daniel MacIvor with my co-lead, Jordan Richards. I now wanted to become a stage actor.

Andrew Herr (center) in 2009 at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Ontario.

A year later, I hung up my hockey skates early and focused on getting into theatre school, which, in my mind, was what I needed to do in order to become a stage actor. As well as getting into theatre school, I also really wanted to be out on my own. So, rather than accepting an offer from the esteemed Ryerson University theatre program, I decided toall move to the other side of the country and take my chances at the University of British Columbia (UBC). It was risky, because unlike Ryerson and the other theatre schools I had auditioned for, I’d have to complete a full year at UBC before having the chance to audition for their theatre program. In my mind, though, I thought I had a good chance because I had gotten an offer from Ryerson.

As I finished my first semester at UBC, and the dust settled from the whirlwind that is freshman year, I hadn’t done much acting besides my dorm room talent show, where a few of us put on a play that turned out to be quite dreadful. My instincts weren’t as sharp as they had been when I was performing in high school productions and auditioning for theatre programs. The fear that I had made a big mistake began to dominate my headspace. The thought of not getting into the UBC theatre program was starting to haunt me and pressure started to mount. So I called my old guidance counsellor Len Whalen.

Andrew Herr (right) with some of his Sigma Chi frat friends at the University of British Columbia.

Len had been a professional stage actor earlier in his life, and we became friends when I would constantly show up at his office during twelfth grade and heavily rely on him for help with audition prep. This time was no different, and he helped me with the two monologues I had to perform. As we worked on them together, those old instincts came back and I started to feel more hopeful about getting into the UBC theatre program. I did the initial audition, and it went brilliantly. I got past the first round of auditions, and was looking forward to the second round. I was stoked and my fears that I had made a mistake by passing on Ryerson started to fade. The second round was a much more in-depth audition with monologue work, group work and improvisation. After finishing it, I knew I was up against a talented group, but I felt like I belonged with them. To be honest, I was quite confident I would be accepted into the drama program.

It didn’t work out that way, though. I didn’t get in. A million thoughts went through my mind, including the compounded years of failure I had endured playing hockey. Not only had I not been accepted into the UBC drama program, but I had said no to a great theatre school I did get into in order to take this chance. I felt like the world was telling me to find another career path.

Andrew Herr (third right) with his fellow acting students at VanArts.

Once again, I called my friend Len. I’ve always considered myself incredibly fortunate to have someone like him in my corner. He helped me find a good program that I could still audition for, the William B. Davis Acting School at the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts. He worked with me on my audition and I got in. I deferred from UBC for the year to start at VanArts, and was suddenly back on track. I learned a lot there, as we were taught by actors who were working in the business, which gave us a wealth of practical knowledge. It was a fun year that I still treasure to this day, and I left VanArts ready to start auditioning for film and television.

Andrew Herr, Michael Shanks and Dylan Playfair as Mark, Gordie and Marty Howe in Mr Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story.

Once I finished at VanArts, I was back at UBC for my second year and auditioning at the same time. Through a mutual friend at UBC, I met my future Letterkenny co-star Dylan Playfair. Knowing I played junior hockey, he invited me to join his beer league hockey team, the Trappers. On this team, I played with other Letterkenny collaborators Jared Keeso, Nathan Dales, Dylan and, at times, Tyler Johnston. That same year, Dylan and I became roommates. Near the tail end of my sophomore year at UBC, I landed my first acting gig on the CBC biopic Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story, in which I would be portraying Gordie’s son, NHLer Mark Howe. I didn’t know it yet, but Dylan had been cast to play my brother, Marty. While we were filming, Jared and Nate had been making their Letterkenny Problems shorts on YouTube and they were starting to get some online popularity. When it came time to make the hockey players video, Dylan and I had just finished filming Mr. Hockey. This is when the characters of Reilly and Jonesy – who Dylan and I have now been playing for 10 seasons on Letterkenny were born.

Dylan Playfair and Andrew Herr as Reilly and Jonesy in Letterkenny.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but what felt like the biggest failure at the time was the exact opposite. If I hadn’t taken the risk to go to UBC over Ryerson, I never would’ve met the guys from Letterkenny. And if I hadn’t been rejected by the UBC theatre program, I never would’ve had the opportunity to do Mr. Hockey and the Letterkenny Problems short. It is a guarantee that life won’t play out the way you think it will. And when it really deviates from your plan, maybe, just maybe, it’s the gears of fate getting ready to present an opportunity you never could’ve guessed was coming your way.

Andrew Herr stars in the hilarious Hulu comedy series Letterkenny as the cocky but at times, dim-witted hockey player Jonesy. The series, which has been praised by critics and audiences alike and won the award for ‘Best Comedy Series’ at the Canadian Screen Awards in 2017, is now in its tenth season and is now streaming on Hulu. A Toronto native, Andrew made his acting debut starring as Mark Howe,’ a former NHL player and the son of legendary hockey player Gordie Howe, in the film Mr. Hockey: The Gordie Howe Story. A former junior hockey player for the Gananoque Islanders and the Napanee Raiders, Herr found an interest in acting after appearing in a high school production of the satirical play Never Swim Alone. Herr went on to attend the University of British Columbia (UBC), and upon graduation attended the Vancouver Institute of Media Arts.