MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s a holiday story that most of us are familiar with this time of year — the Charles Dickens classic “A Christmas Carol.”

That’s the story of how crotchety old miser Ebenezer Scrooge just can’t seem to get into the Christmas spirit. In this week’s Minnesotan to Meet, we introduce you to Gunner Johnson, the character in “A Don’t Hug Me Christmas Carol” who seems to fall into the same category as Scrooge.

The play is set in Northern Minnesota, where Gunnar owns a bar called Bunyon. On Christmas Eve, Gunner tells his wife Clara he wants to skip Christmas, then he storms out on his snowmobile, falls through the ice, and revisits his bar in a coma-induced dream.

Sound familiar?

Ross Young’s real-life experience is quite similar to the character he is playing on stage, so he knows a thing or two about how to play it. He’s had the part for 11 years now.

“He’s our hero, he’s our … backbone, kind of our captain of the ship,” Phil Olson, the play’s creator, said. “His wife is constantly trying to get him to open up and be more emotional. In one of the “Don’t Hug Me”s she says, ‘Gunnar tell me you love me.’ And he responds, ‘For crying in a sink, Clara, I told you I loved you when we got married. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.'”

While it’s a role he knows well, Young still accepts the challenge of captivating the audience every time he steps on stage.

“I think performers all have a little something that they want to share with an audience, a sort of pact with the audience. They want to make a connection,” Young, who is also a father of two, said. “If you look out and you see someone laughing or enjoying the show, you get a thrill from that.”

This Christmas he just feels lucky to be a part of the cast. On Aug. 6 this year, everything changed when Young suffered a heart attack in his home.

“My wife came into the room almost immediately and saved my life. She called 911, she performed CPR,” Young said.

Then, like the character he plays this holiday season, Gunner was in a coma for almost a week.

“The chaplain from North Memorial was bringing my wife to see me, and it wasn’t to check in on my overall health. And just as the chaplain came back with my wife, they said ‘We’ve got a pulse,'” Ross said.

Since then he’s had a valve replaced. Now, much like Gunner in the end, he gives thanks to those who mean the most to him this holiday season.

“I might not be as emotionally expressive as I should be, but I am not as emotionally suppressed as Gunner.”

You catch Young and the rest of the cast at New Century Theatre from now through Jan. 3.

Ali Lucia