The Jim Zulevic Interview

September 10, 2004

Today is the day to pluck the unibrow.

Whether you know him or not, you know today's interviewee. Put a name to the face and suddenly you realize he or his writing is on every other show or ad you see on TV. Trust me, I know, because when I met him in person, I stupidly said, "You look really familiar..." and then went home and turned on the TV and there he was during my evening "Simpsons" rerun. But here in Chicago, hopefully, you know him by name as he is stage comedy and Chicago is stage comedy, as he's acted and taught at Second City. And he's got a good last name.

The Jim Zulevic Interview

You and Bob Odenkirk are working on a script for a movie about Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. How did you select that as a topic? How will it fit into the plot?
I first sold the idea to Bob himself and that wasn't too difficult. He's from the Chicago area so it's an event near and dear to his heart but more to me. We've had some trouble selling it. I think people put too much kitsch value into Disco at this point. We do have a production company really interested in doing their first feature after making trillions in television. It's basically two stories: one about a kid growing up on the South Side and the other about Steve Dahl. They kind of parallel each other.

You were there during the Demolition. Were/are you a White Sox fan, or were you just an enemy of disco?
I was at the game(s). I'm a die-hard Sox fan and I got caught up in the fun of making fun of stupid music in a stupid way.

What was some of the "South Side culture" you were looking to explore in the screenplay?
There's a lot of stuff that didn't make it but we do have 16-inch softball played in a cop league. There's a lot of cop culture including those who have the Daley house duty. There's a scene at Evergreen Aqua Park. There are references to the segregation. There's a strong sense of work ethic. We should probably stick in a scene at Prime 'n' Tender. We do have a movie lobby scene. No reason it couldn't be Ford City but they became all goofy with the new logo and everything when the movie "Tucker" came out. Good move.

Speaking of the South Side, Cusack, Murray and a slew of other Chicago celebs like to show up at Cubs games. You're a Sox fan…are there any other actors who are as well or is that career suicide?
Richard Roeper's a Sox fan. He's not an actor but better yet he can make those jagwads' movies do shitty B.O. on opening weekend.

You talk about this Disco Demolition era being a lot looser, with culture not being as homogenized…what are some ways you think it has become homogenized?
Now you can't do anything without it going through the channels of Bud Selig all the way down to the biggest knucklehead in marketing. The talk of the Sox getting rid of Nancy Faust says it all. I just read that something like only 1/3 of the ballparks still employ an organist. Most of these parks are indistinguishable in terms of the feel and atmosphere. They play the same tired CD clips. You would never have the wonderfully ramshackle promotion of blowing up records now. It's so dirt track. Now, every park has a 70's night! Can't at least one have 1870's night?

Who are some of your favorite performers/actors from Chicago?
My favorite Chicagoan performer is probably Bob Newhart.

It seems like today's top comic actors come from either Second City or the Groundlings. What are some of the differences between the two schools?
The Groundlings philosophy is more "There are twenty of you in this cast and you're not getting paid! Fight! Fight! FIGHT for that stage time! Get those wigs and put on that crazy shirt! We don't know what to do with that character??! Well, hell, we can have SIX pick-up scenes in the show! We can also have NINE talk shows! Just get that wackiness in there!!!" Second City, in its better mode, is about putting up a great show and not worrying about getting the hell out of there and onto TV. Not everybody feels that way bud, thankfully, most do. You get paid too!

When it comes to writing, do you prefer working solo or in groups?
I've had fun doing both. I like doing the group thing better when I'm directing. Not because I want to have my own way but I'm pretty good at determining when a dead horse is being beaten.

Is it difficult to write for a show like The Jamie Kennedy experiment where it's not in a typical television format? Or is it easier since you're not as hedged in?
That show was weird because you're trying to outline a sketch basically where someone doesn't know that they're in it and you try to make it a smart piece. Unfortunately, the producers were more into the "puking on a guy's bare back" kind of stuff with no real premise. Oh, well, there are a lot of 12-year-old girls out there who love that show.

You've been on Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld, and the Drew Cary show. Are there any TV shows that actors tend to view as a gateway to mainstream fame, like playing a victim on "Law and Order"?
To be honest I don't know if I know that much about prime time network TV and the big cable shows. I could probably tell you which public access show wouldn't necessarily be a gateway gig but might give you the chance to be on TV with someone showing their boobies.

How did you come to direct "Gayco"?
Gayco always used Second City directors for their shows and I wanted to keep some presence in Chicago for the day that I eventually beat up some trucker hat-wearing LA hipster and have to leave town. I hope that day comes soon. I've found that working with them and others like an all female group and all Latino group I can work with a more specific perspective. That's interesting to me.

There seem to be many niche comedy troupes, from Gayco to women's to Asian improv groups. How do they manage to stay satirical without alienating audiences?
Well, it's probably not a bad idea to have someone like me who comes from a more objective place. You don't need to have your director be white, hetero and male but maybe just having a different view on things can be good. I like doing that stuff a lot. I don't need to do a show that's an extension of a frat house. I like to learn new stuff as much as the next white, hetero male guy. Wait…let me rethink that last comment.

You've taught improv at Second City. I've taken writing classes there but not the improv classes. What doe the advanced students learn versus the beginners?
Much of the beginning stuff is similar to the early classes for regular ol' acting. Lots of environmental stuff and being in the moment. Give and take, too. It's basically about letting you be comfortable and not in your head.

You've worked on the Andy Dick show. Has he ever slapped you?
I don't recall Andy ever slapping me. I don't think I ever passed out around him. If I did then he probably would've slapped me but not with a hand. No, I'm pretty sure I've always stayed in control of my faculties around him. It's a good thing to do.

I'm trying to play it 'cool' and not ask gushy questions but ah well. You were in a one of the finale episodes of "Seinfeld" and in a "Curb Your Enthusiasm." What's Larry David like?
Larry David's great. Hell, he got me my job on Seinfeld, too. On "Curb" he told me "I'm sorry this part's not bigger. You're really great." He was really apologizing. It wasn't bullshit. I thought that was very nice.

Who have people mistaken you for?
Most recently some guy in a Midas spot.

Who have been some people you've met in your career that you'd always thought would be cool to meet?

I got to meet Carl Hiaasen when he came to the Second City etc. I'm a very big fan of his as was Aaron Rhodes who was in the cast. When he was doing a book tour I got through to his voicemail at the Miami Herald and invited him. He was great. It was cool to talk to Keith Hernandez on Seinfeld. He told me that Montreal has the best strip joints. I didn't bring up that part of the conversation. I just think that strip joints might be a big part of baseball. Ball players probably talk as much about strip joints as actors talk about themselves.

Has having a Z name helped or hindered your acting career? I don't see how it can do anything but help unless people are just jealous.
I agree. All non-Z's are haters.

How does it feel to be the 105th person interviewed for
I like 105th. It sounds like a kick ass WWII squadron.