Today I chat with an actor who many of you "Strangers with Candy" fans will instantly recognize as "Stew." You can currently catch him on TV right now on the new show "Factory", which makes me laugh despite the fact that I wasn't sure if I was allowed to watch it (it's on SPIKE.) He was also in the Jeff Garlin comedy "I Want Somebody To Eat Cheese With" and next year appears in the Harold Ramis film "Year One." In addition to this, he's a fixture in the Chicago improv scene. I'm not really scratching the surface with this biography so you can fill yourself in more here.
How does Spike compare to other networks you've been on? How much more masculine is it than Comedy Central?
SPIKE and Comedy Central are sister companies. Both are VIACOM companies and both run by Doug Herzog, so they are similar.
It is hard to say anything about the other networks, like ABC and the like because I was only an actor on other shows, not a writer or producer and you don't really have much contact with the network as an actor.
Those other networks have more money, I know that. But they also have not let me and my friends make our/their own shows. Spike, like Comedy Central, allows us to fail or succeed largely on our own. They realize that we were hired to make a TV show and they let us do that. The bigger places hire folks to make a TV show and then often not let them make that very show they were brought on to make... they have so many notes and 'improvements' that by the time it gets on the air, all the funny stuff has been removed.
As to more masculine.. we are not changing anything to make it more macho, but we are actually a bunch of guys in real life, so I imagine that bleeds through to the characters we're playing (which are also guys).
How does an episode of "Factory" come together? Is it improvised?
Yes and no. It can't be completely improvised because the production needs to know what locations to get and what props and the like, so...
We have outlines. Mitch Rouse and Ken Lipman and I beat out storylines and they are submitted to the network (who, by the way, are pretty cool... our immediate network gal (Lisa) went to Northwestern and a fan of Second City and another guy (Bill) is from the south side of Chicago).
They like the outlines or they don't.
The outlines usually have no dialogue in them, just generally what happens in a scene.
When we shoot, we improvise the dialogue to accomplish what needs to be done in the scene. Then the footage is edited, usually by Mitch, and the show is further shaped.
So many performers leave Chicago for New York or LA: what made you decide to stay?
I really like Chicago.
When you get together with colleagues who have left for the coasts, do you get the impression that they think you're nuts or they're jealous of you for making a career at home?
I think both.. they and I realize that there are many more opportunities for an actor or comedian in either New York or Los Angeles. If you want to be on a TV show or in movies, Chicago is not a real intelligent choice. But, if you want to improvise or work on stage, this is the best place.
Do you do much Chicago topical humor when you perform here?
Not really. I don't do much in the way of topical humor... you mean like local politics and such? No. I don't really care about that stuff. If you mean the growing number of assholes in the world, then yes.
What parts or people do you make fun of?
I don't know that I try to make fun of anyplace or any ... OK I guess I make fun of the people I think are really stupid. I may be wrong, but I make fun of the things I think are obviously ridiculous. I think I make fun of the parts that can be changed.
Why do you and TJ Jagodowski work so well together?
I honestly don't know, but I agree.. we do work well together.
I guess it is because we have a similar interests within improvisation... and share the belief that improvisation can be amazing and we both keep working toward that. And we have worked well together since we started, before we really knew one another. Oh yeah, and he's really good.
What's made you laugh lately?
My kids, TJ Jagodowski, Tracy Letts, Tim Kazurinski. I'm lucky, my friends crack me up.
Also, I was watching some old "Your Show of Shows" stuff you know, Sid Caesar, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris. Imogene Coca.
If you had a friend in from out of town who wanted to see some comedy, where would you send them?
Depends on what kind of comedy... stand-up: Zanies, improvisation: iO or Annoyance, sketch: E.T.C.
What have some of the most recent auditions you've been to [been] for?
I've "been to for?" nice grammar, young lady.
That last one I was on was to audition to play a guy who speaks English with an Italian accent in an action/suspense movie.
Other than the cameras and the ability to shoot things over, what are some of the differences between improvising onstage versus on a TV show?
You don't have the luxury of an audience. Another reason I like Chicago is the audiences... Honestly they make you much better than you are. When we're improvising for TV, we don't have an audience. They crew is not allowed to laugh and we're not supposed to either, so it is comedy and it is quiet... which is not the way it's supposed to be, so it's weird. On stage, you immediately know if they want more or less of what you're doing and you can decide what to do.
Which of the movies you've been in did you enjoy making the most?
The one I liked most was one called McClintock's Peach. I wrote it with Mitch Rouse and he directed it, we both starred in it and it was the first thing either of us did. It was a blast... all friends in it and some idols in it too (Paul Dooley, Fred Willard).
"Strangers was great fun".. again, it was goofing around with friends. And "Someone to Eat Cheese With"... I walked across the street from my house to set. Harold Ramis is wonderful, so his movies are great fun, even if it's only for a few days. Sometimes you get to work with great people and that's a treat. I have liked all the movies I have worked on ... except one.
It seems like any time I hear "Second City" it's closely followed by "Del Close." Can you explain to those not in improv what about Close made him such a great instructor?
Well, he was a great performer himself. He was involved in the pioneer days of what became improvisational comedy. He influenced most of the people who were the greats of comedy in the United States and Canada for about 30 years. I am not exaggerating. So, he was a credible source. You didn't have to wonder, "Is this guy full of shit?"
You knew that he had the experience to back up what he was saying. Also... he had this reputation of being kind of rough, so you paid attention pretty closely.
What can you tell us about "Year One"?
It was a blast... I didn't have a very big part, but I had to be there for a long time (it filmed in Shreveport, Louisiana)
It was a great time.. all kinds of really good comedy folk.
Harold Ramis is the director of "Year One": do you find any common work ethic or particular sense of humor that Chicago natives seem to have in common?
I would like to think I have anything in common with Harold Ramis.. sadly, I don't. Yeah, Chicago folk seem to be happy to work. It is not something merely to be endured, but Chicagoans are mostly very happy to be working at the thing we want to be doing.
When you're recognized on the street, most frequently, what is it for?
"TJ and Dave", "Strangers with Candy"... the other day was "Someone to Eat Cheese With"... Truth is, I don't get recognized much.
What have been some of the strangest things you've done voiceover work for?
I was the voice or a cartoon Michelangelo. Nothing all that unusual.
If you could wildly generalize about devoted "Strangers with Candy" fans, what would be one thing they all had in common?
They are all young, adorable and they love their Amy.
How does it feel to be the 216th person interviewed for Zulkey.com?