CONVERSATIONS with Ed Tracy

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Conversations featuring authors and influential leaders in the arts, media and business.

Filtering by Category: Comedy

TONY MACALUSO - THE STUDS TERKEL RADIO ARCHIVE

Remember May 16, 2018. That will be the day that fans of the spoken word have two things to celebrate. The first is to honor what would have been Studs Terkel’s 106th birthday. The second is the public launch of a new online project that has been years in the making – The Studs Terkel Radio Archive. There is a preview of things to come in our CONVERSATION with WFMT Radio Network Director Tony Macaluso which includes clips from a 1960 interview between Studs and silent film legend Buster Keaton.

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TOM DREESEN - HIDING THE PUNCHLINE

According to Tom Dreesen, there's one essential rule for stand-up comedy: be funny. He's quick to add something he learned from Sammy Davis Jr. -- you can't make everyone love you -- which he says, particularly applies to comedians. And, if you are thinking about writing jokes, it helps to know that the setup line has to hide the punchline, that there are no "victimless" jokes, and, according to Mort Sahl, someone is always wrong.

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ED KROSS - SHOOTING FROM THE HIP

You have seen Ed Kross. Everywhere. Dozens and dozens of times. Maybe on a cruise ship with Second City. Or during the three-year run of I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change at Royal George, as the Tin Man in Wizard of Oz at Chicago Shakes, a tap-dancing monkey in Jungle Book at Goodman Theatre, or as the quirky studio host in I Love Lucy Live on Stage at the Broadway Playhouse.

There are two memorable roles as a bank manager on-camera opposite Tom Hanks, in Road to Perdition, and George Clooney in Oceans Twelve. Among his over 60 commercial appearances, Kross makes a copy machine selfie and shares a microphone with a dancing mini-wheat.

It is safe to say that Ed Kross is a natural born comic, actor, singer, and dancer. And while it was always part of the plan to pursue a theater and on-camera acting career, Kross says the key for him was to keep busy and apply some basic improv principles to his own life: be present, get out of your head, know the rules, learn skills, stay sharp and be sure to strive for balance in your life. 

These days, as we found out in our conversation on April 14th, the witty Kross delivers a more serious turn as a police officer struggling with PTSD in the new Amazon Prime web series Patriot, a role that is on the other end of the acting spectrum from his early days aboard the Norwegian Epic with Second City.

Take an improv class …
“Even if you are not going to be an improviser or if you do not think you are funny, it teaches you to be present in the moment and to get out of your head … I am a big fan too of not following a linear path as far as training. Even if you are not a dancer, take a dance class. Take something just to move and get your body going. Take an improv class even if you are a dramatic actor because it may open up some parts of you that you had no idea you had. Take a pottery class … For Pete’s sake, take a class!”

On Being a Triple Threat …
“Thank you, that is very nice of you to say. I think I am more of a jack of all trades, master of none, type of guy but if you want to say triple threat, my mother will be thrilled.”

On Getting Noticed …
“Looking back I realize how hard it is when you are starting … That is why I always say take a class, do a play, keep yourself fresh because you never know who will be in the audience that night. Do good work. I honestly believe cream rises to the top.”

Working with the Wiz in Jungle Book …
“I understudied André [De Shields] and went on three times for him … let me tell ya, when people are expecting the Wiz and they get this kid from Brookfield, Illinois … I am not saying it was bad but people are always disappointed when there is any understudy on.  I mean I was even disappointed when I was on …  André won a Jeff for Jungle Book. He was so ridiculously good … We did eight shows a week and he busted his butt. I never saw him give any less at the Wednesday matinee than he gave on Saturday night. That is old school pro. When I went on for him, he sent me flowers. This guy is the real deal.”

On Building your Skillset …
“Skills can be learned … ear prompter, teleprompter, tap dancing and juggling can be learned. Learn some skills and I think the more skills you have the more you can work.”

Knowing your Strengths …
“I certainly love doing drama as much as doing comedy but it is about knowing your strengths. I am not going to kid myself. I have been a goof since day one. It is fun to flex some other muscles but I know where my bread is buttered.”

WILD BEN HOLLIS

As it turns out, BEN HOLLIS has been having an on-going conversation with all of us for almost four decades.

He is the co-producer and original host of WTTW's WILD CHICAGO, and many other Emmy Award-winning programs, that feature his engaging interview style and zany humor, all mixed with unbridled excitement. A consummate storyteller, his focus is squarely on people and places, which is ultimately the point of his shows: to appreciate and learn a little bit more about ourselves and everything around us.

His near-legendary persona – that of the ever-vigilant explorer in pith helmet and khaki shorts with run and gun reporter microphone in hand – places him in a class all by himself.  Hollis is smart, well read, spiritual, worldly and yes, hysterically funny, both on and off camera, about whatever topic he’s talking about … including his real-life experiences, which are front and center in his next project.

We caught up with Ben on January 9th as he was making final preparations for his upcoming solo show “How the Beatles Nearly Ruined My Life and How David Bowie Saved It” debuting later this month at the Skokie Theatre. The new live stage venture is a long time in coming, unexpectedly interrupted a year ago with, well … brain surgery!

As you will hear on this episode of CONVERSATIONS, Ben’s life took a dramatic turn last January when he was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a rare and life-threatening condition if left untreated. That medical journey, and the road to the new show, are among the many topics covered in our conversation.

As his ever positive and optimistic attitude will attest, we have only begun to scratch the surface of the many talents that Ben Hollis brings to the stage... and we are truly blessed that he is still here to tell the tale.

Ben Hollis on brain surgery ...

“I was the happiest brain surgery candidate I think anybody’s ever seen. I’m sure that those doctors and nurses and orderlies thought I was out of my gourd. Folks, imagine watching me with my pith helmet on the gurney being wheeled in there going ‘Woo hoo! This is the wildest journey I’d been on!’”

The gift of laughter …

“I’ve been given gifts. We’ve all been given gifts and talents … let me bring them fully to bear and trust that it’s the right thing to do … and that somehow it’s going to help other people too. Even if helping other people is only making you laugh and smile for an hour and a half, that’s not nothing.”   

Jack Brickhouse’s influence on his career …

“Jack Brickhouse, Cubs announcer for many years on WGN, always used to say early in the broadcast ‘Put down your worries. Put your feet up and just be with us for a couple hours. You don’t have to worry about anything else’ ... As a kid, you hear that and you go ‘what a bunch of malarkey’ … [But] Jack was so right … that’s exactly what we get from a movie or watching a ball game. The older we get maybe the more we pile up in our brains. If I can lighten anyone’s load, I am there to serve.”

What to expect in his upcoming show at the Skokie Theatre …

“A lot of what people are going to take away is joy in remembering their own life story. It’s going to appeal to a lot of Boomers in particular … it’s really the story about how music saved my life ...  The Beatles nearly ruined it. Bowie saved it by giving me another chance.”

HOW THE BEATLES NEARLY RUINED MY LIFE AND HOW DAVID BOWIE SAVED IT

TWO SHOWS:
January 21   8 pm    January 22  2 pm

Skokie Theatre
7924 Lincoln Ave
Skokie, IL 60077
Tickets: $22 Online or Call: 847-677-7761

Ben Hollis Links
WEBSITE: Video Production
BUY: Rent-a-Friend  

 

BILL LARKIN - KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE

Somewhere between the on-stage chaos of his physical comedic persona and the satire laced lyrics and music of his one-man show, there is a wonderfully funny and madcap place that Bill Larkin calls home.

An accomplished and award-winning stage actor, comedian, club performer and writer, Larkin now has his sights firmly fixed on the release this week of his new comic album, Bill Larkin-Knowing Your Audience, recorded live at the Green Mill in Chicago. If you were lucky enough to have been there, you already know that Larkin’s humor is fresh, edgy, perceptive and highly charged. It could be rated “M” for “Mature” or “Manic” … take your pick.

Larkin’s stage credits in Chicago in recent years are extraordinary. He received his first Joseph Jefferson Award as Principal Actor in Porchlight’s A Class Act in 2013, and nominated again for A Funny Thing That Happened on the Way to the Forum in 2015.  This year, he appeared as Max Bialystock in Mercury Theatre’s The Producers.

All this followed a multi-year career of theatre including Disney’s Aladdin at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Broadway in Chicago and shows at Second City, Davenport’s, the Green Mill and on television in Chicago PD and Comedy Central. Along the way, he has performed for 16 years at Howl at the Moon.

Bill Larkin joined the conversation on December 5th, 2016 to talk about how knowing your audience could help you to find out more about yourself.

SUBSCRIBE AND HEAR THIS PROGRAM ON: ITUNES & STITCHER
BUY|DOWNLOAD BILL LARKIN'S
KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCEHERE

On his award-winning role as Ed Kleban in Porchlight’s A Class Act

“As I’m rehearsing and reading through the script and getting to know who Ed Kleban was … older, balding gentleman who was a songwriter, very neurotic, had his own problems ... I thought ‘This is perfect for me. Where do I sign?!’ …  It was very odd how this show came to be at the time it came to be. I was going through my own issues at the time and the show was like therapy ... I felt like I was throwing myself into this performance trying to be true to Ed Kleban but throwing a lot of myself into it … It’s amazing how much I saw myself in him … amazing cast … amazing performance and Porchlight, you know, they do the best.”

The Pink Hippo Effect ...         

“I tend to find roles, like the genie in Aladdin, that are very exhausting. I kind of call it the ‘pink hippo effect’ because I used to work at Disney world, and I was in a parade.  It was Fantasia themed, and they needed someone to be the pink hippo … huge costume, huge dress …  It’s a huge undertaking and no one else wanted to do it because they thought it would be tiring and, of course, me, I was like ‘I’ll do it!’ because I saw how silly the role could be. You just go out on the street and lift your dress and everyone laughs. I’m like ‘yay!’ … and it did take a toll … I still do that to this day. I take roles that are fun undertakings, but you quickly learn that you have to pace yourself … Forum, The Producers and Aladdin were like that. I was entering my 40s at that time, and you find out if you do not pace yourself, it will take a toll later.”

Early influence …

“I owned a lot of Tom Lehrer albums growing up. He has been my biggest influence.  As a kid I would listen to his songs,  and I wouldn’t understand half of what he was saying … all I knew was that the audience was laughing … he was sitting at a piano, saying things that made them laugh… and I thought ‘that’s what I want to do.’”

On Matt Crowle …

“I was in awe of him in Forum but Producers …  I would watch on the sidelines as he would do “I Want to Be a Producer” …  and I would listen to the audience’s reaction, I mean he may well be, I think he is, the most joyous performer I have ever seen … I would watch him in Bye Bye Birdie at Drury Lane and just grin from ear to ear watching him … watching his facial expressions, watching his dance moves, watching the joy that he has. It is infectious.”

What to expect from his new album Bill Larkin-Knowing Your Audience

“This album is different from the first one … which was on the clean side … as I got older I thought ‘I’m a bit angrier now’ … it’s very therapeutic to write about something I’m  not happy about and some of my stuff is Facebook rants set to music … a lot of these songs … there is definitely language … it definitely reflects the time … I’m very proud of the album because while there are songs about silly things here and there … there is a lot of myself in it … maybe too much of myself, but that’s what I like too. I’m breaking down walls … I’m very happy about it.”

On his song titled “Making a Difference” …

“You write what you know about ... one thing I know about is being online for too long … we write out how we feel online … you are venting … after a while you feel like ‘I’m really helping others in doing this. My taking a stand online is all I really need to do’ and of course that is not the case. It is called “Making a Difference” because we feel as if we are, but the actual ‘making a difference’ is leaving the house, going out there, volunteering, holding up a sign that says how you feel, contributing in a meaningful way. A post is a post, and it disappears in a few minutes.  You get a few likes and you are like ‘oh I have done my part.’ No, no you have not. To actually make a difference requires a bit more.”

VISIT: BILLLARKIN.COM     BUY|DOWNLOAD CD: HERE

CRAZY FOR CROWLE - A CONVERSATION WITH MATT CROWLE

Matt Crowle, the multi-talented, award-winning veteran of musical theatre in Chicago for the past decade, has a backstory worthy of a Broadway musical all its own. Born and raised in Marshall, Michigan, where he discovered his love for ballet, tap, theatre and comedy at a very early age, Crowle eventually followed a calling to New York City, grinding through years of auditions, dance and voice classes and part-time jobs to make ends meet.  His first real break would come as a member of the touring company of Dr. Dolittle and stage time with Tommy Tune. And then came the Broadway megahit, Spamalot.

These stories are just part of the fascinating conversation we had on September 27th with Matt Crowle, the six-time Jefferson award nominated actor, choreographer and dance instructor. In a wide-ranging discussion, Crowle talks about who helped to shape his performance philosophy, recognizing talent, the importance of training, and, working with one of his best friends, Bill Larkin.

Matt Crowle received the 2015 Jeff Award for his performance as Hysterium in Porchlight Music Theatre’s production of A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and is nominated twice in 2016 -- for his tour-de-force performance as Leo Bloom in Mercury Theater’s The Producers, and, for his choreography in the Drury Lane Theatre production of White Christmas

NEXT UP: Matt Crowle is merging all of his formidable talents and vast stage experience as director and choreographer of Drury Lane Theatre’s upcoming production of Crazy For You, running November 3rd though January 8th.

Matt Crowle on his New York miracle and unforgettable Spamalot audition:
"I was working at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and I got a call from Tara Rubin Casting saying we’d love for you to come in next week for Spamalot …  and to be honest, it was an eye-rolling moment because I thought 'you’ve seen me… there’s nothing left to do.' I talked to my mom and said ‘I don’t think I’m going to go. I have a shift that night.’ My mom said ‘So, you’re going to sling burgers around when you can audition for a Broadway show !?!’" 
 
"I almost didn’t make it … I was trapped on the N train, ran upstairs grabbed a cab and said ‘I will give you 50 dollars if you can get me to Chelsea faster than you should legally’ ... and he did …  I think I was the first to go, did the first song, went well, did the first of two scenes, went well, and that was when my mentor Bruce kicked me in the back of the head and said ‘you’re not done yet.’ ... So I launched into the second one and the associate director at the time, Peter Lawrence, leaned in after I finished and said ‘I am very, very glad you did that.’ … So that was at about 11 … and at about 11:15, I had a phone call that said if you want to join the Broadway company Spamalot,  you start in two days …  So I went in there, quit my job at the restaurant, and there you have it.”

About physical comedy and streamlining simplicity:
"I had a knack at a very young age for falling down really well. I was doing prat falls for a very long time. My parents got a video camera … one day, when I played hooky from school all I did for the whole day was fall off from furniture or jump off of things and fall and then I’d go back and watch it in slow motion to see if it was believable enough."
 
"My mom found the tape. She was like ‘What were you thinking?!?!’ It was just before the night I had an opening in a show in high school. ‘And what if you had broken your arm !?!’ [I said] ‘I’m not going to break my arm. I know exactly what I’m doing. I’m a pro!’ … and she just rolled her eyes and said ‘Well, it’s your problem.’ 

“I think the first real exposure to physical comedy for me would have been Steve Martin. My mom and dad loved Steve Martin, listened to his stand up albums, watched RoxanneThe Jerk and, of course, Three Amigos. So much of my generation is about vulgar humor… But I thought clever always spoke to me. Clever and simple because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to weed out all the stuff you don’t need just to find that nugget, that gold nugget of truth and streamline simplicity … And then I was turned on to Keaton and Chaplin and went back over and over again saying, ‘What is it that makes it so perfect'"

Working with Bill Larkin 
"That rehearsal process [for Producers] was incredible because we had so much already from day one … Bill, as brilliant as he is, can be a bit awkward physically and he embraces this … There was a day when the director was trying to get him to lean on a wall a certain way. I felt like I was watching a Steve Martin or Buster Keaton comedy bit where he seriously didn’t know how to lean on the wall ... We had to take a break I was weeping … He’s such a natural, beautiful comedian … I adore him … He’s one of my dearest friends.”

The importance of training: 
“I try to impress upon my students and colleagues that you are never done training … In New York, everyone is always in class … always in voice lessons… always training … I didn’t notice that here so I’ve really tried to change that approach … All you have is your reputation and if you rely on that as opposed to committing to push forward with it you lose, and we all lose … Any time I talk to young performers I say ‘Be the best you can. Then get better.’”

Matt Crowle Website
Peninsula Players Theatre - Peter and the Starcatcher July 2 - 23, 2017

SUBSCRIBE & JOIN THE CONVERSATION

SHELDON PATINKIN UNPLUGGED

SHELDON PATINKIN (1935-2014) helped shape the Chicago comedy and theatre scene as a writer, performer and director for well over six decades. He served as the longtime Chairman of the Theatre Department at Columbia College Chicago and was part of perhaps the greatest generation of Chicago improvisers, playing an integral role in the evolution of The Second City.

On September 19, 2013, as we prepared for the third episode of our PBS show Chicago Conversations, Sheldon Patinkin joined Ed for a wide-ranging conversation about his career, the development of The Second City and many of the extraordinary comedians he has worked with over the years. While portions of the interview appeared in our television show, Second City: First in Funny, this podcast is the audio track of the studio interview with Sheldon Patinkin -- unplugged and at his best -- in what is believed to be his last long-format interview.

Sheldon Patinkin on what he looked for in a student/performer while at Second City:
“The ability to relate to the others, the ability to take what you get and respond to it, and the ability to stop looking for laughs and jokes … I have a preference for the kind of improviser/actor who can become the next character instead of making the next character like themselves … that was Alan Arkin, that was Steve Carell – who is one of the best improvisers out of character that we ever had at Second City … as opposed to both Belushis … you could always tell it was Belushi … you could always tell it was John Candy, but they were so good at it that was fine too.”

A sampling of Sheldon Patinkin's one-word descriptions: 
Bill Murray: “Funny.”
Dan Akroyd: “Tough.”
John Candy: “Sweetheart.”

Sheldon Patinkin’s advice to aspiring comedians/actors:
“You have to be willing to fail … willing to not get an audition … willing to not get a call back… not willing, but you have to be able to handle it.  If you start getting depressed about it, then go find something else because you’re going to be a waiter the rest of your life.”

RELATED LINKS:
CHICAGO CONVERSATIONS - SECOND CITY: FIRST IN FUNNY: VIDEO
WGN RADIO - BILL LEFF AND WENDY SNYDER: INTERVIEW
SHELDON PATINKIN OBITUARY(CHRIS JONES TRIBUNE): SEPTEMBER 21, 2014

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