How much of your time do you spend in Chicago?
I would say about 50 percent. It’s pretty convenient to get back and forth from L.A. to Chicago. I love the climate in California, plus I’m working on a film and a couple of TV projects out there.
Where is your place in the city?
Just around the corner in Lincoln Park.
Next year will mark 40 years you’ve been with The Second City. What were those beginning days like?
When I first started it I borrowed $7,000 from a friend and was just happy to have a car and $150 a week in income. It was always a big joke with our actors that those who got to the bank first got their check cashed because sometimes they bounced, trying to make payroll was a week-to-week thing. It was really hand-to-mouth for quite awhile in the beginning days. Then when I started a TV show in ’76 we didn’t have any idea what we were doing or how to run a TV show so again it was hand-to-mouth trying to keep the thing afloat financially.
Does that period seem like a lifetime ago or does it feel like just yesterday?
It seems like a lifetime ago. I am always thinking forward and not as much backward. It’s nice to reminisce occasionally but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about back then. Maybe someday when I finish up I’ll start thinking back on it in more detail.
We’re impressed by your outfit. Did you throw this together yourself?
I did! It’s my summer outfit.
Goes great with our Blue Moon. What is it about Chicago that has kept you and The Second City here?
Chicago is a phenomenal city. The reason The Second City has been so successful here is because it’s such a nurturing environment. It really takes care of its own. For actors, it’s one of the best cities in the world to learn your craft because it’s not New York or L.A. so you aren’t worrying about who’s in the audience or if there’s a manager watching that can affect your career. People really learn their craft and that’s the character of Chicago.
Many stars have gotten their start on The Second City stage. Is there anyone whose success came as a surprise to you?
Steve Carell is someone who is very skilled, extraordinarily talented and always worked hard but then when you see how big he’s blown up, you’re always surprised by that. Chris Farley was someone who you always sensed was going to break out, he just had that certain quality or aggressive nature that you could see on stage. Steve was different. He was a great team member, a great ensemble guy and always brought something new to the show but he was more of a worker.
What is your favorite part of the creative process in television and film?
I think the most fun is the beginning part when you’re coming up with the idea and you’re able to convince somebody that it’s a good idea and they want to turn it into a pilot or production. From my perspective that is probably my biggest role, getting something going. Once it’s running then you have producers and writers running the projects. It would be nice to have something on the air for 10 years and to worry about the kind of problems you have when you’re on the air for a long period of time. I like solving problems, I think I’m good at that.
How would you describe your sense of humor?
Kind of dark. I’m not “ha-ha” funny. I couldn’t tell a joke to save my life.
We read that you’ve faked heart attacks as a prank.
Yeah, that shows you the depth of my comedic skill set. Having to do pratfalls to get a laugh is kind of the antithesis of what they do on The Second City stage.
What was the last TV project that really impressed you?
I love what Tina Fey did with “30 Rock” and the reason I do is because I think Alec Baldwin is probably difficult to work with. I have this sense that he isn’t the easiest. I’ve heard how it was a really good set but I do suspect he was a bit of a challenge for her so I’m just impressed she kept that all together. She is such a team player and so self-deprecating.
Do you have any regrets?
Oh my God. Do you have four, six, eight hours? I’m always impressed with people who can say, “I don’t have one regret. If I had to do it over again, I’d do it the same.” I mean, I don’t wallow—or maybe I do wallow a little bit—but you always think about what you would have done differently in your career and personal relationships. I know people say there is no point in looking back and trying to fix it and I agree but if you ask me the question, yeah I’d change a few things for sure.
What was your relationship with John Candy like?
John and I had a really up-and-down relationship. We started a TV show together and he had gotten very mad at me after finding out he was getting paid less than some of the other people, that really upset him. We eventually reconciled and had a terrific relationship near the end of his life. John was a terrific guy. He used to own a football team with Wayne Gretzky in Toronto and you’d see him giving autographs to hundreds of people. John was one of those people who would be right there until the end signing every autograph, he was so generous with his time. He would give gifts to all of the crew at the end of a movie or television show. He was just a wonderful, big–hearted guy but he also had a dark side to him.
Do you have any mantras you attribute to your success?
I wish I did. Do you have any good ones? My fear of failure is always predominant. Fear unfortunately has a lot to do with why I get up everyday. It kind of propels me. Psychiatry would tell you that’s not very healthy but fear of failure does drive me.
My home in L.A. is very peaceful. It’s surrounded by the hills, you can’t see anything else and it’s really very private. I really do love that.
Go-to Chicago restaurant?
Topo Gigio right down the street.
How did you meet your wife?
She was a journalist working on a TV show in Canada and we were shooting in the same facility. You could see through the newsroom and I saw this tall beautiful woman walking back and forth.
Was there a line you used to sweep her off her feet?
She was sitting down eating in the cafeteria and I finally got the gumption to approach her. I said something to the effect of, “You are really attractive,” which is completely out of character for me.
What is the key to making a marriage last?
Compromise is pretty important and a sense of humor. We just celebrated our 30th anniversary actually. We went to Geoffrey’s, a beautiful restaurant in Malibu that overlooks the water and exchanged some gifts. I got her a nice ring.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
Winston Churchill is somebody I would be intrigued to sit down with. I have not been back to England so it would have to take place there, maybe at a pub.
As you look around your office filled with honors and awards, what moment are you most proud of?
I’m going to tell you a little story that might help answer this. I am so neurotic, I have a horrible fear of public speaking. Terrible to the point that when we were nominated for two Emmy Awards I was praying that we didn’t win because I didn’t want to go up, accept the award and have to say something. Fortunately we lost. I recently got an opportunity to speak to the community at the Jeff Awards and I felt pretty comfortable in front of the audience. It still terrifies me but I’ve gotten beyond it a little bit now so collectively for me the ability to talk in front of people has become easier. I would say I am most content with that.
The photos you have displayed are great.
Yeah, we just did a bit of a renovation. I used to have a partnership with Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, that’s me in the back with long hair. This is my son who was in the Marine Corps and is now working here. And this is a check from Martin Short in ’78. He owed me $44 and just gave it to me for my birthday last year, he had been doing some cleaning and found it.
What a cool life.
It’s not over yet!
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