by Jeff Niesel
Were you funny as a kid?
Yeah, I was funny as a kid. I do remember going out of my way to make people laugh, and I got in with this popular group of girls in high school by doing self-deprecating stuff. I got to be friends with the hot girls and go to all the good parties. I was the ambassador for my older sister who wanted to hang out with them, too. She wasn’t sufficiently grateful and took me for granted. I was like, “I acted like a monkey to get you in with this group!”
How’d you get hooked up with Second City?
It was one of those resumes I sent out every week. I knew they were casting for the touring company and I got called in for a casting audition. It wasn’t something I aspired to. I wasn’t against sketch comedy but I never went to a Second City show and I had never improvised. The audition was improvising and they chose two girls and I was one of them.
What was it like doing the improv stuff?
It felt uncomfortable. It didn’t feel like it was in my power. But yet I still have that feeling about improvising. It’s just in the nature of improvising. You’re always on the edge. I have kind of relaxed into it, but it didn’t feel good. I didn’t feel successful in it, though I obviously ended up being pretty good at it. It’s just starting to feel good now, like in Mighty Wind, it felt much more natural. And in Lovespring International, the show I did on Lifetime. After the first or second episode, it felt really good.
Christopher Guest and his crew are amazing.
Aren’t they? They’re so smart and they know each other so well. They’re spontaneous and fresh. They’re great to watch.
What was it like touring with Second City?
It was a great boot camp experience. We were traveling in these buses and performing at Elks’ clubs and colleges. I really got to love sketch. And when you do sketch, there’s always singing involved, and I loved that, too. You didn’t have to be a great singer, and it turned out I wasn’t bad. It was joyful.
At what point did you get cast into movies?
I had a small part in [1993’s] The Fugitive and moved out to L.A. and started getting work in commercials and voiceovers. But my film career really started with [2000’s] Best in Show. I went to a different level and started the trajectory that I’m on now. I met Christopher Guest on a commercial for Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes that he was directing. You always know his commercials because they’re good. We improvised a segment and then I ran into him at a restaurant a couple of months later and he told me he wanted to put me in Best in Show. I was like, “Oh thank God I didn’t go to the Earth Café.” I almost did. It would have been a completely different story.
Now, you almost have too much work.
I love it. When I’m off for a few days, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m always looking for the next project.
I love the fact that the family in Post Grad is really crazy but still within the realms of reality.
Yeah, they’re grounded. The first scene we shot as a family was running through the campus of UCLA. That scene didn’t end up in the movie, but it was a wonderful thing for us because our family dynamic clicked immediately. We all knew who we were in relation to each other, including little Bobby [Coleman], who knew what he wanted to do. He chose to be this lazy little kid with no ambition to be anything but a lazy little kid. I scooped him up and never let him down. I held him for the rest of the movie.
Do you feel like you’ve gotten the recognition you deserve?
Yes, I’m gratified everyday and sometimes overwhelmed by it. I’m surprised how positive and nice people can be. No one ever comes up to me and tells me, “You know what? I’m sick of you and you weren’t as good in this or that.” People on the top like Brad Pitt do get that, but I don’t.
They’re treated more like athletes.
Yes, it’s like, “That was a terrible game you played yesterday.” I don’t get that kind of response, which is good.
You have aspirations to direct?
I do. And if I’m going to direct, I’ll have to figure out what the camera does. I pay no attention to it. I don’t even know where it is half the time. But now that I’m getting older and I know I have one side of my face that’s better than the other, I’m like an eagle watching the camera.
You have a great, crooked mouth.
Yes, I talk out of the side of my mouth. I’m deaf in one ear. So I shoot the sound into my one good ear. If I think about it, I can straighten it out, but a hearing aid wouldn’t even help. It’s stone cold deaf. I had a high fever as a baby and that’s probably what happened.
Well, you’ve made the best out of it.
Why, thank you.