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Q&A: Scott Adsit of '30 Rock'

JUST FOR LAUGHS FESTIVAL CHICAGO

The Chicago native on his lengthy history in the local comedy scene, his hopes for the final season of '30 Rock' and delivering Ranalli's pizza in the snow

June 08, 2012|By Kyle Kramer | RedEye

They have a picture of you up in the front there now, I'm sure.
[Laughs] If they remember me – they probably do remember me because the manager, Reno, would have to come out and jump my car! I had this broken down old Saturn – no, not a Saturn, a Supra? Anyway, he'd have to come jump my car, in the snow, at least twice a week.

Were you also involved at iO during that period?
I was around back in the days of the Players' Workshop, which preceded the iO, I believe. But I wasn't – I didn't go to either of those places. There was kind of a Berlin Wall between Second City and iO at that time, in the late '80s, early '90s. There was not a lot of cross-breeding there...And then a bunch of Touring Company people were hired out of iO for the first time. It was kind of a detente. They allowed all these iO people to come in, and there was a huge influx of talent like Kevin Dorff and Adam McKay and Brian Stack. All these really brilliant performers were suddenly under Second City's umbrella. And we did this show...that kind of led the way to what Second City would eventually kind of become structure-wise. I was not part of iO. And I was doing eight shows a week, so I would go and play the Armando show on Mondays when I could, but that was my only experience with iO 'til after I was done at Second City.

Well now they have your picture on the wall at iO, so I was wondering...
Well I never took classes there. I performed there quite a bit. I did stuff with [Dave] Pasquesi there. And John Lutz and I performed there. I've done a bunch of evenings there, but no runs.

It seems like the early '90s is when improv began being accepted as an art form. What do you remember of the scene when it wasn't as accepted that improv is something we have in Chicago?
I think it's when longform became more accepted and kind of the norm. As opposed to shortform or gamey kind of improv. There was a lot of like ComedySportz and Second City where there were a lot of games and a lot of short scenes that were just kind of one joke driven. Like a train of cars that were all scenes. Scene, blackout, song, scene. And the iO influence, I think, the Harold and Del Close's influence, bled over to Second City, which legitimizes anything, I think. But it got to us later than it did for others. And we, I think we saw the potential ourselves in the “art” of improv and the fact it could be more emotional and more dimensional than it had been. More than just a magic trick, kind of.

Do you still do much longform improv?
I do a weekly show with John Lutz in New York. And then I do another show called “Gravid Water” in New York, which is a bit of a game. It's really high quality. It's a bunch of Broadway people matched up with improvisers in two-person scenes. And the Broadway people have memorized the scene – from a real play – and they're paired with an improviser who has no prior knowledge of the scene whatsoever. It's like [shortform game] “Playbook,” but without a book.

It seemed like when 30 Rock started, New York was bubbling over, and UCB was becoming this big thing, and then all those people moved out to LA. What's New York like as far as comedy right now?
I think it's still very experimental and moving forward and has some really very high quality people still here in New York. There are a lot of shows at UCB particularly that are experimental and sometimes are grand failures and sometimes are true art. So that's still going on. And Ali Farahnakian has the PIT theater, which he opened up. Which is a beautiful new space and is also looking for the cutting edge. New York is almost as important as Chicago, improv-wise.

Almost. Well that's good that we're still on top here, at least in some peoples' minds. I saw one of the other things that you did while you were was that you had done the voices for a pinball machine. Have you done any other interesting voiceover work?
Well, voiceover-wise, I have these two Adult Swim shows, which are "Moral Orel" and one that's running now called "Mary Shelley's Frankenhole." And that's stop-motion as well, through the same people – different look and different kind of sensibility. Those have done very well for us. They're very popular, and they've won some Emmys. I've done a lot of Adult Swim stuff. I've done guest-starring stuff on Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I did an episode of Colbert Report's cartoon, "Tek Jansen."

Did you ever do any commercial voiceovers or stuff like that when you were in Chicago?
Oh yeah, I did. I did a bunch of commercial voiceovers in Chicago before I left. For Balducci's pizza; I did a whole series. Actually I was making a good living with voiceover before I left.

So you were sort of on top of the pizza market from every step of the industry.
Yeah, I was covering both ends of that scale.

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