Hello, Marc. Second City, via its production of Twist Your Dickens, made its way to Culver City's Kirk Douglas Theatre last year, to rave reviews. What have you been up to since?
Well, just before we went into the rehearsal process for Twist Your Dickens, I spent about a week in Tokyo, Japan on a project for Second City. Second City is about to collaborate with the Japanese Comedy Conglomerate Yoshimoto Kogyo Co., Ltd. I went there and work shopped some of the Yoshimoto comedians for about a week, teaching them about American improvisation and sketch comedy, which is quite different from the type of comedy that they do there -- so that was a fascinating trip and cultural exchange.
How did Yoshimoto Kogyo and Second City come together in the first place?
Well, it's my understanding that a gentleman named Masi Oka was the inspiration for the collaboration between these two comedy powerhouses. Oka was one of the stars from the hit NBC show, Heroes, and a Japanese American who was born in Japan, but now lives in the United States. Oka was not only a television and film star, but one who was trained with Second City's Los Angeles location. So he was familiar with Japanese comedy, as well as Second City's improvisation and sketch comedy style, and he sort of had this idea to introduce these two comedy companies to each other, and see if there were any collaborative opportunity's there.
Just for the record, how long have you been with Second City, and in what capacity are you usually involved with Second City productions?
I have been with Second City in various roles since since July of 1997, and the majority of what I have done and have continue to do is to write and direct.
Is the directing process made that much easier when dealing with seasoned veteran actors, such as Frank Caeti?
Absolutely -- I think casting is an extremely important part of the process that we are all a part of. When you cast experienced, talented performers who are great in their respective roles, they do a lot of your job for you. They make strong choices, they know how to attack the show and they understand how to play a performer for the audience. I feel very fortunate to have been able to direct both this and last year's cast for the Dickens show. They are some of the best of the best people that have been affiliated with Second City throughout its history. I feel very fortunate to have worked with this cast, and I think the audience has really come to enjoy all of them.
What are some of typical challenges that you faced as a director, with regards to stage productions?
One thing that has been specifically fascinating about working on this show (Twist) is that it consists of Second City Style sketch comedy, and Second City Style improvisation. But its also being performed and produced in a traditional theater. So what you have is traditional theatrical elements and large production elements, like full costumes, full props and full sets, and a script that has been written by these two great writers. And so it's sort of combining these two worlds of the Second City style theater, and the traditional comedy theater and taking elements of both. That has been an exciting challenge in working on this show now for two years. Certainly my goal is to get the best of both of those worlds. I want to be able to melt them together in such a way that it works for the audience at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City -- I hope we have accomplished that. And then, just in general, when you direct at Second City... typically, you want to make the best of the ensemble. Second City is an ensemble-based institution. At Second City, there is the idea of cast members embracing each other, agreeing with each other, helping each other and lastly, supporting each other. All in all, these are crucial and important to the Second City style of comedy, satire and improvisation. And so, that is a large part of my focus in a typical Second City process.
Are you open to expanding your directing work to other mediums?
I love working in all mediums, including writing and directing for film and television. But I do think that there is really something special about live theater, and I am particularly passionate about live comedy theater. There is noting quite like sitting at the audience in the Kirk Douglas Theatre with another 350 plus people every night, and feeling the vibe in the room -- listening to everyone react to the show, in the moment... together. It's such a unique and wonderful experience, and I think there is so much joy in live comedy theater. That's where my passion is, and I plan on continuing to do do it!
Hello Frank. What have you been up to in the last year since Second City last brought Twist Your Dickens to Culver City's Kirk Douglas Theatre?
I have done a lot of different stuff this past year, mostly theatrical and commercial. I haven't done much television or film, but I did a Second City production at the La Jolla Playhouse this summer. I have also done quite a bit of directing, including a show called Undateable, which is a big hit at Second City Hollywood and tackles online dating. It's been a great success, and has been big enough to draw the attention of a lot of people. We are hoping that we can expand on that and potentially tour and get a bigger venue for Undateable because its been so successful. Apparently there is an NBC television show of the same name that is coming out soon. Hopefully we'll last longer than they do [laughs]! We actually have a big meeting with the C.E.O of Match.com and OK Cupid (they are the same company) in January, because they are interested in our production.
Looking at your work at Second City in Chicago, what character or characters has brought you the most recognition up to this point?
You know, that's a very good question. In a weird way, Second City tends to not be character based, but there was a couple of characters that I created at Second City, and brought to Mad TV, that seemed to have resonated with people. One is a baby who is being filmed by his parents, or at least attempted to being filmed by his parents, taking his first step. The other was that of an evangelical car salesman who tries to use the "power of the lord" to sell cars!
With regards to the baby character, is that you?
I am, and you can find the scene on the internet on YouTube. It (baby character) was born out of me watching the Superbowl years ago, and I was stuck by just how many players were holding cameras and taking video of stuff and not paying attention to what was actually happening around them. And so, in the parents' attempt to record everything to triangulate cameras and so forth, they are missing all this stuff that the baby is doing behind them!
Now, where can we see these characters?
You can go on YouTube to see both of them. The baby scene was ripped from MAD TV. You can put in "Frank Caeti: baby," and you should be able to find it. We shot a couple of them for MAD TV. You can also find the evangelical salesman online too. And that character, interestingly enough, was not my initial idea. As is typical at Second City Chicago, the writer is the performer, but the ensemble works together and collaborates. One of the guys in our cast was inspired by an improv I did as kind of a preacher, and mentioned how he thought it would be fun if we did something like that.
Can you expand on the idea behind the writers being the performers at Second City?
Typically, you'll see six people on stage who wrote the material you are watching.
Are you most comfortable in that setting, or in a traditional mode where the actors had nothing to do with the writing or script?
I think that as an actor, we are happy to perform someone else's words -- especially when its funny and good. But I also think that since we are all writers, we are all very willing to make the moment or the bit play as well as it can. Second City and the writers, and Marc in particular, will open up and say to us: "If you have an idea or moment that works better here -- use it." And so, having all of us in the cast, this year and last, we were all able to add our own styles and bits to the show. And so, that freedom is allowed by Marc, and Second City as a whole.
With regards to the world of Twist Your Dickens, and the characters that you have come to play, who has the audience embraced most?
I believe it's the character Bartholomew who is present at the slumber party and suffers from a bit of malnutrition. It's a scene that does ride a fine line however, because scenes where children are in peril are generally not comedic -- but it satires Dickens' writing of these characters more than anything else.
Who is the guy who hangs out with the audience and yells down at the performers on stage?
That's me... I play a heckler whose character is a voice in the audience who pops up here and there to help further the story and mess with Ron West, who plays Scrooge.
Who inspired you in the world of entertainment?
John Candy, Bill Cosby, Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor-Guilder Radner, Steve Martin -- there are so many. As a kid I loved those guys, and then were certainly heroes that I have as an adult. There were people that I got to see live when I got to Chicago. One guy, Scott Adsit from 30 Rock, was simply amazing to me. He was an incredible sketch performer from Second City, and I was really taken by how good he was. He was really well-rounded as a performer, improviser, character actor, actor and straight man.
We often hear that comedy is more difficult to pull off than straight drama. Why is that?
I believe it's because comedy is specifically created to elicit a particular response. And so we are not simply trying to keep your attention and engage you; we are trying to engage you to the point that we are trying to make you do something physical -- laugh. Then there is such a proliferation of content on the internet has basically made everyone in the world a sketch comedian -- whether they want that role or not. You have everything from Americas Funniest Home Videos to a local news anchor messing up to kids with a camera -- everyone is patching around comedy videos. Most of the things that proliferate on the internet are either shocking, funny or both. But I think there might come a level of cynicism with people watching comedy -- this notion of, "You guys think you are going to make me laugh, well lets see if you can do it." The other thing is that any sort of performance in general that is unique and engaging is difficult, and so I think some of the best comedic actors, when they take dramatic turns, are quite good because they are so solid comically. Some of my favorite performances of Robin Williams and Jim Carey are not comedy-oriented roles. The great comedic performers are able to get the viewer to truly believe them to be that person. The performer is then not only hilarious, but they are seemingly grounded in that work. It then comes across to the viewers that these people really are who they are -- and that is a testimony as to how good they really are. And then you have some comedy that can be detached, or sort of aware of itself. But I think its at its best when people are really committed to the reality of that situation. There is a little wink and nod in comedy because we know we are performing for that laughter -- but what I learned at Second City was that the more committed you are, the better the comedy will be.