Read of the Day: “40 Wild Years of The Groundlings”
5:30 pm, September 20th | by Colette McIntyre
In today’s Read of the Day, The Hollywood Reporter shares the recollections of a dozen Goundlings vets, from founder Gary Austin to SNL breakout star Kristen Wiig. The piece is a fascinating oral history of how one small Los Angeles theater came to profoundly and irrevocably change the world of comedy.
GARY AUSTIN (FOUNDER, 1974-79) I was an actor in The Committee in San Francisco. I moved down here, and I was broke. I went to the Hollywood Unemployment Office, where I used to stand in line with Penny Marshall, and I got to the window and the woman said, “Due to a technicality, you are no longer eligible.” I panicked and called Howard Storm, who was teaching at the Cellar Theater on Vermont. That was a Thursday. I started teaching on Monday night. Fred Roos, who was the head of feature casting at MGM, gave me 75 names and phone numbers. Tracy Newman, who was my friend, helped me round up a bunch of people from the Comedy Store. So my first night teaching, I had 21 students. I taught for one year, all kinds of people came through. It became kind of a magnet.
TRACY NEWMAN (1974-76) It was a bunch of people who had theater backgrounds and some in music: Archie Hahn, Valerie Curtin – Jane‘s cousin, from The Committee – Barry Levinson,Craig T. Nelson and Rudy De Luca, who ended up being a writer for Mel Brooks.
AUSTIN We improvised scenes and monologues, and we did scenes from Pinter and Moliere and so on. And after a year of doing that, I said, “Let’s create a company.” We created The Groundlings. I thought of the name. It’s from Hamlet’s speech to the players: “Speak the speech as I pronounced it to you trippingly on the tongue and split you not the ears of the groundlings, who are capable of nothing but dumb shows and noises.”
LARRAINE NEWMAN (1974-75) I had just graduated high school. I had been away to Paris, studying mime with Marcel Marceau. I came back, I spent three months at CalArts and hated it. My sister told me about this workshop.
TRACY NEWMAN I knew she was funny, but I had no idea how funny in front of other people.
AUSTIN We started doing shows at Santa Monica and Western, the Oxford Theater. We did it every weekend. Everybody in Hollywood, it seems, came to those shows.
For more behind-the-scenes stories from Cheri Oteri, Kathy Griffin, and Wiig, click here.