Commercial work is both the Holy Grail and wolfsbane for the actor. No one grows up thinking, “I can’t wait to hawk furniture polish on TV!”
Chicago improvisers are amazingly good at landing commercials. Here are some of them now and you’re bound to recognize them!
(TJ can be seen every Wednesday at the iO Theater! Peter Grosz now writes for the Colbert Report AND does these commercials!)
One of my idols when I first started in Chicago Improv was on the Second City Mainstage. He is an astounding performer. I remember him explaining why he didn’t participate in the very lucrative corporate shows that were available to him; “I didn’t study for five years, tour for four years and work my ass off to end up shilling for some corporation.” Fast-forward three years later and he was in LA and was in so many interesting and weird commercials that Entertainment Weekly did an article on him.
(Mike Bradecich, who can be seen on every TV every second of every day, is also a member of the Second City Touring Company.)
Commercials pay the bills. They get your face out there. People recognize you. The double-edged sword is getting locked into a character. “Joe Iszuzu” parleyed those lame commercials into a role on the series “Empty Nest,” but where is he now? Personally, I worry about the Verizon “Can you hear me now?” Guy. When does he get to ditch that windbreaker and do some acting? Conversely, Dick Wilson, who portrayed Mr. Whipple for Charmin Toilet Tissue was Mr. Whipple for the rest of his life and by all accounts was quite happy with his role (it helped, I imagine, that Charmin treated him very well.)
(Rachel Lewis, a fairly recent Chicago improviser, now in LA.)
Commercial work frees the actor to pursue more creative pursuits. One national commercial could pay enough to support you for a year. That means no temp work, no waiting on tables, no fretting about money. <sarcasm> I mean, it’s not like most people can land a high-paying blog job like I have. With this thing I quit my day job. </sarcasm> <hope> C’mon, megamillions… please… </hope>