Growing up on the north shore of Chicago, actor Joel Murray has been a lifelong Cubs fan. Whether at the game or watching on TV from his home in Los Angeles, he stays connected to the team. He’s also played memorable roles in film and TV, including One Crazy Summer, Dharma and Greg, Mad Men and Monsters University.
Joel will be a co-emcee, along with Mike O’Malley and WXRT’s Lin Brehmer, at the fourth annual Hot Stove Cool Music event on July 9 at Metro to benefit The Foundation to Be Named Later. General admission tickets are sold out, but you still have a chance at VIP tickets, which include a meet-and-greet with many of the performers and emcees, including Joel.
Joel took some time out of his schedule to talk about the event, including an epic night he had in its second year, being a Cubs fan, working with Cardinals fan Jon Hamm and why he and his brothers can’t do a movie about the Cubs.
It was a fun conversation and also will provide you just enough to get a conversation with him going when you meet him next week.
What was it like being a part of such a prolific show like Mad Men? When your character was fired from Sterling Cooper, did you expect to come back?
I had already seen a couple episodes of the show before I was cast on it, so I was already in love with the show, so to be a part of it just blew me away. The first scene I was in was with Elizabeth Moss doing the “Basket of Kisses” scene, and I was literally transfixed looking at her, thinking “Gosh, she’s really pretty in person. Gosh, she’s really a great actress. Aw crap, I’ve got a line coming up here.” I was out of it, but the line came and the scene looked good.
To be part of what will become television history was really cool. So the day I got the script and found out [my character] was going away, I thought I was done. I got that nod like, “You’ve got to talk to Matt [Weiner].” I wasn’t sure I was ever going to come back, but when I came back, I was happy as a clam.
Those people love working there. They would hang out for eight hours after they were done working. I don’t know what they’re doing now. They’re probably in some kind of support group.
What was it like working with Jon Hamm, a noted Cardinals fan?
We got to go to the Albert Pujols Tournament together, so I got to go behind enemy lines there at Busch Stadium, which was proof there is nothing else to do in St. Louis besides going to a game. That explains why everything there, energy wise, is directed toward that team, because there’s not a lot to do.
I thought [Jon Hamm and I] were going to hit blues clubs or something like that, but we actually helped an old lady move her refrigerator.
Your acting career kicked off with George Calamari in One Crazy Summer. How much fun was it making that movie?
I befriended Bobcat Goldthwait right away, and we’re still friends. John Cusack and Jeremy Piven were there. The lovely Kim Foster, who played Cookie, and I were good drinking buddies. It was just so good.
Steve Holland was the director, and he was only two years older than we were, so it was so much fun. And to have as your first audition getting third lead in a movie was just insane. I thought I was going to kill this industry. I thought I was going to be the next Kevin Costner or someone, but it’s been a fun life nonetheless.
That was beyond one crazy summer. I’ve got stories forever from that trip. Two months in Hyannis and Nantucket that summer was pretty darn good.
You also were involved with the movie Ballhawks. What was it like to be part of something so unique in baseball?
Mike Dietrich, who was lead producer, came to me at the time and told me he was having a hard time getting ahold of any major league footage for this film. I had some friends [with the Cubs], so we got ahold of some footage and stuff he needed to complete the film.
I had watched [the ballhawks], thinking I could step in front and catch a ball, but those guys are really good. It is a weird thing that is indigenous to Wrigley, which is even harder to do now with the bleacher expansion.
It was a cool story, and I got my brother Bill to do the voiceover, which was a surprise to the other producers, because I was going to do the voiceover. I brought a little recording setup to a hotel when Billy was in town and said, “Hey, can you read this for me?” We did it in one take, and they got Bill Murray instead of Joel Murray, so that was a substantial upgrade. I think that was part of the reason I was made producer.
It ended up being a really cool movie.
You have a chance to play any Cubs player or manager in a movie. Who would it be and why?
Mark Grace, who had the most hits in the ‘90s, plus he had a pretty fun social life, or Kerry Wood, because then I’d be tall and thin. The Ron Santo Story would be something else, because I’m a huge fan of Ron. There’s a million possible characters there.
The problem is, as one of the Murray brothers, I get so many scripts about the Cubs winning the World Series or this and that, we can’t do anything with any of them because we could be accused of copying one of the 30 or more scripts we’ve received.
I get scripts from people who say, “There’s a part in here for a bartender which you would be great for, if you could get your brother to play the lead.” That’s been going on for 25 years.
Funny, because I actually have a script I just finished, where you get to play the head groundskeeper and your brother gets to play the manager.
How many Cubs games have you been to in your lifetime?
In all, between 400 to 500 games. In 1989, we did the remake of Bleacher Bums, and I went to 50 games that year. In 1969, when my mother went back to work after my father died, and I was seven, my sister had to babysit for me. We went to the bleachers for every home game we could. I had one of the worst sunburns of my life that year.
Do you keep tabs on this team from LA? What do you make of the rebuild and the current team?
It’s disappointing WGN doesn’t carry as many games anymore, because they are so damn fun to watch now. I go out of my way to be sure I’m recording or watching the games live.
I was just in South Carolina filming Sophie and the Rising Sun, and I got to stay with my brother Bill, who has the MLB package. He is religious about watching the games, so we watched quite a few together while I was there doing the movie.
Which player or players impress you most?
Kris Bryant is the obvious answer, but I think Jorge Soler will be the one in the long run. When he goes after the ball, he hits like Roberto Clemente. He takes some of the biggest swings I’ve ever seen. Addison Russell is also one of the smartest hitters we’ve seen in a long time.
Personally, I like Coghlan. I had a friend named Chris Coghlan who played football with me at Loyola Academy. I like his name, the way he plays the game and the way he runs the bases.
They’re just fun. They really are a riot.
When do you think they will make the playoffs? The World Series?
I think they will get a Wild Card this year. It might take a Cardinals plane crash, but there are certain things I pray for every day, and that’s one.
Is there a Cubs player you just did not like?
I’m going off the books here, but I was never a big fan of Bob Brenly. I saw him as a San Diego Padre, just bringing a bad attitude, so I never got on board with him in the announcer booth.
But as for players, who did I dislike? There are so many pitchers who I have washed out of my brain who could take the fall on that one, but I’m really not a hater—other than the Cardinals.
How is being a Cubs fan different from being a fan of any other sports team?
I’m an actor, so I chose a life that inherently is one of defeat and personal rejection. I think that has served me well for being a Cubs fan.
It’s hard. It’s not easy being a Cubs fan. It’s not a bandwagon you jump on, but rather something you’re born into. It’s kind of like a religious choice. It’s given to you by your family and your parents. We didn’t really have a choice. You just all of a sudden became one, and you didn’t realize you’d end up becoming a martyr in a way.
I was there when Bartman caught the ball and Bernie Mac, a lifelong Sox fan sang. Everybody in the world knew we were jinxed at that point. I was also there the next night when Kerry Wood hit the home run, and I called that [jinx].
I was there in 1984 when we beat the Padres 13-0 and Sutcliffe hit the home run. How could we lose that series? Those guys were crying by the end of that game.
Watching them lose the playoffs out here in LA? That was painful being abused in the parking lot after the game. I was like, “Guys, you don’t realize, there has to be an opposing team. You can’t just play by yourself. That’s masturbation. Do you understand?” Apparently that didn’t translate to the guys I was saying it to.
It’s been rough.
You’re involved in Hot Stove Cool Music again this year. What can people expect from this event?
The second year, I got to throw out the first pitch at the game, which was after a two-and-a-half- or three-hour rain delay, so we had that time at Murphy’s Bleachers before I threw out the first pitch. Then I had to do some press at Metro, then back to the game to sing the Stretch and then back to Metro for the meet-and-greet with the VIPs, drinking some more, then emceeing the show and drinking that whole time. By the time I got a gyros across the street at 3:45 AM, I probably had about 30 beers. It was a special day. I train for that kind of thing, so it’s not something everyone should try to do. You have to work at it.
In all seriousness, it’s a great program Theo Epstein brought here from Boston, and it’s all for underprivileged kids programs. It’s also at Metro, so it’s elbows on the stage [for Eddie Vedder]. It’s going to be fantastic!
It’s really a fun night, and the gyros place across the way is crowded at quarter of four in the morning.
Limited VIP tickets remain for Hot Stove Cool Music, where you will get the chance to meet Joel Murray and others. Get them before they’re gone. You can also catch Joel now in the thriller 7 Minutes.
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