Sunday, November 17

Comedy at Ground Zero


Comedy at Ground Zero

The Groundings has served as a factory for Saturday

Night Live comics for years. The secret? Let’s just say UCLA has
something

to do with it…By Emily Forster

While UCLA may not be recognized as a training ground for
comedians, the

institution has given alumni like Mike Hitchcock enough material
for a

lifetime.

"UCLA was a great place to be, but there were little things that
pissed

me off. It gave me a lot of material," says Hitchcock.

Currently performing at the Groundlings in the comedy theater’s
latest

show, "The Audience is Listening," Hitchcock is still writing
about what

pisses him off.

The two sketches he wrote for "The Audience is Listening"
emerged from

his disgust with Rush Limbaugh and people who shop at Trader
Joe’s.

Although Hitchcock performs in both of his sketches, one of the
things

he hates most is acting.

"I’m a writer. I’ll act if somebody asks me, but I won’t
audition," says

Hitchcock.

Many of Hitchcock’s fellow Groundlings share this hatred for

auditions.

Melanie Graham, director of "The Audience is Listening," prefers
trying

to get a script produced to auditioning for a part because "all
you have to

do is hand a script to a bunch of people, and then you can go
home and

watch O.J."

Unfortunately for Hitchcock and Graham, auditioning is an
integral part

of being a Groundling.

"The process for getting a part in a show starts when
Groundlings

audition material that they wrote. Melanie will give them
suggestions to

move things along but the sketch ideas and writing are theirs,"
says

Allison Kingsley, executive director of Groundlings.

In order to polish their sketch ideas and writing skills,
Groundlings

take classes in improv, writing and performing at the theater’s
own comedy

school.

"Those who excel in the classes move on to the Sunday company.
They

always feel like they’re auditioning when they reach that point
because we

take our Groundling cast members from the Sunday company,"
Graham says.

The few lucky members of the Sunday company that ascend to the
rank of

Groundling are strong performers and writers as well as gifted
improv

comedians.

"Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. Some people do
incredibly

detailed characters and don’t write as well, where others are
very strong

writers and not as strong in improv. But to be a Groundling, you
have to be

fairly good at everything," says Graham.

Hitchcock was involved in the theater for a year and a half
before he

became good enough at everything to acquire the title of
Groundling.

Hitchcock felt he was well prepared to be part of the comedy
troupe because

the constructively competitive atmosphere of the theater was
just like the

atmosphere at UCLA’s film school.

"The competition to succeed at Groundlings was very familiar to
me

because it was the same in film school. Everyone was there to
learn and we

competed with each other in a positive way. Film school gave me
a lot of

confidence that I am thankful for because it helped me a lot,"
says

Hitchcock.

Hitchcock is also thankful for several things, including the
script he

wrote for the upcoming film "House Arrest" starring Kevin Spacey
and Jamie

Lee Curtis.

"The experience of writing for Kevin and Jamie was so amazing.
I

remember when I first went to Groundlings when I moved out to
L.A. and saw

Jon Lovitz perform. I wanted to write great things and be in
Groundlings.

Now I’m performing at Groundlings and writing for great actors,"
says

Hitchcock.

Hitchcock is just one of the many success stories that
originated from

the 20-year-old theater. The company can boast about the fame of
past

members like Phil Hartman and Lisa Kudrow, as well as the
success of

several writers and producers.

"There are a lot of writers and producers who were in
Groundlings that

aren’t household names, but they hold a lot of clout," says
Kingsley.

The reason behind the success of so many Groundlings might be
the goal

of the theater itself. Kingsley views the purpose of Groundlings
more like

an educational institution than a theater.

"The goal is to teach the craft of a comedic actor. They can go
and

create anything that they want. It’s an opportunity that they
can’t get

anywhere else."STAGE: "Groundlings: The Audience is Listening."
Through Jan. 6

at The Groundlings Theatre. Fridays at 8 p.m. and Saturdays at 8
and 10

p.m. TIX: $17.50. For more info call (213) 934-9700.

ANDREW SCHOLER/Daily Bruin

Jennifer Cooldge stars in the one-woman sketch "My Trip to
Hawaii." ANDREW SCHOLER/Daily Bruin

The Groundlings’ skit "Trader Joe’s" featured Mary Jo Smith,
Mike Hitchcock and Jim Wise.

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