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Interview: Scott Adsit, Star of Stage and Screen

By Margaret Hicks in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 7, 2007 4:00PM

adsit3_5_07.jpgYou might recognize Scott Adsit from "30 Rock" (or from a bajillion commercials), but for improvisers around the world, the name Scott Adsit is as well known as Kleenex. Adsit, a Northbrook native, is an improviser extraordinaire, and one of the men who changed sketch comedy permanently.

Starting in 1994, Adsit performed at Second City. During his time there, Adsit was a pioneer of change when he performed in a mainstage show called Pinata Full of Bees. Pinata was cutting-edge, sloughing off the old structure of sketch comedy and turning it on its head. Previously, Second City was doing the classic sketch format of black-outs, scene, song, monologue, black-out. Pinata changed all that, loosely following the structure of what is known as Harold, an improv form created by Del Close. Pinata went in and out of scenes, brought back themes and characters, and turned the average sketch show on its head.

Scott Adsit is everywhere — he's like The Secret — you see him once, and then you see him all the time. You might have seen him in For Your Consideration or “Mr. Show,” or on a guest spot for “Monk” or “Malcolm in the Middle.” But now, Adsit has found a home as Pete on "30 Rock," and we couldn't be happier.

Chicagoist: So tell me about your move from Chicago. Did you quit Second City to move to L.A.?

Scott Adsit: It happened in the first week of 1998. I was two weeks from opening a show directed by Jeff Richmond [Tina Fey’s husband and producer of "30 Rock"] and I had gotten a call from my partner Dino who I’ve known since college. He had been hired by Barry Levinson to write a TV show based on the idea of backstage at "Saturday Night Live." So he called me and said, “Do you want to write this with me?” It just never went; it was fine, but ABC didn’t want it. I stayed because I didn’t have a job in Chicago, so I was plucking along mercenary style.

C: You were friends with Tina Fey before you went to L.A.?

SA: Ah, yeah, Tina and I started working together when she was hired on Second City Mainstage. We did Citizen Gates and Paradigm Lost, and then she got hired by SNL as a writer and left before I did.

C: Did she approach you about doing "30 Rock"?

SA: Yeah, about a year and a half ago, she said “I’ve got an idea for a show, and I would like you to be involved in some fashion, and here’s what it’s about,” and essentially it was "30 Rock." So I think she had me in mind for the role of Pete ... that’s what she tells me anyway. Then I got a call from her “OK, we’re going to do a pilot.”

C: How collaborative is "30 Rock"? Do you help each other write it?

SA: There’s a staff of writers who are brilliant people, and they present us a finished script. Then we do a table read, and they rewrite it. We don’t have a lot of input in it, except on the set when we might say can I change the wording of this or whatever. But generally the scripts are written, and they’re really good.

C: Did you go take classes at any other theaters — did you go to Annoyance or I.O.?

SA: I was Second City all the way. There was kind of a rivalry between the two theaters [Second City and I.O] at that time; somewhere along the way there was some kind of detente, and they hired this huge amount of really, really talented people out of I.O.: Adam McKay, Tina Fey, Kevin Dorff, Rachel Dratch. It was interesting because I was on the bridge between two eras. So we had an all-new cast. The outgoing cast was great, but it was still kind of old-school scenes then — black-out, scene, black-out, scene. Pinata was this dream structure. I was part of the change. It was exciting and an honor.

C: Some say that Chicago is a great training ground, but that you have to leave the city to make it. Do you think that’s true?

SA: You have to go where the money is. I think so; people who stay in Chicago become very popular Chicago celebrities and very big in theater. In Chicago it depends on what you want; if you want to be recognized on a national scale, I think you have to leave Chicago, unless you’re Oprah.

C: What has surprised you most about being successful?

SA: I get recognized a few times a day, more now because of "30 Rock," but for the past ten years I’ve been recognized maybe one to five times a day, and the one constant is — I’ll be overseas and people will come up to me and say “you were at Second City, right?” That’s what’s amazing; people saw the shows and remember one of the guys on stage. But it’s amazing that that’s 50% of what people recognize. I’m really proud of that.

C: This may be cliché, but I really want to know who your influence is now, who do you see and say, man, I could learn from them?

SA: Certainly Tina, and certainly Alec; and otherwise, less politically, David Pasquesi was a great inspiration of mine at Second City. I was lucky enough to do a show with him at I.O. in L.A. for a while. We would do a show similar to his show with TJ, and we both did it up and loved it. It was such a thrill to look over and see him looking into my eyes.

C: What’s the hardest thing about making it? What’s the challenge now?

SA: I think probably finding a balance in my performance where I find a comfort in every choice I make without questioning any choices. At Second City you could alter your choice and tweak it.

C: Final question: what do you miss about Chicago?

SA: The food. There are places I love like Tiparos and Penny’s Noodles; and my mom's chicken, no really, now we have to have parties when she comes. My friends who have had her fried chicken will ask me — they haven’t seen my mom in fifteen years — “How’s your mom? Is she coming to town to make chicken?” They don’t care about her, they just want the chicken, it's like crack.

Stay tuned tomorrow for an interview with "30 Rock"'s Jack McBrayer.

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