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He Came, DePaul, He Conquered: Mark Gagliardi Of Thrilling Adventure Hour Discusses His Chicago Roots

By Marielle Shaw in Arts & Entertainment on Apr 25, 2014 7:30PM

Mark Gagliardi and Molly Quinn sign photos at ECCC in Seattle Photo credit: Photo Courtesy Danielle Davis, Ladykiller

When he’s not drinking a bottle of scotch and recounting tales of the Old West, Mark Gagliardi is an accomplished actor. He’s appeared in more than 200 plays and aside from his storytelling role on Comedy Central’s Drunk History, also made appearances on shows like “How I Met Your Mother” and “The League.”

This weekend, Mark will perform in one of the roles for which he’s best known: the onus-bound, contraction shunning Croach the Tracker, faithful companion to Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars. "The Thrilling Adventure Hour" has hit it big with the original stage show at Largo in LA, the popular Nerdist podcast and now an Eisner nominated graphic novel, and is one of the highlights of this year’s C2E2.

When "Thrilling Adventure Hour’s" Chicago show was announced, we couldn’t wait to take part in the panels and see the live stage show. We wondered, though, what brought the main event to the Merle Reskin Theatre? It turned out, Gagliardi is a graduate and proud alum of the Theatre School at DePaul. This is what he had to say about his time at the school and in Chicago:

“I went to DePaul for four of the best years of my life. I was in heaven immersed in a conservatory. My days were stacked with classes all day and rehearsal or crew or shows every night. The school broke me down to fundamentals and layered details on top of them until, four years later, I had hopefully crafted a technique. These fundamentals during my first year were strictly improvisation. I was already a big fan of improv, specifically The Second City. The stuff Mick Napier was doing there was intricate and hilarious. We would go on weekends to catch the free improv set after the late show. These guys were my heroes, and Craig Cackowski was one of them. One time I was representing DePaul at a gala full of movie stars. I spotted the cast of The Second City at a table and bombarded them with praise. Craig said to me, "Thanks. You know there are movie stars here, right?" These guys were my movie stars. That was the first time we met.

When I got to LA after DePaul I saw that The Second City had opened a training center in town so I jumped in. At DePaul improvisation was used as a tool, but The Second City would teach me how to make it a show, one like those I'd seen and loved in Chicago. I again immersed myself. At the same time some of the best improvisers from around the country moved to Los Angeles including Craig and Marc Evan Jackson, whose cast had all just come from The Second City Detroit. They called themselves the "313" and they were my favorite show in town. It was like watching magic the way they played. Soon Craig and Jackson began teaching and I got to study under them. Jackson is a master of manipulating an audience and demands absolute truth. He's a tough teacher, a perfect mix of truth in the moment and a practical director's eye. Craig is equally tough and once led me and Hal Lublin (who was also a student at the time) in a scene concentration exercise so tough it gave us massive headaches after. These guys may look like they're goofing off onstage, but they are disciplined dudes.

Ben Acker was a student in the writing program at the same time and we met working on his graduation sketch show. We liked each other's work so much that we created a couple more shows together. When he was putting together Sparks Nevada I introduced him to Jackson and Craig was a natural fit. Now it's nine years later and I'm getting to play every month with these guys who are now not only my mentors but my friends.

This trip to Chicago is really special for me. First I get to improvise with Craig, Jackson, and Hal. We've done a lot of shows together but never an improv set. Throw into the mix Scott Adsit, who was another early hero after I saw "Paradigm Lost" a dozen times. Needless to say I am crazy excited about this show. Second, I get to perform on the Merle Reskin stage again. This theatre was home ever since I pushed sets around and puppeteered a ticking crocodile as a freshman. I acted in two shows there: "The Little Prince" and "Grimm Tales." The latter was based on the Story Theatre of Paul Sills, who started the Second City in 1959. And I get to play there again, this time with my Thrilling Adventure Hour family, on my 35th birthday. It makes a pretty cool circle.”

We agree with Mark. It is a pretty cool circle. And we’ll be waiting in the wings tomorrow night to watch it happen. If you’d like to check out the show, there are still tickets available here. Use promo code SPARKSCHICAGO and you’ll even score 20 percent off.