New season has cast going ‘Mad’

Dave Bolger & Madelyn Otcasek

Late night television can be tricky. For a late night comedy show to stay consistently funny can prove to be even trickier, but “Mad TV,” a show that showcases the talents of Ike Barinholtz and Bobby Lee, does it best.

Barinholtz, in his fifth season at “Mad TV,” specializes in playing “everyman” characters.

“I play a lot of cops, coaches and dads,” Barinholtz said about his characters. “I concentrate a lot on saying things like ‘Hey, you can’t do that!'”

Barinholtz, a Chicago native, began his career at the iO Theater, formerly ImprovOlympic, a famous improvisational comedy training school in Chicago.

“I didn’t do a whole lot of stand-up. Improv comedy was always what I was best at, but I like sketch comedy, too. I don’t do a lot of impressions but I do a killer Kevin Federline,” he said.

Fellow “Mad TV” cast member Bobby Lee attributes the show’s success to the staff writers and the cast.

“The writing just keeps getting better and better,” Lee said. “We have a really young and edgy cast that knows what its audience wants.”

Lee, now in his fifth season at the show, grew up in San Diego and was expected to take over his father’s family-run clothing store. After a few stints in unsuccessful rock bands and a couple low-key stand-up gigs, legendary comedy store manager Frank Burns discovered Lee. His career as a professional comic began soon afterward.

He did “The Tonight Show” about seven years ago, and not long after was invited to audition for “Mad TV.”

“Most of my characters are Asian,” Lee said. “They have Asian names and do Asian things like they talk funny. I really like to do Kim Jong-Il. I’m going to do a Kim Jong-Il skit where he does commentary on (the Macy’s Day Parade).”

Fellow “Mad TV” cast members Nicole Parker and Arden Myrin are not necessarily the newest faces on TV, but they are certainly two of the more recognizable. Both have resumes in improv, and Myrin has frequented the sitcom scene with appearances on “Friends,” “Just Shoot Me!,” “Working” and “On the Spot.”

Myrin said sitcom acting prepared her for the challenges of working on a variety show like “Mad TV.”

“There was a major adaptation in store for me when I changed shows,” she said. “On the sitcom, I learned how to block, to memorize, and how to keep cool on the set.”

Another difference between sitcom acting and “Mad TV” acting was the writing aspect. “I like writing and creating characters.” she said. “Sitcoms don’t want your ideas.”

Parker has an extensive history with writing sketches. When she was part of “Boom Chicago” in Amsterdam with “Mad TV” cast members Barinholtz and Jordan Peele, she wrote sketches for an international audience.

“We were constantly incorporating new material,” she said. “You had to be fearless (on stage).”

She uses her daily life as inspiration for new sketches.

“I sort of try to take notes of funny stuff in real life,” she said. “I eavesdrop on people, I watch my family members or people in the airport. Just the folly of human nature, I guess.”

Parker said even though comedians are stereotypically male, she didn’t have much of a problem being the lone woman on stage.

“It’s like having a bunch of big brothers,” she said. “I’ve been killed, punched, strangled, stabbed, all in one show!”

She said she didn’t complain about the lack of female roles, but helped rewrite sketches so she would have a role in the scene.

“Males have less inhibitions than females, they have an innate confidence,” she said. “You just got to grow a pair.”

Myrin also noted the anxieties of being female in comedy.

“It’s an advantage because it’s less expected,” she said. “If there was an attitude that women weren’t funny (on a set), I just left. I chose not to be around that. I never let it bother me.”

Parker is particularly proud of working on a show with a reputation for breaking the barriers of comedy.

“I have a lot of respect for sketch actors,” she said. “The changing characters, the constant reinvention, gives some great opportunities. We’re more underground … people really do enjoy our show.”

Contact ALL correspondent Dave Bolger at [email protected]. Contact ALL correspondent Madelyn Otcasek at [email protected].