Tell me about Beer Shark Mice …
JM: These guys are originally from Chicago and formed a troupe when they all moved to LA. I’ve been playing with them intermittently over the last seven years. These guys are so talented. I’m like the Drew Carey of the bunch.
Do you and your fellow players get together outside of performing?
JM: We get together for BBQs all the time. We all act like we’re Chicagoans on vacation even though we’ve lived in LA for over 20 years.
Do you have a favorite show with Beer Shark Mice?
JM: Improv shows are disposable because they happen once. You have to see it otherwise it’s not that interesting- like someone describing a dream. What’s worse is when someone tells you their friend’s dream. My daughter started telling me her friend’s dream and I said, “Wait, this is your friend’s dream?”
How did you get the audition for the role of the policeman in the film The Artist?
JM: I got a call to appear at 5:30 on a Friday in Hollywood. An impossible time to get anywhere in LA. They told me it was for a French film, to be shot in black and white and it was silent. If I didn’t have a Vespa to get me over to the audition, I’m not sure I would have gone. I didn’t know it was Oscar-worthy at the time, but I knew it would be beautiful when watching the playback. An art house dandy.
What was it like working on the set of The Artist?
JM: It was surreal. Tables of food, everyone was drinking wine, Edith Piaf playing full blast.
You studied with legendary Del Close. What was it like being in his class?
JM: We thought we’d found comedy’s Holy Grail. Del shared with us the secret to comedy. After class we’d all stay up until four in the morning talking about what happened in class. We couldn’t get enough. Del was the oracle.
How did you start taking his classes?
JM: Del had seen Dave Pasquesi and I do an improv scene together, a really slow scene. Afterwards Del took me aside and said, “The Murray brothers have always been very good, I’m gonna give you a full scholarship. But that other guy Pasquesi, is very good too, so I’ll give each of you a half scholarship.” So I lost my full scholarship on behalf of Pasquesi.
What do you think Del would say if he could see how his art form has taken off in popularity over the last ten years?
JM: He’d be amazed and happy and impressed with it all. He’d have the last laugh on Bernie Sahlins (founder of Second City) who used to say improv only works 30% of the time.
I watched you perform the Harold with Baron’s Barracudas at CrossCurrents. You were engaging to watch, like you were soaking up every detail of the scene. When you spoke it was always the exact thing that the scene needed and usually got the biggest laugh. You were only what, 23 or 24, but you came off as the wise sage of the group. Why was that?
JM: Being from a family with eight older brothers and sisters you learn when to shut up and when to speak. Since I was the youngest in the family, I had a lot of characters to draw upon. Maybe I have an old soul. I was around older people all the time. When friends listened to Steve Miller or Heart I was listening to Dusty Springfield or Buffalo Springfield. A guy I used to work with would say to me, “What’s up 40’s guy?” way before I was 40 years old.
Do people recognize you?
JM: People know me for different roles. Younger people recognize me from God Bless America. Lots of guys in their late 30’s stop me and tell me how much they loved One Crazy Summer. Occasionally people stop me for Mad Men. I’m usually not recognized when my hair is long. If my hair is short, the moms at my kid’s school say, “You must be shooting another Mad Men episode.” And I say, “No, I just got a haircut.”
Sunday, August 2nd, 9:00, Beer Shark Mice featuring Pete Hulne, Pat Finn, Mike Coleman, Paul Vaillancourt and Joel Murray will be performing at Scottish Rite Theater.