It was an interesting off-shoot of the Joel Murray interviews that I recently did.
In the social media/internet world we live in, you don’t just post a story. You have to do whatever you can to publicize it – and that’s still a really weird feeling for me.
But in tweeting about the two stories being posted, I had some unexpected and awesomely interesting names from the acting community appear in my “Likes.”
There was Susan Sullivan … who played Kitty Montgomery on Dharma & Greg.
There was Jeff B. Davis, one of Joel’s cast mates from the Whose LIVE Anyway? improvisation tour.
There was David Pasquesi, who I saw perform at Second City and who has been in numerous movies – including Groundhog Day.
There was the coolest name ever – actor/director Bobcat Goldthwait – who showed up in my likes twice!
And then, there was Pat Finn, the actor who plays neighbor Bill Norwood on “The Middle” – one of my kids’ favorite shows.
A quick internet search showed he was the same age as me … he grew up in Evanston … he was a Cubs fan … and he went to the same high school as Joel Murray. Not only was he in “The Middle,” but he once had a recurring role in a series of Got Milk? commercials.
I reached out to Pat to see if he was interested in speaking with me for this site – and it was one of the easiest things I’ve ever done. He was just so … normal. Nothing Hollywood about him.
And it turns out we have a few things in common. His wife is from the Springfield area – just like mine. He took Driver’s Ed at Mather High School – my alma mater. I grew up on the Chicago/Evanston/Skokie border – not far from a bottling plant that he worked at growing up so he could make money to help pay for his Marquette University schooling.
We talked last week about a variety of subjects – including what it’s like to live in a Chicago sports community in Southern California – but I wanted to share this story.
Whenever I tell my kids I’m going to be doing an interview with someone, invariably, one of them tells me to say Hi for them to the person I’m going to be speaking to. I usually roll my eyes … “Yeah, right.” He or she “doesn’t know who you are.”
This time seemed different to me. This was one they were quite adamant about. “Tell the guy who plays Bill Norwood we said Hi.” Of course, I wasn’t going to ask the follow-up question, “Is the guy who plays Axl really that dumb?”
Pat seemed genuinely excited when I told him my girls knew who he was:
“Oh, that's so funny. That's so cool,” he said. “I'll tell you ... coming out here, I've been able to do a bunch of stuff, and there's things that I've turned down or things that I didn't feel were great – especially as a dad.
“When I'm on stage, it's rare that I swear. It's funny, I did an episode of ‘Two Broke Girls,’ which was a good gig and fun and they're super nice. But I didn't let my 14-year-old watch it because it's a pretty racy show.
“So on the flip of that, one of the creators of ‘The Middle,’ Eileen Hessler is from Deerfield. DeAnn Heline is from Ohio. They're both parents and married and amazing, super great people. I had done a TV show with them and it went really well. So, a couple of years later, ‘The Middle’ popped up and they were like, ‘Hey, we're trying to get you in on this.’ And I'm like, ‘That's great.’
“And then they just kind of wrote a part of a neighbor, which I jumped into. And it seemed like they liked it, so it's gone really well. It's nice to be part of a show that I'm proud of. I think it's a good, clean, funny show, and it's under the radar.
“But yeah, tell them I said ‘Hi’ as well.
“My daughters are 22 and 20, and then I have a son who's 14. For the last eight years, we'll sit on the couch all together and watch it. Maybe sometimes that happens with the big sporting events, but that type of things doesn't happen with regularity in most families. So it's cool to be able to watch a show like that with your family.
“Say ‘Hi' to your twins. That's awesome. I'm so happy that they're fans of the show. Tell them to have a great summer.”
It’s not only kids that recognize him. Finn talked about how the father of actor John Krasinski – one of the stars of “The Office” – reacted when he found out his son and Finn were appearing together in the movie “It’s Complicated.”
“This is such a Hollywood thing to say … I was working on a movie with John Krasinski, who I'm a big fan of; I think he's great,” Finn said. “We started talking about our families, about basketball and sports. Then he said, ‘Hey man, is there any way I can get a picture?’
“He said, ‘My dad's always like that's cool, that's cool, that's cool' when I tell him who I’m working with. I said I was working with you ...’ I did these commercials a few years for milk where I was in a giant milk carton. John was like, ‘My dad went nuts when he heard I was with you.’ I'm like, ‘Really?’ He goes, ‘Well, Meryl Streep was up there, too.’ I go, ‘So, it's Meryl Streep and the milk carton guy?’ But nevertheless, he was like, ‘Yeah. It was our favorite commercial. We can quote every line.’ That was hilarious.”
Finn told some great stories about how the Chicago-born actors tend to gravitate toward each other in Los Angeles. He also told the tale of how he became a youth sports coach.
“Gosh, we moved out here about 20 years ago, which seems crazy,” he said. “Moving out here, we really didn't know where to live. I was on a TV show with George Wendt; he's from the south side. And so we'd stay at his house which is in kind of what they call the Valley of L.A. The Valley is ... this kind of big area. And if the Valley seceded, it would be the fourth largest city in the country, that's how big it is. But it's like Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, all that. But the Valley was the most kid-friendly and the most Midwest to my wife and me.
“And then we just fell into a Catholic grammar school … it's a great school, and it kind of reminds me of St. Joe's (in Wilmette) where I grew up. There's people that have money, there are people who are scholarship, and everywhere in between, and everybody kind of chips in.
“There was a nun that was the principal, so at the open house they were like, ‘It's a waiting list to get in. Blah, blah, blah.’ And I'm like, ‘Shoot, in Chicago you've got connections.’ And here, I don't have any.
“So I went up and talked to the nun and she's smiling, and I'm like, ‘Oh, where are you from? I just got back from Kilkenny (Ireland) with the comedy festival.’ And she said, ‘Oh, my best friends were in Kilkenny.’ And we talked about that for a while and she said, ‘What do you have? A son or a daughter?’ I said, ‘I have a daughter right there, Cassidy.’ She goes, ‘Oh, she's the cherubim.’ I said, ‘Yeah, she's great.’ She goes, ‘Oh yeah, you're in.’ ‘But isn't there like a waiting list?’ ‘I like you; you're in.’ And I'm like, ‘Okay, great. That's awesome.’ So it worked out perfect.
“And then cut to fifth grade, she calls me in her office. My wife and I were room parents and PTO. She goes, ‘There's nobody to coach the girls.’ I'm like, ‘Oh, okay. What, do you call downtown and they send out a coach or the Archdiocese puts somebody on the bench with them?’ ‘Nope, nope. Somebody's got to volunteer.’ ‘Oh.’
“She said, ‘I was thinking you could do it.’ ‘I could do what?’ ‘I know you; you could play sports.’ ‘Yeah, I could play, but I've never coached girls’ basketball.’ She goes, ‘I'm asking you now.’ And all I thought about was I could have the most perfect life in the world, and then get to heaven and be like, ‘Um, you said no to a nun? Yeah. This isn't the stop. We don't take nun-noers.’
“I ended up coaching and, it was the greatest thing just because I grew up playing a lot of sports. But I think coaching was ... I'm sure my record is horrible at every sport that I coached, but I loved doing it.
“My dad used to coach us in hockey. I remember the first time I was coaching girls’ soccer, he said, ‘That's great you're coaching.’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ And he goes, ‘Hey, I've got a question.’ I said, ‘Yeah,’ and he goes, ‘Do you remember the score of any game?’ I said, ‘No, I really don't.’ I played soccer, football, basketball, rugby. And he goes, ‘Remember that. And now can you remember every coach you ever had?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I think I do.’ And he goes, ‘Yeah, remember that more.’
“Which always kind of stuck, because I was like, ‘Yeah, you do. You remember the coaches, not the score.’ And my father said, ‘You know, you don't know if some kid's getting bullied or somebody's having a rough day or a tough time at school, or health issues or their parents are having problems, so it might be an hour, hour and a half out of their lives that they get to run around.’
“When you and I were kids, we played in the alley. There weren't adults there to mess it all up.
“This one time, I was talking to one of the moms who was an assistant coach, and we were talking the first day about coaching and why you coach, and then we sat on the bench. It was just a game and parents were going crazy, and I said, "I forgot to tell you. The other thing I like coaching, I get to sit here with the kids. I don't yell at games because these parents can be crazy.’ And she goes, ‘Oh yeah, it's nice over here.’ "