Somewhere along the line last year, I noticed that actor Joel Murray had somehow come across my site. I don’t remember exactly how or why; I’m guessing it was around the time I wrote about the Kerry Wood 20-strikeout game, and that story got me a little bit of play.
As a character actor, you might not know Joel Murray, per se, but you probably do – from his work on television, in movies and on the stage. I’ve taken the liberty of 100% borrowing his IMDB.com mini biography for you:
Joel is a versatile writer-director-actor. The youngest of the nine Murrays is a veteran of over 250 sit-com episodes. He has been a series regular on the comedies Grand, Pacific Station, Love and War, Dharma and Greg and Still Standing. He has also recurred on the series Mike and Molly, My Boys and Two and a Half Men. On the dramatic side, Joel played Freddy Rumsen on AMC's Mad Men as well as Eddie Jackson on Showtime's Shameless. He recently starred in Bobcat Goldthwait's dark comedy, God Bless America. He can be heard playing Don Carlton in the Pixar prequel, Monsters University. He was also in 2011's Best Picture, The Artist. Joel has been in numerous films including One Crazy Summer, Scrooged, Long Gone, Hatchet, Lay the Favorite, Sophie and The Rising Sun, Mr. Pig, Bloodsucking Bastards, Lamb, and Seven Minutes. He can also be seen in the upcoming The Last Word. He studied improvisation with Del Close, among others, and was a founding member of Chicago's Improv Olympic. He enjoyed five years at The Second City in Chicago. He has been doing theater since the 4th grade, performed with the Remains and Organic Theatres Companies in Chicago and still performs frequently at the I. O. West in Los Angeles. Joel loves playing with Whose Live Anyway, playing golf and ordering scotch.
Not listed above …
Joel is currently touring with Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops and Jeff B. Davis in “Whose LIVE Anyway,” an improvised 90-minute show of games, scenes and songs.
I have talked to Joel a couple times over the past week. The conversation in this piece is about growing up a Cubs fan – and life as a caddy.
What's it like being a celebrity Cubs fan – but having to be one in Los Angeles and on the road?
Joel Murray: “This year I haven't gone to too many games, I must admit. Last year I went to games in about five different cities and Chicago, so I got to see a bunch of road games at different places. It was really fun. I've been the emcee for Theo Epstein's Hot Stove Cool Music thing for about five years – and five years ago he basically promised me, ‘This team is going to be really good in five years.’ He was dead right. I thought he had hit it after four but he said ‘Yeah, well maybe, but next year ...’ Sure enough it all came together and it was a magical year.
“I'm not your largest celebrity … I may displace the most water in a beaker compared to another celebrity, but I've got some ins. I got to sit in Atlanta right behind the dugout with my brothers and I got to sit in San Diego at the edge of the dugout; I was literally talking to David Ross during the game. So I've had some great seats and some great opportunities. I've hung out with Joe Maddon. And I have a little golf tournament – The Canal Shores Invitational up by the Wilmette/Evanston border – and the Ricketts brothers are both involved in that every year because they live in the neighborhood and they donate money to that course.
“So I have been able to weasel some pretty good tickets, although I did pay for all of them in the playoffs in the World Series. MLB doesn't give those away. I had the ability to purchase them, which was fantastic. I went to all three World Series games in Chicago. Before that, I did a little show called ‘Shrink’ on the Seeso network and we shot it in Chicago, so that allowed me to be in Chicago for most of October – so I got to see some playoff games that I wouldn't have gotten to living in Los Angeles. It was the storybook season that you've wished for your whole life, and when it came down to it – Game 7 – I was back in L.A.
“I could have gone to Cleveland with my brother – he gave away one ticket to a stranger – but my wife, after I had been gone for a month doing the Seeso thing, she's like, ‘No, you're coming home.’ So I watched it with my family from home. I was on the floor with practically a knife to my throat when it went to extra innings. That's kind of the way it had to be. The Cubs had to put you to the edge of suicide before they won it and it was pretty darn magical.”
You grew up on the ’69 Cubs. Please tell me about that.
“My father died in 1967, and my mom had to go back to work about '69. That summer, my sister had to babysit for me when I was out of school. We either went to the Wilmette Beach every day or we went to the Cub game. We used to be able to go down for $5. We could get two bleacher seats and the ‘L’ ride back and forth, and if we checked the couch cushions for quarters and get another fifty cents we could get a Ron Santo pizza. But back then you could bring your own lunch and you could bring your own thermos, so we packed a lunch and went. It was fabulous.
“We used to go out to O'Hare and meet the planes. You used to be able to meet the players coming right off the airplane and we both had our baseballs with all the signatures of the '69 Cubs on it. I think my sister still has hers. I believe I used mine in a game when we needed a ball. Oh well.”
Then you also would have grown up on Jack Brickhouse …
“Oh, yeah. Definitely. And Lou Boudreau, Milo (Hamilton).”
You and all of your brothers were caddies at Indian Hill Club (in Wilmette). What did you learn from doing that?
“Well, we learned it was a way to get cash quick and there were no taxes taken out. We learned subservience, how to be quiet and to speak when you're spoken to. We also learned that we wanted to be the guy golfing, not the guy carrying the bag – so it kind of taught you a little something about ambition as well. ‘I'll do this, but someday I'm going to be the guy in the stupid pants hitting the ball, not holding the flag.’ I don't know how we all got to Indian Hill; it was the only course that didn't tip. We could have gone over to Westmoreland (Country Club in Wilmette) or other courses where they paid you better, but the Indian Hill guys used to scout out the altar boys at St. Joe's – which was nearby – and they were like, ‘If this kid can get up and serve 6:15 mass, he's a guy that will get up and caddy.’ So they would tell you about this cash money business that they had that you could be a part of. We all got hooked on it … some more than others.
“My brother Ed was a caddy master; eventually he got a Chick Evans Scholarship to Northwestern, a caddy scholarship. Brian was more of a shag boy and worked in the clubhouse, shined shoes and did all kinds of things. He used to say, ‘I found out early I could make more money playing hearts and spades in the caddy shack than actually caddying.’ He was a good card player.
“I came along years after them but I enjoyed it. I enjoyed playing basketball outside with the guys before you got your loop. It was kind of a weird little 12-year-old fraternity.”
You were the youngest of nine kids. Was it an interesting dynamic for you having brothers quite a bit older than you?
“Yeah, I had some that were eighteen years older than me and I was always a little Murray – that was a given. But I had really cool hand-me-downs. I wasn't spoiled by being the baby, but I had my choice of the good stuff in the laundry room that didn't fit them anymore.
“I was always the little brother. I was always a little Murray. My father died at five and I immediately had four guys that thought that it was OK for them to slap me in the back of the head and tell me what to do. I guess I benefited from that and from watching their errors and accomplishments and things like that.”
I know you get asked about your brothers all the time but I do want to ask one question. Doing basic math, you had to be around 17 years old when “Caddyshack” came out. What was it like when you were watching your brothers on the big screen as Carl Spackler and Lou Loomis?
“I laughed my ass off. I saw it a couple times in a row.
“I actually was out with my brother Brian in New York one night and they were having a hard time finding somebody to play Spaulding. He knew I did theater and stuff and he said, ‘You'd be kind of perfect for Spaulding. Rich, spoiled kid we all grew up caddying for.’ And I said, ‘I am not going to be some femme actor like you clowns. I am captain of the football team. I'm going to play college ball.’ That's what I thought at that time. I could have maybe been Spaulding.
“My brother Johnny got to be in the movie; he was four years older than me. My brother Ed's in a little bit of it. And of course, Brian wrote it and was Lou Loomis and Billy did one week on that movie as Carl Spackler. It's still the best golf movie ever.”
What’s the best baseball movie you've seen?
“No question … ‘Long Gone’ with William L. Petersen, Virginia Madsen and Dermot Mulroney – because I was in it. We got to go down to Florida and play baseball for a month with a bunch of Chicago actors that Billy Peterson rounded up. We were there for the playoffs and the World Series while we were shooting the thing and it was so much fun. It was really great. I hit a single, double, and a triple off of Nardi Contreras one day … never had the home run power. I was a line drive hitter. That was the best time ever.
“Other baseball movie … I love ‘The Natural’ because I read the book as a kid.”
Since you live in Los Angeles, tell me how the Dodgers Stadium and Angel Stadium crowds compare to Wrigley Field.
“It's like going to Walmart as compared to going to a really good hardware store in a small town. Dodgers Stadium has a massive, massive parking lot. It's really hard to get there by public transportation of any kind. In Cubs wear, you're harassed the moment you get out of your car. There's no bar anywhere nearby; the closest bar, if you were to walk, would probably be three quarters of a mile, at least. It's a whole different thing. But I'll be going Friday the 26th to see the Cubs play the dreaded Dodgers.
“Angel Stadium is kind of similar but there is a bar at the edge of the parking lot. They've got you there. The Big A, if I had to choose one.”
It's still baseball though, correct?
“It's still baseball. It's beautiful when you get inside, but outside the whole getting there and afterwards is not anywhere close to as much fun as Wrigley.
“Wrigley is different inside now. I have no problem with the jumbotrons. I enjoy being able to see a replay or having Harry sing to me during the stretch. If a little bit of signage gets us better relief pitching and maybe one more starter, I'm fine with that.”
Well, look at last year. That's all you need to know.
“Right. Exactly. If we could hit up the Wrigleys for the hundred years of free naming rights for the ball park, we could get some more pitching, too. That would backdate some of those checks.
“And the merchandising, you see the Cubs stuff all over the country. Everywhere we go you see a lot of head nodding when I go out and I've got on the hat.
“It's just that head nod. Like yeah, we freaking did it.”
And at least we both know you’re not a front runner with it.
“Yeah, I'm not a band wagoner.
“I coached a Little League team that won the Tournament of Champions, which was from Torrance, California, all the way to Malibu … a bunch of teams, and we won the whole thing. It came down to, without fail, my worst player coming up to bat. We had been down 4-0. We came back, and it was now 4-3 and we got nothing going. Two outs, worst guy up and he draws a walk – and he runs down to first base like he had just hit a home run that would win the World Series because he didn't strike out to lose the season. And then the worst possible scenario … your son, the leadoff hitter, comes up. You're like ‘Oh geez, he's going to make the last out here.’
“He buried a triple that stuck in the corner. It didn't literally stick – but it stuck in the corner and he caught the other kid by second base. It was like this Rockwell painting … they came around third base at you. The first kid slid into the plate. The throw was high and the catcher missed the tag but held up his hand to show the ump that he didn't drop the ball, and my son slid in behind him like a toboggan and won the game while the guy was showing the ump his glove. It was complete pandemonium … everybody went crazy. I'm there with my clipboard and it was like absolute silence.
“I had the same exact feeling when the Cubs won and Kris Bryant threw the ball to first. It was just silence for me. This feeling of ‘Oh my God, we didn't blow it.’ The ultimate victory it turns out is just the lack of defeat. I didn't have this crazy elation, I just had this ‘Oh my God, we didn't blow it.’ It's like a Zen calmness as compared to elation. All is well.
“So anyway. I went into that story.”
You like talking about baseball, nothing wrong with that.
“I do. I do.”