5 Questions with... George Wendt

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5 Questions with... George Wendt

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

ByJeff NuichCSN Chicago Senior Director ofCommunicationsCSNChicago.comContributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

Every Wednesday, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks very special guest one of the most beloved character actors in television history whose brilliant portrayal of the priceless barfly Norm Peterson on the hit comedy series Cheers earned him a massive six Primetime Emmy nominations this alumnus of Chicagos famed Second City continues to earn rave reviews for his work on both screen and stage (he was recently Edna Turnblad in the Broadway production of Hairspray) bottom line, were honored this multi-talented entertainer and author calls Chicago his hometown here are 5 Questions withGEORGE WENDT!

BIO: Actor and comedian George Wendt was born on October 17, 1948, in Chicago. He initially studied at the University of Notre Dame, but was kicked out after failing all the subjects he took in a semester. He eventually graduated with a degree in economics at the Rockhurst College in Kansas City.

Wendt was part of the Chicago-based comedy troupe The Second City. After being inspired to join after one viewing, he was initially assigned to sweep cigarette butts off the theater floor. Eventually, he progressed to become one of the performers and his experiences there led to screen roles in the 1980s. He began by playing bit roles in films such as "Somewhere In Time," as well as guest roles in series such as "Taxi", "Soap" and "MASH".

However, Wendt is best known for his role in the massively successful sitcom Cheers. He played Norm Peterson, a regular customer at Cheers, who began as an accountant who eventually loses his job and becomes a housepainter. He played the character throughout Cheers 11-year run, and also reprised his character in its spin-offs, "The Tortellis" and "Frasier," as well as "Wings" and "St. Elsewhere" and an episode of "The Simpsons".

Wendt is also known for his numerous appearances on "Saturday Night Live." After his first appearance in 1985 as a guest co-host (with Francis Ford Coppola), he later made several cameo appearances in some sketches, notably as Bob Swerski, one of the Chicago Superfans. His SNL connection continues to this day, as he is the uncle of current cast member Jason Sudeikis.

Apart from these, Wendt also had a recurring role in "Sabrina the Teenage Witch," and appeared in other programs such as "Modern Men," "House of Dreams," "Madigan Men" and "Becker." He has also returned to the stage, recently playing the role of Edna Turnblad in the Broadway revival of the musical "Hairspray." In addition, Wendt is the author of the hilarious book Drinking with George: A Barstool Professional's Guide to Beer.

1) CSNChicago.com: George, thanks so much for taking time to join us for CSNChicago.coms 5 Questions with Its truly an honor to say the least. On to the questions you were born in Chicagos Beverly neighborhood on the south side of the city. Tell us a couple of your fondest local sports memories of growing up in that part of town and, since you did grow up on the South Side, were assuming youre a White Sox fan or did you go against the grain and root for the Cubs?

Wendt: I remember the night the 59 Sox won the pennant! Air raid sirens went off throughout the city at Mayor Daley's orders. It caused quite a scare for the Cub fans -- Sox fans knew the Russians weren't attacking! I was always a Sox fan primarily, but the 69 Cubs did turn my head for a while. I loved that era of Cubs. I even swallowed the bait for the 84 team. After playing in "Bleacher Bums" a few times, I realized the folly of the quest for Cub fans. After the Sox won in 2005, I called several Cub fan friends and warned them what a hollow feeling winning left me with ... "Don't!" I said to them, "It's all about the quest. They didn't take it very well. So watching and waiting for just how and when the Cubs season will blow up is just so much fun for me ... plus it saves Joe Mantegna a rewrite on "Bleacher Bums."

2) CSNChicago.com: Youre a 1975 alumnus of Chicagos world-famous improv comedy troupe Second City and one of so many talented comedic actors that came out of there over the years. What makes Second City so special in your opinion and tell us who were some of your fellow 75 alums that joined you on that famous stage?

Wendt: I left Second City in 1980. Tim Kazurinsky, Bruce Jarchow, Mary Gross, Jim Belushi, Danny Breen, Nancy McCabe-Kelly and Bernadette Birkett were among the many I played with over six years there. As for the success that many alumni have achieved, one overlooked factor is plain old EXPERIENCE. There aren't many situations in the theater where you get to play in front of an audience eight shows a week for years and years. Most Second City performers are there for 3-5 years, some longer. I was there for six! But you never really leave. For example, the group I mentioned above (with the exception of Mary Gross, who will miss the show) are getting together in a month to perform at Second City's etc. space during the "Just for Laughs" festival.

3) CSNChicago.com: Theres not a list out there that doesnt include Cheers as one of the greatest TV comedies ever created (no one here will argue with that either). You appeared in all 275 episodes as one of the all-time great sitcom characters: Norm Peterson. Did going to work each day during that time ever feel like work to you and tell us which cast members you still interact with on a regular basis?

Wendt: Cheers was a dream job for any actor, but especially me! Sit at a bar and drink beer all day and have your patter supplied by some of the best comedy writers in TV ... and get paid? I keep in touch with everyone from Cheers as much as I can. Everyone's busy with family and work and some live far away. Ted and I are hoping to see Kelsey in "La Cage" next week. Bebe is also on Broadway, and I hope to see her. Wood and I are in touch a lot, also Rhea.

4) CSNChicago.com: Your character of Norm also provided TV history with some of the greatest quotes of all-time (note the sampling below). Now that Cheers has been off the air for 17 years, why do you think that truly original scripted sitcoms featuring big ensemble casts have become so scarce these days ... it seems like most of them are taking a safe cookie cutter approach?

Wendt: I think the four-camera, live audience proscenium style of sitcoms got a bit stale. The new format is one camera, more like a feature film or TV drama. 30 Rock is a good example of this. There are some four-camera shows that are on and working -- Two and a Half Men, for example ... maybe this format will return.

a sampling of Georges Norm Peterson quotes from Cheers

"Can I draw you a beer, Norm?"
"No, I know what they look like. Just pour me one."

"What's shaking, Norm?"
"All four cheeks and a couple of chins."

"Beer, Norm?"
"Have I gotten that predictable? Good."

"What's going on, Mr. Peterson?"
"A flashing sign in my gut that says, 'Insert beer here.'"

"Whatcha up to, Norm?"
"My ideal weight if I were 11 feet tall."

"How's it going Mr. Peterson?"
"Poor."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"No, I mean pour."

"Can I pour you a beer, Mr. Peterson?"
"A little early isn't it, Woody?"
"For a beer?"
"No, for stupid questions."

"How's it going Mr. Peterson?"
"It's a dog-eat-dog world, Woody, and I'm wearing Milk Bone underwear.

5) CSNChicago.com: Back to Chicago sports you were also a part of the hilarious Da Superfans recurring sketch on Saturday Night Live that spawned the now-famous household phrase: DAAA BEAAARRRRS! How did that sketch come about and did you ever think that phrase would become the constantly spoken expression that it is among Chicago sports fans?

Wendt: The Chicago Super Fan characters from Saturday Night Live were originally cooked up by some Second City workshop students who put on a show at the Dj Vu on Lincoln Ave. called "The Happy Happy Good Show. Among these players were Robert Smigel, Conan O'Brien and Bob Odenkirk. They moved on to write for SNL and eventually got the sketch on the air when Joe Mantegna hosted. It went well and was revived when I hosted. This was at the beginning of the Jordan-led six championships. Jonathan Brandmeier had a sound byte from the show and played it constantly throughout the playoff run. I think he (and of course Smigel -- who did the majority of the writing) was most responsible for the ubiquity of the catch phrases.

BONUS QUESTION CSNChicago.com: George, you also recently authored a terrific book entitled Drinking with George: A Barstool Professional's Guide to Beer. We all know your character of Norm Peterson tossed back a few, but it was interesting to learn you REALLY are a beer lover. What made you decide to write about this love affair with the cold one?

Wendt: Beer has been very good to me over the years and I thought it was time to give something back.

Wendt LINKS:

George Wendts Drinking with George: A Barstool Professional's Guide to Beer

George Wendt on Facebook

George Wendt on Twitter

George Wendt on IMDB

Scouting report: What the Bulls are getting in newly acquired Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn

Scouting report: What the Bulls are getting in newly acquired Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn

The Bulls have entered their rebuilding phase, dealing Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick, which became Arizona power forward Lauri Markkanen. Time will tell what Markkanen becomes as a stretch forward/center but he certainly was worthy of the selection. LaVine and Dunn had been with the Timberwolves since they were drafted, and give the Bulls two versatile options in a backcourt that will look far different than it did a year ago.

Here’s what the Bulls are getting in the two former Timberwolves guards:

LaVine, a two-time NBA Dunk Contest champion, was having a career year before he suffered a torn ACL on Feb. 3. Playing a bigger role in his second season under Thibodeau, LaVine averaged 18.9 points on 46 percent shooting and shot a respectable 39 percent from deep on 6.6 attempts per game, 16th most in the NBA.

LaVine is known for him thunderous dunks, but that athleticism allowed him to shoot nearly 64 percent at the rim last year, per basketball-reference. He’s a scorer first and foremost, topping 25 or more point 10 different times in those 47 games. He went for 40 points in a late December loss to the Kings. He also had five or more assists on eight different occasions, so he’s able to distribute the ball as well. He’s a true combo guard who should finally give Fred Hoiberg some backcourt flexibility.

The Bulls got a firsthand look at LaVine’s skill set in December when he went for 24 points, six rebounds and six assists in a win over the Bulls at the United Center. He shot 10-for-18 and made a few key shots over Dwyane Wade late to seal the game. It was part of a stellar 16-game stretch between November 23 and December 23 when LaVine averaged 23.6 points and 3.5 assists.

He flirted with 50/40/90, shooting 49 percent from the field, 40 percent from deep and 88 percent from the line. He did all this, of course, playing behind Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins. While that gave LaVine more one-on-one situations as defenses dealt with his two budding star teammates, shots were hard to come by until LaVine asserted himself and worked him into a featured role in the offense.

LaVine had ACL surgery on February 14 and spoke about his recovery in late May, saying “everything is going well.” LaVine said at that time he was only allowed to run on an anti-gravity treadmill, and there’s still no timetable for his return to the court. A source told Insider Vincent Goodwill LaVine is “training softly.”

Dunn has plenty of work to do to show he can compete at the next level. Though he only played one season, his rookie campaign under Thibodeau was one to forget. The No. 5 pick in the draft averaged 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 17.1 minutes per game. He played in 78 games behind Ricky Rubio, although he did lose some playing time to Tyus Jones late in the season.

Dunn’s shooting is his biggest weakness. In terms of true shooting percentage, which takes into account 3-point shots and free throws, Dunn was second-to-last in the NBA last year with a 43.2 percent mark. He shot just 38 percent from the floor, 29 percent from beyond the arc and 61 percent at the free-throw line.

For his season-long struggles he did look good in the second half of the year. After the All-Star break he improved his percentages to 40.4/33.3/77.8 and had a handful of impressive games. He had 11 points and seven assists against the Lakers and followed it the next night with a career-best 17 points against the Blazers. In the season finale he handed out 16 assists to go with 10 points, the first double-double of his career.

Where it’s clear he excels is taking care of the ball. His 1.1 turnovers were seventh fewest among point guard who averaged at least Dunn’s 17 minutes per game. He’s ready to facilitate, but he’ll need to score at a higher and more efficient clip to earn playing time.

Where both fit into the Bulls is a question for now. The Bulls have a decision to make with Rajon Rondo and whether to pick up his team option for next season. The Bulls traded for both Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne in the last calendar year, and Isaiah Canaan is under contract for another year. On the wing, LaVine will replace Butler and get as much run as he can handle. With only Denzel Valentine and Anthony Morrow available at shooting guard, LaVine is in line for a big role from Day 1. He’s also in the last year of his rookie contract so the Bulls will be looking to extend him sooner than later.

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

Did Cubs start the tailspin by making Kyle Schwarber their leadoff guy?

MIAMI – Everything aligned for the Cubs to make Kyle Schwarber their leadoff hitter. Joe Maddon’s gut instincts told him to do it – so the manager asked the Geek Department to run the numbers – and the projections backed him up. A front office raised on Bill James principles endorsed the idea after Dexter Fowler took an offer he couldn’t refuse – five years and $82.5 million – from the St. Louis Cardinals.
   
It all looked good on paper and sounded reasonable in theory. But by the time the Cubs made the Schwarber-to-Iowa move official before Thursday’s game at Marlins Park, the slugger once compared to Babe Ruth in a pre-draft scouting report had devolved into the qualified hitter with the lowest batting average in the majors (.171) and an .OPS 75 points below the league average.  

If Schwarber had been batting, say, sixth since Opening Day, would the Cubs be in a different spot right now?   

“Obviously, I can’t answer that,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “It’s an impossible question to answer. We put him in a leadoff position and he struggled. We obviously moved him out of that position (and) that didn’t work either. I know that’s what people are going to point to, because that’s a variable in his career. 

“Obviously, hitting him leadoff in 2017 didn’t work. Whether or not it caused the tailspin, I have no way to answer that question.”   

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

The Cubs also deserve credit for: drafting Schwarber when the industry viewed him as a reach with the No. 4 overall pick in 2014; fast-tracking his development to the point where he could help the 2015 team win 97 games and two playoff rounds; and overseeing a rehab process that allowed him to be a World Series designated hitter less than seven months after reconstructive surgery on his left knee.    
 
The Cubs will have their hitting instructors give Schwarber subtle suggestions, focusing on how he starts his swing and where he finishes, trying to reestablish his balance and confidence during this Triple-A timeout.
    
But deep down, this is a 24-year-old player who never experienced a full season in the big leagues before and wanted so bad to be a huge part of The Cubs Way.

“I do think a lot of the problems are mental,” Hoyer said. “These struggles have kind of beaten him up a little bit. Like anyone would, he’s lost a little bit of his swagger, and I think he needs to get that back. But I think when you look at what a great fastball hitter he’s been – how good he was in ’15, how good he was last year in the World Series – the fact that he hasn’t been pounding fastballs this year is a mechanical/physical issue that we’ll be looking to tweak. 

“This is a guy that has always murdered fastballs and he’s not there right now.”