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

Bears defensive backs using off-field bonds to improve on-field ones

Bears defensive backs using off-field bonds to improve on-field ones

Every Thursday night, Bears defensive backs try to all get together at Tracy Porter’s house for dinner. But it’s not about the food.

"None of us can cook," said cornerback Bryce Callahan, laughing.

At the risk of channeling some inner Marc Trestman, it’s about the get-together itself, which always involves popping on some game film and doing extra study beyond the time at Halas Hall. And it’s also building something off the field that they believe they can take onto it.

One of the keys to excellence in any working group is the individuals connecting in ways that make the whole greater than just the sum of the parts. That’s the point ultimately, taking some personal connections onto the field and making the entire defensive backfield collectively better.

Relationships among players have never been recorded as intercepting or even deflecting an NFL pass.

"For me it starts off the field, getting to know one another, how that person is," said cornerback Cre’Von LeBlanc, familiar with a similar internal chemistry from his time with the New England Patriots.

"You get that feeling for every individual, and you take that on the field. It creates a close bond, and we’ve got that bond. We try to look through each other’s eyes, communicate what you were thinking and he was thinking on this play or that, and that’s the biggest thing."

Offensive lines are generally thought of as the group most benefited by camaraderie and closeness. They typically have an O-line dinner most weeks, with checks for the meal not uncommonly reaching into four-figures.

"Those boys can EAT," LeBlanc marveled. "We stick to wings or ribs."

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

But the secondary consists of four individuals rotating coverages the way a line moves with different protections or assignments. Double-teams in the defensive backfield require the same cohesion and familiarity as ones on the other side of the football.

The Bears have started the same base four defensive backs in all three games — Porter and Jacoby Glenn at the corners, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones-Quartey at the safeties — but the Bears are working in multiple rookies, and Callahan (hamstring) has been inactive along with Kyle Fuller, projected to be the starter at right corner but now on IR. Rookie safety Deon Bush was inactive the first two weeks, then played at Dallas. Rookie corner Deiondre’ Hall was pressed into action on defense for 18 plays at Houston and 28 against Philadelphia.

With the in-game mixes-and-matches necessitated by injuries, the familiarity among secondary members is looked at as nothing short of vital. Comments, right or wrong, from a friend can be taken better/more constructively than ones from a relative stranger.

"Just more of being ready to pick each other up, be ready," Amos said. "It just shows you how quick you can go from scout team to on the field, so everybody has to be talking together.

"The closer we are on and off the field, the better we are together."

LeBlanc agrees.

"We talk to each other like friends, in a unit, trying to dissect a play right after it happens, rewind and see how we can to it better.

"You can’t be out here trying to communicate and you don’t even really know the guy next to you."

Kyle Baun healthy, ready for another chance with Blackhawks

Kyle Baun healthy, ready for another chance with Blackhawks

Kyle Baun couldn’t have asked for a better start to his second NHL season as he made the Blackhawks roster out of training camp.

It didn’t last long, however, as Baun was back with the Rockford IceHogs after two games with Chicago. As for that season in Rockford?

“That was a whole other story,” said Baun.

Indeed, Baun lost a good portion of his Rockford season when his right wrist was sliced twice by another player’s skate in mid-November. That, however, is all behind him. Now Baun hopes to replicate his 2015 camp performances and latch on with the big club longer.

Baun will play in his first preseason game this fall when the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins Friday night. The 24-year-old skated is expected to start on a line with Tyler Motte and Tanner Kero, with whom he skated on Friday morning.

“I just want to simulate what I did last year, and it went well at the beginning,” Baun said. “I want to keep working hard, do what I did last year in the exhibition season and hopefully I can stick again.”

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Baun’s stint was short lived last fall; he was reassigned to Rockford on Oct. 16, and was looking to have a strong season there. Less than a month later, however, he suffered his right wrist injury that sidelined him for more than three months. Baun said he still wasn’t quite right even when he returned.

“I was trying to get back with the wrist and stuff, and I’m not sure it was 100 percent by the time I came back,” said Baun, who now wears Kevlar guards on his wrists. “So it was good to get a summer of training back in and get my legs under me.”

As for that wrist, Baun said it’s definitely “much better now.”

“The strength and dexterity is back,” he said. “It’s a small muscle, so to get the dexterity back was kind of tough.”

Baun is looking for another opportunity. Considering the opportunities for forwards this season, a good showing could lead to some more time in Chicago.

“I’m just trying to focus on my own game like last year. I think that worked for me, trying not to look too, too much into what everyone else is doing,” he said. “Consistency is the biggest thing here. They’re just looking for a guy who can come in, game in and game out, and improve.”

BRIEFLY

- Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford, who just wrapped up their World Cup of Hockey play on Thursday night, will probably get “three or four days off” before joining camp, assistant coach Mike Kitchen said. “They’ve been going for a long time,” Kitchen said. “We’ll give them some time off.”

- Coach Joel Quenneville flew to Pittsburgh with the team.