5 Questions with... George Wendt

169377.jpg

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

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Reports: Joakim Noah likely to join Derrick Rose, sign with Knicks

Multiple reports indicated that former Bulls center Joakim Noah will join Derrick Rose and sign with the New York Knicks.

Both the Washington Post and ESPN report that Noah is very likely to sign in New York, his hometown. ESPN's Marc Stein went so far as to say that other teams have already accepted that Noah is all but a done deal to sign with the Knicks.

And according to Tim Bontemps from the Washington Post, Noah's deal with the Knicks will have "a starting salary somewhere in the $18 million per year range," a large but not insane number considering the league's salary cap explosion this summer.

The Vertical's Shams Charania added that Noah will meet with Phil Jackson and the Knicks when free agency begins Friday night.

Noah would fill a void at center left by the Knicks' trade for Rose, which shipped center Robin Lopez back to Chicago. Noah averaged 4.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in 29 games last season before season-ending shoulder surgery in January. Noah spent the first nine seasons of his NBA career with the Bulls and was named Defensive Player of the Year just three short years ago.

But he fell out of grace with Bulls head coach Fred Hoiberg, who opted to bring Noah off the bench for the first time in his career. It was largely assumed that both Noah and Pau Gasol would not return to a Bulls team that missed the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons.

Teams can start negotiating with free agents on July 1, and can sign free agents beginning July 6.

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields earns first victory as White Sox top Twins

James Shields received his first standing ovation of the season at U.S. Cellular Field as he headed to the dugout on Wednesday night.

The White Sox starter settled in after another shaky start and his offense kicked it into high gear in a 9-6 victory over the Minnesota Twins in front of 18,571. Shields limited the Twins to a leadoff solo homer in the first inning and pitched into the seventh to earn his first win for the White Sox.

Brett Lawrie, Tyler Saladino and Todd Frazier all homered for the White Sox, who had to pitch themselves out of trouble in a wild ninth to win for the sixth time in nine games. Nate Jones earned a one-out save after Matt Purke and Dan Jennings combined to allow five runs. Purke was optioned to Triple-A Charlotte after the game. A corresponding move will be announced on Thursday morning.

“(Shields) got back into a rhythm,” White Sox manager Robin Ventura said. “I think this is the best that he looked as far as just feeling comfortable. He was getting ahead. He started really using his fastball and he located it. I think after that, there was some offspeed stuff and he got guys swinging through it. This was a nice little thing to see. I'm sure it's a breath of fresh air for him.”

For a second it looked as if another stinker was in the cards.

Two pitches into the contest, Shields trailed by a run when Eduardo Nunez ripped an 0-1 changeup for a solo homer.

Shields, who had a 21.81 ERA in his first three starts with the White Sox, two of which resulted in him being booed off the mound at home, found even more trouble. He recorded a pair of outs, but walked Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe singled him to third. But similar to his last start in Boston, Shields took another big step forward and got out of trouble.

Two innings later, Shields made his biggest pitch of the night when he induced a double play off Joe Mauer’s bat after allowing consecutive singles to start the third. Dozier’s bunt attempt resulted in a comebacker and Shields escaped unharmed.

Adam Eaton assisted Shields in a big way in the fifth inning when he easily threw out Kurt Suzuki at home. Suzuki, who started the play on first, was forced home as Nunez nearly caught him speeding into third after hitting a liner off the right-field fence.

But Shields stranded Nunez in scoring position as well as another runner in the sixth. He recorded two more outs before giving way after a Byron Buxton double.

“We know what type of pitcher he is and he went out and did what he’s supposed to do,” Eaton said. “I think the proof is in the pudding. He goes out and throws well. We hit and we are going to be pretty good.”

As he exited, Shields was showered with applause from the appreciative crowd.

He allowed a run and eight hits in 6 2/3 innings, striking out five and walking one. Shields threw strikes on 61 of 93 pitches to earn his first victory since May 12th.

“It feels good,” Shields said. “It’s something to build off of.

“It was a tough stretch. It’s nice to get off the schneid there and get a win, but I don’t really focus on that kind of stuff. I’ve been around this game for a long time. My main focus is to win games for this team right now.”

One night after they couldn’t provide for Jose Quintana, the White Sox offense went overboard for Shields. Lawrie’s opposite-field solo homer with two outs in the second inning off Ricky Nolasco tied the game at 1. J.B. Shuck then singled, stole second and scored on an RBI single by Avisail Garcia.

The White Sox never looked back as Saladino’s solo shot in the fifth made it a 3-1 game.

Frazier started a five-run sixth inning with a solo homer -- the team’s 13th consecutive solo homer. Saladino singled in a run with two outs to chase Nolasco and make it 5-1. Tim Anderson’s two-run single made it a blowout and Eaton singled him in to make it 8-1. Shuck added a sac fly in the seventh for the White Sox, who went 5-for-11 with runners in scoring position.

“It was nice,” Frazier said. “It was a little different. (Shields) got out there not worrying about anything. Gave up the homer in the first batter. Nothing really fazed him after that. He has to understand, he’s going to give up runs here and there, and just relax from whatever happens from there. He pitched an exceptional game today.”

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

Denzel Valentine: Bulls' versatility will 'make us so dangerous'

The Bulls are undergoing a "retooling" in their backcourt after dealing Derrick Rose to the Knicks, drafting Denzel Valentine and attempting to re-sign E'Twaun Moore in free agency.

That, combined with Jimmy Butler, the addition of Jerian Grant and an already versatile frontcourt will give Fred Hoiberg plenty of options that Valentine believes will make the Bulls "dangerous" in 2016-17.

"I think that's going to make us so dangerous this year, is we are versatile with our guards," He said on Wednesday night's White Sox broadcast. "And in those three positions I feel like we're going to be able to guard and do a lot of things offensively and throw a lot at you when we're coming down on offense. And the defensive end, too.

"I think we're going to have a really good team this year with all that we have, and I'm glad to be part of the building year, or whatever you want to call it."

On paper the Bulls will have more versatility than a year ago. Valentine is capable of playing either wing position and can handle the ball, though he doesn't project as a point guard. Butler can play and defend four positions, and Grant is capable of playing either guard spot. Bringing back E'Twaun Moore would benefit that versatility greatly, as he's capable of playing on or off the ball.

In the frontcourt, the Bulls will need to replace Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah, neither of whom provided much versatility. Robin Lopez is entrenched at center, which will give the Bulls' stretch forwards Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis more room to roam the perimeter.

Wherever Valentine plays, and however Hoiberg uses him in Year 1, the Michigan State rookie said he's ready to do what's asked of him from a franchise known for winning.

"My job is to just come in, do what I can do best and just work on my game and try to lead as best as I can," he said on SportsTalk Live (in the video above). "I'm not coming in to step on anybody's toes but I'm going to do what I can to lead and be a good teammate and try to win some games."