You may remember Mike O'Malley from Yes, Dear, more recently a recurring role in My Name is Earl, and for a generation younger than mine, as the host of Guts on Nickelodeon. The first thing I think of, though, are his humorous turns in a series of ESPN commercials as "The Rick," a rabid Boston sports fan. O'Malley also appears right now in ads for Time Warner Cable, and on Sunday night, he'll host World's Funniest Office Commercials on TBS. The showcase coincides with a redesign the cable network gave to its commercial-based site, Very Funny Ads. I had the chance to chat with O'Malley recently. First, here are a couple of examples of his ad work:
O'Malley is quick to point out he's not a stand-up comedian, although I saw him singlehandedly keep a crowd laughing during a Red Sox charity auction a few years ago.
On his ESPN work: "One of the things about doing 'the Rick' campaign with Christopher Guest was so great was…rather than making a character who was the stereotypical face-painting loud fan guy," he said. "Just a guy who takes it completely serious." The type of guy who would not only keep a napkin that Cal Ripken Jr. had sneezed into, but maintain a holy reverence for it.
On Time Warner Cable: "It's an everyguy kind of thing that I had done on Yes, Dear, that was relatable."
The key to a good ad, he said, is improvisation. "It's mostly because it doesn't sound like something you've said for thousands of times. If they give you enough time and you have enough funny people around you, good things will happen." He's glad he did so many different spots for Time Warner Cable. "There's enough of them that you dont feel like you've seen the same one over and over."
On being a comedian. "I'm a comedic actor. I have a lot of friends who are comedians, and I know how hard they work. I did a few open mic nights when I first moved to New York, but I moved to New York to become an actor. I thought it was an easier way to…you could host, you could be an actor…you could break into acting in a different way, just appraoch in it a different way, other than acting."
How does he feel about the power of jingles in ads? "I wonder if, when you're back in Boston, 1-800 54 GIANT! (he sings). Is it memorable just because you hear it so many times? Think of how many hit songs you know just because youve heard them a million times and can't get it out of your head. Maybe it is time for the jingle to come back. Maybe open an ad agency that just does the best new jingles."
"Maybe you just gave us the idea for our next special."
What kinds of ads does he like? "I like funny subtle commercials that suddenly come in from left field. Having worked with Christopher Guest, his style has been mimicked in all styles of improvisational commericals that feel real," he said. "I always loved have it your way. Burger King, that you could have it your way. I don't know why I just remembered that now. I'm also remembering the Tootsie Roll Pop where the guy was asking how many licks it took to get to the center…I always thought it was so mean that that owl ate that guy's Tootsie Roll Pop. Who licks a lollipop anyway? You just put it in your mouth! Who licks that other than Lolitas in training?"