Many people instantly associate Tim Meadows with his iconic Saturday Night Live character, Leon Phelps AKA The Ladies Man. But those that take a closer look at his career will discover that the Detroit bred actor and comedian, who cut his teeth in the famous Chicago improv scene of 80’s, has had a hand in a number of box-office smashes and hit TV shows including Grown Ups, Grown Ups 2, Mean Girls, Wayne’s World 2, The Office, and Curb Your Enthusiasm among others.
Meadows’ latest project is the live action and animated mash up comedy series for the Fox network, Son of Zorn, where he stars alongside Johnny Pemberton, Cheryl Hines, Artemis Pebdani and Jason Sudekis as Craig, an online college professor and fiancé to Hines’ character, Edie. The unusual yet entertaining show is arguably the first of its kind to use live action and animation in a primetime network series.
N’Digo recently sat down with the Emmy nominated actor to discuss Son of Zorn, the longevity behind his nearly three decades long career in entertainment, and his thoughts on our current crazy Presidential election.
What are some of your favorite memories coming up in Chicago’s comedy scene in the mid to late 80’s?
These days I sorta look back on that time romantically or I ‘romanticize the past’ as the saying goes. I really enjoyed the fact that I was leading the life of a broke artist. I worked in a record store and also an electronics store during the day and I did improv during the evening. And that’s how my day went for a while. If I didn’t do improv, then I was watching improv. So yeah when I think about those days I just remember how broke we were and how we were just doing it for the love for improv.
As a current resident, what are some of your favorite things to do in the city when you aren’t working?
I love going to the museums in the city. I haven’t made it to a game this year but I really love going to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs in action. Spending time at the lakefront. I live in Lincoln Park so I’m over at the lake quite a bit. Smoque BBQ is also another one of my favorite places to go.
Tell us about your new show, Son of Zorn?
It’s what they call a “hybrid show” meaning it’s half animated and half live action. It’s about an animated character named Zorn who returns to Orange County to reconnect with his ex-wife and teenage son. Zorn is sort of like Conan The Barbarian or He-Man. He’s this rough warlord type guy but in order to reconnect with his son he has to move to Suburbia and take a normal job which leads to all sorts of hilarious situations. And that’s the show in a nutshell. I play a character named Craig who is the fiancé of Zorn’s ex-wife. So he comes back and finds out his ex-wife is in love with another man.
Is this as far as you know the first mix of live action and animation in a sitcom?
You know I’m not completely sure if it’s the first ever but I do believe it’s the first show of it’s nature to have a primetime slot of a major network. I think there have been some other hybrid shows but on smaller cable channels but this is the first I think on one of the four big networks.
What drew you to the character of Craig? What did you like about it when you read it?
Well the first thing that drew me to the project was working with the directors of the show, Chris Miller and Phil Lord. They’ve done quite a few movies including The Lego Movie. That was one of those movies that surprised me. Like I took my kids to see it and I’m thinking ‘It’s Legos and they’re kids so they’ll like it’ and I ended up loving it! I thought it was amazing. They did such a great job with it and I was really caught off guard with how much I loved the movie. It was totally unexpected. So when I heard those guys were interested in having me be a part of this project I jumped at it because they’re really the kind of guys you wanna be in business with it.
How does it work shooting your scenes with an animated figure who isn’t really there?
So how it goes is we rehearse the scenes with a stand-in actor by name of Dan Lippert. This guy is about 6’5″ and he’s really funny. He’s a very good improvisor. So we rehearse the scene with him on set. Then when we shoot the scene we’ve made marks on the floor where he is supposed to be so we know where we’re looking and talking. Then he does the lines off-camera. That’s basically how it’s done. We end up shooting more because we are doing it without having one of the key characters on the set.
To what do you attribute the fact that you’ve managed a great and steady career?
I think a good part of that is that I’ve been able to build and maintain relationships with a lot of directors, producers, and writers. When you stick around long enough and do good work, people want to hire you again and again and again. So that’s part of it. And I think the other part, not to pat myself on the back, but I try to bring something fresh to every job that I get. I think my reputation is that I show up, do my job well and I bring something to the part that you cast me in. Also, I just don’t have a lot of drama. I don’t have a big ego or anything like that. I’m a regular person who just shows up and does his job. I grew up in Detroit and I’ve always had a work ethic that reflects that blue collar mentality. I take my job seriously.
How do manage family life and fatherhood with your demanding work schedule?
It’s not easy. When people say that time flies by when you have kids, it really does. What I try to do is when I’m gone to work I go and I dedicate myself to job but I still maintain communication with my kids whether it’s FaceTime or texting or being on the phone. However, when I’m in Chicago, I just don’t work. Even though there are TV shows and things happening here, I never seek to be a part of those things because when I’m here I’m strictly in dad mode.
What’s something fans would be surprised to know about you after all this time?
I still get nervous when I go out to perform standup. I even still get nervous when I film stuff.
So that feeling never goes away even though you’re nearly three decades into the business?
Yeah man it just never goes away. And I’ve talked to other veteran actors who still get those butterflies. I’ve seen it where known actors before they go on stage or go to shoot…they visibly have that nervousness and anxiety. I’m talking Academy Award winning actors here. When I was working at SNL you’d see a huge star you’ve always admired and be like “Oh my God! They’re nervous!”
Best advice for those aspiring to become a part of the entertainment industry?
My best advice would be to do it because you love doing it and not because you want to be famous or rich. Fame and wealth are byproducts of being a successful artist. Being a successful artist is being able to get your work out there to be seen by people.
What are your thoughts on this crazy race for President?
It bothers me a lot. It seems like right now it’s okay to be hateful or to say hateful things. I think the bar has been lowered to the point where they’re trying to make the phrase ‘politically incorrect’ a bad word. I think the term is there for a reason. We’re trying to grow as a nation and as a people and people shouldn’t be able to use hateful language in the name of free speech just to get their point or agenda across. It seems like now it’s not even competitive but it’s more like you literally have to hate the other side and try to tear them down. It really bugs me right now.
What’s next for Tim Meadows?
Aside from Son of Zorn, I also have a reoccurring character on the ABC sitcom, The Goldbergs. I also do the voice of a reoccurring character on Fox’s show, Bob’s Burgers. And later this fall I plan to hit the road and do a tour of stand up.
Catch Son of Zorn Sunday nights at 8:30/7:30pm cst on the Fox Network.
For more information on Tim Meadows, please visit www.tim-meadows.com.