Prior to her appearance at the Rialto Square Theatre in Joliet with Drew Carey and the Improv All Stars, Kathy Kinney, Mimi from The Drew Carey Show, joined me on the show for a little chat. Here's an excerpt...
Mike Williams: You’ve had a long career in improv – that’s kind of how you started isn’t it, in New York City?
Kathy Kinney: It is. Thanks for knowing that, because people always say, ‘oh, you started as a stand-up comedienne didn’t you’, but I actually started with improv, became hooked just like Drew Carey did, and just ran with it.
MW: What was it that drew you to improv from the get-go?
KK: My friend Cindy made me take the class with her. I got in there, and I had no idea that I was funny and people were laughing at me, and I thought ‘this was kind of nice.’ There’s something about it. It’s kind of like crack – although I’ve never done crack – you do it and you get people to laugh, and it’s coming from inside of you, it’s very freeing, and all of a sudden you’re hooked.
MW: How did you get to The Drew Carey Show?
KK: Cindy and I, after taking the improv class, were working as secretaries at the Broadcast Center in New York City. We were working with a guy who wrote a movie, probably while we were sitting there at work, and he wrote a part for me, asked me to be in it, and I did the movie and people liked what they saw. The building burned down so I moved to Los Angeles, got a few jobs, and the next thing I knew I was on The Drew Carey Show.
(Kathy mentioned that she had "a few jobs" prior to hitting it big on Drew Carey. See for yourself. This is quite a list.)
MW: As a big Seinfeld fan, I was wondering if you had any anecdotes from your one appearance on the show (in "The Handicap Spot").
KK: It was fun for me to do the show because it was filmed on the same lot where I had recently done the Newhart show, so I knew just about everyone from the crew. On the other hand, it was shot outside and it was kind of cold, so we would sit inside while we were waiting. Everyone on Seinfeld, Jerry, Kramer...were saying, ‘When are we going to do The Tonight Show? Are we doing that Wheaties box thing?’ and they were sort of ignoring me. They had gone so far into their celebrity. I have to admit I thought to myself ‘if I ever get on a show of my own, I’m gonna be nice to everybody. And, I hope I am.
MW: You had a nice long run on Drew Carey, but wasn’t that originally not meant to be a recurring role?
KK: It’s true. We always say that the story of how I got that job needs to be woven into a tapestry and hang it on a wall somewhere. They hired one woman to do the pilot, the network didn’t like her and she got fired. Then they said, ‘remember that other one was ok, let’s get her,’ and they called her in but they had the wrong name with the wrong actress, so she was gone by noon. They held another set of auditions and I came in. I had just worked on Grace Under Fire with the director. I ended up getting the job, but it was just supposed to be a one shot deal, just for the pilot. They called me up and said we’d like to hire you for seven episodes out of 13. I ended up being in every episode.
MW: Who came up with the concept of having Mimi wear so much makeup?
KK: Bruce Helford and Drew Carey were the creators of the show. I think Bruce had worked with someone who looked like that, and it was supposed to be a one-note gag. They always say if you’re in the department store and you’re looking to buy some makeup, don’t have your makeup done by someone wearing makeup that you wouldn’t wear. The fact that Mimi really wanted to work in the makeup department but looked like that, that was the gag. We can blame Bruce Helford for that.
MW: After all these years, does it bother you at all to be recognized as Mimi? Some people have a problem getting past their most well known character, is it a problem for you, or do you welcome that still?
KK: I think it’s a problem in Hollywood. People in the business, when I’m trying to get another job, will say, ‘oh, her comedy is so broad.’ I went to an audition last week and the casting director called my agent and said, ‘she just looks so plain. She needs to wear more makeup.’ And I was wearing makeup. I’m just a plain person. In real life when people not in the industry recognize me, I’m always so surprised. When people recognize me it makes me really happy. Because of playing her, people are so nice to me. Total strangers are so kind to me and treat me the way I think that everyone should be treated in the world anyway. I’ll always be grateful for Mimi and for being recognized.
MW: It’s great that they treat you nicely, even though they probably wouldn’t treat Mimi the same way.
KK: I know, I’ve never understood that. I’ve had people come up to me and say, "oh, you’re Mimi, can I have a hug?’ and I’m thinking ‘have you ever watched the show? Mimi doesn’t hug people (laughs).
MW: Could you have ever predicted Craig Ferguson’s current success as a talk show host? (Ferguson played Drew’s boss, Mr. Wick)
KK: Looking back now, he said that when he went out on stage for that first show once he opened his mouth and it just clicked, and he thought that this is what he was supposed to be doing. He can talk and talk and oh my, he’s funny. He’s just one of the funniest people ever. I had the great fortune to go with him to the Persian Gulf over Thanksgiving to do a USO gig and he’s just the guy that you want because he’s just funny. A funny, good person. Everyone on the show was. Drew’s the most patriotic guy you’d ever want to meet. He’s the one that got me started working with the USO. He’s a good person. We all are. But we’re funny. We’re good people, but we’re funny.
MW: It was such a fun show to watch, the one-liners, the anticipation of jokes, too, the studio audience would be laughing at the setup of a joke, Drew would have that ‘I might crack up and lose it’ look on his face but he’d hold it together and belt out the punch line. The show took a lot of chances, too, with the musicals and live shows, it was just a fun show to watch.
KK: Well thank you, we had a lot of fun doing it. I think the first season is coming out on DVD, which is exciting. I’m looking forward to that.
(It is expected to be released on April 24th).
MW: Hopefully there will be some good extras, and some commentaries. I don’t know if you were involved with that...
KK: I was. I don’t remember what I said, but I hope it was funny.
Over the next few days, I'll post the transcript of my interview with Greg Proops, and I'll post some backstage pictures from the improv show.