We recently interviewed George Caleodis of Second City This Week. George Pete Caleodis was born and raised in Steubenville, Ohio, and attended The Ohio State University, earning a Master of Science degree in Mathematics. He is a main-stage alum of The (short-lived) Second City, Cleveland, and currently serves as an instructor of improv/sketch writing/musical improv at The Second City training center in Los Angeles, as well as musical director at iO West. In addition to his televesion credits, which include appearing on Starz Network's "Party Down", and HBO's "Big Love", George has spent much of the last 15 years as a radio DJ and stand-up comic - opening for the likes of Kathleen Madigan, Frank Caliendo, and The Righteous Brothers. He especially enjoys teaching workshops on teambuilding, communications skills, and creativity through improv for corporate clients like Nationwide Insurance, Victoria's Secret, and Columbus State Community College. Second City This Week plays every Saturday night at 8pm at Second City Hollywood.
Tell us about Second City This Week, your role in it, and your experience with it.
Second City This Week is a topical one-hour sketch show. It's the week's news done as a sketch revue. So it's sort of a hybrid of "Saturday Night Live" and "The Daily Show". It's done in sort of a traditional old-school style, it's got flavors of "The Carol Burnett Show" in it, but it's done in the classic Second City style. Everything's very grounded. Not to say it doesn't get silly, but it all starts off very grounded, and it's based on emotional truth, rather than wacky sorts of premises. I am the producer, meaning I got the ball rolling, but the sustaining work requires hundreds, even thousands of man-hours every week. We've got about twenty-five cast members, we've got about two hundred writers from across the country, and we've got, of course, all of the support staff here at Second City Hollywood, and of course our director and managing editor, Ron West, who, most weeks, directs the show and puts the show together. So I'm sort of the goalie of the show - my job is to keep everything in play as much as possible.
You're an alumnus of Second City Cleveland. Can you tell us a bit about your experience with Second City?
I had a great time in Cleveland. I went to the conservatory there. I was part of the first conservatory class in Cleveland. I went on to teach, and then I auditioned for the mainstage, and I was one of the fortunate folks to be in that first mainstage cast of The Second City Cleveland. I did that stint for about a year, and then the Second City Cleveland was around for about another year before, sadly, they shut down. But it was a ball, I mean, it was great fun. It was exactly what Cleveland needed. It was exactly what Ohio needed. It was exactly what improv needed, and it was a great thing, I think, for Second City to have done, which was to get out there in the Midwest at the same time that, you know... Drew Carey had fully taken off at that point, but at the time he was doing that, Second City was also making parallel inroads outside of Chicago. It was a great time, it was a great time to be in Cleveland, it was a great time to be with Second City. I had a ball. I still look back on those days fondly.
Tell us about your first improv show and how you felt about it.
My first improv show was accompanying a group called Midwest Comedy Tool and Die in Columbus, Ohio at a biker bar in the less-desirable section of town. I was just a keyboard accompanist at that point. And that's actually how I got here. I was pre-med at the time. I was on the road to med school, and I was a big fan of this improv comedy, and I was also an aspiring musician, and one day I stapling up flyers looking for a rhythm section because I had lost my bass player and drummer, and I saw that MCTD was looking for musicians, and I auditioned and got the gig. So my first improv show was just playing keyboards accompanying short-form. And man, the first laugh I got... it's the strongest narcotic in the world. I mean, I'd be a doctor today if it wasn't for that first laugh at that hole-in-the-wall biker bar in Columbus, Ohio.
Is there a certain performer or troupe that you admire, and why do you admire them?
Everyone's supposed to say Carlin, 'cause he's like... and I do, I admire Carlin. I grew up listening to those classics. Not classics, but like, eighties classics. I'm a child of the eighties. So I grew up listening to Steve Martin, Cheech & Chong, even Cosby and The Smothers Brothers. Bob & Doug McKenzie, you know what I mean? I had The Great White North on vinyl. So those eighties comics, right before the time when you could turn on your television and watch stand-up comedy, and sketch comedy back then was "The Carol Burnett Show", "Saturday Night Live", The Mighty Carson Art Players, those kinds of things. So if you really wanted to see what was going on in comedy, you had to leave your house. You had to go to a club. And that was the last of that era. And that's when I grew up, so the people in that era are the ones that were my biggest influences.
What do you do to keep your improv and sketch skills sharp?
Teaching. You learn more in a week of teaching than you learn in years of performing. So I teach here for Second City Hollywood. I also do some teaching at some of the other theaters in town. And I play in as many shows as I can, and of course I perform with Second City This Week and I do improv as much as possible. But being with students of all levels, conservatory right down to beginners, advanced master classes, all the way down to people doing it for the fist time. Teaching has taught me more than I could ever hope to have learned otherwise.
Can you give some advice to people who may just be starting out in improv?
Just do it. You don't need anyone's permission. You know what I mean? Just do it. Make it happen. Don't wait for somebody to tell you it's okay. Put together a troupe, and go perform somewhere. Call your friends, and play in somebody's basement. There are lots of systems and institutions like Second City which are great places to come and learn, but ultimately, it's up to you to make it for yourself. So come to Second City, take classes, experience the art form in other theaters and other places, but when it comes down to it, you're in charge of what you do. So if you want to do this work, do this work.
How do you feel your improv training has helped you in other acting jobs, and life in general?
I'd be dead right now if it weren't for improv. I was wound so tightly growing up, and even in college. If I hadn't discovered improv, I would have had a heart attack and died by now. It's got a spiritual component to it that is invaluable. More directly, it applies to any type of acting work you do. Acting is all about being in the moment, committing to the moment, and experiencing the truth of that moment. Right? And improv teaches you how to do that in spades. It might be focused in a comedic direction, or it might be focused in some other direction, but ultimately the core of what improv is, it is acting, and it is just living, and just being a human being. Improvising is being a human being, so learning more about it means learning more about what it is to be here and why we're here.