The Groundlings main company member Matt Cook retakes The Groundlings stage in their first live sketch show of 2022 GROUNDLINGS PSYCHIC HOTLINE (already in previews). I had the chance to cultivate some answers from Matt on his Groundlings history, his non-Groundlings projects and his tomato growing.
Thank you for the time for this interview, Matt!
What alignment of lucky stars first brought you into The Groundlings universe?
When I first moved to Los Angeles my uncle told me, “You need to be at Groundlings” and then he took me to see my first show there. It was a Main Show, and it blew my mind. I had never seen anything like it before. The theater itself was so cool and the band was so exciting and the show itself was incredible. Mikey Day and Michael Naughton’s “David Blaine Street Magic” was in that show. I couldn’t believe it. I signed up to audition the next day.
How long did you germinate with The Groundlings before you were promoted to Main Company Member?
I think I was in the program for about eight years before I made it into the Main Company, if my math is right. I had some long wait times between higher levels but as soon as I got the call that I was up for a class, I jumped in.
Besides improv-ving with other Groundlings, you all write your own sketches. Do you make notes throughout your daily tasks for possible Groundling ideas?
Ha, ha, ha, I do! I have my little “Sketch Ideas” note on my phone and I’m just constantly adding to it. I accidentally deleted my old list of ideas a couple of years ago, but I think it was for the best. All of my favorite ideas I had already written and the ones that were still on there that hadn’t been written were barely ideas. So I wasn’t too crushed when I deleted them and had to start fresh, it felt like a very exciting challenge. My favorite thing to do is tailor ideas to specific people. I want to have things I’m excited to pitch when I sit down with another groundling to write.
What your favorite sketch that you wrote?
I think my current favorite would be “Two Whole Bowls” which is based loosely on a true story of when I worked in a restaurant during college. A table of two each ordered a bowl of seafood bisque and the server accidentally got them two bowls of nacho cheese instead. The woman said it was a little too cheesy for her, but the man liked it and ate both bowls. Like, devoured two whole bowls of straight nacho cheese that I had to squeeze out of a bag and into a warming tray earlier that day. We never told the man and he left feeling happy and I’m sure VERY full. I told this restaurant horror story for years (usually at the request of Chris Eckert) and then finally had an idea of how to make it into a sketch. It worked, I loved it, and I hope that real man is ok.
What’s your favorite sketch you were in that you didn’t write?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked a more difficult question in my life!!! I’ve gotten to be in so many incredible sketches over the years, this feels impossible! The first one that comes to mind is “National Dad Bod Competition” written by Ryan Gaul and Greg Worswick. They gave me such an incredible gift with that one and it was so much fun to perform. And any time I get to stoically swing from the stage pipes in a Speedo, I’m happy. But I could spend the rest of this interview only telling you about sketches I got to be in that were such an insane amount of fun.
What was the craziest response audience you received from a Groundlings audience?
One time during my first six months in the Sunday Company I was doing a structured improv where I played a very intense mentalist and when I asked the audience member that I was working with what their job was they said “occupational therapist.” I said, “Oh, so you help people find jobs?” And the audience screamed. Not in a good way, just screamed because I was so wrong. I was on high alert and only heard the word “occupation” and went with that. As soon as the audience responded I knew, that they knew that I didn’t know what the hell an occupational therapist was. I scrambled and quickly said in character, “I know. I’m joking.” And that got a laugh and they seemed to believe me, and the sketch rolled on successfully. But the sound of that audience still haunts me to this day.
What’s your secret to not breaking character when one of your sketch partners does something hilariously unexpected?
I pride myself on being pretty tough to break but it’s happened more times than I would like to admit. I think the secret is to just be invested in the reality of the scene. And to remember that people paid money to see the show. And your friends are counting on you. So I take it back, guilt is probably the real secret. The threat of never-ending inescapable guilt that you blew it. But sometimes that threat just isn’t enough, and you break. I feel awful when I break. I hate it. But sometimes it’s impossible not to and those are special moments.
What aspects of your Groundlings background do you credit to your successful booked audits?
I think the Groundlings training is responsible for every job I’ve ever booked. Specifically, the ability to isolate a point of view. Going through Groundlings you learn how to take something and make it your own, how to put your spin on anything that’s thrown your way. So when you get an audition you know where you can add your point of view to the character and how to do it. And I think Groundlings makes you a little fearless, or at least more comfortable with the fear. You have a job to do when you’re on stage and you have to deliver. That applies to audits and to sets as well. The only muscles I have I got from The Groundlings Theatre.
Three of the actors you did a movie with just received Oscar noms. What fun incidents on the set of Being the Ricardos can you share?
That was such a wild experience. Stepping on to that set felt like walking through a time warp, it looked so incredible. And for me, I got to be in the thick of it and just watch everyone work, which was thrilling. The first day of shooting the prop department asked all the actors and the background if they wanted to smoke during the scene since cigarettes were such a constant thing back then. I said no because I knew I would ruin every take by choking or coughing or crying after each little puff. I said no, didn’t ruin any takes, and now they’re going to the Oscars. JUST SAYING!
You’ve performed in various editions of Michael J. Feldman’s FAIRY TALE THEATER 18 & OVER: THE MUSICAL. How different were the Edinburgh Fringe Festival audience’s responses in 2015 from Los Angeles reactions to its world premiere in 2018?
FAIRY TALE THEATER 18 & OVER is one of my favorite things I’ve ever been a part of. I love it so much and I’m so proud to have been a part of it for so long. We spent years doing shows all over LA and then we found a producer who wanted to bring us to the Fringe which was beyond exciting. The Edinburgh Fringe was one of the most amazing performing experiences of my life. It was so much fun, and it was so hard. We had built this show that would sell out every single time we did it in LA and then we jumped the pond, and nobody knew who we were. We had to go out and beg people to come see our show. It was us and every other show at the Fringe all trying to get people to come see this thing that we loved. We knew what worked for American audiences but finding out what worked for European audiences was an incredible, and rewarding, change of pace for us. We had a show every single night for a month, with only one night off, and the audience grew each night until we were selling out in the last weeks of the Fringe. And then a few years later Feldman decided to do a full-on musical version of the show with all musical tales. Michael has a gift where he can make anyone, anywhere, laugh by highlighting the absurdities of being human while he’s dressed up like an overly plastic surgeried horse. There is nothing else like FTT 18 & OVER.
Tell us about your tomatoes that’s detailed in your Groundlings bio.
Oh, my goodness, HAPPILY!!! When we moved into our place, my fiance Rachael planted a little San Marzano tomato plant that we kind of ignored but somehow it started putting out tons and tons of tomatoes. And then we started trying to help it and it started pumping out even more! I grew up in Jersey and Jersey can grow some serious tomatoes. Ever since I moved to LA I’ve been searching for some serious tomatoes. So now, I’m just growing my own. I’ve been researching tomato varieties and last season had a ton of tomatoes. I’ve got my “basil bin” where I grow basil to make caprese salads, I use San Marzanos to make fresh marinara sauce, Money Maker tomatoes for sandwiches, and I even had tomatillo plants for making salsa. I’m currently preparing the garden so once it’s a little warmer at night I can get to work on this year’s crop and I cannot wait.
What’s in the near future for Matt Cook?
I’m going to build some raised garden beds so I can go really crazy with my tomatoes. Enough about tomatoes? Ok, that’s fair. I recently worked with Peter Farrelly on his movie The Greatest Beer Run Ever in Thailand and then got to go work with Bobby Farrelly on his movie Champions which we shot in Canada. I’m so excited for both of those movies and I had an incredible time working on each of them. While I wait for those movies to come out and to see what’s next I’ll be at Groundlings as much as I can be. I’m in the new Main Show PSYCHIC HOTLINE which we’re building right now. The preview and building process is always such a fun experience and I can’t wait to see what our show will be, it’s already been such a blast.
Thank you again, Matt! I look forward to laughing to you again live on The Groundlings stage.
For tickets to the live performances of GROUNDLINGS PSYCHIC HOTLINE through March 26, 2022; log onto www.groundlings.com