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Arts & Entertainment

From Stand-up to Sitcom Star

Jamie Kaler (CAS’87) says landing a role on My Boys was part preparation, part opportunity, and part luck

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Kaler.JPG

Jamie Kaler (CAS’87), in town recently promoting his TV show "My Boys," greets several fans from BU. Photo by Rich Griffin

After years of working on his stand-up routine and playing small parts in television and films, Jamie Kaler has happily landed a regular gig. Kaler plays the slightly obnoxious Mike Callahan on the TBS series My Boys, an ensemble comedy set in Chicago that revolves around a close group of friends.

“Mike’s good in small doses, like a fine, rich chocolate mousse,” says Kaler (CAS’87). “The first spoonful you’re like, ‘This is the greatest thing ever,’ and then after a few more you’re saying, ‘This is too rich, I can’t even eat this anymore!’”

Don’t get him wrong — he’s not complaining. Getting the part was the culmination of years of hard work, and a little luck.

Kaler was a political science major at BU, attending school on an ROTC scholarship and planning to follow his father and brother into the Navy. He graduated as a Navy lieutenant, but after completing his tour, he was unsure of his next step. He bartended for a few years and eventually began performing stand-up and improv, which led to a Sea World commercial. “I had no prior experience,” he says. “I was just a huge smart-ass, and I had that going for me. I always wanted to do improv, and then once I got onstage I just started to enjoy the laughter and I couldn’t stop doing it.”

Besides starring in My Boys, Kaler regularly provides various character voices on Adult Swim’s Robot Chicken. He’s appeared in films, among them The Family Stone, Spanglish, and Dodgeball. He has also acted in Friends and Will and Grace and has done several commercials.

Kaler was recently on a press tour for the show’s second season, and he spoke with BU Today about his work, the Red Sox, and BU.

BU Today: Why did you choose to attend BU?
Kaler: I attended on a ROTC scholarship, coming from a family that had a lot of military experience. I chose BU because I love the city of Boston. I’m from Hookset, N.H., and a big Red Sox fan. BU had a good reputation and I loved the campus.

What’s your fondest memory of BU?
I don’t think I can pick one best memory from BU, but my time on the Ultimate Frisbee team is up there. Ten of us took two mattresses, stuffed them in the back of a van, and drove head to toe to Florida for a tournament. It was an insane week of 10 guys doing things that you probably shouldn’t write about. We even ended up winning one of the tournaments.

Your first television appearance was on Saved by the Bell, the New Class. Any stories?
On Saved by the Bell I played a college kid. Of course I was 30 at the time, and my character was supposed to get the star drunk at a college party. The actress was literally 15 years old, and my first line was, “Come on, don’t you want a beer?” I felt really creepy doing it.

Do you prefer acting on a sitcom or performing stand-up?
I prefer stand-up, but television pays much better. And the TV kind of feeds into the stand-up, because it makes people come out to see the show, and that’s really cool. It’s just you alone with a microphone, and people are either laughing or crying.

What are some of the highlights from My Boys?
I like the episode from last season, when the gang goes to the batting cages and volunteers to be hit with fast-flying baseballs. It looks like it hurt a lot, but there was a guy, literally six feet away, with this air gun, and he would stand there and shoot these balls, which were soft and squishy. At first we had no idea how hard they were going to come. We’d scream out an expletive, but it didn’t hurt. That episode made me really laugh.

I also liked this season’s opener, “The Dinner Party,” because it plays like a one-act play. It’s all at a dinner party, people entering and exiting, and it was a lot of fun.

I know you’re a Red Sox fan — do you feel like you’re betraying the team by portraying a Cubs fan in the show?
I don’t. I’m a huge Red Sox fan, but who’s not cheering for the Cubs at this point? There’s always been a mutual liking between Sox and Cubs fans. Before the Red Sox won, we had this brother-fraternity thing going on because we sort of banded together, and now that we’ve won, it feels that we need to put a hand down and pull up the Cubs and help them. As long as the Yankees don’t win, I’m OK, because that’s my main concern.

Do you have any advice for BU students looking to break into comedy?
My advice is to do what you love. Yeah, you might end up waiting tables for the rest of your life. Even when I was bartending, people would come in and say, “Yo man, how much longer are you going to give this?” And I didn’t care if I did it for the rest of my life, because it’s what I love to do. But it did make me work harder, and perform more. For the first 10 years, I was getting on stage four or five nights a week. I just learned the craft that way. It’s preparation meets opportunity. You get to a point where you put in enough work, but to get the right part on the right show is total luck.

What other projects are you working on?

We just wrapped My Boys last week. Can I have a couple days off, please?

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

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