Comedian and actor, Nick Cutelli, can be described as your midwest dad, quirky office boss, old frat bro, dramatized villain type with the comedic style of “a clever buffoon. But with that description doesn’t tell the whole story. Cutelli is a classically trained actor from the Jeanine Larson Dobbins Conservatory of Theatre and Dance, having earned his BFA from there. He studied comedy at the famed Chicago Second City and Improv Olympic where he was a veteran house team member and where he really learned the craft and demands of comedy. Hollywood Blvd Magazine caught up with the actor/comic to talk about his rising career
HB: Where in the Midwest are you from, and why the move to LA?
NC: Originally I was born and raised in the capital of thin crust pizza and Budweiser, Saint Louis Missouri, and got my Bachelors of Fine Arts at Southeast Missouri State. Which I believe truly is the Juilliard-Harvard of the central Midwest. After college I did a lot of regional theatre, which was a mix of musical theatre and drama, and I earned my Actors Equity Card. But then I got tired of doing the same show nine times a week on stage and wanted to pursue comedy as an actor and writer. That’s why I moved to Chicago in 2008, because it’s the Death Star of comedy training. I took classes and performed at The Chicago Second City and Improv Olympic. I did a lot of regional commercial work, but the TV/film industry in Chicago is very lackluster. So in 2014 that sparked the move to Los Angeles to take on a bigger market and where all the work was. I didn’t move to Los Angeles with the hopes of being a celebrity and being famous. I moved here because I want to be a working character actor.
HB: How does LA compare to living in Chicago?
NC: LA is different because it has this stuff called heat and sunlight, as Chicago at times can be very cold. I’m not gonna lie, living through at least five Chicago winters certifies you to be a deep arctic explorer. Aside from that, LA is very different as Chicago is mainly a comedy breeding ground. A lot of actors move to Chicago to study improv/sketch comedy as the theatre and dramatic market isn’t real big there, because that’s more of a New York thing. Chicago was great because there was always a place to perform stand-up or sketch/improv every night. Chicago is very much about hitting the pavement and working the grind as an actor. I used to perform improv/sketch/theatre every night wherever I could, from backrooms, cafes, to basements in sketchy bars. Los Angeles is more about who you know, networking, and being able to get a foot in the door at a meeting. In Chicago it’s more about performing and getting industry people to come see you. It’s definitely a “show don’t tell” mentality in Chicago versus the classic power lunch meeting in Beverly Hills.
HB: You have a wife and young son. How old is he and how did having a child change your outlook on your career?
NC: My son is 15 months old and I will say being an actor-parent can be difficult at times. But it only motivates me to keep going in my career and to stick to the grind. I love my son and would do anything for him. When he was born I never thought about giving up being an actor, because I don’t want to set that example for him. I want him to know that he can pursue his dreams when he gets older and to never play it safe in life. If I would have played it safe I’d probably be stuck at a desk job in Saint Louis fake laughing at my manager’s lame jokes. Also, I’d love one day to perform with my son like Ben and Jerry Stiller.
HB: Is comedy your strongest suit? To what do you attribute that?
NC: It is and it pretty much all started in 3rd grade. I used to watch Phil Hartman a lot and that’s what got me into comedy. I would pretty much watch his characters and impersonate them during class. I would do anything for a laugh in school. In High School I would do this bit where I pretended to trip and fall into an entire group of desks. Or pretend like my water bottle exploded and I couldn’t get the cap back on. When I got to college it all changed because my conservatory program really focused on a New York style of dramatic acting and musical theatre. So I really wasn’t able to let loose on stage because I played a lot of dramatic parts. I think it was great though because it helped me to really grasp grounded material and developed my range as an actor. Drama and comedy is a very yin yang art. I believe you need to study and train in booth to find that balance in your performance. It helps your range as a comedian because you can do over the top, but also bring it down to a dry grounded style of subtle humor. It’s like a Jedi in Star Wars, as an actor and comedian I have to bring balance to the force.
HB: Do you do standup? If so, what’s the hardest part about it?
NC: I used to do stand up at the Underground Lounge in Chicago, but to be honest I just love doing improv more. I admire stand up comedians because it’s really a hard form of comedy. It’s just you versus the audience and you have to command an entire audience. I believe the hardest part of being a comedian is trying to find your brand of humor. As a comedian you need to find your voice, your tone, your style of jokes, which can be difficult. I think where a lot of comedians fail is that they try to figure out what the audience wants versus needing to have confidence in themselves and giving the audience something they’ve never had before. It’s like Green Eggs and Ham you just have to take a risk and get out of the comfort zone. I always describe my brand of comedy as a dramatic, middle-aged Dad, at a backyard BBQ. I like my style of comedy to be really relatable and hit a wide audience. Currently I do a lot of one minute stand up jokes on the new “Rumbl” app.
HB: What parts of the business do you like the least and which the best?
NC: I would say that the best part of the business is that anything can happen on any day. No two days are alike. Tomorrow you could book the role of Batman and next week you have to play a wacky Dad. I like having that variety, because I know personally I couldn’t stand having to do the same thing every day. Being in the entertainment business is definitely an adventure and I love the unknown about it. When it comes to my least favorite I would say dealing with the stereotype of being an actor. When you tell people you’re an actor you get a lot of judgement from those that don’t understand how the business works and how you can be an actor without being a network star. I tell people I’m an actor and the first thing they think is that I’m this starving artist living out of a dumpster. They think that it’s a joke of a career, when in reality it’s one of the bravest jobs you can go after. Its almost like they try to make you feel bad for making this career choice. But in reality, I think those people are secretly envious because they took the safe boring route in life.
HB: Favorite movie and why?
NC: “Major League.” I am obsessed with sports comedy movies. I don’t really have a reason why, but I’ve always wanted to play the role of a 35 year old burnt-out baseball pitcher in a comedy.
HB: You do seem to like sports. You have said the greatest game ever played was played on a night in Cleveland. What game are you referring to?
NC: That is the night that the Chicago Cubs, after a century, finally won the World Series. It’s just my luck that after I leave Chicago they end up winning the pennant. I’m a huge Chicago Cubs fan and pretty much 97.32 percent of the time I have a Cubs hat on. I’m a premium subscriber on the MLB network, so I try to watch almost every Cubs game on TV. I actually tried to convince my wife to let me get married wearing a Cubs uniform, but sadly she didn’t let me. I also wanted to have our first dance be to “Go Cubs Go.” I feel like Cubs fans in Los Angeles kind of have a secret underground Hollywood network and I love it. When I meet another Cubs fan that works in the industry it’s like meeting another person you know at an awkward 50 year High School reunion, aka amazing.