Matt Cook is one of the most versatile actors around. As Mo, in the TBS comedy “Clipped” he and his childhood friends work to achieve their dreams while cutting hair in a Massachusetts barber shop. Matt recently talked to me about “Clipped”, being in the main company of the Groundlings, Star Wars and his podcast, Crit Juice.
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I’m going to get right into it. I want to know a bit about your background Matt. Just tell us about yourself.
“I was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in New Jersey. My dad was in the Coast Guard, he was stationed on the Jersey Shore, on Long Beach Island, so I grew up on LBI. It’s an 18 mile long island with only one bridge on or off of it. It’s packed in the summer and deserted in the winter. I loved growing up there.
I started doing theater at Southern Regional High School in Manahawkin, NJ. Then I went to Rider University in Lawrenceville, NJ and got a degree in the fine arts. After I graduated, my girlfriend, Katierose Donohue, and I worked for the summer and drove cross-country to LA. Once I arrived in LA, my uncle took me to see a show at the Groundlings and I loved it. Now, many years later, I’m performing in the main company. It’s been a wild ride.”
That’s great. I was going to ask you, while you were at Rider, you majored in arts in Jersey. How much theater did you do while you were there?
“At Rider I did a lot of performing. I ended up going to Rider because they offered a four-year, full paid, theater scholarship. I figured any school that would offer that must really care about their theater program. So I went in and auditioned with the best material I could muster as a high schooler, two old man monologues. I was always cast as the old man in our high school plays so it was all I knew. I didn’t get the scholarship, rightfully so, but I still attended Rider where I and learned so much. Be it faculty directed, or student produced, I was doing shows non-stop all four years.”
It’s awesome that you’re a main company member of The Groundlings. Tell me, what is that like? How long have you been involved with them?
“I started taking classes at Groundlings in 2006. It’s a fairly long journey through the program. What’s cool about it, but also brutal, is you have to pass each level to get to the next stage. You have to keep moving up.
Eventually, if you pass all the levels, you get into the Sunday Company. The Sunday Company does a new sketch show every Sunday for six months at a time. After six months you get voted on whether you stay or go. If you stay, you do another six months of a new show every Sunday and then you get voted on again, stay or go, and then you do a final six months. At that point you’re eligible to be voted into the Main Company by the Main Company members.
There’s such a legacy at that theater, to be a part of it is really, really special. Some of my favorite performers have come out of THE GROUNDLINGS, so it really means a lot to be a part of it.”
What are some of your favorite sketches that you’ve done in Groundlings?
“I did a sketch that I wrote that was directed by Karen Maruyama called “What Are We Saying?” It was basically a group of friends coming home from seeing “Man Of Steel” and I played the friend who was super upset about it. They tried to calm me down saying “Dude, it’s just a movie!” and that set me off.
I was like, “No, it’s not just a movie. It’s not. There’s more to it than that! It’s supposed to be better! It’s a Superman movie! There’s no reason to have it be so violent! He’s the one hero who could ever prevent that level of destruction! It’s irresponsible! It’s inappropriate!”
Basically, I had a four-minute sketch where I got to express most of my feelings on “Man of Steel.” Which I hated, I hated it, I’d be glad to talk to you at length about why I hated it but we don’t have that kind of time. That sketch ended with me breaking the 4th wall, talking directly to the audience and giving a fully sincere speech as to why Superman deserves better and we as a people need a better Superman movie. I told everyone that I thought that now, more than ever, the world could use a few more heroes and “Man Of Steel” wasn’t that. So I had everyone in the audience raise their hand and chant “I believe in Superman!” Because he believes in us.
I think It worked because anyone who saw the movie knew what I was talking about and anyone who didn’t see the movie thought, “Oh, nerd rage! Funny! I can get onboard with that!” We ran that sketch for 3 months on the Groundlings Main Stage while “Man of Steel” was still playing in theaters, so I felt like I got to fight the good fight for Supes, in my own small way.
Another sketch I loved was in a show Holly Mandell directed. I played an old man walking through a park who discovers a dollar bill on the ground. But the dollar is actually taped to fishing line and two kids yank the dollar away from me every time I tried to snatch it. It was a real fun, physical sketch.
Those are two off the top of my head. I’ve had so many co-writes that were so much fun to write and perform. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with some truly talented folks on that stage at every level.”
We’re going to start talking about Clipped now. I did watch the first four episodes and I adored the show.
“That’s awesome, I’m so glad!”
For people not familiar with Clipped can you tell everyone about it?
“Sure. It’s a work place comedy created by Max Mutchnick and David Kohan, who also created Will & Grace. The series is directed by James Widdoes and the three of them are a dream team.
The show is set outside of Boston in a barbershop called Buzzy’s and centers around a group of 20 somethings who were in high school together but weren’t necessarily friends. Now they all work together at Buzzy’s and we see their relationships, hopes and dreams. Whether or not they will admit it, they have now become friends and are very important in each other’s lives.”
What I like about the show is that it seems to me, and I’ll ask you this, it seems to have a message, like don’t give up on your dreams. Do you think that that’s an accurate statement?
“I think so for sure. I love that you got that from the show. I think that all the characters have at least one thing they really want and really hope for. Whether it’s a career. Whether it’s a romance, whatever it is. You see these people still striving and reaching for their goals. I think it’s important to watch people aspire to something.”
The cast is amazing. Tell me, what is it like working with Ashley Tisdale and George Wendt?
“Working with Ashley, George and the entire cast is so great for so many different reasons. With Ashley and George it’s a little strange because they’re such big stars and it’s so comfortable to work with them. Every now and then, I’ll remember who they are and I’m like, “Oh my God! They’re good friends of mine now!” It’s awesome. The two of them are so sweet and so skilled at what they do. They’re both icons in their own way.
To work with George on a sitcom is amazing. It feels surreal. He’s the sweetest, funniest, sharpest dude and a total pro. If I can get a laugh from George, that’s a badge of honor that I will never take off.
Ashley too. Ashley’s one of the smartest, kindest people I’ve ever met. She’s so talented and joyous. She’s an amazing energy to have around, so down to earth and hard working.
Everybody in the cast is awesome and it’s a pleasure to work with them. We’ve been fortunate enough to become friends. Good, good friends over the course of this experience and it makes me so happy. I’m so grateful that I love going to work. That’s a treat.”
Your character Mo, and Lauren Lapkus who plays Joy, I love the chemistry between the two of you. You’re great together. Do you think that if Mo tells Joy how he felt the dynamic would change between the two of them in any way?
“I think it would change their dynamic and I think that he knows that. I don’t know that it would change for the better. I think because Joy is married and religious she takes those vows very seriously. I think Mo knows that if he did make a move it would upset the balance of their friendship.
I think Mo believes if he made a move he would lose her friendship. He has to be respectful of her marriage. I think that he would rather have her as a friend than not at all, but you never know. Who knows what will happen. I know, but I’m not going to tell. I’m not going to say anything.”
I just like you two together. I think it’s great chemistry. Both of you have great chemistry. She seems great.
“I love working with Lauren. She’s one of the sharpest, funniest, most precise performers I’ve ever met. She’s so calm and confident. It has been a joy working with her. I told her, I knew her name from the comedy world cause she’s at UCB and I’m at Groundlings. We never really met, but her name was always floating around in my circle. When I finally got to meet her. I was like, “Oh, you’re everything and more that people said that you were. This is lovely.”
You have a podcast called Crit Juice?
Tell everyone what it’s about, Matt.
“I would love to! I’m in a podcast, or on a podcast, or I do a podcast, whatever the right word is. It’s called Crit Juice. This is a podcast based around professional actors and comedians playing Dungeons and Dragons while under the influence of alcohol.
I never played Dungeons and Dragons in my life. Then about six years ago my friend, Handsome Gary Soldati sent out an email saying he wanted to learn to be a dungeon master, but wanted to do it with friends because he had never done it before. He wanted people that would go easy on him and we could all learn together. He asked us to rate our interest level from one to ten. A couple of us who wrote ten all started playing with Gary.
We weren’t easy on him. We were very rough on him, as comedians often are. But we all had a great time. Then we brought Gary to the player’s side of the table, brought in David Crennen to be the dungeon master and turned it into a drinking game. We have Golden Drinking God Rules and each session we roll a D6 (six sided die) to determine how many additional listener submitted drinking rules we bring into play.
Basically, it’s actors, comedians, and improvisors playing DD and getting drunk and then playing D&D even harder. We’ve been doing it for the past few years and have over fifty episodes you can listen to and it’s all one continuous adventure. It’s like a giant book on tape, but drunk. We’ve had amazing special guests at the table with us and we’ve been lucky enough to get some really delicious beer sponsors. It’s been so much fun. And I should have taken stock in Advil and Gatorade, I’d be rich off my own hangovers. Sorry, I could talk about this for an entire podcast. I should stop.”
Is it taped weekly or how often do you do it?
“We used to do it once a month or once every other month. Now we’re all pretty busy with our careers at the moment so it’s harder to get us all at the table. We sit down on a night and we play for about six, sometimes eight, hours. Which is a really long time to play and drink. Without a doubt, at the end of every session, we just can’t use any of the audio. It’s just like “What do you mean I missed? You missed it!” Then some one falls and we’re all laughing.
We record for those long sessions and then Matt Buchholtz, who’s one of the players and one of the producers, will edit the show. He takes the recording and edits them down to the forty-five minute chunks that are listenable.
You don’t want to hear drunk people doing math. We cut all the fluff and pizza breaks out of the episodes. We break it down to the forty-five minutes that help tell the story and we put those out. We kind of do a big story line. It’s a little comic booky. We’ve got one arch, one arch, one arch, all built into one giant arch.”
That is so cool.
“Thanks, it’s so much fun. Now I’m hooked. I’m like a crazy D&D person. When I was at Comic-Con. I found the dice booth Chessex, which is the dice company. It was just a giant table full of dice and I think I audibly yelped I got so excited.
They had nine dollars for a random mug full of dice. They had this giant glass bin full of all these different types of dice. They had two different mugs, just grab a mug take a big scoop and for nine bucks you get whatever’s in the mug. I did that, for sure.
The character I play is a Hengeyokai Chaos Sorcerer, so I had to do it! “Let’s see what you’ve got for me dice Gods!”
What was your favorite episode of Clipped to film?
“My favorite episode of Clipped? I honestly don’t know if I have a favorite they were all so much fun; which sounds like a cheap excuse to get out of this, but I really don’t know. There’s an episode coming up called “Mo’s Ma” that was extremely fun to film. I really don’t know if I can pick a favorite. Every single one was a blast. They were all different. It was cool because the cast is so big, every episode you’re getting paired up with someone else. It’s all of us sometimes and then we’d get split up into little groups and have our smaller scenes.
The pairs were like a square dance. Everybody was doing this big dance together but kept changing partners… if that’s what you do in a square dance. I think you change partners. I don’t know… It was a really fun experience to see who you were paired up with and what your story was that week. It was always such a blast to work with everyone. That’s my twenty-minute answer to tell you I don’t have an answer.”
Besides Clipped, what other projects do you have going on?
“In August I’m going to Scotland to perform for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the entire month. My friend Michael Feldman created and writes this show that we do here in LA called “Fairy Tale Theater 18 & Over”. It’s a live stage show where we act out fairy tales for adults. Kids have enough fairy tales and adults still have a few things to learn.
I’m in the show as one of the puppeteers. I play a bunch of different parts. I have puppets. Sometimes I’m in a costume, just as myself, I’m in character. It’s really fast, really fun, and really smart. Feldman is one of the most brilliant and talented writers I’ve ever met and I’m honored to be a part of this show. I’ve been a part of it for about the last five years, and this trip is the biggest thing we’ve ever done with it. It’s very exciting.”
You were at Comic-Con this past weekend and I saw your social media account. You’re a huge Star Wars fan, like myself, and I saw that you were playing Star Wars Battlefront. How big of a gamer are you?
“I am a massive gamer, to the point where it is bad for my life. I spend a lot of time gaming. I wouldn’t if I wasn’t so good at it, but I’m a gifted gamer because I’ve done it since I can remember. My dad had a Commodore 64 and we would play the old Ghostbusters game and a game called Caveman Ugh-lympics. I would sit on his lap as a little baby, not baby, but you know, old enough to play, like a little kid, and play those games. I have not stopped since. I’m currently playing Arkham Knight and it’s amazing.
But yeah, I did get to play Battlefront. My brother and I played the co-op defense mode. We’re two Rebels stuck in a canyon on Tatooine and the Imperials are trying to take us out. We played it at the Nerd HQ party. We had free drinks while we were playing it, I mean, come on! It is very clearly the Star Wars universe. When you’re looking at it you’re like, “Oh, I’m CLEARLY on Tatooine.” If you have an Imperial scout soldier coming up with a sniper rifle and you’re like “Oh my God. The scout trooper looks amazing and I’m going to shoot him so he doesn’t shoot my brother.” It’s just awesome.
We took out an AT-ST together, Michael ran one way to draw it’s fire and I got my rocket launcher out and hit it twice. Then the Chicken Walker was toast. We only played it for a bit and I am even more excited than I already was. I can’t wait for that game.
I’m a huge Star Wars fan. We went to the Hall H panel for Star Wars and they took all 6,500 of us to a surprise concert with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and played some of John Williams’ favorite pieces along with clips from the films. It was amazing!
All 6,500 of us got lightsabers. After every song everybody flipped the lightsabers on and were screaming like, “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.” And then when the next song would start, you could hear all of the lightsabers being disengaged and put away. They all made noises, so you would hear it. Just 6,500 lightsabers powering down to be respectful while the orchestra played. The whole thing ended with fireworks. The entire cast of Star Wars was there at the panel and at the concert. It was so cool.
It was very sincere and sweet and even Harrison Ford who’s a notoriously blunt person was so heartfelt, thankful, it was really … For me to see the three of them, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, sitting together talking about the experience of coming back however many years later. That was such a cool moment.
And the new cast members were being so awesome. They all had such a respect for the property and for the fans and for what they’re doing. It just makes it feel even more special. I’m going to be a mess when that movie comes out. I’m going to be a weepy mess.”
Yeah, me too. I think everybody’s excited for that. I have one final question for you. Any plans to produce, write, or direct your own stuff?
“I would love to do that. I recently co-wrote, with my dear friend Tom Fonss, we wrote a one man play for our friend Drew Talbert to perform. We wrote and directed it. It was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. I’d never done anything like that where I’ve written something so massive and handed it to someone else. Tom and I wrote this piece and we gave it to Drew to do and we directed him and then the night of the show we just sat back and watched. We got to see how it held up. We’ve done it twice now and both nights were really incredible and very different.
We did it at The Groundlings and the second night we had a Hollywood tour of about thirty people buy tickets . We didn’t know that they bought it early and they came to see a Groundlings show and they ended up seeing a very strange one man show that we wrote. It played very much as a real play because there were people that didn’t know anything about it. It was just him telling the story about his life and all that. It was really successful in a totally different way.
Both nights we had packed houses with different audiences and I’m very proud of that. It definitely got me going as far as writing, and directing, and producing, and building things. You gotta stay active and creativity spawns creativity, and all that. The show was called “Right Side of the Tracks: An Evening Under the Stars with Drew Talbert.” It is one of the silliest thing’s I’ve ever done and I’m very proud of it. I’m very proud of the three of us.”
That is so cool.
“Thanks! That’s another really long way of saying, “yes”.”