In entertainment, an awful lot of stuff happens behind closed doors, from canceling TV shows to organizing music festival lineups. While the public sees the end product on TVs, movie screens, or radio dials, they don’t see what it took to get there. In Expert Witness, The A.V. Club talks to industry insiders about the actual business of entertainment in hopes of shedding some light on how the pop-culture sausage gets made.
Comedian Allan Murray works, during the TV season, as a “warm-up,” a title that can be applied to less than 20 people in the country at this moment. What this means is that Murray is the guy who stands in front of the live, studio audience at a sitcom taping and keeps them invested in the process of filming the program—even when the taping stretches well past midnight. What’s often not known to the audience at home is that for the 22 minutes you see at home, there are sometimes five or six hours spent on a soundstage, tweaking every scene and line to make sure they’re just right. The only thing standing between the show keeping the audience on its side and outright mutiny is often the warm-up (and his reliable sidekick, the DJ), who aims to keep those long gaps between scenes light-hearted and funny, then drop the audience right back into the action when taping resumes. Murray talked to The A.V. Club about his career, why people in the audience might laugh at something that doesn’t play as funny on TV, and why he’s made more money not to act than he has for his acting.
The A.V. Club: How did you get into this in the first place?
Allan Murray: I was doing the road as a stand-up comedian, doing clubs in Los Angeles, where they don’t pay you any money, and it’s more of a showcase club. Then I was doing the road, like every other comedian—going to North Carolina, Chicago, or Texas, or Indiana for a week, in the days when the clubs were Tuesday through Sunday. Then I started doing cruise ships as well, which I liked better than the clubs, because they were like mini-vacations, but even that became a little boring. Flying to Florida and getting on the ship and doing it, you’re stuck for a week or two weeks, and that was at a time where you could do a ship for two weeks only. Nowadays, comedians are so hungry they’ll get on for five months at a time or something and stay there.
But that got to be a little too much traveling for me, so I just thought, “How can you stay in town and be paid to be funny in a situation?” I started looking at the warm-up world. I met a guy who did it, and he said, “I might need someone to replace me at a show. It’s an afternoon sitcom that I have to leave to go do Mad About You, and I need someone to take over for me. Why don’t you come watch me do it a few times, get a feel for it?” I felt, in my act, when you do an hour as a headliner, a lot of it was stand-up, but a lot of it was improv, too, talking to audience members and getting laughs that way, so I thought I had a knack for it organically. So I did [the show]. It was California Dreams. I filled in that day, and then I filled in on another show, and I filled in on another show, and then I just slowly got into it.
My first real break was the second season of NewsRadio. Paul Simms, the creator, apparently never liked any warm-up. They kept rotating warm-ups until they found someone Paul Simms liked, and when it was my shot, the assistant director or the producer that was close to Paul said, “Look, this is what Paul wants: He really wants a stand-up, not a warm-up. He wants a comedian who can really be funny. Do your own stuff up here. Keep them engaged, but do your show.” So I did and that night they came up to me and said, “You got it. You got NewsRadio.” It kind of blew me away. They called me the next day and offered me the rest of the season, and it was really a big thing for me. There was a moment during the show where the assistant director came up to me—this was my first night on the show—and she said, “Phil wants to say hi to the audience.” So I go, “Hey everybody, how about a hand for Phil Hartman?” Pretty exciting for me, and he took the mic and he goes, [Phil Hartman voice] “Allan Murray, everybody! Give it up for Allan Murray, doing a hell of a job for us tonight!” I remember I was like… I got chills that Phil Hartman just said my name. It was very respectful, and he was just a great guy.
AVC: How many shows do you handle in a typical week?
AM: I average three shows a week. It seems I always have a Tuesday and a Friday. This season has been pretty crazy, because shows are filming on Wednesdays and Thursdays, so there were times where I had, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, which is very intense. Or it’d be like, two to three to four, let’s just say that.
AVC: When you go into a taping, what do you see as your role?
AM: I’m hosting the event of a taping. The taping is the event. They’re there to see the taping, and someone has to be the guy, the glue, that puts everything together. I welcome them, and I tell them goodbye at the end of the evening. I let them know what’s needed from them. I engage them and keep them into the show. My goal is to make time fly, so hopefully, a five-hour taping will seem more like two-and-a-half hours. If you keep it funny and light, they just don’t realize. Sometimes, people forget that you could fly to Paris instead of sitting. [Laughs.] It’s like being on the tarmac forever. And the actual stuff like cast intros and that stuff, but that’s the basics. It’s really what comes in between. With warm-up, the scenes only take a few minutes, so the audience gets a lot of you and the producers get enough show to create 26 minutes or whatever’s needed.
I think that’s it: Keep them entertained the whole time.
AVC: There’s so much time between scenes at tapings. The warm-up always has to keep the audience invested while also distracting them from the process of breaking down old scenes and setting up new ones. How do you keep them focused on the show when they need to be and then not focused on the show?
AM: They all know they’re there to see a show, and the show’s the thing. I get that, and they get that. It’s as easy as a recap. The minute the bell rings [to mark another scene about to film], I say, “Remember, Jim is mad at Angela because Angela thinks Jim said she had a big mouth, and it’s later that day.” It’s that simple. And in seconds they’re back into the show. The lights go down, and they just focus again. Then, of course, if you do all the basics for this, cast bios, their history, basically their IMDB credits, and you really make sure everyone is familiar with the stars. Then for the plot, you do the recaps. You explain things like when it’s on, if the show has a Facebook page, all that kind of stuff. But those details really add up to around 20 minutes. If you do your job and you explain even the writers, the director, all that stuff, it doesn’t take up much time to really be thorough with that stuff. It is a balancing act. I don’t understand warm-ups who get accused of not keeping it about the show. There is a blend where you can be really funny, put on a show, and also keep it about the show. Somehow, it just works out at the end.
AVC: Is there a line of what material you can or can’t use in those times where you’re the center of attention?
AM: Obviously, I don’t curse. Although a cast member can. That’s why it’s kind of funny. Actually, I really love when cast members take the mic and do any kind of schtick with the audience. I love it. I think it’s great. You might not want to talk about politics all night, unless it’s something so basic and funny it’s on everybody’s mind, like when the Secret Service were caught with prostitutes. Super dark humor would probably be off limits. If I was performing midnight at the Laugh Factory, it’d be a different set than warm-up. Basically, funny is funny. Keeping it light, but doing material. I’ve never been much of a “Where ya from? You’re from Dallas? What do you do for a living?” because you can only take so much of that before it gets a little dull. You have to have some bits.
AVC: How do you go about pulling audience members into your bits and making them characters in what you’re doing?
AM: Here’s a perfect example of how warm-up is really different from performing at a club: People walk in front of you. You have to really let your ego go in some ways, because you’re talking, and six people walk in front of you to go to the bathroom. So what do you do? Sometimes, it becomes like street performing, because people walk by you, you can rib them a little bit. If they’re super polite, they’ll walk behind you, but people don’t always realize that.
A lot of times people who are in the audience go to the shows a lot. I can feel if they want to be joked around with or not. I would never make fun of someone for a physical attribute. I’m not that kind of comedian. However, if they’re wearing a crazy, loud, purple paisley jumpsuit, I’ve just got to say something. [Laughs.] People get that I’m joking, and they know your job, if you have zero edge it just gets boring. If you’re just, “Have a nice day! Well, thanks for talking to us! Hey, have a seat! You’re from Denver? Hey, that’s great!” it’s so boring. So you have to have a little edge. The DJ [Clark Chuka] and I work very well together. If someone says they’re from the South, he’ll do some kind of banjo riff. We have something for just about everything. But if someone looks like a real mean person or I’m getting a bad vibe, I probably won’t talk to them. I’ll leave them alone.
AVC: You’ve mentioned there are people who frequently come to these shows. Are there regular audience members at these sorts of things that you recognize?
AM: I do. When a show’s a hit, like Big Bang Theory, it is a tourist destination and you get fans, people who buy their tickets in advance, and they really want to go sit at the taping. Other shows, newer shows, an audience service will provide an audience. It could be a college group, it could be a rehab group, it could be the military, it could be a fundraising group. There’s always, hopefully, a bunch of people who see the website and they just really want to see a TV taping. They’re at Universal Studios that day, “Would you like to go see a TV taping?” “Sure.” It used to be, oh gee, it’s filler groups, but I’ve learned to love them over the years. My whole thing is, don’t complain about a group, just make that group into an awesome group. Make sure that they’re having a good time, regardless of where they’re from.
AVC: So much of this job seems to be working with the DJ. Has it always been that way, and what’s that relationship like?
AM: NewsRadio, I had a band, no DJ. The band would play during moving-ons, and I would fill in all the other blanks. Bands have to take a break, though, of course. They can’t play all the time. Then DJs just started popping up. Shows wanted a DJ and a warm-up. I really include the DJ. A lot of warm-ups, the DJ plays, then the warm-up talks. But I tell my DJ, “Let’s do bits together.” If I do a Christopher Lloyd impression, can you play a little soundbite from Back To The Future? If someone has glasses like Harry Potter, can you play the Harry Potter theme? It goes on and on. We write a lot on the spot, then I go home, and I’ll remember some things and say, “Hey, it was really great, can you do that every time?”
AVC: So you guys are in communication to work out some of the bits?
AM: Right. It’s become pretty cue heavy. It’s a lot of music cues. He’s inside my head. I know what he’s about to do, and he knows what bit I’m going to do. I’m never a robotic warm-up. I try to really keep it as organic as I can. I always do some bits that are just killer, and I know that they’re going to get a response. You need to do some surefire bits all the time. However, you also go with the flow. I don’t go in the same order every night, because I find that to be redundant for me personally.
AVC: Do you ever run into hecklers or nightmare audience members?
AM: There’ve been a few times where some audience members are having issues that have nothing to do with me. [Both laugh.] They might be itching, or they really need a cigarette badly. Thank God, I don’t get hecklers. No one has said, “You suck!” or that kind of stuff. I think a lot of that also is the same as a comedy club. I always feel like if you have something to say, if you’re always doing something, if you seem like someone who is truly a funny person, hecklers will pretty much leave you alone. Nobody wants to get annihilated by the comedian, so I haven’t really had a heckler in a warm-up setting in all the years I’ve done it. I’ve seen fights break out. I’ve seen two people fighting about something that has nothing to do with me, but no hecklers.
Here’s a funny thing about keeping it about the show: There’s a little bit of a wives’ tale or misconception about why you’ve got to be really careful, don’t be funnier than the show, that whole thing. So you’ve gotta be really careful, don’t be too funny. And, in reality, on paper, that might be a thing. But the producers, the writers, the stars, they like a funny warm-up. Laughter creates laughter. There’s laughter when they’re not filming, and then when they say action, the laughter continues. Why? Because there’s laughter in the air. I mean I’ve gotten calls before saying, “Yeah, we’re looking for someone who keeps the audience a little more up, a little more entertained.” So the whole “don’t be too funny,” I think—the funny warm-ups seem to work every year. It’s also two different art forms. One, there’s a fourth wall; one there’s not. One is stand-up, and one is theater. The two can be harmonious. In all my years doing it, no one has ever said, “Can you bring the comedy down a little bit?”
AVC: You don’t have to name names, but have you had shows where it was really difficult to get the audience invested?
AM: Well, sometimes the 10th take of a scene, when they overshoot a scene. What I say to showrunners is, “Take all the time you need. I got this. It’s fine. Don’t rush. Whatever you need to do.” Sometimes they need to rewrite on the spot. That happens. Again, even on a brand-new show, I never let the ball drop: If you are enjoying the show, let us know through your laughter. You are creating a soundtrack for us, a soundtrack of laughter. But don’t be crazy fake, either. One of the challenges is they’ll laugh the first take. They’ll laugh even more the second take, because now they’re ready, they’re on your side. They know where the jokes are, so second take is a slam dunk. Third, they start getting a little tired. Fourth, we’ve seen this. Five scenes in, oh my God, not again. But there’s a little bit of a thing where audiences laugh at the same scene over and over again, because they get it’s important, and it’s helpful. We’re working to get it right, so it’s that whole teamwork kind of thing that I sell them. And I believe in it, too!
AVC: One of the things writers have always liked about doing things in front of an audience is that it lets them know when the jokes are funny. Do you ever worry you are creating an environment where the audience is biased toward laughing at stuff that’s not funny?
AM: I don’t necessarily say “Please laugh even if you don’t think it’s funny.” I never phrase it that way. It’s more about how laughter is important to the show. We are gauging things through your laughter. Let’s put it this way: A joke might get a laugh, a really good laugh all of the time, but the writers will still do an alternative joke because they want to. They feel, hey, why not? Let’s do it. So if the writers are going to change a joke, they’re going to change a joke regardless of whether the audience is laughing or not.
However, there are times where the audience really doesn’t laugh at a joke, and it’s throwing them. This is a second-hand story, but I guess rape was in a punchline the other night in a sitcom and the audience just shut up. They didn’t like it. I can see why. They changed the joke. I think that’s an extreme example, but also, I’ve never been told not to explain the laughter bit, and if a producer said, “Just let them float but we’re just trying to see what’s funny tonight. Don’t instruct them to laugh, and let’s see what happens,” I would do what they wanted. But I’ve yet to hear that.
Often stars of the show, producers, even directors will thank the audience for being there and let them know to laugh a lot. It’s in the air whether I say it or not. For the most part, this comes in handy when the same scene is shot four times in a row. If a showrunner felt the laughs are too hot, they would tell me, and I could make an adjustment, but in all these years, that hasn’t happened yet.
AVC: One of the things that irks people who work in multi-camera sitcoms is when they all get written off as having “laugh tracks.” Obviously, some have laugh tracks, and some have the live studio audience. What is a good way for viewers at home to be able to tell? Or even if live laughter has been sweetened?
AM: Well, many shows do the old “Cheers is filmed in front of a live studio audience.” Besides How I Met Your Mother, I don’t know any other laugh-track shows. I think they’re all live audiences these days. Sweetening doesn’t necessarily mean adding a laugh, so much as it means sometimes people are laughing over a punchline, so they clean it up. No matter what happens, it’s going to be cleaned up a little bit for sound purposes. There might be times where we could really use a little bit more of a laugh there, and I guess they do sweeten it, but there’s no laugh track. As far as, “Why are they laughing at that?” that’s just going to happen no matter what. I don’t know. I’m like that, too. I think when you’re watching a show [at a taping], it’s like you’re in a live audience. It’s all about the show. If Two And A Half Men is on, you walk around, you’re cleaning your apartment, you’re doing things. Sometimes, it’s just sort of a subconscious thing: hearing the jokes, being entertained, not even watching it. It’s just on. Remember that when you’re watching TV and you hear people laughing at something you don’t find funny, they are there live with the actors. It’s a heightened experience for them. When you see a rock concert on TV, you don’t get up and dance like the crowd on TV is. You’re probably just enjoying the music.
The writers can always tell if it’s working. I just know it. I just feel, they get it. The reason why you have to explain the laughter at the get-go is, 200 people are about to watch a show live. If you don’t really explain the concept of laughter, because we live in this LOL society, often, an audience will really just sit there and not even get that they’re supposed to do anything. They’re just going to sit there like bumps on a log. You do let them know what’s needed tonight. It’s not forcing; it’s more a suggestion.
AVC: What are some of your nightmare stories from your many years doing this?
AM: The show was Gary Unmarried, and we had a blackout at the studio. They called the electrical company, and they said, “The lights will be on in an hour.” So are we going to let the people go home? What are we going to do? So they bring me a bullhorn, a flashlight, and they want me to kill time for an hour. I give the flashlight to an audience member in the front row, and I say, “Here, keep this flashlight on my face,” and I start talking through the bullhorn, and I do an hour of stand-up through a bullhorn. It was very surreal. Then the lights came on an hour later, and we went back to work. It was pretty challenging. But funny. The whole crew gave me a big round of applause.
Once I was doing this show Stacked, and a fire happened on the stage. There’s a fireplace on the set, and something caught fire. Everybody evacuated. It wasn’t truly a nightmare, but it was kind of interesting. It was right before the tag, the last scene, so it was pretty much a full night of work.
I do a phone bit. I’m calling someone outside the studio. I wasn’t doing a fake phone call as much as I was saying, “Hi Susan, we’re here at NewsRadio.” I was very legit. I was upfront. “Your mom is here.” “Oh, my mom’s there?” “Yes, and you’re in front of a live studio audience. Everybody say ‘Hi, Susan!’” “Hi Susan!” So this person knew this wasn’t your average phone call. There’s a whole bunch of people listening to her. So then she goes, “Can I say hi to my mom real quick?” I say sure, and I give the mic to the mom. “Hi honey!” “Mom?” “Yeah?” “Jack died.” [Both laugh.] And the mom goes, “Okay.” I took the mic back, and all of a sudden the buzzer buzzed, we’re about to get back into the scene, and it was so awkward that people did laugh because I had this look on my face. I turned white as a ghost, so that was a very weird, funny moment. And sad. Now, the good news is, I actually said to the mom, “Listen, I’m so sorry. I couldn’t see that coming in a million years. I apologize.” She said, “It’s okay. It’s not a big shock.” I don’t know who Jack was. Maybe Jack was a dog. I’ll never know. [Laughs.] But it was a really funny moment in time.
AVC: What have been your favorite shows? What have been some dream shows to work on?
AM: You know what’s a fun show? I do The Exes, a TV Land series, and that cast is so nice and so wonderful. Each one of them takes the mic and does comedy for the audience and schtick. They take questions. Donald Faison will get up there and dance and sing, and Kristin Johnston’s a riot. There’s something so communal about that show that it’s really become one of my favorite shows to warm-up. I like all of them.
The funny thing about a show is, they go, what if you hate the show? I get asked that all the time. “What if you think the show’s not funny?” And I go, “You know what, I just do my job.” I think all multi-cameras are wonderful. I do. For me, sometimes, I’ve done some shows where the audience might not know where to laugh. There’s a few shows that aren’t on the air anymore where they were really trying to stay away from jokes. I know that seems kind of crazy to say, but they were trying to stay away from conventional setup/punchline dialogue, and they were just more about rambling and talking a lot. Maybe it’s going to be funny at one point because the characters are kind of quirky or snarky. And the audience would very pleasantly sit there and listen to it, and once the producers said, “Why aren’t they laughing?” And I didn’t know what to say. Immediately my brain went to this one joke that was from earlier and said, “Well, they kind of laughed at that line.” [Laughs.] I think later I said, “I think they just don’t really know when to come in sometimes.”
You do have to get a rhythm with the audience and most shows do, most shows have it, but the old saying, “If it’s not on the page, it’s not on the stage.” That’s why you’re doing a multi in the first place. Also, I think sometimes with newer shows, the audience doesn’t know the characters. You’re watching Friends, and Ross says, “You’ve gotta be kidding me.” He gets the laugh because, not necessarily what he’s saying is funny, but Ross is saying it, and we all know him by now. So the newer shows have to be more careful that they’re not in that mindset of who these people are. I have my work cut out for me a little bit more on those shows, but it doesn’t happen very often. The shows love humor, and you can see the jokes on the page. They know where the laughs are going to come, hopefully.
AVC: You have a few talk shows and game shows on your resume. Is that experience any different?
AM: It’s completely different. It really is. I don’t do them very often. It’s another world. Here’s something kind of kooky: A whole group of guys I don’t even know work that world, and I don’t. There’s the sitcom guys and the game shows or the talk shows. I like sitcoms. I like stories. I like characters. I like to see the story unfold. I like the experience of a sitcom. Also, you’re in the audience with the audience. When you do a game show, it’s always kind of weird. You bump into people. People say to move. It’s sort of a mess sometimes. The things on my resume that are those shows are from a long time ago. Not that I wouldn’t do one if it came my way. I’m just pretty much known as a sitcom guy right now. It’s another animal.
AVC: With the other sitcom warm-ups, are there intense rivalries?
AM: Here’s an interesting mantra that I tell myself lately: It’s not as much about the other sitcom guys. There was a time when I started doing it, and everyone in show biz was like, “Don’t! You’ll be labeled a warm-up. Blah blah blah.” It just felt like a good idea to go in this direction. The thing is, buddies that I started with, some do the cruises still, some are doing corporate gigs, some are still doing what’s left of the road, because the road really changed. It’s not the road it once was. Some guys quit stand-up altogether. We all end up somewhere. One of the top warm-up guys in town is 62. I almost feel like it’s the one thing in show business where they don’t push you out, no matter how old you get. If you can show up and do the job, you’re in. It’s very strange. So I’m happy that I went down this path, because there’s a longevity to it. I don’t have to cold call, I just get calls from these shows. I guess there’s some short list out there. There’s like four top guys doing all the shows. I know it seems a little monopolizing, but it’s just the way it ends up. I’m lucky and happy to be in that top four. And what other career in show biz can you say there’s four other guys doing? [Laughs.] That’s what’s so weird about it: You really have to trust the warm-up. You hear this guy’s voice all night long from the get-go. They’ve got to like you. They can’t get sick of you.
I once got a call from a show, and they go, “We’ve had the same warm-up for a really long time. We want someone new.” That was all they said. Like, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” “No, we’re just sick of him.” You never know what’s going to happen. And there are some guys who, when I first started they were those top guys, and they’re gone. I don’t know where they are. It’s a very weird thing. Is there a rivalry? There might be a little bit. It’s not evil. The way the landscape has been for the last seven years or so, there’s enough shows for everybody. We’re all working right now.
AVC: Is there intense competition for those jobs? It sounds like you guys just get the call and then you’re there. Do you follow each other’s careers?
AM: Here’s something that a lot of people might not know: We hear each others’ names a lot, the same guys. “You’re doing this show; so and so is doing that show.” “Who got that show?” “Oh, that guy got that show.” But we don’t see each others’ acts. It’s impossible. We just know each other by name. We might hear things about the acts, but we don’t really see, because we all work on the same nights. When you’re done with one of your shows, even if someone else is doing another show on the same lot, the last thing you want to do is go watch a show. You’ve had it. People think we know each others’ acts really well, but we don’t. We all have different energy levels. We’re all different in many ways.
AVC: TV comedy has increasingly moved away from multi-camera, but now it feels like there’s been a resurgence of it. Has that worried you at any point?
AM: Luckily for me, there was only one year where the stars just did not line up; everything was super heavy on reality shows and single camera. It might have been ’06. Something kooky happened when I realized, “Wow, I don’t have any sitcoms this year.” So there’s one season without, and other shows found me—like Megan Mullally had a talk show, and I did some other shows. So I was okay, but it was a weird season. YouTube was kind of a newish thing, and I created a Paris Hilton spoof that got 32 million hits, so luckily, my creative juices went to something else at the time. And the next thing you know, warm-up just came back the next season. Often producers who really love you and trust you and think you’re the guy, the reason you didn’t get calls that season is because they don’t have a show. That’s just show biz. That’s just the way it works.
The multis are back. Sometimes the single-camera shows might be darlings of the critics, but people still want to hear people laughing at a show. That’s just the way it is. I guess reruns of shows like Still Standing were getting better numbers than some single camera shows, so show business isn’t dumb. They will give people what they want at the end of the day. That’s why multis are really happening a lot now. I work in them so much I don’t always watch them at home. The thing about multis is people love to say they never watch them, it’s a weird, “Oh, I don’t watch that show.” But maybe that’s just because I live in Los Angeles.
You know what’s funny? Sometimes it’s sad when a show ends abruptly. Like, wow, that barely got off the ground.
AVC: You talked a lot about how being a good stand-up made you good at warm-up. How do you think doing warm-up made you better at doing stand-up?
AM: There’s some warm-ups that didn’t have much of a stand-up background. They fell into warm-up in other ways. Once in a while I’ll hear, “We like you because you’re funny. We saw this other show last week where the guy didn’t really do much.” I guess I’m creating a little rivalry right now, but I’ll say it anyway. You hear things like, “Wow, you have some stuff to say! You’re doing some bits!” And that makes me feel good that they take away a lot. If a warm-up is doing nothing, then the energy dies between the scenes. What’s sad is, even if they like the show, because the warm-up is so boring, they end up kind of turning on the show. They won’t enjoy the show because they’re just bored.
If you’re at a comedy club, you don’t want the guy before you to just bomb. You don’t want him to just suck the life out of the room and just eat it. You want someone who’s good. You shouldn’t be afraid to follow anyone who kills either. If someone kills in front of you, and you walk up and are like, “God, how can I follow that?” you might not be as good as you can be. If someone kills in front of you, just get up and keep it going. Keep the comedy going. You’ll be so surprised that, “Hey, the audience likes me, too!” There are times at the Laugh Factory where Dane Cook would go up before me and he’d just rip them a new one, and some comedians go, “Ha, ha. Good luck following that.” Well, it’s your job to follow it. Who cares? Get up and be funny. Next thing you know, they like you, too. The same goes for warm-up. If the warm-up is afraid to be funny, he can ruin a show. A quiet warm-up, a whispery warm-up, can kill a show. That’s normally when I, or someone with more pizzazz, might get a call.
I was asked to fill in at Mad About You, one of my first gigs. As a matter of fact, I don’t even think I had NewsRadio yet. This was very new to me. I was still a new guy. They didn’t tell Paul Reiser that there was a new warm-up, and I started off fine, but Paul got so worried that next thing you know, when it came back to me after a scene, music was playing. This was a time before a DJ. The sound mixer was in charge of music, so he was playing songs, really loudly. I was trying to give him the “I’m trying to talk” signal to turn down the music and then I was like, “How can I get the crowd on my side? How can I do any bits if the music is blasting?”
So then the AD came up and said, “Paul wants music.” And I go, “Okay.” “Paul wants a lot of music tonight.” “Okay.” Then the scene goes again, then it goes back to me, “Big round of applause everybody! Anyways…” next thing you know the music is blasting again. So I said to the AD, “How can I talk?” “Paul wants a lot of music.” So I got let go. I was supposed to do the following week, they said, “Yeah, we don’t want you for next week.” I said, “Well, I have to tell you. That’s fine. That’s your choice. However, if I was allowed to do my thing, I think you would have been pleasantly surprised. I could have got people going and done bits with them or whatever.” So that was a little bit of a nightmare for me. [Laughs.] It hurt. But a lot about a warm-up at the beginning is pretty rough. You really have to take your lumps and deal with some kooky things like that. But that was a rare case.
AVC: What are you working on right now, if people want to see your work and they’re in the Los Angeles area?
AM: I’ll be doing The Exes again next season. I just wrapped on Kirstie, Dads, Mom, The Exes, Ground Floor, Undateable. I did Sean Saves the World, but that’s canceled. And right now I’m in that stage where I’m in the process of doing four different pilots. Mom’s coming back. The Exes is starting in late June. Those are my for-sure shows. Everything else is waiting to hear the word. [After this interview was conducted, Murray added Last Man Standing and Cristela to his fall season slate.—ed.]
The pilot scramble is always pretty funny. The pilot scramble is when everyone hears what shows are picked up, and the phone starts ringing off the hook and different shows, “We’re a Tuesday show.” “We’re a Friday show.” “We’re a Wednesday show.” You have to make decisions and let people know what you need. It’s pretty fun. A lot of shows are very generous and they want you to warm-up their show, so they put a guaranteed guest-starring role in your contract, which I love. And if they don’t get to your role for some reason, if for some reason it just wasn’t the right fit, they pay you anyway. I’ve actually gotten more money not to act in Hollywood. [Laughs.]