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matt champagne

June 30, 2010

Interview by Chris Auman

Matt Champagne actor comedian

You may recognize actor and comedian Matt Champagne from such short-lived sit-coms as Claude's Crib and Oh, Baby. Maybe you've seen him pop up as a guest star on 'Til Death, Medium, Numb3rs or the venerable 7th Heaven. Perhaps you're more familiar with his work as the Salad Mobile driver in a recent Jack in the Box commercial. Yes? No? Maybe? Perhaps. At any rate, this is my point: Matt Champagne is an actor and comedian living in L.A..

Several short decades ago, Matt and I were roommates here in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. It was the summer of 1990. Michael Bolton and Paula Abdul ruled the pop charts. "Ice Ice Baby" was a number one jam and that silly but loveable Sadam Hussein invaded Kuwait thus inspiring the first Gulf War. Oh yeah, and the groove was in the heart. Matt and I both had shitty restaurant jobs and were broke-ass poor, but we did manage to emmulate the rich by passing the time playing games of leisure. In this case, Risk, the game of world domination. Having spotted Mr. Champagne (and yes, that is his real name) in a recent Sears commerical, I figured I'd track him down and see what his life was like these days. And so I did. This transcripted interview is the result.


RW: We’re on the phone with Matt Champagne. How would you describe who you are, what you do?

MATT: Ahh, first can we say hello to one another?

RW: Oh, I’m sorry.

MATT: It’s been, like, ten years or something. When’s the last time we actually spoke?

RW: The last time, I think you called me once in the summer when there was a black out (in Chicago) and I was sitting alone in my apartment in the dark and you laughed and said that that was awesome.

MATT: (Laughs.) You’re sure? I don’t remember that. It was just out of the blue, I called you and we just started talking?

RW: Yeah, it would have been late 90s, ‘cause I know I still lived in Uptown. It was that same apartment when you came on your cross-country journey...

MATT: That’s right, see I remember that, that was definitely the last time I physically saw you, but I do remember that. I tell that story a lot.

RW: I probably have a slightly different version.

MATT: Well you and I were college roommates or we were roommates for a summer. We lived in an apartment on Bissell right by the el and we would play Risk and you would always beat me. You would always win. I could never beat you.

RW: I was very good.

MATT: And then years went by—a lot of years went by—and I graduated from DePaul and I moved to New York and I moved to LA, I was starting to make lots of money—a shit load of money.

RW: I see.

MATT: And I was like, you know what? I’m gonna rent a car and I’m just gonna drive. I’m just gonna drive everywhere. One of the places I drove to, coming back to L.A., was Chicago. So I called you and you let me stay in your apartment, which was really nice, but within minutes of me getting into your apartment, the Risk game was out.

RW: At your request, right?

MATT: Oh, I don’t think there was too much canoodling on your part. Cannoodling is that the right word?

RW: I’ll Google it.

(Editors note: canoodling is most certainly NOT the right word. Thanks Merriam-Webster!)

MATT: Too much coercion on your part. I think it was sort of a—I do remember I was not there for too long—I was there for maybe a matter of minutes before it just became a forgone conclusion that a Risk game was in effect.

RW: It was on.

MATT: And we played, and we played, and we just kept playing and my skills had improved and you were not able to shut me down the way that you had in years past. It was getting late, we went to bed, we woke up and then we finished the game and I beat you.

RW: Well, Ali lost a few fights too, you know. It’s no big deal. We need to have a rematch. Now can I ask you some questions now that the Risk talk is out of the way?

MATT: This is for the Wiglar right?

RW: Yeah.

MATT: Ok, great.

RW: For the on-line version?

MATT: Is this going to be a written thing, you’re gonna write about this? This recording isn’t going to be a podcast or anything?

RW: No, no, no. I’m not that sophisticated. It’s just going to be a transcribed interview, cleaned up, edited. This is all in there already, even what you’re saying right now—unless I decide to edit it because it’s too boring or whatever, but anyway, tell me what’s going on? I know you do stand-up comedy pretty much nightly, right?

MATT: Yeah, I do all my stand-up pretty much in L.A.. I don’t really travel and do stand-up, unfortunately, although I’d like to. Every now and then I’ll go out of town a little bit, but I’m mostly just an L.A. comic. I do that every night, that’s sort of my creative outlet. You know how the Wiglar for you is your creative outlet?

RW: Right.

MATT: Stand up for me is my creative outlet.

RW: While you audition for other stuff.

MATT: I don’t make my living doing stand-up comedy, I make my living doing commercials and stuff like that. I’m still an actor.

RW: Yeah, I was looking at your profile on IMDb.

MATT: Pretty impressive, huh?

RW: Yeah, you got a lot going on, let me toggle over to it. 7th Heaven, that's what I wanted to ask you about, Jessica Biel? You work with her?

MATT: I was on 7th Heaven, dude.

RW: Did you have any scenes with Jessica?

MATT: No, I just had one scene with a hamster. I was a veterinarian. You wanna hear an obnoxious story?

RW: Oh yeah.

MATT: That job was an offer that I didn’t audition for. The casting person just knew me and she liked me. She called up my manager and said we just want to offer him this one little part, this one little scene. And I was like, 7th Heaven, that show fucking sucks, man! I don’t want to be on 7th Heaven, and I was in no position to turn down work—and still am not—but I had gotten to the point where I was looking at my résumé and I was like, my résumé is chock full of cheese, man. You got it in front of you. You got Ghost Whisperer on there.

RW: Right.

MATT: Just a bunch of cheese. I don’t think I’ve done anything really, really artistically viable since I was in college.

RW: CSI: Miami, come on.

MATT: Except for CSI: Miami, that’s a huge artistic accomplishment.

RW: And Will and Grace.

MATT: Of course, Will and Grace.

RW: Probably not since Claude’s Crib have you been able to stretch out as much as an actor.

MATT: That true! So, I was just like, 7th Heaven, that show is such a piece of shit. So, I said to my manager, I don’t want to do it. I don’t want to do it. I just don’t want to be on that horrible show. And she was like, wow, alright, I’ll call the casting director and come up with a lie and say you’re out of town or something. So she calls me back thirty minutes later and says, you know what, they’re offering you three times as much money—or two times as much, I don’t know—and I immediately folded and said ok, I’ll do it.

RW: You look at your résumé then you look at your bank account, right?

MATT: Within minutes I was on the phone with a bunch my comedian friends telling them the story; I just want you all to know that within thirty minutes I defiantly said no, I will not be on the shitty show 7th Heaven, wait a minute, yes I will.

RW: Money talks.

MATT: I guess it does. So yeah, I was on that show.

RW: What was your first job in L.A.?

MATT: Let’s see, it was 1995 and it was The Client, there was a television show of The Client, John Grisham, you know?

RW: You know what? I’ve never heard of it.

MATT: JoBeth Williams and John Heard and Polly Holliday, better known as Flo.

RW: I’m going to click on it right now.

MATT: If you’re still on the IMDd page, it should be at the very bottom.

RW: Yeah. JoBeth Williams, forgot about her.

MATT: My agent at the time—I had a great agent—and they were just sending me out on SAG stuff before I was even in the union and I just went in and got it and I had to join (Screen Actors Guild) and that was my first guest star job. That was within six months of moving to L.A. which was really cool. I had been living in New York for three years and New York was fucking awful. New York is tough and it’s not just tough ‘cause the city is what it is, but the business is. It’s all out in L.A..

RW: In New York, were you trying to do television and not having any luck?

MATT: I was just trying to do anything. You know what? Television wasn’t even on my radar back then. Right out of college, the only acting I did was in theater, so I thought, well, I guess I want to be a stage actor. Every year we had a showcase in New York for all the people graduating from The Theater School (DePaul) and I went and I ended up getting an agent through that. So my agent was in New York, so I thought, I guess I’ll move to New York. So I moved to New York and auditioned for theater and for the most part I was a temp and I worked in restaurants. Every now and then I would get a regional theater job, but those were pretty few and far between. And then I had a chance to move to L.A. to have another agent, so I just went out to L.A. to try it and within six months I was working, so I was like, looks like I’m staying. All my family is down in Orange County anyway.

RW: Garden Grove, right?

MATT: Garden Grove, yeah. My parents still live down in Garden Grove. My family is all Southern California based, so I figured I would end up out in California eventually. But that was mid-nineties. Television is very different now. When Survivor premiered, I had to start doing commercials ‘cause it was just getting to hard to get the same kind of work that I was getting before—which is a big cliché, you know, “Reality TV changed everything,” but it really did. It was bad. It was tough for actors.

RW: I’ve seen you in a commercial here and there, maybe once a year I’ll see you in something, are you on more regionally in California?

MATT: No, most of the stuff I do is pretty national, although I did just do—you can see it on my Facebook page, there’s one creepy picture of me at a water park shooting a water cannon with a little girl—it’s for a chain of indoor water parks that you might be familiar with, the Great Wolf Lodge.

RW: Ahh, no.

MATT: They’re from Ohio, the one we shot was Ohio and I played a dad and I had two kids and a wife and we were just supposed to fuck around in a water park being creepy and weird.

RW: Ok, I see it. You should use that as a family photo and tell people it’s your daughter.

MATT: So, that’s not national because obviously not everywhere has indoor water parks, but most of the commercials I do are for national stuff. The one before that was for Sears.

RW: I saw that.

MATT: I’m happy to make my living from it, but to be honest with you, I’m forty now and I was hoping by the time I was forty I would not have to still be doing commercials, but it’s cool. That’s where stand-up comes in. I write my own stuff and go out and do it and eventually I would like to get the right representation.

RW: You’ve opened for Nick Swarsden.

MATT: Yeah, I opened for Nick, just once.

RW: These are just like local opening slots?

MATT: He was doing some shows up at the Punch Line in San Francisco a few years ago and it was my first professional club gig. He saw me at some shitty little open mic in Burbank, and was like, You’re really funny, you wanna come and open for me? That was cool and that was scary too, ‘cause it was a real club. Up until that point the only real shows I’d done were small little bar shows in L.A. where no one’s really paying attention, but San Francisco is a great comedy town. People are smart. The audiences are so good that the only thing they really need from you is to not be an idiot. If you can just get up there and communicate and not say something that is completely ridiculous and ignorant, then they’re with you.

RW: As long as you’re not Andrew Dice Clay, you’re probably ok.

MATT: Right.

RW: Who’s the equivalent of him now? Is it Larry the Cable Guy or Dane Cook? I know it’s different comedy but who can draw arena-sized crowds?

MATT: I want to default and just say Dane Cook, I mean, he’s pretty big. I should probably be able to answer this question being a comedian. I’m gonna be at the Laugh Factory, should I plug my future...

RW: Sure, sure. If it’s in about the middle of June or beyond.

MATT: My calendar says I’m gonna be at the Laugh Factory on June 23rd in Los Angeles, California.

RW: We’ll be sure to get there. We have a lot of readers in the Los Angeles area.

MATT: Oh really?

RW: No. I don’t know, maybe. We’re going to now. Do you have any good stories about celebrities that would be embarrassing that you would tell because you don’t give a shit?

MATT: Let’s see, um... I did this one movie with Ellen Barkin, you know Ellen Barkin?

RW: Yeah.

MATT: She was in Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Up in Smoke with Cheech and Chong, as well as more well-known critically acclaimed stuff, but I like to bring those up because she’s a bitch.

RW: Oh, really?

MATT: Yeah. I did this small independent film (Crime and Punishment in Suburbia) with her that was directed by my friend, Rob (Schmidt), which is how I got the part. I just had one scene. I was playing a guidance counselor and the first assistant director is introducing me to Ellen Barkin and she goes, "Ellen this is Matt Champagne. He’s playing the Guidance Counselor. Matt, this is Ellen." And Ellen Barkin looks at me and goes, "Hello Matt." And then there’s this pause and she goes, "So you’re an actor, right?" And it was said in this very haughty, above it—she was being snide and sarcastic and I just started thinking of all the things I could have said in response; Yeah, I am, what do you do?, but she seemed like the type of woman who could shut down a shoot for an entire day and I didn’t want to to that. So I just said, "Yeah, I’m an actor," and she goes, "Ok, just so long as you’re an actor." I don’t have any ego about what I do. I’m proud to be able to make a living at it, but I don’t have any ego about the fact that I’m a commercial actor. I don’t have an ego about the fact that I do lots of cheeseball sitcom acting. However, I do what I do. When someone asks me what you do for a living, I say I’m an actor. I’m not lying. That’s the real answer. I don’t work in a restaurant, I don’t temp, I’m not a personal assistant to anybody.

RW: Was she’s saying, so as long as you’re professional?

MATT: I think she was saying, "I hope you’re a real actor, because I am."

RW: Did you have scenes with her with her?

MATT: I had one little scene, it’s not a big part in the movie at all.

RW: So she was saying, as long as you’re on my level, we’ll get along. If you’re a hack we’re gonna have a problem.

MATT: Yeah, basically. Her tone was very sarcastic. I could tell she was taking the piss or she was trying to take the piss, but she’s not a funny person so it was just arrogance without any kind of wit. We do the scene, we work on it for maybe an hour, hour and a half and then I’m done. That’s my only scene and I’m wrapped for the day, as they say. I don’t have any other scenes, I don’t have any other days of work on that job. I am done. So I see her walking back to her trailer and I caught up to her and I said, "Hey Ellen, nice job in there. So how long have you been doing this acting thing now?"—knowing full well she’s been in a lot of movies—she’s been in Sea of Love with Al Pacino, like a bunch of stuff. She’s a critically acclaimed, professional film actress. She can tell now that I’m as sarcastic as she is, she's like,
"Quite some time now," and I said, "Oh that's great, you should really stick with it because you seem to have a real knack for it." I felt like it was something I had to say. I felt like I had to give it back to her a little bit.

RW: And then did she scratch your eyes out?

MATT: No, no, she just kind of looked at me.

RW: Touché.

MATT: At one point she said, "How many days are you on this?" And I said, "This is it I’m done."

RW: What if she’s producing a movie now and your headshot comes up and she sees it and she’s says, no way.

MATT: I’m sure she doesn’t remember. I’m really bad at dishing about famous peoples’ shitty behavior. I don’t really have a lot of stories like that at all. I’m not in awe of these people. I don’t see them as amazing remarkable people. Some of them are very talented, but as people they don’t make me stop in my tracks. When I work with someone that's famous... I did an episode of that show Brothers, that Fox show that got canceled—Carl Weathers, Apollo Creed from Rocky, right? I thought, that's pretty cool, I'll get a picture with him. The reason I got a picture with him wasn't so I could have a picture with Apollo Creed—I don't care about Carl Weathers. I credit him, I enjoyed that movie. I like Rocky, but it's not like I'm a Carl Weathers fan, but I had my picture taken with him because I knew that I had friends that would enjoy it. I put it on Facebook and people freaked out. They were, like, "Wow, that's so cool!" Why is it so cool? You know what I mean?

RW: Yeah.

MATT: I'm just a jaded fuck.

RW: Forty-year-old jaded actor.

MATT: Yeah.

The rest of the interview consisted mostly of catching up on the "who's doing what where" and whatnot, so it has been omitted for your reading pleasure. You're welcome. You may now return home.


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