For North Shore native Jonathan Kite, taping a new stand-up show at Niles North High School in Skokie — his alma mater — is one of the most natural things in the world.
Those tapings will take place Saturday, and the comedian and actor said in a recent phone chat, “It’s not the least bit weird for me. It’s totally perfect.
“Unlike a lot of people in this business, I didn’t have a bad high school experience. My parents still live four blocks from the high school. I’m still friends with a lot of the people I was friends with when I was in high school. I’m in a great relationship with the guy who was the head of the fine arts department at the time — and he’s still there. He was my theater teacher, my acting coach — he helped me get into university with his training.”
“Those high school years in the ’90s are still near and dear to my heart. I don’t have that ‘My So-Called Life,’ Claire Danes, Jared Leto, ‘Freaks & Geeks’ kind of high school experience. That was not what it was like for me at all.”
‘JONATHAN KITE’S BACK TO SCHOOL COMEDY SPECIAL’ When: 7 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday Where: Niles North High School, 9800 Lawler Ave., Skokie Tickets: $25 ($20 for Niles North alumni) Info: (312) 337-4027; www.chicago.zanies.com
The teacher he was talking about — Tim Ortmann — is someone he calls “the Wizard of Niles North,” noting Ortmann has been honored with teacher of the year awards and is “such a special human being.” Kite is such a fan, he recently returned to Niles North simply to speak to a few of Ortmann’s classes. “Nothing has changed. Only the kids look different. But Tim’s passion and his ability to instill creativity in kids has not changed in the 20-some years since he started there.”
The show Kite will do, he said, will be a combination of things. “I’ll be talking about Hollywood. There is such a weird, inaccurate perception of what Hollywood is really like. Yes, there is some truth to some of the rumors, but not all of them. … I’ll explore some of that in the show. I will talk a little bit about politics, including a little bit about [Donald] Trump, because I think he’s going to be around for a while, whether he gets the presidency or not.”
Known for his wide array of celebrity impressions, Kite acknowledged he will showcase a number of them in the Saturday taping, but quickly added that his take on people like Tom Hanks, President Obama, Harrison Ford, Seth Rogen, Vince Vaughn, John Lithgow or Ian McKellen will not be caustic zingers.
“I mainly do impressions of people I consider my heroes,” said Kite. “These are people I’ve had experiences with or consider them as people I admire for their gifts as storytellers, actors or comedians. I pay homage to them as I poke a little fun at them, because this all comes from a place of love and respect.
“Trump is probably the only guy I do an impression of that I’m not a fan of,” he added with a laugh.
Best known for his role as Oleg the Ukrainian cook on the hit CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” the entertainer said he had some real-life experiences to prepare for the gig on the show, now heading into its sixth season.
“I used to have that job that Oleg has on the show,” he said. “I went to the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana. Over the summers, I did summer stock theater. Which was awesome, but you mostly were performing at night and I had a lot of free time during the day. Since I was eating so much at a place called Dewey’s Other Place, I thought I should get a job there to get a discount! … So suddenly, I was the cook in the back, and I was only 19 years old.
“So when I got the job on ‘2 Broke Girls,’ it was a natural fit,” said Kite, adding the producers also had him critique the show’s kitchen set-up for accuracy. “I felt like I was the guy from the Board of Health,” Kite joked, “going over the place with a fine-toothed comb.”
Another experience which has come in handy is Kite’s ability to draw on his growing-up years in Skokie. “I’ve been doing impressions for years, but when I was a kid, so many of my friends were first-generation or second-generation Americans. Their parents and grandparents came from Eastern Europe: Russia, Poland, the Ukraine, places like that. For example, one of my best friends was a boy named Elliott, but his parents pronounced it ‘Illiott.’ We used to say it like that too, for fun. … So I naturally could easily slip into the role of Oleg and nail his accent, based on the people I knew growing up.
“In show business it’s all about building blocks — absorbing experiences and then using them. But, when you think about it, life is like that, no matter what your profession.”
In the final analysis, however, Kite wanted to stress that he credits his own parents for giving him the original spark — the exposure to the world of entertainment. “My parents were taking me to comedy shows and live theater since I was a little kid. I remember the first thing they took me to was a children’s production of ‘The Wizard of Oz’ — and trust me, I was super tiny!”