Rumbles of greatness as Chicago-trained Stephnie Weir co-stars on ‘The Comedians’
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One of the many uncomfortably funny parts in the premiere of the new series “The Comedians” came from somewhere deep inside Stephnie Weir.
Literally deep inside.
The Chicago-trained comic’s stomach emitted an earth-rumbling growl during an office scene with Josh Gad.
“I was incredibly nervous and it worked in my favor,” said Weir, who plays an anxious, in-over-her-head producer in the latest TV show about a fictional TV show, starring Billy Crystal and Gad as heightened versions of themselves.
The two disparate comedians — smug elder statesman and cocky upstart — are forced to work together on a late-night sketch show in the mockumentary-style comedy debuting at 9 p.m. Thursday on FX.
“This grrrrrr thing scene with Josh — that’s real,” Crystal said about the gastrointestinal-noise incident at the TV critics winter press tour in California. “They just bounced with it for however long it took and it’s hilarious. We didn’t have to add anything. We sat by the monitors and I remember going, ‘Wow,’ because it was so unusual and so funny.”
Chimed in Weir: “I can do a lot of bodily functions. I went to school for that.”
The 47-year-old native of West Texas considers Chicago her comedy classroom.
“I was in community college and my theater teacher was like, ‘You need to go to Chicago. You have a comedy element and I think you’ll thrive there,’ ” she said. “I never finished my college degree. I just went to Chicago to get my training.”
Weir moved here in 1991 and spent the next decade honing her skills at iO (back when it was ImprovOlympic) and Second City, where she wrote and performed in numerous mainstage revues, including “Promise Keepers, Losers Weepers,” “The Psychopath Not Taken” and “Second City 4.0.”
The close-knit comedy community is where she met her husband, former Chicagoan Bob Dassie, her frequent collaborator.
“He’s in one of the episodes as my ex-boyfriend,” she said. “We make out in a car.”
Dassie is one half of the couple’s cleverly titled two-person team WeirDass. The L.A.-based duo riff on marriage in their web series, “Eleven Year Itch,” and often come back to Chicago to perform at their old stomping grounds.
“My acting chops are so much better because of Chicago and everything I learned in improv,” said the 2002 Chicago Improv Festival’s female improviser of the year. “It really was my foundation. It’s my adopted home.”
It was time to leave home when Fox’s “MADtv” came calling in 2000. Weir logged six seasons on the long-running sketch comedy series, where she made a name for herself playing weird characters like neglected daughter Dot Goddard and imitating the late Anna Nicole Smith, a fellow Texan born on the same day as Weir.
In “The Comedians,” Weir plays a woman who exerts a lot of nervous energy trying to appear normal.
“She’s tightly wound and seems completely incompetent,” Weir said. “It’s not a far cry from me — from the most scattered part of myself.”
If Weir is tightly wound, it’s with good reason. In addition to a busy improv schedule and filming the FX series’ 13 episodes last year, she worked as a writer on the recently canceled CBS sitcom “The Millers” and sold a pilot to ABC about a bank branch manager. (Calm down, haters: If anyone can find the funny in the dry world of financing, it’s Weir.)
Despite a prolific career in comedy, Weir had never worked with Crystal or Gad (“The Book of Mormon,” “1600 Penn”) before “The Comedians.” That makes for the kind of daunting first day on the job that could spark primordial sounds from just about anyone’s stomach.
“Stepping into the room for that first scene with them, I was all nerves,” she said. “But they made it clear, ‘We want you to play.’ As an improviser, I couldn’t have asked for a better scenario.”