Comedian gets funny in Philly
- Eric Bartels
- Portland Tribune - Features
Kaitlin Olson skipped commercials, went straight for laughs
Kaitlin Olson, who stars in the irreverent FX comedy 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia,' will never be happy being cute and tall and blond.
'I want to be cute and tall and blond and talented,' she says.
With that as her goal, Olson held out for the right kind of work after arriving in Hollywood right out of the University of Oregon.
'I wasn't focused on commercials,' she says. 'I wasn't in a hurry to take everything that came along. It's pretty important to me to be proud of the work I do. I didn't want to just be cute and on TV. I wanted to be funny.'
Olson, who grew up in Tigard, has gotten the chance to be funny in some pretty high-profile places in recent years. She had recurring roles in the HBO comedy 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and the 'The Drew Carey Show' and later traveled with Carey to Kosovo and Bosnia doing USO shows.
She played pranks on celebrities like Beyoncé on the series 'Punk'd' and last year starred on 'Kelsey Grammer Presents: The Sketch Show.'
But she's a sitcom regular for the first time on the new FX series, which begins its second season Thursday night. In it, Olson plays 'Sweet Dee,' the sister of one of three friends who own a blue-collar Philly bar. While Dee has issues, mostly man problems, she is a winning oasis of sanity amid a crew of self-absorbed slackers.
Olson is a big fan of Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day, real-life friends and stars of the show, who created the project on a shoestring budget.
'They originally wrote and shot the pilot by themselves for the price of tape and pizza,' she says. 'It worked out for them because it's their vision. They're so smart and so funny, it's easy to trust them. When it comes down to it, Rob is the boss. FX lets him have his creativity.
'It's risqué. FX is becoming the mini-HBO. It has a lot of innovative, original programming. They let us push the envelope.'
Olson, who says she's in her really late 20s - she's 30 - believes the show will benefit from a new time slot following 'The Family Guy.'
She's also confident the addition of veteran funnyman Danny DeVito to the cast will attract new audience share.
'He's this rich guy that wants to rediscover his youth and hang out with his kids,' she says.
The cast got to know DeVito while shooting the second season. 'He is honestly one of the most amazing people I've ever met,' she says. 'He is hilariously funny. We'd go back to his house and have barbecues and hang out with Rhea (Perlman, DeVito's wife) and the kids.'
Shy one takes the stage
Olson, the daughter of former Portland Tribune publisher Don Olson, was already somewhat shy when, at age 12, she was involved in a grisly bicycle accident that fractured her skull and necessitated reconstructive surgery.
'I had my head shaved going into junior high,' she says. 'I could hide for the rest of my life or find an alternative way to stand out.' She chose the theater.
'It was a defining moment in her life,' her father says. 'It did huge things for her self-confidence. She found she had a bit of a knack for it.'
High school friend Heather Olson (no relation) remembers nervously anticipating Olson's first singing role in high school.
'She was an understudy and she got the chance to do 'Rumpelstiltskin,' ' she recalls. 'She actually had to sing, which she was terrified of doing. She just knocked it out of the park. I think that was a turning point.'
At the University of Oregon, where the friends roomed together for four years, Kaitlin Olson hit her stride.
'Freshman year: low profile, got her feet wet,' Heather Olson says. 'By the end she was the lead in everything. She just took over the theater department. It was very clear that was what she was going to do.'
'I don't think you can have a backup plan and be successful in this business,' Kaitlin Olson says. In Los Angeles she landed a spot with the Groundlings, the popular and influential comedy troupe whose alumni include Phil Hartman, Lisa Kudrow and Will Ferrell.
'It was amazing training,' she says. 'I was working with some pretty talented people, and it set the bar for me.'
Olson says she now aspires to the kind of comic lead status enjoyed by stars like Ferrell and Ben Stiller.
'I still need to break into the feature world, but I'm really happy with TV for now,' she says. 'I'm excited to do theater again at some point. I'm also excited to do dramatic stuff. I don't want to just do comedy.'
Those who know Olson know she's not about to let her considerable success go to her head.
'I never really let myself think about it along the way,' Olson says of her accomplishments.
'That's what I love about her,' Heather Olson says. 'We still talk about the same stupid stuff we talked about in high school. On TV, she'll make little jokes from college. She'll call and warn me, 'Pay attention.' She's still Kaitlin.'