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"The joke was to see how few words we could use to get Bill to throw up," offers Rich Talarico, a film writer and director in Los Angeles. "You'd be walking down the street and you'd say, 'So, Bill, I was cleaning out my basement yesterday, and I found this coffee can full of diarrhea.' It was pretty easy."
Phill Arensberg, a Seattle-based writer, recalls a live performance he and Chott were doing outside Chicago, with television cameras rolling. At one point, Arensberg says, "he jumped into the scene and did a full-body clench, with this really intense let's-rock-'n-roll face, and says, 'Looooooove waffles!' in a morning-zoo-DJ voice.
"That started one of his coughing fits, with the throat-clearing turning into a dry cough turning into a wet cough. I'm trying to cover this up, and all of a sudden I see the audience all making the same facial expression at once — eyes wide, jaws dropping — and I see everyone riveted on Bill. It was like being in the Abraham Zapruder [Kennedy assassination] film. His face explodes into this fountain of vomited barbecue pork rinds and generic Mr. Pibb, and he shoots this column of spew all over the feet of the front row of the audience."
Arensberg says Chott proceeded to make an "uh-oh" expression, wipe his mouth and trot behind the curtain. "Halfway through the second set, [Chott] jumps back onstage and says, 'Hey, everybody! I'm back with a neeew att-i-tude!'"
Getting Chott to puke was a regular game played in the van by the Second City touring performers — so entertaining that Tina Fey had a good laugh reminiscing about it during an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman last year. Most recently Chott can be seen projectile vomiting in a short YouTube video filmed for the St. Louis band the Browncoats. Although it became the money shot, the puking was unscripted.
For a time Chott's friends worried his esophageal fits were a portent of illness, given his chain-smoking and periodic struggles with his weight. But no, says Chott, it's just the sight, smell or any evocative mention of vomit or poop that makes him puke. "Too much beer — all the bubbles — that can do it, too."
Chott is an obsessive fiddler. At restaurants he chews on straws. On patios he shoots spitballs. During workshops and shows he seems to last about an hour at most before taking a break to light up. He says the on-again, off-again butt habit has plagued him for years.
Chott also admits he would like to lose some body mass — "This is the biggest I've ever been" — but not to the extent that it would mess with his typecasting. As Second City's Kelly Leonard puts it: "Because Bill looks like Bill looks, he'll never stop working."
Robert Smigel, a New York-based comedy writer and producer, says Chott's "retro" look was a big factor in hiring him for The Dana Carvey Show back in 1996. "He had this neat haircut, those old-school glasses, that voice and way of speaking that's very crisp and Midwestern — he's not of this world," says Smigel, whose credits include hundreds of Saturday Night Live and Late Night with Conan O'Brien episodes. "It's funny, because Stephen Colbert had that, and we cast him as well. They both looked like they could have been Groucho Marx's sidekicks on You Bet Your Life."
Smigel had taken note of Chott after the latter auditioned for SNL with a rather graphic impression of a legendary comedian. "It was Jackie Gleason taking a huge dump — with much effort," Smigel recounts. "It was hilarious — the hardest I'd laughed in a long time. We never got to do it on [Carvey]. I'm sure if we had, the show would've been canceled even sooner!"
The ABC sketch comedy program, starring Carvey, Colbert, Carell and Chott, endured a brief run during prime time, immediately following Tim Allen's family-friendly sitcom Home Improvement — a fatal time slot, says Smigel, given Carvey's racy stripe of humor. (The lone season was recently released on DVD.)
Chott continued to work with Carell, Colbert and Smigel as the narrator of Smigel's cartoon, The Ambiguously Gay Duo, a regular feature on SNL for a time. Chott then moved from New York to Los Angeles and was fast-tracked into high-profile casting calls for movies starring the likes of Jack Nicholson (As Good as It Gets) and Jim Carrey (The Truman Show).
"[Truman Show director] Peter Weir wanted to see some of my improv, and I knocked it out of the park," Chott told a class of aspiring actors this summer, relating how he then proceeded to blow the audition because he lied and said he'd read the script even though he hadn't.
It was a different story when Chott auditioned for The Ringer, a Farrelly brothers film about a man who fakes a mental disability and enters the Special Olympics. Chott walked into the audition wearing gym shorts, a rugby shirt and ultra-thick glasses — essentially, as his "Frederick" character — and never stepped out of the personality, from his hello to his goodbye.
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