Big Funny: Founder Bill Chott and his fellow improv tricksters aim to bring back the glory days of St. Louis sketch comedy

Big Funny: Founder Bill Chott and his fellow improv tricksters aim to bring back the glory days of St. Louis sketch comedy

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See video of Chott in action on our news blog, Daily RFT, in "Bill Chott's Bag o' Tricks."

At his 40th birthday roast — an evening he has billed as "XXX-rated" and pimped like a (Twitter-savvy) boxing promoter — Bill Chott takes a seat at the front of the house. Sans stage, with its peeling plaster, and painter's lamps standing in for spotlights, this "theater" ain't the Fabulous Fox or even the Playhouse at Westport Plaza. But to Chott (pronounced cot), the shabby basement at 2715 Cherokee Street feels like home.

The recently divorced comedic actor has been splitting his time between his native St. Louis (where he lives in Overland with Mom and Dad) and Los Angeles, where he is to head the following day for some television taping and auditions. His birthday is still a month out — and Chott does plan to party hard in Hollywood on that day — but the St. Louis bash is a chance to celebrate how far his four-year-old improv school has come in just the past few months.

The Improv Trick has finally found a permanent dwelling in the increasingly hipster Cherokee 'hood. Chott has hired a full-time director of operations. The student roster continues to grow, and a program for at-risk neighborhood kids is in the works. As Chott will say at the end of the night, "When I first started, I thought, 'Hey, maybe we'll do that improv show.' We've created a whole community, and I couldn't be prouder."

Larger than life in size (pushing 300 pounds), guise (imagine a bald Drew Carey), energy (maybe it's the chain-smoking), artistic gifts (song, dance, ad-libs, magic, impressions) and "friends" (12,265 on MySpace, 2,233 on Facebook), Chott's a guy who his closest associates say is "always on." But this sweltering summer night he gets to sit back, gulp a rum-and-Coke and sport his best shit-eating grin for the career cracks ("Bill has been in more terrible commercials than erectile dysfunction"), the bromance gags ("When we were kids, we swore if we ever made it big, we'd help each other out. [Pause.] Thanks for all the posters, Bill") and the flesh jokes ("Everybody wants a piece of Bill. [Pause.] And there's plenty to go around").

It even gets a wee bit sentimental: "How do you measure a man? Do you measure him by his achievements? By his contributions to society? By his cock? No, you measure a man by the size of his heart. And Bill Chott's heart — like his ass — is a triple-XL."

Chott started his career in comedy with the Second City, the Chicago-based gold standard of improv theaters that spawned the careers of John Candy, Bill Murray and Mike Myers, to name but a few. But industry insiders say Chott was born with more than funny bones.

"He can sing, he can do comedy, he can do improv, he can do serious stuff, he's got a million characters, he's the full package," says Ali Reza Farahnakian, owner of the Peoples Improv Theater in New York. "He's got what people in the business call 'insurance,' which means when you walk out onstage, the audience is immediately on your side."

Chott's most prominent comedic acting role came in 2005 when he played a Special Olympian in the Farrelly brothers' flick The Ringer. Most of Chott's work takes the form of "character" parts: a serial killer who keeps severed heads in the fridge (It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia), a murder victim who also suffers from a chronic hunger disease (CSI), a regular at a strip club (Dancing at the Blue Iguana), a dorky TV producer (Vibe), an alien groupie (Galaxy Quest).

Chott's curriculum vitae may not afford him flashy Hollywood wheels (he drives a '98 Ford Escort, royal blue), but as Second City vice president Kelly Leonard observes, "Bill has always worked."

At the roast it's 29-year-old BJ "Honkey" Lange, a performer and Improv Trick student, who nearly rips the roof off the place ribbing Chott's résumé.

"Where do people go to find stuff out about people? They go on the Internet. [Pause.] Because nobody fuckin' knows you, Bill, I'm sorry," Lange begins.

"According to Wikipedia, which is the most reliable source of news, 'Bill Chott was born July 23, 1969.' Now, I know he's an old fuck, but I can also say it's ironic as shit — 69 — considering he's never seen a vagina.

"...Now listen here: 'Bill left St. Louis in 1992 for Chicago, where he worked with the improvOlympic and Second City. He became one of the crème de la crème of Second City and performed with such people as Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert—' whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute!

"First of all, did Wikipedia actually say you were the 'crème de la crème' of Second City? Did you write this shit yourself? And second, what the hell happened to you? You went from working with modern-day comedic greats to working in minor films with Johnny Knoxville?

"'Bill toured the country with Second City and began working on The Dana Carvey Show, reuniting him with Carell and Colbert.' These are actual quotes! Reuniting you with Carell and Colbert? I guess the coattails were too hard to get on when you had one hand in the pie at the craft-services table!

"'...He played Fan Number One in Galaxy Quest, the big cult guard in Dude, Where's My Car? fantasy nerd in Nerd Hunter 3004 — ' wait a minute, I'm starting to see a fuckin' trend here, people! Do they only cast you as nerd characters? I've heard of typecasting, but this shit is fuckin' ridiculous!

"More recently, ladies and gentlemen, if you didn't know, Bill was thisclose to securing a role as Curly in The Three Stooges movie. Unfortunately, you lost the role you were born to play — a crazy, short, fat sonofabitch — and you lost it to Jim Carrey, a good-looking, tall, slim guy with gray hair. How the fuck did that happen? Let me guess. At the audition you ate all the pies, so they couldn't do a screen test.

"...Seriously, Bill, I do want to say it's an honor knowing you, even though you are celebrating your birthday one month in advance, which is completely acceptable, because the people in St. Louis are still impressed with you.

"That shit would never fly in LA!"

What do you get when you cross Whose Line Is It Anyway? with Wrestling at the Chase?

You get St. Louis' first "competitive" comedy night, which Chott concocted and called "The Stagematch." It runs every Wednesday night at the Stable in Benton Park.

"Ladies and gentlemen, I was once the leader of the World Federation of Competitive Comedy, and if my teams win this prize, I will guarantee you I will turn the Stable into a dairy!" begins the Stagematch welcome from "Artie Smitten," an Archie-Bunker-meets-Don-King character of Chott's, whom he affectionately terms "showbiz dick."

Chott gallops offstage while the crowd sings the national anthem, then returns as a new character wearing a referee shirt. "Last week's winners, the Central West Enders, got into it over who screwed up 'Da Doo Ron Ron,' and that is why the World Competitive Comedy Federation split up this team and announces two new teams, the Meramec Dropouts and the Soulard Slingers!" Chott bellows.

Boas waving, wrestling shoes squeaking onstage, the players spew trash talk while Chott tries to hush them. "Ladies and gentlemen, let me tell you the rules for the evening!" he hollers. "There will be no foul language, nothing below the belt, and" — he gives a once-over to the rows right up front — "nothing too college-y!"

With that, a rollicking evening gets under way.

The premise is simple: Eight to twelve improvisers (or "players") competing as St. Louis-themed pairs square off in five or six improv "games." Losers of the games are progressively eliminated, not necessarily when they don't get a laugh, but when they violate the rules of the game (which often gets a laugh). Audience participation is crucial, with crowd members supplying contextual suggestions and booting rule breakers with two claps and an "Outta here!"

In "Da Doo Ron Ron" the audience supplies a name (say, Ted), and the players take turns inventing lyrics on the spot ("Met him on a Monday and his name was Ted/Took him right home and I took him to bed/He liked drugs and he took a lot of meds/He cut himself bad and then he bled...").

For "Conducted Story," the audience suggests voice or character "endowments" with which each player, when called upon, narrates lines of a story, whose subject is also provided by the audience. Think: film genre (Bollywood), cartoon character (Superman); then imagine how a Bollywood character would relate a line about a runaway toaster (singing and dancing), or how Superman would talk about saving the runaway toaster (in a loud, brawny voice).

During "Play-by-Play" two characters slowly mime a mundane activity while two other players narrate like sports announcers. Example: The World Championships of Vacuuming ("Whoa, he's pulling a classic North American move here, folks.... Oh my gosh, he's vacuuming the drapes! This is unprecedented, folks.... Oh, boy, he's going for the Dustbuster!").

Darryl Barber augments the scenes with kitschy keyboard music while Chott or Marc Pruter, the Improv Trick's manager, stands in as the ref.

Shits and giggles aside, Chott is utterly serious about putting on a professional show. Before the curtain rises, he coaches his actors (all are Improv Trick students or graduates) through an hourlong warm-up; after the show he critiques the participants' pacing and performance.

And though the crowd is encouraged to imbibe at will, there's no drinking for the Tricksters (as they call themselves), nor for Chott. "I was at a Christmas Party at iO [improvOlympic] one year and Del Close was there with his brood. They're all playing the 'A Priest and Rabbi Walk into a Bar' game, and they're drunk beyond recognition, slurring their words. Del turned to me and said" — here Chott adopts a Close impression — "'There's nothing sadder than a drunken improviser.'"

Chott is trying to revive a moment in time when Close and St. Louis improv figured large in the limelight. The art form was developed by a Chicago working mom named Viola Spolin, who used her theater games to entertain inner-city children during the Depression. In the 1950s her son, Paul Sills, formed the Compass Players to take his mother's games to the stage. The comedy troupe expanded to St. Louis during its golden age; it was here that Close, a Kansan, got his start, performing with Elaine May and Mike Nichols in Gaslight Square.

In 1959 the Compass Players folded and Close skedaddled to Chicago, where he became a member of the Second City. Considered by most to be the godfather of improv, Close went on to mentor legions of greats including Dan Aykroyd, the brothers Belushi, Chris Farley, Harold Ramis (a St. Louisan) and Stephen Colbert.

"The history of improv is rooted in St. Louis, and hardly anybody knows about it," Chott gripes. "There's never been an improv school here — which is why I ended up leaving, so I could be properly trained, and why I've come back, so other people who want to get into comedy don't have to leave."

Chott's path to improv dates back to high school (Ritenour '87), when he and his best friend Ray Brewer used to drive over to a hotel near the airport and concoct characters while consuming copious amounts of diner coffee. They'd dress the part and project extra-loud, hoping for gawkers while pretending to be a Rolling Stone writer and a grunge musician engaged in a serious interview, say, or a pair of lowlifes plotting a bank heist.

Then there was "Frederick," the mentally challenged man-boy. "He was our drive-around-town character," recalls Brewer, a local musician and actor. "We were fuckin' nerds, so a Friday night for us consisted of driving up the Rock Road with Bill doing Frederick. We'd pull into a drive-through, Bill'd go, 'I'd wike a cheeboogah, fwies and Coke.' The guy'd say, 'Pickles on that?' Bill would say, 'Are they fwee? Pickles are fwee! Skwatch that, skwatch that, I want a bag of pickles!'

"We'd get to the window, and we'd see the kids jammed up there looking to see who the hell ordered the bag of pickles. Bill's drooling as they give him a little fry bag full of pickles. Then we'd peel out of there," says Brewer, laughing, "pull right into the next drive-in on the Rock Road and start all over again."

Chott and his two siblings lived a somewhat peripatetic youth, swapping ZIP codes around the U.S. as their father switched careers in PR, corporate theater productions and the Greek Orthodox church. Though the family always landed back in St. Louis, entertaining was Chott's coping mechanism, says his sister, Mary Roth. While living in a northeastern Pennsylvania gated subdivision, for instance, Chott got his kicks by intercom-ing the security guards and pretending to be various residents.

Says Roth: "There were a lot of different ethnic groups moving into the suburbs, and Bill would call up from outside the back gate with an accent, going, 'Yeh, this is Ishmael, I'm calling about the [security] code,' or he'd do his Sylvester Stallone Italian guy. And they'd always give him the code, no questions asked!"

Chott's father had wanted to be an actor, and on Saturday nights he let the kids stay up late to eat caramel corn and watch Saturday Night Live, SCTV (Second City Television) and Fernwood 2 Night. After Chott won his first leading role in a grade-school production, his parents, Bill and Terri, had no doubt he wanted to see his name in lights someday. Says his father: "Oh, boy, did we see it coming!"

In high school Chott tried out for Affton CenterStage, a community theater, and easily secured the lead, according to executive director Judy Rethwisch.

Rethwisch was also John Goodman's first theater coach. To this day her two former students remind her of one another. "They have a natural sense of timing and an innate ability to create humor out of anything," she says. "It's a gift, and when you see it, you know."

Chott was plotting to attend Second City's conservatory immediately upon graduation, but his father and Rethwisch persuaded him to go to college. After graduating from Central Methodist University northwest of Columbia, Chott returned to St. Louis for a year and worked as a bank teller while performing with a comedy group. "At the end of the night," remembers fellow troupe member and current Improv Trick instructor Doug Golden, "we'd all get introduced, and it was pretty clear that it was Bill who got all the applause."

Chott moved to Chicago in 1992 and enrolled in classes at Second City's conservatory. Several years later Leonard, Second City's VP, hired Chott for the touring company. "He was an easy pick — and this was at a time when he was playing with people who are now the icons of the industry: Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler," Leonard says today.

Leonard remembers how Chott's "Frederick" character "used to just kill us. I also recall Bill and Amy Poehler playing a hardcore Christian singing group who did a doo-wop adaptation of the Violent Femmes' 'Blister in the Sun,' which was just the most ridiculous scene I'd ever seen in my life!"

Adds Poehler via e-mail: "We drove many hours in a sweaty van across these fine United States. Bill was always a great performer, a kind gentleman and game for anything."

If there's anything for which Bill Chott is infamous — in entertainment circles, anyway — it's his hyperactive gag reflex. Dubbed "epic" and "Homeric in scope," the quirk makes Chott the butt of many a, uh, gag.

"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.

"Ninety percent of the people who saw him do it literally thought he was the real deal," remembers Ringer director Barry Blaustein. "[The auditions] had gotten kind of tiring, and we had seen so many people, and when Bill came in, we were like, 'Oh, man, we got one! This could work, this could work!'"

Chott has a shameless penchant for going all the way for a laugh. Legion are the tales of him walking down Michigan or Fifth avenues shirtless; standing in the wings of a theater sticking straws up his nose; feigning gay sex loud enough that a road-trip hotel roommate would wake up horrified.

"This was a kid," points out his sister, Mary Roth, "who, when we'd go to a funeral, would stand in the hallway singing, 'Every body, needs some body to love!'"

Rich Talarico remembers the regular Second City bit that opened with a handful of men standing in the buff, covering their genitals with musical instruments and singing a song called "Naked." Not only did Chott eschew a prop in favor of his bare hands, observes Talarico, but, "We were backstage, all nervously covering ourselves — crammed into this little spot, waiting to go out — and Bill would be swinging himself around, trying to make us laugh."

Adds Talarico: "The show was never really over for him."

That said, colleagues are quick to point out that on the job, Chott is no scene hog. "When actors improvise it's a lot of, 'Look at me, look at what I can do,' and they don't stay within the scene, or they blow out the scene," observes Blaustein, Ringer director. "Bill was never that way. He was incredibly generous. And he could have blown people away."

Producer Laurie Taylor-Williams, whose brother John Taylor has Down syndrome and acted in The Ringer with Chott, says, "I think that movie worked because of Bill and Knoxville. Bill was one of the few people who dealt with John and the other mentally challenged actors on a peer basis. There was nothing patronizing about it. And he would hold improv classes for these guys right on the set. He'd take them aside and work with them for two whole hours. Nobody else did that."

Theresa Masters, a long-time local actor and a teacher at the Improv Trick, says, "I always use this word to describe Bill: magnanimous."

Chott says a giving mentality is fundamental to improv. "A standup personality can create a moment, get a joke and move on to a new moment, because they're just one mind. An improviser is making up a moment with another person. He can't ditch things for a quick laugh. The most important thing in improv is to be able to say — without saying it literally — 'I'm accepting exactly what you just said and adding a little bit of information to it.' The humor comes from being human."

Chott likes to tell a famous cautionary tale of a Second City performance in which Joan Rivers played a wife whose husband came home one night and carried on about how successful their children were, after which Rivers spouted, "But, honey, we don't have any kids!" Says Chott: "It gets a really big laugh. But she wiped out everything he'd just built up.

"Improv is not about yourself. It's about giving gifts and recognizing the gifts that are around you, seeing that every word out of someone's mouth, every scratch of their nose, is unconsciously telling you something about their character. You have to look for the gift, and add to it. Once you start doing that in scene work, you start doing it in life."

As a teacher Chott tries to pass on the tools he learned from years of training with the best, beginning with his first improv instructor, Stephen Colbert. "From the first day of class, it was evident he was the sort of teacher who'd jump into a scene to help it play better," says Chott, who shares Colbert's love of chewing over current events with students after class.

Interest in the Improv Trick has waxed and waned. Chott says his frequent trips to LA haven't helped. But the school seems to have hit its stride this year with the arrival of Pruter, a New Mexico native who's had nine lives in theater. The Stagematch has been running weekly at the Stable since June; two new Friday-night shows debuted last month at the West End Grill and Pub; and on Tuesdays improv fans can catch a long-form evening at the Trick's Cherokee Street studio.

Typically offered in six- or eight-week installments, the Tricksters' workshops run the gamut, with courses for novices, veterans, teens and kids as young as eight. Chott also offers specialized one-offs: Audition Tricks & Tips, say, or Freestyle Rapping. He now has six fellow instructors on the roster, most of whom teach standup and sketch comedy.

A newcomer to an intro-to-improv class might find herself among a motley crew that includes a factory worker from Cape Girardeau, a west-county waiter and a corporate honcho or two.

"Bill's philosophy onstage is: You're always trying to make the other person look good," observes one student, John Stumpf. "And he can really teach the non-actor." The MasterCard exec says he signed up for one of Chott's classes three years ago because he couldn't speak in front of more than two people at work without "breaking out into cold sweats."

Those days are over. Stumpf performs twice a week now with the Improv Trick. He's gone to Kansas City and the Second City in Chicago for classes and performed in New Orleans with Chott and other Tricksters. "I think the key is, you're never up there [onstage] alone," says Stumpf. "[Bill] always says making a mistake is funny, so now I live by that rule."

A St. Peters resident, the 49-year-old Stumpf says he had no idea who Chott was when he enrolled.

Stumpf's the exception, says Improv Trick's producer, Marc Pruter. "I'd say at least two-thirds of people coming for classes are coming because of Bill."

Chott is a freak for retro-kitsch — his cell phone jingles like an old rotary unit — and a nut for the fantasy-themed rides at Disneyland. He can finesse his way out of an entire bag of magic tricks, yet finding a route from Cherokee Street, to, say, the Ritz-Carlton in Clayton, is a hopeless task — even with the help of his GPS.

"Only a year ago he was leaving town again for LA," says his father, "and he finally left — you see we enjoy having Bill here, but we also breathe a sigh of relief when he's gone — and we're finally sitting down having breakfast, and I say how nice and peaceful it is, and not twenty minutes after he leaves, the phone rings. It's Bill. He says, 'I'm lost!' I said, 'Where are you?' He said, 'I'm on Highway 40!' I said, 'Oh, Bill, you don't get on Highway 40 to get to LA!'"

Chott's mom and pop say directions are about the only thing their son asks for help with. Confides his father: "We never see the downs. He has so much faith in himself and is so committed that he always seems to be thinking about the next role."

Which is not to imply that Chott, who recently learned he suffers from depression, doesn't have his doubts at times, knowing he's often one among thousands contending for a part. "Usually when I hit the bottom is when the next big job and the next big check come in," he says.

His most devastating disappointment came in the mid-1990s when SNL called him to New York from Chicago to audition for the ensemble.

"I was told in advance not to expect any laughter, and when I started doing my characters, I was killing. I opened with my Rush Limbaugh. It was killing. So I'm thinking, OK, I'm getting laughter, I've got the job! I said, 'And now, ladies and gentlemen, Jackie Gleason taking a difficult shit!' And they clammed up. I do the Gleason bit and the room was suddenly quiet."

Chott didn't get the job.

"That was the big heartbreaker for me," he says, "because SNL was my ultimate destination when I started doing comedy."

These days Chott typically pursues roles as teachers, serial killers and pedophiles — and, yes, nerds. He has a recurring role as a dorky high school administrator on the Disney Channel's Wizards of Waverly Place. Earlier this year he shot some scenes in The Rum Diary, which is based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson and stars Johnny Depp. Chott's character? A bowling expert.

And he may have a renewed chance at a big part in the Farrelly brothers' Three Stooges pic. The Farrellys passed Chott the script during filming of The Ringer (which their company produced). The brothers initially cast Benicio Del Toro as Moe and Sean Penn as Larry. Chott auditioned for Curly — but lost out earlier this year to Jim Carrey.

Penn dropped out in June, however, and, Carrey withdrew in early August. Paul Giamatti has taken Penn's place. Chott has commenced a letter-writing campaign in the hopes of nabbing Carrey's slot. And he's optimistic.

"Peter Farrelly personally called me when Jim Carrey got the part to tell me I had been at the top of their list and they hadn't looked at anybody else besides me and Jim Carrey," he says.

(To see video of Chott's original audition, as well as Improv Trick vignettes, visit

In the meantime St. Louis makes a great part-time home. "I don't need to perform in front of 250 people at once," says Chott. "Here I get to perform in front of just the amount of audience I need — just enough to hear the laughter, and float on that."

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