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Greg Glienna: Meet the Comic
by Amy Wooten

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Park Ridge native Greg Glienna sure knows how to make people laugh. He's known best as the mastermind behind the hilarious comedy Meet the Parents. What many don't know is the film started as a three-minute short that aired on WTTW's Image Union, which then turned into small-budget indie flick released in 1992 and shown only in Chicago.

It has been quite a journey for Glienna since then. The actor, singer, songwriter and stand-up comic has been credited with the screenplays for A Guy Thing and Desperation Boulevard. But on June 4, Glienna will be performing a one-man cabaret at the Lakeshore Theater, where he will be getting in touch with his performance roots by showcasing his collection of comedic songs, routines and pantomimes. The audience will also get a peek at clips from his latest film, Relative Strangers, starring Danny DeVito and Kathy Bates.

When Windy City Times spoke with Glienna, he was back in town, his hands full juggling new projects. He's working on raising money for a movie to be filmed in Chicago, and developing a Chicago-based independent film company with long-time friend and executive producer, Paul Tuminaro. To top it off, he will soon have a CD of original and cover songs released. Check out Glienna's multimedia performance at Lakeshore Theater at 8 p.m.; see or call 773-472-3492.

Windy City Times: Is it kind of cool being back in your hometown?

Greg Glienna: I love it. I'm trying to move back here.

WCT: What's your favorite hangout?

GG: I love the lakefront. I love to sit down there. For me it's nice when it rains. If you live in L.A., it feels like you're in the same day every day for six years. It's nice to have a nice rainy, overcast day. ... It's like Groundhog Day.

WCT: You're returning back to your performance roots for your one-man cabaret.

GG: I call it a 'greatest hits,' but it's mainly an emphasis on comedy. I've done a lot of stuff in show business before I started making a living in film. It's some stand-up, some comedy songs, a few non-comedy songs and pantomime.

WCT: Do you miss doing stand-up?

GG: I do, and I've done a couple shows in the last few years here and there. I did a guest stunt when my friend Emo Philips did a show in L.A. A few years ago, I was opening for Judy Tenuta. We did a film together called Desperation Boulevard. I sort of miss it, but I don't want to go back to just doing straight stand-up because I like the more variety format. I was thinking the show I would do would be a very hip show if it were 1950. [ Laughs. ]

WCT: So, when did you first realize you wanted to be a performer?

GG: You know, I have mixed feelings about performing, actually. I used to want to be a performer or actor in high school. I did a lot of stuff. I used to make short films when I was a child. But lately I discovered I kind of have mixed feelings about performing. I don't always enjoy doing it; I just enjoy having done it. You know, I like it when the show is over. I really like the anonymity of sitting in the back of the theater and watching the film and hearing the laughs.

WCT: Did you meet Jim Vincent [ the producer of 1992's Meet the Parents ] in grammar school?

GG: Wow, we knew each other from way, way back. ... [ We ] used to make films together. We made a film in fourth grade with a Super 8 camera. [ Laughs. ] We were making pancakes and they stuck to the ceiling.

WCT: You've gone from a $30,000 indie film to one of the most top grossing comedies. Has it been a bittersweet journey?

GG: Here and there. [ Laughs. ] I've painfully discovered the difference between net points and gross points. Yeah, it has. I prefer making the smaller films because you have more control over it. I wrote a film called A Guy Thing, which was absolutely the funniest script ever written. The movie is horrible. I went to the premiere and Barbra Streisand was sitting two rows behind me. [ Laughs. ] And I still had a miserable time because I was watching the movie! You know, I was so horrified by some of the changes they made.

WCT: Was Relative Strangers filmed here?

GG: We set that in Chicago, but it was filmed in L.A. We did a couple of days here. We got Danny DeVito, and he was one of the producers, and he, at the time, was on the board of Gov. Schwarzenegger's thing about keeping film in California, so they had to shoot it in California. We have a lot of stars doing various small roles, and we couldn't have done that in Chicago because it would have been too expensive to fly everybody out. We had a test screening out here, and we got a lot of cards saying, 'It's nice to see someone shot in Chicago.' [ Laughs. ] We shot in Pasadena, which doubled for the suburbs out here, and we just had to wipe out the mountains and did a little second unit in Chicago.

WCT: I know it's been five years since Meet the Parents came out. Well, the second Meet the Parents. Do you get sick of people asking you if it's based off your life?

GG: Yeah. It doesn't really happen so much anymore. I just say 'Nope, made it all up.' [ Laughs. ]

WCT: But you were not the one who came up with the Gay Focker joke.

GG: No, I didn't. Jim Carrey added the Focker bit. [ Laughs. ] I didn't—I don't really like it, anyway. There were five writers who took it after me. Which is standard for a studio.

WCT: What is your favorite film?

GG: You know, I like so many movies; I would have real hard time picking one. Right now I'm back into The Big Lebowski, because I think that's the funniest film of all time. There are so many movies I love.

WCT: Who inspires you?

GG: Charlie Chaplin and Woody Allen are two of my heroes.

WCT: Are they role models for you?

GG: Yeah, they are gods. Woody Allen for his discipline. I would love to have that kind of discipline and make a film every year and go right on to the next one.

WCT: Will we see some of your piano playing skills on June 4?

GG: Not at this show. I'm not going to sit down at a piano. I've written songs for every movie I've done. I'll be singing them in the show I do. A song I wrote for Danny DeVito and Kathy Bates—kind of a funny country song.

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