On January 7, 2002, the world lost Avery Schreiber. Avery was born in Chicago, and like many comedians, learned his trade by performing with the Second City comedy troupe. He was a comedian and actor who was most famous for his 1960’s comedy skits with long-time partner Jack Burns. He was also famous as the guy with the big, bushy mustache who starred in a series of commercials for Doritos throughout the 1970’s. He also holds the distinction of being a supporting actor in what is considered one of the worst TV shows of all time, “My Mother The Car” starring Jerry Van Dyke. Still don’t recognize him? I’m including a clip below that may jog your memory.
I once did improv with Avery Schreiber.
All I would have to do is utter that line around Doug and Greg, two of the guys that used to work with me in the production department at WBNQ, and they would laugh out loud. It sounded pompous enough that I would announce that I had done “improv” with someone famous or semi-famous, but to add the name Avery Schreiber to it made it sound…I don’t know, just funny.
When I was Production Director at WBNQ, I had the opportunity to travel to Los Angeles to what was called a “Voiceover Summit”. In other words, I was getting together with a bunch of radio people who, like me, wrote and produced commercials. Since it was being held in Los Angeles, the two guys who put on the seminar, Dick Orkin and Dan O’Day, invited some guests to stop by. They were people who were somewhat famous in radio and TV, and being the small-market talent that we were, many of us were a little star-struck.
During the two and a half days that I spent there, I met famous voice-over legends, like Tom Bodette (the Motel 6 guy…we talked about record stores in Alaska), Gary Owens, Thom Sharpe, and June Foray, who used to be the voice of Rocky, the Flying Squirrel. On Saturday morning, Mary Gross of Saturday Night Live fame stopped by to give us a few acting tips.
But it was Friday afternoon that Avery Schreiber stopped in to teach us a few things about improvisational theatre, or how to react quickly and cleverly to certain situations. He was very quiet and reserved, nothing at all like the zany madcap that would occasionally appear on Match Game. He looked relaxed, and lectured us for a little bit (he actually taught courses in comedy and improv). Then he got us in a big circle for an exercise. We were to throw an imaginary beach ball to random people in the circle. The only way you knew the ball was going to come to you was by eye contact. It was actually pretty interesting. Very few of us dropped the ball. At one point, when the ball came to me, I acted like I was bobbling it a little bit, then scooping it up right before it hit the floor to throw it to another person. It was the only time during the exercise that Avery said, “Very good…nice job.” I was flattered.
And that was it.
OK, so I wasn’t doing improv with Robin Williams, but I’d like to give a tip of the hat and a toast to the memory of Avery Schreiber. He was a funny guy, and knew talent when he saw it (see above paragraph, toward the end).