For OPRF alum, all roads lead to comedy

Thomas Lennon talks comedy, writing at Lake Theatre

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By Michelle Dybal

Contributing Reporter

Making people laugh was not the original goal of screenwriter, actor, producer and author, Thomas Lennon, but happenstance and geography helped lay the path for the Oak Park and River Forest High School grad.

When the Oak Parker was a freshman, he wanted to try out for pole vaulting, but instead went to an audition for "You Can't Take it With You" with a friend.

"I ended up as being cast as Mr. De Pinna, a role with one or two lines, but it was enough to get me into drama for the rest of my life," he said. "I would go on to be in every play and musical I could at OPRF and I learned a lot."

Besides learning from the drama and music department teachers of the mid-1980s, a seed was planted to pursue the arts beyond high school.

"The main thing about growing up in Oak Park was that it was a place that really cared about the arts," Lennon said. "Music, theater, writing – all of these felt like important jobs in Oak Park. I grew up thinking that a career as an actor or writer was an entirely reasonable thing to do."

When Lennon graduated from OPRF in 1988 and started at New York University (NYU), his intention was to become a serious stage actor. That all changed when he befriended a group who had a comedy sketch group.

"Since that day … most of my life has been in comedy," Lennon said. "It wasn't really what I was aiming for, but at some point, I realized my 'serious' acting makes people laugh."

In perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, Lennon's one local role outside OPRF was in a Shakespeare play.

"I played Puck in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Village Players sometime around 1987," he said. "Laurel Cronin directed it and for some reason she decided to put me in a gold Speedo for the show. There's embarrassing photos of this somewhere."

While in The New Group (later The State) at NYU, he learned to write every day, which he said he mostly continues to do to this day. Lennon co-wrote the "Night at the Museum" movies and co-created, co-wrote and stared in the TV comedy series "Reno 911" and recently played Felix Unger on CBS's re-boot of "The Odd Couple."

He has also acted in 38 feature films. On IFC cable network's list of 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time, Lennon penned four – "Monkey Torture," "Porcupine Racetrack," "Mind Match" and "$240 Worth of Pudding." His credits are vast and are almost entirely of the comedy genre. 

Lennon said he comes from two big Irish families "with lot of funny types in the mix." Now living in Los Angeles with his wife and son, he seems nostalgic for Midwest humor.

"I always thought that Chicagoans were disproportionately more funny than other Americans, maybe because of the long winters," he said.

Lennon harkened back to his Irish heritage and drew on his comedy writing skills in his newest endeavor – a fantasy, adventure novel series for middle-grade readers. The first book, "Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles" was published in March.

He said he started writing in Ireland at Turin Castle and finds Irish people, like Chicagoans, to be "very, very funny," fitting for a what is described as a hilarious tale of a 14-year-old recruit to an Irish police force that "handles the misdeeds of numerous magical creatures."

Ronan Boyle works to free his unjustly imprisoned parents, while dealing with social awkwardness, small size and poor eyesight and battling fiery leprechauns and other sinister beings.

"Pretty much every aspect of Ronan Boyle is based on me, his nervousness, his claustrophobia, the food allergies. Even his love of Judi Dench," Lennon said. "They say 'write what you know,' so really he is just a 14-year-old version of me."

The grown-up version of Thomas Lennon is on his own adventure, touring to promote his book, and will be in his hometown of Oak Park on Sunday. The event is rescheduled after a not-so-funny torn meniscus knocked him off his feet last month.   

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Patti Perisho  

Posted: April 9th, 2019 5:28 PM

Interesting article! FYI, not sure if Tom misspoke, or it's a typo, but the Village Players director's name was Laurel Cronin, not Lauren. ?

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