Wilmington native Neil Casey discusses his UD beginnings, what it’s like to write for Amy Schumer, and the IMDb credit that every interviewer asks about
The Upright Citizens Brigade, an improvisational and sketch comedy group that originated in Chicago in 1990, has become a comedic Petri dish with a lengthy roll-call of gifted graduates. The list starts with Amy Poehler, one of the founders, and includes Rob Corddry, Ed Helms, Nick Kroll, Kate McKinnon, Aubrey Plaza and Rob Riggle.
Some insiders would argue that Neil Casey, while not the most well-known, is among the most talented of this group. Like Plaza, he’s a native of Wilmington. After graduating from Salesianum School in 2000, he enrolled at the University of Delaware, where he majored in computer science. At UD, Casey joined Rubber Chickens, the school’s improv group, and that set him on the comedy path.
After several years in New York, he now lives in Los Angeles and performs at both the L. A. and New York UCB locations—when he has time. Since his UD days, Casey has established a reputation as a comedian’s comedian, writing, acting, performing and directing. He received Emmy nominations for his writing on Saturday Night Live and Inside Amy Schumer, and he was named one of “50 Comedians to Watch in 2015” by Vulture, the online entertainment magazine.
Last year the 34-year-old Casey landed the coveted role of the villain in the reboot of Ghostbusters, scheduled to hit theaters this month.
While contractually obligated not to reveal much about that character, he did cover a range of topics during a recent phone interview from his L.A. home.
Out & About: From computer science major to the world of comedy. Did you always have the comedy gene?
Neil Casey: I had always done theater in middle school and at Sallies, and at UD I got involved with Rubber Chickens. I wound up going up to New York with some of the guys to see comedy shows, and that’s where I saw Upright Citizens Brigade, who were doing long-form improv. I was hooked. We even got some of them to come down and perform on campus.
O&A: Describe your character in Ghostbusters—“Rowan.”
NC: I’m not allowed to talk about it much, but I can tell you he is a nefarious character.
O&A: What was that audition process like?
NC: I had worked with (Director) Paul (Feig) as a writer on Heat, and based on my work on that, and the work I did on Other Space, his show on Yahoo, he thought I would make a good villain. He runs a very collaborative set, and he likes people who pitch jokes in the moment.
O&A: Your first major writing gig was on Saturday Night Live. How did that come about?
NC: I had screen-tested to be a cast member a few years before, and I knew a lot of the people who worked there, and I knew they were looking for writers, so I just submitted as a writer and eventually they hired me. I was there for season 38, then I went to Amy Schumer after that.
O&A: I can only imagine the Schumer writers room.
NC: It’s fun, very professional. As opposed to SNL, where it’s all hours and you’re basically living at the office just trying to knock out a show, on Amy Schumer you have more time. It’s more normal, and you have longer than a week to write a show.
O&A: How many writers did they have?
NC: Let’s see, I was there for Season Two and then this last season—Four. Let’s see (he starts naming writers, including Amy’s sister, Kim Caramele), about 10. It broke down 50-50 male-female. Amy sits in; it’s very much her show, her voice, and she wants involvement.
O&A: What is she like?
NC: She knows she’s the funniest person in the world, but she’s a great boss. She is really great to her employees, writers especially. I worked for her on the MTV Movie Awards too. I was head writer for that. First thing she did after the show was take a picture with everyone who wrote for the show. She knows that the show depends on collaboration between the writing and the talent. Her show is a good place to work and a good place to do good work.
O&A: I see that among your credits is Secret Santa Buttplugs. I must ask, what is that?
NC: That was like a web video we made 15 years ago. I don’t know why it wound up on my IMDb, but it was a silly video that me and some others put together about a corporate Secret Santa party where everybody gives sex toys, but nobody knows who gave who what. Every interviewer asks about that, for some reason.
O&A: You are a writer, an actor, director, producer. Which do you enjoy most?
NC: Any time I’m acting and sitting in a trailer going over lines, I always wish I was in a writers room. And any time I’m in a writers room looking at a blank piece of paper, I often wish I was on set saying someone else’s lines. It’s one of those “the grass is always greener” things. I think working on Schumer was the best. I think it’s where I came into my own as a writer. Working on SNL was exciting too, with 15 million people watching at that moment. Working on Ghostbusters with Kate (McKinnon) and everybody was incredible and just having fun doing something that everybody knows. It was really a thrill, and working with Paul is always a pleasure. And spending the summer in Boston filming the movie was fun. It premiers nationally on July 15.
O&A: But long-term, what do you see yourself doing more of?
NC: People who come out of the comedy world are usually versatile and like to do either (acting or writing), and they just follow the work. I’m always happy to go in and write for any show, and writing is a more stable, long-term career. And you have less control in acting. I am certainly grateful that people want to put my face in things, but you have a lot less control. But as long as people want to put me in front of the camera, I’ll be there.
O&A: When you get back to Delaware, what’s your usual routine? Do you still have family here?
NC: When I lived in New York I got back a lot. My parents still live there, and we get back for the holidays and we were just there in February. My one brother lives in Philly and the other one lives in New York, so they’re all on the East Coast.
O&A: Any favorite restaurants or other establishments?
NC: When I’m home, my parents and I go to Eclipse on Union Street. I took my fiancé to Kozy Korner for breakfast, and . . . let’s see… I go to Dead Presidents sometimes in the evening. My fiancé and I also got subs at Capriotti’s. And we also go to Kid Shelleen’s. And, oh, Scratch Magoo’s.
O&A: So you’re engaged?
NC: Yes, she’s from Bell Mead, N.J., outside Princeton. She’s a standup and actress—Meredith Knesevitch.
O&A: What are you working on currently?
NC: I’m shooting a movie for Netflix about National Lampoon. Will Forte is starring, Matt Walsh is in it. Really a great cast. We’re shooting in East L.A. I’m also working on Nick Kroll’s animated show. But it will be a while, because it has to be drawn.
O&A: With all of the controversy in the current election campaign, does that give you fodder for your writing?
NC: That’s where you miss SNL; they can have a reaction to current things. On Fusion, James Adomian and Anthony Atamanuik do a great Trump vs. Bernie. I sat in and moderated. If you want to see some sharp political satire, check that out on Fusion: Trump Vs. Bernie.