Stand-up guy: Tim Meadows still going strong
On February 12, actor/comedian Tim Meadows will be on hand at the United Center to emcee an event that shines a spotlight on two of his favorite things—the city of Chicago and its hometown team, the Bulls.
Meadows, who at one time was the longest tenured member of Saturday Night Live, will be serving as the emcee for An Evening with the Chicago Bulls, the team’s annual charity gala now it its 25th year.
But it hasn’t always been about Chicago and the Bulls for Meadows. Though now at the age of 52 he lives in the city’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, he was born and raised in Detroit. He grew up cheering for the Pistons, the Bulls’ bitter rival in the late 1980s.
Meadows moved to Chicago in 1986. When he attended Bulls-Pistons games at the old Chicago Stadium, well, he wasn’t always given a warm reception.
“I would come to the games in the late ‘80s and caught a lot of… yelling from people,” laughed Meadows, who took in Chicago’s recent home game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Living in the Windy City, coupled with the rise of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and the Bulls, would eventually chip away at his Pistons allegiance.
“It did,” admits Meadows. “Coming to Chicago was my first time living in a city other than Detroit. So I always say that this is where I became a man. I came here for Second City and ImprovOlympic (now known as iO, or iO Chicago). It was around that time that the shift of power was happening between the Pistons and Bulls. So I was here as Chicago started getting past Detroit. And the team itself, the Bulls of that era, you couldn’t help but get caught up in it.”
Before Meadows joined SNL in 1991 and eventually became “The Ladies Man” – you can find him on Twitter by referencing that character’s name, @LeonPhelps – he performed on the mainstage at Second City along with a cast that included the legendary Chris Farley.
“We both felt like we shouldn’t be here,” recalled Meadows of the initial experience with Farley at Second City. “So we sort of bonded and became friends. Then the same thing happened at SNL. He went to SNL first and I came after him. But we had a really great cast at Second City—people like Joel Murray, David Pasquesi, Holly Wortell, Bob Odenkirk, Judy Scott, Joe Liss and Tim O’Malley.”
When his schedule allowed, Meadows snuck away to Bulls games, where a connection helped him enjoy some of the best seats in the house. Meadows met a cameraman for CBS and he offered Meadows the chance to assist with pulling cable during games. He happily accepted and found himself directly below the basket on the edge of the court for several games.
Meadows has countless memories of watching the ‘90s Bulls, citing Jordan’s famous “last shot” in the 1998 Finals, his jumper over Utah’s Byron Russell in Game 6, to clinch the team’s sixth championship as one of his favorites. But here’s the catch—Meadows wasn’t at the game; rather, he took it in like millions of other fans did, watching on TV with friends and colleagues.
“Everybody jumped up and we were screaming,” recalled Meadows. “I have great memories from watching the Bulls win championships in the company of other people from Chicago. Those moments when you’re watching with other people who I’ve known through improv, people who were born here… that’s what it’s all about.”
Meadows last appeared on Saturday Night Live in 2000. Given the show is taped in New York City, it became tougher attend Bulls games in those years. But he did make it to Madison Square Garden on occasion.
Lorne Michaels, SNL’s creator and executive producer, had Knicks tickets and when he didn’t go, he would offer them to the cast. Meadows remembered one of the times he went to a game with Adam Sandler. The two were fascinated with Manute Bol, a 7-foot-7 Sudanese center who was playing at the time.
“He was so amazing to see up close,” said Meadows. “At one point he was whispering to somebody on his team and then the coach called him in. Adam and I starting laughing and wondering what Manute Bol was saying right then. You could tell he sort of didn’t want to go in. He was enjoying himself. So Adam and I were making each other laugh by riffing on what Manute Bol could have possibly been saying.
“Adam would go something like [Meadows doing his best impersonation of Sandler impersonating Bol], ‘Uh, listen, if you want to make a good chili, I’m going to tell you how to do it. You chop up the onions, very fine. Tomatoes, beef… oh no… I’m going to pretend that I don’t see him calling me... OK, I’ve got to go. I’ll tell you this recipe later, I promise.’ And then Manute Bol would go into the game. We were laughing because we probably thought he was shooting the breeze, enjoying his last few years of playing in the NBA and in that moment, maybe he was giving a recipe or talking about some really cool drink he had when he was on vacation.”
As with professional sports, longevity as an actor/comedian is no easy task. Yet Meadows’ nine seasons with SNL was the most ever by a cast member until it was surpassed by Darrell Hammond in 2005. Meadows admits there are a few parallels that apply to an athlete’s career path and his own.
“You have to work hard,” said Meadows. “There’s a lot of work that goes into it that people don’t see. They only see the finished product. There is a commitment and sacrifices you have to make to get good and make it to another level. You have to change up your game as you get older. You start to get stronger at other things and try to expand your game in order to have longevity.”
These days, Meadows is back on stage doing stand-up comedy, touring the United States and Canada with dates on the calendar now through July (a tour schedule can be found on his site, tim-meadows.com).
As for his take on this year’s Bulls, he hated to see Derrick Rose get hurt again, but he’s proud of how well the team has played in the face of adversity. And he’s particularly fond of Joakim Noah for his effort and intensity.
“I really like the team and it’s good to see that they’re still playing hard and still in the mix,” said Meadows of the Bulls. “That’s the one thing I like about Joakim, he goes out and plays hard every night, win or lose.”
Meadows believes it is that kind of effort that resonates so well in a city like Chicago.
“People respect that here,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons people respected [Dennis] Rodman. They hated him when he was in Detroit, but when he came here, you saw how hard he worked and how seriously he took his game.”
It’s obvious Meadows takes his game seriously too. Bulls fans get a chance to see it first hand in just a few weeks.
An Evening with the Chicago Bulls
The Bulls’ annual charity gala will be held on February 12 at the United Center. All proceeds will benefit Chicago Bulls Charities and their efforts to support community programs that focus on youth education, health and wellness and violence prevention. Players, coaches and broadcasters will all be in attendance. To buy tickets or a table, visit Bulls.com/EWCB or call 312-455-4000.