March 21, 2023


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Catherine O’Hara Talks ‘Shits Creek,’ ‘Beetlejuice’ at USC Festival

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Ingmar Bergman was Liv Ullmann. Diane Keaton and Christopher guest on Woody Allen were Catherine O’Hara — so actor John Michael Higgins highlighted the height of O’Hara’s work on screen with guests and other top directors during an extensive question-and-answer session held Saturday as part of the sixth annual USC Comedy Festival.

Emmy-winning O’Hara was honored with the Jack Oakey and Victoria Horn Oakey Masters of Comedy Awards at the festival in recognition of her long and often underrated career in film, TV, stage and sketch comedy.

The Oakey Foundation honors the life and work of comedy legends Jack Oakey and Victoria Horn Oakey. Jack Okey won a supporting actor Oscar for Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 satire “The Great Dictator.” Victoria Oakey was a comedy trouper who played supporting roles in numerous films (as Victoria Horne), most memorably opposite Jimmy Stewart in 1950’s “Harvey.”

Reviewing O’Hara’s career with Higgins, a veteran of Guest’s hit ensemble comedies “A Mighty Wind” (2003) and “Best in Show” (2000), the pair discuss memorable moments from the O’Hara canon. Who can forget that iconic scene from 1988’s “Beetlejuice” when the cast storms out to the chorus of “Day-O”. Or her many laugh-out-loud moments as Kate, the mother of Macaulay Culkin’s Kevin in 1990’s “Home Alone.” Or the infamous wig styling and crazy accent of O’Hara’s Emmy-commanding turn as Moira Rose on the PopTV/Netflix comedy “Schitt’s Creek.”

During the conversation, O’Hara shared that his way into the world of improvisational comedy was helped by the fact that his brother once dated the then-unknown Gilda Radner. In his early years, the Toronto-born O’Hara described himself as always looking to real life for material he could use on stage. “Whoever I met that day, if I had heard some great conversation on the bus or streetcar, I could have used that night in improv,” O’Hara told the crowd. “Improv helps you study people. It teaches you character development.

The night was filled with tumultuous anecdotes from his Second City TV days. He recalled missing a meeting with director Tim Burton that could have changed everything for him. He remembered seeing an actor literally walk out of a gig and be replaced with Jack Nicholson. And he discusses Moira’s evolution on “Schitt’s Creek” for six seasons from 2015-2020.

O’Hara’s early career was influenced by her work with future megastars — including Martin Short, John Candy, Victor Gerber, Gilda Rodner and her longtime screen partner Eugene Levy — when she appeared in the cast of the Toronto production of the musical “Godspell.” In the early 1970s. However, O’Hara’s most outrageous story was about a private visit to the Vatican — a honeymoon gift from Burton, who directed O’Hara in “Beetlejuice.”

Previous Masters of Comedy honorees include writer-directors Paul Feig and Judd Apatow and the casts of “Frasier” and “Black-ish.” USC leaders told festival attendees that the university is fiercely proud to have one of the nation’s first academic programs focused on comedy.

“What we wanted to do was create a community and a critical public and mentors for students and coursework, to create events like this and honor comedy practitioners,” said Barnett Kelman, co-director of the USC comedy program. “Everybody loves comedy, but it doesn’t get respect and we don’t honor our luminaries in comedy like the Oscars.”

As the evening ended, Higgins paid tribute to his former co-star. “It’s an incredible amount of work and she basically did it in high heels,” he said in a nod to Ginger Rogers’ famous observation about working with the legendary Fred Astaire.

O’Hara closes with sage advice for comedy students. “Be aware of the foot you’re on and make sure you’re on the foot you want to be on. Treat yourself with the respect you hope to one day earn if you haven’t already. Last but not least, in my mind any talent you have is God given and I think it’s your job to nurture it, take care of it and work with people who deserve to house your talent.”

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