Living in the glamorous sunshine of Los Angeles is a stark contrast to growing up in small-town Stanley, and it can be hard to remember your roots.
But for Charlie McCrackin, a 1996 Stanley-Boyd High School graduate, he’s reminded of where he came from every day on set as a writer and actor in NBC’s television series “A.P. Bio,” which wrapped its first season in April. McCrackin plays Coach Dick Novak on the show, who works at a high school in Toledo, Ohio.
“Coach is sort of a combination of my uncles from Wisconsin, and he’s a very Midwest, blunt speaker,” McCrackin said. “It’s fun to represent a lot of the people I grew up with and know from back home. Even though it is set in Ohio, it’s got a very Midwestern feel. I bring my Wisconsin to it for sure.”
He’s in seven of the season’s 12 episodes, with, he estimates, maybe a few lines per episode.
Off the screen, though, he is one of 12 writers plus the creator that are bringing this comedy to life.
“A.P. Bio” follows Jack Griffin (Glenn Howerton) on a journey from L.A. to Toledo, Ohio, after he loses his dream job and begins teaching advanced placement biology at a local high school. Instead of biology, though, Griffin plans to use his students to exact revenge on people who have wronged him.
Writing for the show is a dream come true, McCrackin said, and being cast as a character certainly is a perk. But it wasn’t always this way. McCrackin said he owes this job to years of hard work paying off — and forming relationships along the way.
Life-long love of comedy
While he said he’s always been a “comedy nerd,” he enrolled at UW-Eau Claire after graduating high school to study English. He attempted to pursue a comedy career by attending stand-up nights at places such as Shenanigans, but at that time said he didn’t feel like there were a lot of comedy outlets in the area.
“I decided I can either sit around, keep on drinking and watch other people do this, or I can learn to do it myself,” McCrackin said. “That inspired me to find out about iO (Theater), Second City and improv in general.”
In 2001, a semester before his UW-Eau Claire graduation date, he packed his things and moved to Chicago (where he would later earn a degree in Creative Writing). There, he took classes at iO Theater and Second City. He joined The Reckoning, an improv team at iO, with around 10 members who still get together and perform in L.A. today.
“That’s really been my most formative experience is finding like-minded friends to do comedy with,” he said.
It turns out those friends are good for more than laughs and a good show. Hoping to pursue his passion full time, McCrackin and his family moved to L.A. in 2015, around the same time his pal and fellow The Reckoning member moved to the city.
Michael O’Brien had been pitching original television series pilots to stations for awhile before NBC finally picked up “A.P. Bio.” During a table read, O’Brien, who hadn’t even thought about casting for Coach yet, said he invited McCrackin, thinking he might want to hire him as a writer for the show later.
“He (McCrackin) read Coach with the head of NBC (Robert Greenblatt) there, and afterward Bob asked ‘who was the guy doing Coach?’” O’Brien recalled. “Right in the room, so that was pretty cool. Then I asked his writing advice as well, and he gave great thoughts on the pilot episode ... so I then made an official offer for both acting as Coach and being one of the writers. I don’t think that’s extremely common.”
Finding his footing
One successful first season later, O’Brien said he has made the right choice. He’s always enjoyed performing with McCrackin, but said his writing is perhaps even more impressive.
“He’s smart in a wide variety of topics — he knows everything from baking to comic books to these weird, random subjects,” O’Brien said. “His brain also works in an interesting way. He can always find a pattern. For example, if we had this happen before, he’ll say we should bring it back this way, which I’ve seen him do in improv for years where you start to get these nice callbacks and returning themes.”
He also brings his Wisconsin knowledge to the writers room, something that is not overlooked by O’Brien.
The Midwestern ties in “A.P. Bio” run deep. O’Brien himself is a native of Michigan, and those connections and contrasts to big-city life are important in the show.
“I’m playing with, and I think this applies to people like Charlie and me, the contrast you feel when you’re from the Midwest and then move to L.A.,” O’Brien said. “Going from back and forth from Michigan and New York as I was writing this made me appreciate both (the big and small-town lifestyles).”
To help those not familiar, he flew the cast to Toledo, where O’Brien attended high school, for one day of filming, which became the final episode.
While McCrackin enjoys the secondary role on screen, it is the time off-screen where he has learned the most. With each episode, he’s gained confidence as a writer, something he’s realized is necessary in his role.
“The thing I learned the most, especially writing for TV, is the dynamics of a writers room is a performance as well,” McCrackin said. “You have to perform your jokes and pitches in the room in order to get a good reaction and for people to want to put it in the script. You have to believe you’re worthy of being there and working to do the best you can for everybody around you.”
In order to do that, he said he tries to keep his humor “genuine” by remaining as close to himself and his interests as possible.
That comes through in episode 9, “Rosemary’s Boyfriend,” which McCrackin co-wrote with O’Brien.
This is the first show McCrackin has written for, and though it was intimidating he said it’s easily the “best job I’ve ever had.” It also helps several of the writers are people he knows from Chicago, plus O’Brien himself.
“Mike created a really comfortable atmosphere where you are really just sitting around with a dozen other funny people trying to make each other laugh as much as you can,” he said.
That’s a gig he can get behind.
As writing begins for season two of “A.P. Bio, “ McCrackin said he is looking forward to helping propel the story into the best it can be.
O’Brien said he has some ideas for where the characters could go, but also enjoys putting it in the hands of writers such as O’Brien.
“I have some broad thoughts, but I really love the collaborative process of the writers room, so I’m trying not to write too much on my own now and really let it be a big group project,” O’Brien said.
One thing is for sure, though: Coach will be back.
“We’re hopefullygoing to find plenty of fun moments for (McCrackin’s) coach character (in season two),” O’Brien said. “So he’ll be around.”
That’s fine with McCrackin, who enjoys being a part of filming. But he’s also got some goals of his own, as a writer and, hopefully, eventually as a creator of his own show.
“My goal is to keep learning about this industry and become as skilled a TV writer as I can be,” McCrackin said. “I have some movie ideas, some feature scripts I’d like to sell one day. That would be an achievement for me.”
And while he is excited to have found so much success in L.A., it is not lost on him how it came to be.
“It’s good to make friends who share your interests because, when it came time for O’Brien to staff his show, we’ve had almost 20 years of experience doing comedy together,” McCrackin said. “He knows he can depend on me. Building those relationships and maintaining them is important.”
He paused, thought for a second, and then added: “Doing the work — That’s what got me to here, to my dream job.”
“A.P. Bio” season two will air in January on NBC. In the meantime, catch up on all of the episodes from the first season at nbc.com.
Contact reporter: 715-833-9214, firstname.lastname@example.org, @KatherineMacek on Twitter