TV success shares life as artist, geek

  • By Sarah Koenig Enterprise reporter
  • Tuesday, November 18, 2008 5:16pm

Taking the gym stage before a crowd of adolescents, Paul Feig introduced himself, then turned around to push the curtain that walled off the other half of the gym.

“What’s going on behind here?” he wondered. “A little kick ball, a little dodgeball?”

Feig, co-executive producer of the TV show “The Office” and creator of the acclaimed show “Freaks and Geeks,” came to Gateway Middle School Wednesday, Nov. 12 to talk about his new book, “Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!”

Instead, he ended up talking about his childhood in Michigan, what students should do to break into writing and acting, and his failure as a tap dancer.

“I grew up in a small town, smaller than this one, and I wanted to be an actor,” Feig told the crowd. “People thought I was crazy.”

Undaunted, Feig joined the drama club, took writing classes, tap dancing lessons and learned to juggle and play guitar and drums.

“People are like, ‘Why are you doing all these weird things?’” Feig said. “I didn’t take no for an answer.”

Feig moved to Los Angeles, got a job as a tour guide, went to film school and broke into Hollywood from there.

He encouraged students to write about their lives.

“I wrote about my own life and that was ‘Freaks and Geeks,’” he said. The TV show chronicles the successes and disappointments of high school geeks and burnouts.

A a child, he was most like the Neal Schweiber character on the show, he said. (Schweiber is the hammy short kid who breaks into William Shatner imitations, carries a ventriloquists’ dummy and can’t understand his lack of success with the ladies.)

Feig’s childhood also inspired “Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!”

“When I was a kid I got bullied a lot. It wasn’t a nice school like this. There were meaner kids,” he said. “I thought it would be so cool if aliens would come and take me away.”

At the end of his talk, students bombarded Feig with questions: If you have an idea for a movie, what should you do? What’s your favorite episode of “The Office”? How much does an agent cost? What’s your favorite color?

And: “How much did your tux cost?”

“This isn’t a tux!” Feig exclaimed, looking down at his suit. “I don’t know how much it cost – about $900?”

The audience chorused. “Woah!”

“That’s how I roll, man,” Feig said.

Several hands went up in the crowd when Feig asked how many students wanted to be a writer or an actor. Take every chance you have in school to learn more about those things, practice and be persistent, Feig said.

After his talk, students clamored around for signatures.

“I’m going for directing,” one boy told Feig at the signing table. “So hopefully I’ll see you in Hollywood.”

Paul who?

Writer, director and actor Paul Feig is co-executive producer of the TV show “The Office” and creator of the cult favorite 1999 TV show “Freaks and Geeks.” He’s directed episodes of “Arrested Development,” “Weeds,” “30 Rock” and “Madmen” and the movie “Unaccompanied Minors.”

As an actor, he played the science teacher in “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” and other minor roles. His two memoirs are: “Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence” and “Superstud: Or How I Became a 20-year-old Virgin.” His latest project is the children’s book “Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!”

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