Merilyn Crouch Interview

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    On August 4, 2004, I had the pleasure of interviewing Merrilyn Crouch. Merrilyn plays Alton's obnoxious and pestering sister Marsha Brown on the show Good Eats. She graciously answered questions in her dressing on the set between takes of the episode Soup's On. Here' what she had to say ...

MikeMenn: Let's get started and just get this question out of the way in the beginning: are you Alton's real sister?

Merrilyn Crouch: [laughs] In spirit only.

MM: That's one of our number one questions.

MC: I know. That's what Alton told me. He told me his mom gets asked the same thing. Since she has said I'm not his real sister, I guess I'll have to go with her answer, too. [laughs] She should know.

MM: Well, tell me a little bit about your background, acting and drama, what you have done and what has brought you this far.

MC: Well, let's see. I went to school for theater ...

MM: What school?

MC: USC in Los Angeles. I started, actually, at a small private Christian college in Santa Barbara called Westmont and I was there for about a year and a half, two years, something like that. Started off as a music major. I was a vocal major. But they didn't have, like, musical theater and I wanted to do, you know, Oklahoma, and Hello Dolly, and South Pacific and all that sort of stuff. And that was going to be training classically. So, I transferred to USC in Los Angeles and finished my undergrad at USC in English Literature Creative Writing. And then stayed and got a Masters degree in theater, a MFA (Masters of Fine Arts) in theater.
    And then I moved east to Florida. I got married in Florida. I was following my fiancée's/husband's career around. I wasn't there very long. We moved to Atlanta following his career around. And then I was in Atlanta for about 15 years, I guess. That's about right. I got here in late '88 ... I think that's right. And I left in 2002: sixteen years, something like that. I worked for what was then the FOX station channel 36. I started as an administrative assistant and then became a producer for what was then the Fox Kids' Club and kind of was working my way up. And then eventually became the Creative Director there. I did that for a few years. Then left and went out on my own, went free-lance. I'm also a writer and producer for television commercials. So I did that free-lance.
    While I was at the television station we were doing a lot of ads for the programs on Fox, the promos for Fox shows, and started doing voice work for those. Because at the time, the general manager wouldn't spend any money on hiring talent. We had to do all these radio spots who for all the programs Fox was coming up with at the time, all the new stuff that was coming out: In Living Color, Married with Children, Simpsons, Cops, and all that stuff, plus all the syndicated stuff that was in reruns. Anyway, we had no budget to hire people to do [the voice promos]. We'd write the promos and then if it was a dialogue spot. If there was a female in the spot it was me and if there was a man in the spot it was the guy who was writing the spots for me at the time, Stewart Hill: very funny, very talented writer who now writes for the Cartoon Network.
    Anyway, that's how that started. And then this person who was writing the spots, he moved to Dallas to work for an ad agency and hired me as a voice-over person in the spots that he was producing for clients for this ad agency, various things, all kinds of good stuff. So that's how that sort of how launched the voice over stuff in Atlanta. I've done a lot of voice over. Then I auditioned for commercials and stuff like that. And then the Good Eats show was starting and they were holding auditions for ... I think the first episode I did was a Thanksgiving show, Thanksgiving of '99, I think. And they were holding auditions for the part of Marsha, Alton's sort-of obnoxious, over-bearing sister. And I auditioned for it and they cast me as Marsha. And that's been so much fun. It's been a lot of fun.

MM: Now you don't live here in Atlanta?

MC: No, not any more. I moved to Los Angeles.

MM: So you have to come back ...

MC: Yeah, I commute back to Atlanta for Good Eats and for other things that go on here. This is actually a fairly booming community of industry.

MM: TV-wise?

MC: Yeah. Commercial and a lot of film. And not just Atlanta, the Southeast. Which is great. I'm happy to see that's happening.

MM: Do you like living in Los Angeles or would you prefer to be back here?

MC: Well, I'll tell you what. I miss Atlanta. I mean, I love Los Angeles. I do. I went to school there. I lived there for several years. I was very homesick for the West; I grew up in Arizona. So I was homesick for the West. So I was very glad to move back. But I do miss Atlanta. I miss the South. I miss Southerners. I miss my friends. I've got a great group of chums here, a very tight-knit group of friends here. And I miss them, you know. But I have a lot of friends in Los Angeles, still, from my college days when I was getting my Masters degree at graduate school that are still there. So that's nice because, you know, most of them have kids now so it's interesting. So I love Los Angeles. There's a lot to not enjoy about Los Angeles. [laughs] But for the most part, I've been fortunate. It's been great, it's been a great move in terms of career stuff. I've got a great voice-over agent. I do a lot of voice-over stuff.

MM: If someone wanted to hire you right now, how would they go about contacting your agent. If someone was visiting my website and thought, "Merrilyn would be perfect for some voice-over, how would they get in contact with you.

MC: Well, for voice-over it's ICM, International Creative Management. And for on-camera it's KSA which is Kazarian Spencer and Associates.

MM: I'm sure you won't be getting a lot of work from my website, but just in case.

MC: [laughs] You never know.

MM: So, what do you like about Good Eats? What do you enjoy about it?

MC: What's not to love about Good Eats? It's just a lot of fun. I'll tell you what I really enjoy is when people who I talk to about the show and they say things like, "That's my favorite show. I never knew that about potatoes." Or, "Who knew that onions behaved that way." Because Alton is so good about interspersing lots of interesting scientific trivia. It's funny. The interesting thing I've noticed about Los Angeles is, people in the industry ... you know, you work in this industry all day, you go home at the end of the day the last thing you want to do is turn on television and watch another cop-drama or another medical-drama or something like that. People in the industry will go home and watch Food Network, Animal Planet, Discovery, something that isn't ...

MM: Drama related, scripted.

MC: ... right. Or, punch line, boom, boom, punch line, or drama or soap-opera. So I've had a lot of people in the industry tell me, "I love that show. I Tivo that show." [laughs]

MM: That happens a lot on the fan page. Lots of people have Tivo.

MC: Yeah. What would we do without Tivo?

MM: VCR. VHS Tapes.

MC: Yeah, but it's not the same.

MM: I know. I know. Is there a favorite episode that you like? Either one you've been in or haven't been in?

MC: The favorite one I've been in, I think was the one, the Thanksgiving one, where it was a takeoff of the Blair Witch ...

MM: Behind the Bird.

MC: Was that the title of it? Behind the Romancing of the Bird or something like that. [ed note: It's called Behind the Bird.] Yeah. I thought that was fun when he had the director there. I thought that was a hoot. I got taken hostage or something by the ... [giggles]. The story line was, I got taken hostage by the crew members until they got decent [laughs] food, they weren't going to release me. I think it was some degree of interest for Alton that I was held hostage, you know, tied to a chair that I couldn't come pester him. Because, you know, Marsha, she's not happy unless she's like, decorating the door knobs and stenciling the driveway, you know.

MM: I think you've made mention of it in the show where you are kind of Martha-esque, Martha Stewart. Do you draw some of your character from her shows?

MC: No. From Martha Stewart?

MM: Because you're always decorating ...

MC: No. I think Marsha is more of a spoof of a combination of things that you can see in what's popular culture, whether it's television shows or magazines or whatever of the "decorating divas". There's a lot of them out there.

MM: She aspires to be someone like that.

MC: Oh, yeah. Right. Exactly. I'm sure she would have a few pointers for Martha and anybody else who cared to pick up a steno pad and take notes. [laughs] Yeah.

MM: Have you tried to develop your character over time or is it just flow from the script.

MC: I'll tell you what. Alton is such a good writer, my experience has been both with the stuff that I have done for Marsha and what other people have done through other characters that I've seen, he kind of gives it to you. You know what I mean? It's all sort of there. Alton and I have a very affectionate adversarial [laughs] "dynamic" on the set. I love him dearly. But it's fun to be his sister. It's fun to pester him.

MM: In past episodes like the doughnut show ...

MC: I haven't seen it. It was just on.

MM: ... I see how he's developing you a little bit more and more where you're trying to control him. That was a good show.

MC: Yeah. Everybody that I've talked to here that's saw it said it turned out really good, which I'm very happy to hear. Because I haven't seen it yet.

MM: Let's see. Do you cook? Do you learn anything yourself from the show?

MC: I love to cook. But evidently, I'm frightening with a knife in my hand. [laugh] Because we were shooting a scene yesterday and he's teaching John, who plays Elton, what the proper way to dissect a carrot, dissect an onion or potatoes. Whatever. Then Marsha butts in and, you know, because she's worried that Alton's got sharp knives around and Elton is going to hurt himself or whatever. And so he says, "well, he's got to learn somehow," or something like this. And she butts in and is like, "fine, I'll teach him." And then she cuts herself. [laughs]

MM: [somewhat worried] Did you cut yourself?

MC: Nooo.

MM: Oh.

MC: But she's such a know-it-all, she's got to stick her nose in where it doesn't belong. And of course Elton is not going to learn anything about the proper way to dice a carrot from Marsha. So, yes, I enjoy cooking but Alton was saying yesterday, he was like, "I can't watch. This is too painful. You're doing it wrong." [laughs] "You're doing it wrong. You're going to cut yourself." He had to turn away. [laughs]

MM: He said the same about me. I don't know if you knew I get to be on the Stuffing show.

MC: Oh, great.

MM: And I'm stuffing the chicken with a wooden spoon and he was saying, "oh, stop. I can't watch." I don't know how to stuff a chicken.

MC: It's painful to watch.

MM: Well, last weak when I asked the producer if I could interview you and she said you said, "yes," I asked my fellow on-line friends if they had any questions for you if you don't mind answering them.

MC: I don't mind. So these folks who come to the fan page and ask these questions are there from all over?

MM: All over, yeah.

MC: That's so sweet. That is so sweet.

MM: I've got folks who have left the country and come and read the transcripts because they can't see the show.

MC: Left the country? What are they thinking?

MM: Well, Army, Military ...

MC: Really?

MM: ... folks like that.

MC: Really?

MM: Or some folks who don't have it in there area.

MC: You're kidding. Wow.

MM: Is there anything challenging about being on Good Eats? That has stretched you?

MC: Stretched me as an actor? Stretched me as a cook?

MM: Yeah.

MC: Yeah, I'll tell you what was challenging: doing the Thanksgiving show in what was probably the hottest ... I don't know what month it was ... but we were shooting a Thanksgiving episode and it was upwards of 5,000 degrees. We were outside around a campfire in, like, sweaters because it's supposed to be chilly. And we were just sweating like, you know, losing 10 pounds a second because we're sweating so much. That was challenging. It never seems to fail. I've done that on other commercials and stuff where it's supposed to be cool whether and they're shooting them in the dead of summer, if that's that a phrase.

MM: Is there a food you wish there was a show on that hasn't been made yet? Or maybe you'd like to be on?

MC: Well, I'll tell you this, anything that Alton makes I would want to be there to eat because the boy knows how to throw together groceries, if you know what I'm talking about. [laughs] He's just a really good, really amazing chef. Let's see ... um ... well, I don't know. I haven't seen every show so I don't know if he's done ... My favorite fruit thing in the world is blueberries, I think.

MM: He hasn't done a blueberry show.

MC: He hasn't done a blue ... well ...

MM: There you go.

MC: Hello! I love blueberries. Especially now because they're in season. They're so fresh. They're so great. I love blueberries.

MM: So you come back to Atlanta frequently to do work here?

MC: Well, I do a lot of voice-over work. But I can do that via ISDN. I have a ISDN booth at home so you can record real time. So I do that fairly regularly. I mean, it's not like it's every day. It's not even like it's every week. But I do have voice-over jobs that come up here that I can do from Los Angeles. I mean, sometimes you're in a studio doing it. Like I've done Coca Cola jobs where I was actually in a studio in Los Angeles and they were in a studio here. In fact, the last time that happened was right before I was coming back here to do a Good Eats show. I was getting on a plane later that day to come to Atlanta where the voice-over session was originating, but I did it from the studio in Los Angeles which was funny.

MM: You've peeked my interest in voice-overs. What made you do that? If someone wanted to do voice-overs and think they have a nice voice, what do you recommend ...

MC: Well, I'd recommend people get some training. Especially here in Atlanta or any of the major cities, there are any number of people who are professionals in the industry who teach voice-over classes. And then you have to get a voice-over demo produced which would be on a CD format at this point. And that would be biggest thing that I'd recommend. Then what you'd do is shop your demo around to agents and they send you on auditions for commercials or whatever it is. I was just cast as a narrator for a series on PBS, and educational documentary series on PBS.

MM: Can you tell us what it is?

MC: Yeah. It's called The Way We Live [Now]. That's the name of the series. It's a documentary format. It's like a sociology kind-of look at our culture. One episode was about immigration. One episode was about labor unions. One episode was about crime and violence. So it's like that. It's a sociology series. And there are places that use it for college credit. I don't know if you have that here. I have a satellite television. There's PBS and then there's  PBSU which stands for PBS University. And there's all kinds of programming that they use for college credit for different places all over the country. Like Charlie Brown which you may be familiar with which is a talk show, kind of a current events, current affairs talk show that they use for college credit. So it's really been really gratifying. Not that there's anything wrong with doing commercials. I really enjoy doing commercials and fun stuff. I did an infomercial ... this wasn't a voice over, this was on-camera ... with John Cleese from Monty Python. That was just so much fun. It was just great fun.

MM: What was the infomercial for?

MC: It was an infomercial for vacuum cleaners. He is the spokesperson for Westinghouse Vacuum cleaners. And they have a new cordless vacuum cleaner that they were ... well, I don't know if they were launching that product, but they were certainly promoting that product. Well, so they did a campaign of commercials. And then they did an infomercial in which they're spoofing the whole infomercial genera. He plays an infomercial host. His name is Danny Prince, King of the Infomercials. And he was just, as you can imagine John Cleese of Monty Python heritage, was just over the top, ridiculous, outrageous, bad toupees and hilarious loud suits. I think it was on a set in which you would imagine an infomercial set would be. And he has a studio audience and I'm the lady Mary Jane-everyday, you know, out in the studio audience and he said, "We need a volunteer from the studio audience. We're going to have a little race," a little vacuum cleaner race.
    So "wheeee" me, he picks me, and I get up. He's going to race me. We have this line of cat hair and dirt and whatever and he's going to use the new cordless vacuum cleaner and I'm going to be stuck using the old fashioned kind, the corded kind. And ready, set, go. Of course, he cheats ... [laughs] ... and vacuums up his line of stuff immediately. I'm over there struggling to get the thing plugged in. I plug it in, I race back over and I turn it on. And as soon as I flip the switch it blows up in my face, no kidding, it blows up and it blew off my arm. My arm blows off, it goes flying up into the air and sails through the air and lands in the lap of somebody in the studio audience. They had to light me on fire. It was, like, pyrotechnics. It was great. They teased out my hair, blacked my face, lit my clothes on fire, sprayed "smoke" all over so I was all charred. It's hilarious.

MM: When's it on?

MC: Well, it's aired and I don't know if they're airing it anymore. It was an infomercial so they bought time on all kinds of cable networks. Like they would buy for commercial time, you know. But, I know it aired because they sent me a tape of it. It was hilarious. It was hilarious. I don't know if Westinghouse has clips of on their [web]. It was funny. My name was Martha and it was like, "Poor Martha, she's lost her arm." And I was like, "My arm! My arm!" And he sends me back to the studio audience. I go back and I sit down and I'm there with no arm, you know. The audience passes my arm back down. They hand it to me. [laughs] It was so Monty Python, you know. So John Cleese. It was just a hoot. And it was a lot of fun. And boy what a sweet heart he is.

MM: Do you do any singing?

MC: Yes. I went to school originally on a vocal scholarship. So yeah, I started out as a singer.

MM: Do you have any siblings?

MC: Yes, I do. I have ... you mean that aren't TV siblings? [laughs]

MM: Yeah.

MC: Yeah, I do. I'm the baby of four, actually. Evidently, I'm spoiled.

MM: Here are some short one-word answers. It's kind of like People Magazine where we try to figure out who you are by asking silly questions. Are you a cat person or a dog person?

MC: Both.

MM: Both. Okay. Can we know your birthday, month and day?

MC: It's February 24th. I'm a Pisces.

MM: 1973 right?

MC: ... uh, 1979! [laugh] No. Alton keeps telling everyone I'm his older sister. Sure Alton. Sure.

MM: Batman or Superman?

MC: Hmm. Wait a minute. Batman: George Clooney.

MM: What's your favorite TV show? What do you like to come home and watch after a long day?

MC: I can only pick one?

MM: If you want, two.

MC: Okay: Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bill Maher.

MM: Okay. Favorite Book?

MC: Al Franken's latest book, Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.

MM: Okay.

MC: Doing my part for political activism here. [laughs]

MM: Um, first TV show you remember watching as a child?

MC: Um ... the first TV show I remember watching as a child ... The Dick Van Dyke Show, or Andy Griffin.

MM: Your favorite movie?

MC: Of all time?

MM: Or recently.

MC: Of recent time, Farenheit 911. And of all time, Willy Wonka, I think.


MM: Last one, here: if you had to be an inanimate object, what would you be and why?

MC: I would be a fabulous piece of 1950's dining room buffet.

MM: And why?

MC: It's just because I just love the vintage 50's furniture that sort of ... Heywood  Wakefield and Herman Miller and all that stuff, Paul McCobb design sensibilities. I just love those lines. Oh, I know what I would be. Heywood Wakefield had this one, I don't know if it's considered a desk or a vanity. I'm showing my ignorance. But there were several that looked very similar. But the one that I love the most was the more streamlined one. It's not a heavy pieces of wood. It's the more delicate piece. Its' just stunning. Absolutely stunning.

MM: Is there anything we might see you in upcoming movies or TV?

MC: You mean other than Good Eats? That silly thing I did for Fox is still airing, The Wildest Police Chase Videos. That's still airing, I've noticed. There's a show on Lifetime called, Strong Medicine. It's a doctor show. It's a typical hour-long drama doctor show. It's really good, actually. And I did a couple episodes of that. Of course, the first episode I did I probably got cut out. I ended up on the editing room floor. And then I did another episode where I played an educational therapist where someone was trying to recuperate after surgery who couldn't read anymore. She went in for heart surgery. It was the actress who played the mother on The Wonder Years. [ed: Alley Mills] She went in for heart surgery and she came out, it did something and she couldn't read anymore. And she was like a newspaper columnist. She gave advice to the lovelorn kind of column and she has to be able to read for her job. So I played the educational therapist. I'm sitting there with flash cards teaching her how to read again. And because of being on cable they air them a lot. They get a lot of reruns. So, I've had people tell me they've seen that but I haven't seen it.
    I did another voice-over thing on Spike TV. It used to be TNN and now it's called Spike. It's a funny show. It's called The Most Extreme Elimination Challange. It's like a cross between the Iron Chef and a reality show in that it came from Japan. So it's all Japanese so they over-dub in English. And it's like a game. It would be like men versus women and they have to do this funny obstacle course thing. That was so much fun because the group that I worked with, the writers and the voice-overs gang, they're all former Groundlings People, Groundlings the great improve company that has been so famous for the last 20 years. A lot of people who came out of Grounds went on to Saturday Night Live. That was a lot of fun. I did a few episodes for them. And it was hard because you're watching this silly, crazy ... People would be swinging across a big lagoon and they've got to dive through this big oversized silly tire and tag there partner. And that person runs and has to jump on a trampoline and land in a big thing of whipped cream. And they've written a whole script. They have two commentators and a MC guy who's dressed in this traditional Japanese warrior garb. And it's just very silly. And it has gotten such incredible response because it's all over-dubbing English and we're having to do all the ...

MM: [I'd seen the show] And it's not like they're actually translating what the Japanese are saying.

MC: Oh, no. They've written the most ridiculous, nonsensical stuff. And some of it was you are just doing the sound effects body slamming into some wall that they're trying to climb up over it. Some of it is what we call lip-flap, you know, when they're actually talking they would write lines or we would improv it. [laughs] So that was fun. But I don't know when those are airing because, again, it's cable and you never know they'll be on.

MM: Is there anything else you'd like to say to your fans?

MC: I'm just thrilled that people love to watch this show. It's an absolute thrill. Yeah, it really is. I'm thrilled that people watch it. I'm not surprised they watch it because it's good. Just the other day I was talking with somebody in LA about a guy who works in my agent's office who loves to cook. He was actually a cook in the Army. And we were talking about brine for turkey. And I said, "Well you know, I have a brother on TV who knows a little bit about turkey." And so for the next 3 days it's all about brines and turkey.

MM: Well thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

MC: Well, thank you. Thanks for doing this. It's very sweet.

    To hear some of her voice work, click here and look for her name.

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Last Edited on 08/27/2010