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Friday, September 5, 2014

Groovy Guys of the Month: Rick Copp, Joe Dietl & Ben Zook

This month's Groovy Guys are Rick Copp, Joe Dietl and Ben Zook, the creative minds behind one of my favorite web series, Where the Bears Are, which is currently in its third fabulous season. Hopefully all my readers are familiar with this show, but in case you're not, Bears is about three gay bear roommates - Reggie (Copp), Wood (Dietl) and Nelson (Zook) - who live together in Los Angeles while attempting to solve murders. Think of it as The Golden Girls meets Murder, She Wrote with big, hairy gay men.

Rick's credits include writing for The Golden Girls at age 24 as well as penning the 1995 hit, The Brady Bunch Movie. He is also an accomplished mystery novelist. Joe's acting credits include Todd Hayne's 1991 feature, Poison, Two and a Half Men and Melrose Place, and he also co-wrote, co-directed and starred in the 1998 indie comedy, The Thin Pink Line. As for Ben, he was a founding member of Chicago's Annoyance Theatre, where he co-wrote and performed in The Real Live Brady Bunch. He also co-wrote, co-directed and starred in the 1999 cult indie film, Can't Stop Dancing!, and had a recurring role on Comedy Central's Reno 911!

I am delighted to have all three of these groovy guys here on the Dish to answer a few questions about their lives, Where the Bears Are and, of course, pop culture.

What inspired you to create Where the Bears Are?

Rick: Ben, Joe and I have all been working in the entertainment business for years and we got tired of networks and studios saying no, so while we were having cocktails in my hot tub in Palm Springs one Thanksgiving weekend, we just decided to do a project just for us. I had the title of Where the Bears Are in my head for a while and once Ben mentioned The Golden Girls and said, “Joe plays dumb really well, he could be the Rose”, it just kind of crystallized at that moment for me. I write mystery novels on the side and I thought if we were going to do a web series with short chapters, then that might be a way to get people to come back. It wouldn’t just be a show about big, hairy gay men and their love lives - we would have a specific goal each season, solving a murder. When we came up with the tag line, “It’s Golden Girls meets Murder, She Wrote”, that’s when we knew exactly what the show would be.

What has been one of your favorite scenes and/or episodes of Bears?

Ben: There are so many I love, but I really love the climax episodes in all three seasons.

Rick: For me personally, I loved the last few episodes of Season 2 because my character got to be somewhat of an action star. I got to run through Angeles Forest - which was doubling as Big Bear - being chased by a psychotic former frat brother. I got to dangle from a cliff like in the old movie serials and was even rescued by being hauled up to solid ground in a sling. It was physical and fun and I loved acting opposite Mark Rowe, who played Jeremy.

Joe: My favorite scene as a director was the finale of Season 2. We shot up near Big Bear on an actual cliff and it was a fun and scary two days of filming. My favorite to perform in are usually the ones where it is just the four of us being ridiculous with each other. And the scenes where I get to make out with the detectives are always fun to do.

Did you always want to be an actor?

Ben: Pretty much. I began performing in stage productions at the age of 12 and have been acting ever since. Or some would say “overacting” ever since.

Joe: I discovered my interest in acting in college. Once I did my first play, I was hooked.

Rick: Not at all. Most of my career has been as a writer. I got a break very young - I was 24 and started working as a staff writer on The Golden Girls. That led to more sitcoms and then feature films, like The Brady Bunch Movie, but acting was never a priority for me. I did play a few small supporting roles in shows I wrote and produced, but that was very sporadic. When an old friend cast me in a small recurring role in a Cinemax show on a whim, I got the bug. I loved doing it. And when Where the Bears Are came up, I was a little nervous on the first day because I was afraid I didn’t have the experience of Ben and Joe, but right away I felt comfortable and knew it was going to be a lot of fun.

Not counting Bears, what has been the most memorable moment - good or bad - that you have experienced as an actor?

Ben: I loved playing Peter Brady in the stage production of The Real Live Brady Bunch in Chicago and Off-Broadway with Jane Lynch and Andy Richter among many talented others.

Rick: It was really my very first acting role. I wrote and produced a science fiction comedy action movie for Starz with my old writing partner David Goodman, who is now a bigwig on Family Guy. It was called The Adventures of Captain Zoom in Outer Space, and it was basically Galaxy Quest before Galaxy Quest where a 1950’s TV star who plays a space hero gets beamed up to another planet because the inhabitants think he’s a real hero who can save them. I played Happy, the jovial sidekick to the hero on the black and white cheesy television show back on earth. We were shooting a fake commercial for the show and I remember I had such chemistry with the guy playing Captain Zoom and we played off each other so well the director had to yell at the crew to be quiet because they were laughing so hard. A ham was born.

Joe: I shot a commercial with LeBron James for Cub Cadet riding lawn mowers. We shot it in Las Vegas when he was there playing in the All-Star Game. They had to spray paint the grass to look green and add leaves to the trees. My favorite part was the end of the commercial. I'm suppose to dribble up and shoot at the basket and he nonchalantly smacks it down while sipping coffee in his robe. The first time I sailed it right past him and made the basket. The second time I did it again. His entourage came over and told me to knock it off. I then did it so he could easily smack it down. It is a really funny commercial that I am proud of.

If you could go back and give your 19-year-old self a wise piece of advice, what would it be?

Rick: Never give up on doing what you love. It may not yield fame and fortune or even enough to generate a living wage, but I am convinced when you follow your passion you’re healthier and happier and you never know what surprises in life will come of it.

Ben: Relax. Things are going to turn out okay. And quit smoking.

Joe: Don't be embarrassed of your hairy body. People are gonna someday love it.

What are your five favorite TV shows of all time?

Ben: The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live, SCTV, The Golden Girls and Sex and the City.

Joe: Probably The Three Stooges. I just loved that show as a kid and can still watch it to this day. In college I use to have a behind-the-scenes picture of Curly, where he was out of character and looking into the camera. I thought he was hot.

Rick: Okay, most people go for the critically-acclaimed shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, which are great, but I would have to list the ones that were most influential when I was a kid and formed in my mind what kind of writing projects I would ultimately pursue - Charlie's Angels, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Big Valley, Josie and the Pussycats (but definitely NOT the version set in outer space) and The Rookies.

What are five of your favorite films?

Rick: All About Eve, Broadcast News, Dressed to Kill, Strangers on a Train and Shadow of a Doubt.

Ben: All About Eve, To Kill a Mockingbird, Annie Hall, Victor Victoria and Tootsie.

Joe: Jaws, Victor Victoria, Carrie, Cinema Paradiso and Heaven Can Wait.

If you were asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, whom would you select?

Rick: Tom Selleck as Magnum, P.I. Hands down.

Ben: My husband, Joe Dietl.

Joe: Besides my husband Ben, I would chose Patrick Warburton. And I only said besides my husband Ben because I know he chose me as his Sexiest Man Alive.

If you could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at your dinner party, what three people would you invite?

Ben: Judy Garland, Bette Davis and Jimmy Stewart.

Joe: I would love to have all three of the Stooges over for dinner and hopefully the evening would end in a pie fight.

Rick: Mary Todd Lincoln (because she was crazy and unpredictable and knows the theatre), Bette Davis (for bitchy one-liners to keep the guests laughing) and Joan Crawford (because with Bette there, too, it is sure to cause a lot of drama which is great for any memorable dinner party).

What's next for each of you? And will there be a Season 4 of Bears?

Ben: I hope so. I would love to keep doing the show as long as we can raise enough money to keep going and people still want to see it.

Joe: I'm auditioning all the time, so hopefully I will be booking some more acting gigs. As far as Season 4 goes, I can't even think of that. We have so much still to get done on Season 3. It would be great to be able to keep going though. Where the Bears Are has been the most rewarding experience I have had with any project in my career.

Rick: I absolutely would love to do a Season 4 of Where the Bears Are and hopefully more seasons beyond that. It just depends on whether or not we can afford it. I’m also looking forward to producing new projects under our 3 Bears Entertainment banner that I can both act in and write. I am also a mystery novelist and write under the pen name Lee Hollis as well as my own name, so I will definitely be writing more books in the Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mystery series I co-author with my sister. Also, there are a couple of other books I have written that I would like to see adapted for film or television so I’ve been taking some meetings on that, and I would also like to get back to writing a feature film if the right opportunity pops up. And I have a play I would like to produce at some point as well but, as always, it boils down to the number of hours in a day. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do it all.

Thank you, Rick, Joe and Ben, for being such groovy guys!

To watch Where the Bears Are, go to You can also follow the series on Facebook and Twitter.

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