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Groundlings to Gilmore: An Exploration of Show Biz Life with Hilarious Mitch Silpa
The actor who played Gilmore Girls’ Terrence chats with us about sketch comedy, laughing at himself, and that iconic scene in Bridesmaids
Some of our favorite Gilmore Girls characters appeared in just a couple of scenes, but their impressions on audiences were so strong that fans look forward to them on every rewatch! One of those characters is Paris Gellar’s life coach, Terrence, who appeared when she and Rory moved into their freshman year dorm at Yale in Season 4, Episode 2, “The Lorelais’ First Day at Yale.” We saw Terrence reappear in Season 5, Episode 10, “But Not As Cute As Pushkin.” Actor Mitch Silpa, who portrayed Terrence, joined us for a chat in June 2022 during our month-long Gilmore Girls festival at Remarkist, Super Sensational Summer Spectacular. 🗣
Mitch Silpa is an actor, writer, and producer with a long list of credits. In addition to making an impact playing Terrence, he is known for his roles in movies 🍿like Bridesmaids, Spy, The Heat, The Boss, The Happytime Murders, and the TV series All Rise. He also has a fantastic YouTube channel. We had a great conversation with Mitch about how he got started in show biz 🎭, his connection to Melissa McCarthy through The Groundlings comedy troupe, and his experience on Gilmore Girls!
Was Mitch a Gilmore Girls Fan?
When asked if Mitch had seen the series before playing Terrence, he said he had seen a few episodes. “Because I performed with [sketch comedy troupe] The Groundlings, I knew Melissa McCarthy for a long time. She was on [Gilmore Girls] while we were students together; she was a little ahead of me in the Groundlings program. But as long as I had known her, she had always been a working actress, so I watched some episodes to support her. I liked the show, but I wasn’t a regular watcher.”
Mitch might not have been an avid consumer of the show, but he knew the basics of the storylines from what he had watched—enough to feel familiar with the material when he landed himself a role. But he definitely wouldn’t be winning any Gilmore trivia contests.
“I knew that [Rory] was going to Yale, and I knew the character of Paris, but I didn’t really know a ton of what was going on! And even in between my episodes–there was a full season in between the two episodes I did–I wasn’t sure exactly what had happened!”
Watching himself on camera
“We love acting but we hate watching 👀 ourselves,” Mitch said.
And what was it like watching his episodes back after all these years? “I feel like it’s been so long now that the person I’m watching seems like another person,” he said. “There were a couple lines where I just laughed at myself! 😂 I forgot all the lines and was like, ‘oh that was kinda funny!’”
Terrence is a hilarious character, so we can understand why Mitch was naturally amused by himself in enjoying the watch.
But watching oneself as an actor is both beneficial and uncomfortable. “I do want to watch myself. This is the dilemma. I will watch it, but it’s absolute torture!” We heard a similar assertion from Keiko Agena (Lane Kim), who told us that she watched herself because she needed to for her own process. Mitch continued, “For me, almost inevitably the first time I watch myself, I’m just horrified 🙀 at everything. The way I look, my acting, everything, just horrified.”
He explained the thought process he has while watching. The first time is met with anxiety. “This is not what I thought I was doing, this is embarrassing, I’ll go through that spiral.” But subsequent watches will start to feel more productive. “Then I’ll watch it again and I’m calmer. I’ll make myself watch it again–I watch it three times–and the third time I watch it I’ll think it’s actually pretty good…I wish I didn’t have to put myself through that!”
How Mitch Silpa got into acting
Mitch told us that acting was always his passion and his early influences were in comedy. “I’ve always wanted to be an actor. When I was in college I auditioned. I got into grad schools and eventually went to UCLA. I did my MFA there and I did theater for a while, but I always loved comedy. When I was a kid I was obsessed with SCTV [Second City Television, the Canadian sketch comedy show from the 1970s and 80s]. That show was very influential. I remember seeing it and my mind was blown 🤯, like ‘OMG someone made a tv show for me.’ Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Rick Moranis, John Candy, Andrea Martin. They were all so brilliant and they could do all these characters and were so funny and diverse and they all came from sketch and improv and I loved all that stuff, so it was only a matter of time.”
Soon enough, Mitch would find himself surrounded by legends in the making at The Groundlings, the sketch comedy school and performance troupe. “I always liked doing improv in acting class, but I eventually went to the Groundlings. You have to audition to get into the classes and you work your way up.” He joked that it sounds a little like a cult! “But you work your way up levels, and then you get cut along the way and some people make it into the main company. I loved doing characters and sketch and writing for it and I eventually made it to the main company. I was in the main company for about thirteen years.” Wow–thirteen years!
At the time Mitch was performing, writing, and creating there, these big names were in The Groundlings with him: Melissa McCarthy of course, but also, Kristen Wiig, Wendy McLendon-Covey, and Maya Rudolph. “I remember when Melissa was on Gilmore Girls and Lauren Graham and Alexis [Bledel] would come sometimes just to see the main shows to support 🤗 Melissa. So I had met them before I had worked with them on the show.” This helped him feel like less of an outsider on the set of Gilmore Girls. “They had seen me on stage and knew who I was and internally, that felt better.”
Landing the role of Terrence
“I remember the audition, it was the first time I had auditioned for Gilmore Girls,” he said. “Reading for Terrence, it seemed really funny to me and I was really nervous and I did something and they all laughed. When I got the callback that I got the part they had one note and it just said, ‘Don’t go too big!’” He laughed at this and took comfort in the fact that he was funny, but could pull back in his performance.
“I love doing huge characters, or characters with big personalities, and more subtle ones. I like them both. But usually what you’re cast in is more subtle.”
He articulated that “Terrence is a very friendly, warm character but sometimes I get a lot of ‘bitchy’ or ‘ma’am’ characters. I call that a ‘ma’am’ character because it’s a character that’s always going ‘Ma’am, ma’am, ma’am, ma’am you can’t do that again,’” he said with a laugh. If you’ve ever seen Bridesmaids, you immediately understand what he means!
On the the set of Gilmore Girls
His experience on the set of Gilmore Girls–both times he appeared–was memorable. “I remember there were two episodes. First was the first day at Yale. I remember being very nervous and wanting to do good and on that show in particular, you can’t change a word of dialogue. I was so nervous I worked on it so hard, and I was lucky enough not to have overwhelming lines.”
A guest star on Gilmore Girls was lucky in that way–unless they couldn’t adapt to the fast-talking lines, as dialogue coach George Bell explained in our chat with him. But the regulars and top billed stars had a ton of material to memorize perfectly. At the table read for his second episode, he told us, “I remember there was a part during a table read where Alexis was giving a tour at Yale and she was reading it and it was about a page and a half or three quarters of just her talking. And she turned the page and saw how much more she had to continue talking and she just stopped and said, ‘oh come on, guys!’” One of the things fans love about Gilmore Girls is that their favorite characters talk forever, and it’s amazing how skilled they became at it.
“You develop a muscle for it,” Mitch marveled.
He also shared that the day of the shoot for his second episode, where Paris and Terrence are sitting on the couch 🛋 and Rory is in the scene talking to them, Alexis lost her voice and they had to stop shooting. They had to come back another day to finish, but he did get paid for both days, a rare perk for a guest actor!
Bridesmaids and Melissa McCarthy
Mitch was not only in the mega hit comedy Bridesmaids, but he appeared in one of the funniest, most-talked about and over-gif’ed moments of the entire movie: He played Steve the flight attendant–the poor soul who has to demand a loopy Kristen Wiig to go back to her seat in coach class. ✈️ Kristen was one of Mitch’s friends and longtime colleagues at The Groundlings.
“When I was in Bridesmaids, I played the flight attendant, and that was almost 100% because Kristen had requested me to do that. Kristen and I had performed for so many years together, so we knew we could be a straight man for each other. And that’s what the scene required. It was an amazing experience. You just don’t have experiences like that, just to look around and see Kristen and Annie Mumolo, who wrote it, and everyone on this plane is a Groundling that I’ve worked with: Melissa, Ben [Falcone], Wendy, and Maya…it was like The Groundlings wrote an airplane sketch.”
Life at The Groundlings
Since he spent a lot of time honing his craft there, Mitch shared an inside look at The Groundlings, and gave us an overview of how things work at the legendary comedy school and troupe.
The Groundlings started in the 1970s, and is based in Los Angeles. There is an audition process, which Mitch described as “fun and pretty low pressure.” After the audition, students attend the first level classes where they learn the basics of improv. Next, they take intermediate level classes where they learn how to create and write ✏️ characters and integrate improv with those characters.
Eventually members make it to the Writing Lab, which consists of twelve classes, where students spend the time writing monologues and scenes. There is a show at the end where students are judged. If they pass, they can go on to the advanced writing level, but if not, they are cut from the program and not permitted to repeat the class.
The advanced writing level, which is all sketch writing, lasts twelve weeks and the main company votes on who passes at the end. If they pass, they are invited to join the Sunday Company. This is a great place to be, because it’s a great place to learn and get noticed. If a sketch is a hit, it can run for subsequent weeks, or end up in the TV shows and movies we love. He told us about one of Melissa McCarthy’s characters: “The character Melissa did in The Boss originated in The Groundlings. She would do a TED Talk to the audience and it was really funny.”
Most people spend about a year and a half in the Sunday Company and then they can get accepted into the Main Company, whose shows are on Friday and Saturday night.
“It’s a great training ground,” Mitch said. “I learned a lot there. It’s very competitive too.” And we are so thrilled that all of that training eventually led him to Gilmore Girls. Can you imagine college student Paris without Terrence? Nope–we can’t either.
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