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Reel Life: local boys make comedy



Ever since his childhood in Park Ridge, Greg Glienna has pictured himself as a director of comedies. At age eight he, with the help of his best friend, Jim Vincent, made his first film in Super-8. In the early 80s and several shorts later, he and Vincent enrolled in the undergraduate film program at Columbia College, where they stayed long enough for Glienna to finish The Vase, about a guy meeting his fiancee's family. Vincent dropped out of college and has since worked mostly as a free-lance production manager on commercials. Glienna dropped out and hit the comedy circuit--as he puts it, stand-up comic has been his "day job" since the early 80s.

Glienna is noted for a self-deprecating wit that builds on the bafflement experienced by his yuppieish stage persona--a kind of non-Jewish, midwestern Albert Brooks. His lines and routines were honed in comedy clubs across the country. "I even played in Kalamazoo," he says. Most of the time he opened for better-known comedy acts--which is how he met Emo Phillips, the wan, reed-thin comedian from Downers Grove who's readily recognizable with his hick getups and pageboy haircut.

"Emo and I started to hang out together," Glienna says. "He appreciates my kind of humor, and I appreciate his. One day Emo called me up and said in excitement that he had just seen a student film of mine on Image Union. He didn't know that I was a filmmaker. He thought The Vase was funny enough to be turned into a feature film. He offered to help."

When Glienna presented him with the script for Meet the Parents last June, Phillips immediately put up the $50,000 needed for production. "For that I was given the title of executive producer," he says with a grin (Jim Vincent is the producer). He was also given a "key" cameo. "Believe me, I did research for that part. It's easily my most pivotal role since the three-minute bit in that Weird Al Yankovic's comedy called UHF."

Like a silent comedy, Meet the Parents depends largely on intricate sight gags for laughs. And its simple and straightforward premise (The Vase expanded) could have served Laurel and Hardy: an unassuming young copywriter meets the family of his fiancee in their all-American suburban home and becomes the unwitting catalyst of a series of disasters. As the director and lead, Glienna had to play the straight man while orchestrating behind the camera the crescendo of hilarious and maddening mishaps that revolve around his character. Glienna also added a postmodernist touch--the cautionary tale is told by a gas-station attendant who may or may not be endowed with an overactive imagination.

The filming was completed in four weeks, using Chicago-area locations, a local crew, and actors recruited from auditions at the Funny Firm. "We paid everyone! No grats, no deferred payments!" crows Phillips. To keep within budget, Glienna edited on video; later the decision was made to release the film straight to the video market.

It has already been snapped up by a video distributor, which is unusual for a low-budget feature made in Chicago. National Lampoon, which is branching into the home-video market, will release the 80-minute film as its inaugural entry. According to an ecstatic Phillips, the first-ever comedy in the history of the world made for video" will be the tag line in a high-profile marketing campaign that will cost more than twice what the film did.

"Greg is writing his next script, maybe for National Lampoon again," Phillips says. "I have a big part in it." Glienna looks at him and can't keep a straight face.

Meet the Parents will be projected on a giant video monitor tonight at the Film Center, Columbus Drive at Jackson, at 6:00 and 8:30; admission is $5, $3 for Film Center members. Glienna, Vincent, Phillips, and other coconspirators will be on hand after each show. Call 443-3737.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.

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