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article imageQ & A with Groundlings member Tony Cavalero

By Mindy Peterman     Nov 26, 2013 in Entertainment
Tony Cavalero's career journey has taken him far: from military school and playing lacrosse to becoming a main member of the legendary Groundlings comedy group and establishing his own improv group with the curious name of Robert Downey, Jr. Jr.
Comedian/actor Tony Cavalero is a funny guy, great at playing zany, in-your-face characters as well as some who are much more down to earth. Cavalero’s talents have brought him a long way. He is member of the main company of The Groundlings comedy group based in Los Angeles. This is no mean feat since The Groundlings is a group that has spawned comedy notables such as Phil Hartman, Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Paul Reubens, and many others. It took Cavalero six years of hard work to make it to the main company and he is happy to now divide his time between The Groundlings, acting in films (Ghost Team One), web series (The Single Life, Aim High), television series (Hart of Dixie, 2 Broke Girls), and blogging for The Huffington Post.
I spoke to Cavalero by phone recently about his ascent to The Groundling’s main company and other facets of his varied career.
Where are you from originally?
I’m from Annandale, Virginia, right outside of Washington, D.C.
You were a lacrosse player and went to military school. How did an interest in comedy sneak in there?
I grew up with really silly parents who were always the funniest people in the room. I grew up watching Three Amigos, Spaceballs, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Blazing Saddles. Both my parents had acted in high school, were always big hams. You kind of got the feeling that that was something they wished they had pursued a little bit more themselves. So that’s where it started. I was also a fat kid (laughs). I went to college, was going to commission into the military. I always wanted to play Division 1 lacrosse. I vacationed in Los Angeles in between my sophomore and junior years and kind of got the bug. I came back out the following summer and pretty much made the decision then that I wanted to move out here. I dropped my commission into the military before I graduated in 2006. Soon after that I packed up my car and drove out.
How did your family feel about that?
They were super supportive. They’ve always been super supportive. Whether it was when I was going to military college or pursuing my dream of being a comedian.
Were you the class clown?
Oh, yeah. In high school I got “Best Hair” and “Class Clown”.
Who are some of your favorite comics?
Chris Farley, Jack Black, and John Belushi.
You are a main member of the esteemed L.A. comedy group The Groundlings. That is quite an impressive achievement considering what it takes to make it through to that point.
Yeah, it took me about six years.
How did you become involved in the group and how did you manage to reach the status you hold there today?
I moved out here without any knowledge of the business or the industry or any of that stuff. The first summer I was out in L.A. I was doing extra work and I met friends on set. They were taking classes at The Groundlings and told me I should audition for it. And I had no idea what it even was besides improv. I remember that I went to a show and I loved it. I took my first class that summer and just fell in love with it, the community and improv and sketch comedy. From that moment on, I worked my way up through the four levels and that took about four and a half years to get into the junior company there, which is called The Sunday Company. I worked my way through The Sunday Company and that’s a full-time job. You’re pitching new sketches every week and doing pretty much a whole new show every weekend. But you make really great friends. It’s such a hectic lifestyle. I actually met my long-time girlfriend in the The Sunday Company. I spent a year and a half in the junior company and then I got voted into the main company about a year and a half ago. Two years ago I got to test for Saturday Night Live, which was pretty amazing.
What was that like?
It was so surreal. I just remember sitting in the dressing room and thinking if I told my fat sixth grade self that I was doing this right now, he’d start crying.
You are a founding member of the improvisational group Robert Downey Jr. Jr.
Yeah, with all the friends I met at The Groundlings.
Tell us something about the group.
We all met about five years ago in a long-form class at The Groundlings. We had a group mindset where we wanted to start performing together. Now we’ve been together for almost five years performing. We have two monthly shows that have been an L.A. Weekly top pick. We’re family now. Performing with them is great because we’re basically finishing each other’s sentences. Everybody knows everybody else in the group so well. It’s a wonderful group to be in and it’s something that’s different than my Groundlings performance, sketch comedy stuff.
Where did you come up with the name?
One of the founding members of the group, Richard, looks like Robert Downey, Jr. So I think the idea came from that. Somebody had called him Robert Downey, Jr. Jr. and I think from there we all kind of latched on to how fun it is and how catchy the name is.
Has Robert Downey, Jr. ever come to a show?
No, but we’ve tweeted at him plenty of times.’s The Single Life is an intriguing web series and somewhat of a departure for you.
It’s very much of a situational comedy. I’m playing a character that’s much closer to myself, which is great. That’s something I can stray away from at The Groundlings since we’re used to playing such big characters. Still, the character I play in that series isn’t super subtle but he is someone who is closer to who I am. Basically we had it scripted where we would do a shot of the scripted stuff and then they would let us play and improvise.
I love the way that that turned out because doing the sketch stuff at The Groundlings you can sometimes get parlayed into doing big character stuff all the time. So that was something I was really happy with. I got to do something that was really funny and a character that was much closer to who I am.
You’ve done a film called Ghost Team One. What’s it about?
The movie’s kind of a Harold and Kumar meet Paranormal Activity. It’s kind of a zany frat comedy with some really good scary elements infused as well. I got to go in and audition for the really cool role of Chuck. Basically he’s this manic landlord who’s trying to stay sober, while his tenants are two college idiot stoners. They find out that there might be a spirit in the house and this hot Latina chick comes along who loves ghosts. So she gets involved and they both want to get her in bed. So it becomes this weird love triangle. My character goes through some changes. The wackiness and zaniness ensues.
According to your girlfriend Annie in her article on, your show Tonannie is a “best of” night of sketches you both wrote or co-wrote. How did you put the show together?
We met in the Sunday Company. She’s been at The Groundlings for a long time, as well. Last year we wanted to put a show together of all our favorite stuff and stuff that we’d written together. So we self-produced it and we sold out the two times we’d done it before. Again, it’s wacky characters but then we’ve got some relationship/real life scenes in there, as well.
Any chance it will go on YouTube or video?
We’ve been filming some of our sketches. But Annie’s a writer; she went to the USC film school for writing. We’ve been pitching a pilot based on our actual relationship.
What’s it been like working on being funny with your significant other?
It’s great because we have such similar comedic sensibilities yet such different comedic sensibilities. She has such a strong, funny female voice. In this time of Bridesmaids and Melissa McCarthy, it’s a wonderful time for her. The fact that I do these big physical characters that tend to be very broad and brash, it tends to be a very cool mixture. We don’t always see eye to eye on some of the jokes. Sometimes I feel like she doesn’t find me funny at all anymore.
Aww, I’m sure that’s not true.
No, of course not. But when I’m running around Target putting spatulas on my head and asking her how my hat looks, she tends to get a little tired. I’m definitely more of a ham than she is.
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