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Madcap men

Joel Murray — baby bro of Bill Murray and Brian Doyle-Murray, among other Murrays — is best known as "Mad Men's"  Freddy Remsen (pictured here). Lately, he's part of the "Whose Live Anyway?" troupe headed back to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Some days, Joel Murray is asked what it's like to have Bill Murray and seven other Murrays for big brothers and sisters (one, in fact, a sister Sister, as in nun).

Other days, he's queried about what it's like to be legendary for playing a character who pees his pants on camera ("Mad Men's" defrocked senior account man Freddy Rumsen, who wets himself in the office after a trademark bender, and pays dearly for the infraction).

Today, however, Joel Murray is talking neither sibling Murrays nor weak bladders nor anything else about his career (including a five-season run as "Dharma and Greg's" Pete Cavanaugh).

Rather, the discussion is on his promotion from the "Mad Men" of Madison Avenue to the madcap men of "Whose Line Is It Anyway."

Not to mention its live touring edition, "Whose Live Anyway?," making its annual way back to the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts this weekend (7:30 p.m. Saturday).

Though improv game players Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops and Jeff Davis have winged it across the BCPA stage before, this is a first time for Murray, who stepped into the fray several years ago as a replacement for Chip Esten, who left to star in ABC's "Nashville" series.

It is not, however, his first visit to Bloomington-Normal, a destination he remembers from his wild-and-crazy days of yore. "Oh, yeah, I remember some friends and party weekends down your way ..." 

By default, the discussion does detour back to where it all began: 52 years ago in suburban Chicago's Wilmette, where Joel Murray was born into a clan that had already produced a trio of future actors (Bill, Brian, John), plus all the others.

As No. 9, "It was great because I got all the hand-me-downs ... talk about the baby being spoiled. Plus I learned all about holding back for the pay-off and the timing of comedy around the dinner table," he says.

You had to weigh things carefully playing a tough room like that.

Same with the "Whose Live" boys, all friends and acquaintances of Murray from way back.

"I come from Chicago old-school improv (Second City, Improv Olympics), which is slower from where these guys come from ... they're SO good and so quick."

Like chiming in 'round the dinner table full o' Murrays, Joel has to pick and choose his moments of intervention carefully. "I just try to keep up ... I mean you've got Greg, who works at the highest level; and Ryan, who's a comic genius and so smooth; and Jeff, who's really quick and intelligent. So I'm just hanging on for the ride."

Three years later, the fingers are holding out fine, he adds ... again, not that much different from hanging off for that lifetime ride with the over-achieving Murray clan, a veritable show business dynasty who've crossed paths on screen only several times (bits in brother Bill's "Caddyshack" and "Scrooged").

"I guess I add something different to the concert ... I'm more of the everyman that people can relate to, which is something I learned at Second City: you find out what it is about yourself that's funny, and then you just try to be yourself."

That philosophy has kept Murray in good stead for the past 30 years, following his 1986 debut in the youth comedy "One Crazy Summer," all the way through countless TV series and movies, including "Dharma & Greg," "Mad Men," 2011's Best Picture Oscar winner "The Artist" and, two years ago, the starring role in "God Bless America," directed by his old "One Crazy Summer" co-star, Bob Goldthwait.  

"The beauty of this show," Murray says, "is that you show up and do the gig, and there's no way to prepare for it other than bracing yourself beforehand with a drink, and then you just fly."

Without a net?

"No way, not with those guys there for you ... they're your safety net and your support system."

Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraft


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