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Presto Chango

Jim Lichtscheidl is the Twin Cities’ best comic actor. But can he play just one role?

Presto Chango
Photo by Todd Buchanan

Jim Lichtscheidl looks tired. And for good reason. In the past 18 months, he’s played 99 characters: 27 in Tiny Kushner, 25 in Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol, 12 in Stones in His Pockets, 15 in Sisters of Swing, and 20 in The 39 Steps. Goodness. This guy could use a beer. Which is exactly what he’s drinking at the Red Stag Supper Club in Minneapolis on a rare night off. ¶ “Well, I did get sick at the end of it all,” says the 41-year-old, his famously elastic features a little slack. “I was just spent physically. I need to learn to build some downtime into my schedule.”

He should. The Lino Lakes native has been on a very long roll, starting, by some measures, when he won the state speech title in 1987—in the humor category, of course. When he emerged on Twin Cities stages in the early 1990s, he was heralded as a thespian to watch. He developed a hit show called Knock!, a tribute, in part, to his sister Lisa (“Everyone thought she would be the actor in the family,” he says). He regularly performs at the Guthrie Theater. But he still acts like he has to prove himself. So he never stops working.

“In a lot of ways I feel I’m just beginning my career,” he says. In fact, he has been so successful at comedy that he has hardly been given the chance to expand his range. Watching him in 2007 play against type in Frank Theatre’s morbid The Pillowman, one critic wrote, was “like imagining Seinfeld playing a serial killer.” Lichtscheidl has come to terms with his gifts. “One of the main reasons I think I’m here on this earth,” he says, “is to make people laugh.”

Fortunately, for the sake of his adrenal glands, he’s slowing down. He’s playing only one character in the Guthrie’s production this month of Arms and the Man, George Bernard Shaw’s war satire. He’ll be Bluntschli, the wry and knowing soldier. “He’s a nice, deep, complex character—very funny, very human,” Lichtscheidl says. With no costume changes.

Watch videos of Lichtscheidl in action at mnmo.com/licht
 


5 THINGS YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT JIM

1. He wears a porkpie hat in honor of his comic hero, the silent comedian Buster Keaton.
2. Another of his comic heroes is John Ritter. “I loved the pratfalls on Three’s Company.”
3. He attended Mankato State University on a speech scholarship, eventually studying theater.
4. He is obsessed with Survivor and dreams of becoming a contestant some day.
5. He worked for four years after college at FAO Schwarz as a “plush manager.”
 


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