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Pat Finn, the newest dad on Nickelodeon, stays close to L.A.’s Chicago crowd



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Updated: December 19, 2012 11:31AM

During the early 1990s, while Pat Finn was understudying on Second City’s mainstage and living in Old Town, he and a comedic cohort named Stephen Colbert attended mass at nearby St. Michael’s church. They made a special effort to go on the feast day of St. Blaise, when priests bless the throats of supplicants.

“We thought it would help our voiceover careers,” Finn says. “You know how it is with actors: trying to get any kind of an edge.”

Since then Colbert has become an entertainment icon. Finn’s doing pretty well for himself, too. After years of guest shots and recurring roles on such prominent television series as “Murphy Brown,” “3rd Rock from the Sun,” “Friends,” “Seinfeld” and “The Middle” (which stars Chicagoan Neil Flynn), as well as sporadic film work, the Evanston-born and Wilmette-bred former beer salesman finally has what could turn out to be a steady gig in a typically feast-or-famine field.

Debuting Saturday on Nickelodeon, “Marvin, Marvin” teams Finn, 47, with young Internet sensation Lucas Cruikshank, Mim Drew (“The Lake”) and Casey Sander (“The Big Bang Theory”) in a farce about (as per marketing verbiage) “a teenage alien with special powers who was sent to Earth by his parents in order to protect him from evil invaders on his home planet, Klooton.”

The father of three, Finn arrived in Hollywood nearly two decades ago courtesy of another Second Citizen, George Wendt. Having stalked the mainstage in the 1970s, Wendt had under his ample belt 11 celebrated seasons as Norm Peterson on NBC’s “Cheers” and was contracted to star in his own CBS sitcom, “The George Wendt Show.”

Back in Chicago, Wendt’s wife, Bernadette Birkett, was directing Finn in a revue at the now-defunct Second City Northwest in Rolling Meadows. After Wendt saw Finn in action, he made him an offer Finn could have refused: the role of Wendt’s TV brother.

“Besides being the nicest human being on the planet, Pat has a playful comic energy that never grates — always charms,” Wendt says of the qualities that spurred him to pluck Finn from obscurity for the sitcom and that bode well for Finn’s showbiz future.

As it happened, though, this national opportunity came along just as Finn had scored a coveted slot on Second City’s vaunted mainstage — launching pad of Colbert, Bill Murray, John Belushi and countless others. He chose to head west instead and doesn’t regret the decision. If it fell through, he could always come home.

“Doing a show at Second City is ... one of the coolest processes that anybody can ever imagine,” says Finn, who regularly appears with his improv group Beer Shark Mice at iO Theater West in L.A. “But at the time I just thought [it] was the smarter move to make.”

It was and it wasn’t. Never a critical darling, “The George Wendt Show” was canceled after only eight episodes, leaving Finn to re-plot his course. Although the brief network stint had earned him more money than he’d ever seen, it merely provided a temporary buffer. And a bitchin’ crib for his first-born. But mainly a buffer.

On the upside, at age 29 he’d officially made the big leagues.

Following an audition for “Saturday Night Live” that thrilled Finn but failed to pan out, he scored the “Murphy Brown” job and soon relocated to Los Angeles with his young family, ultimately settling in Toluca Lake. Over the past decade or so, he and several other proximate Chicago transplants have formed a mini-Windy City of sorts in their happy valley.

Those who regularly assemble for backyard barbecues and Bears games, neighborhood football scrimmages and Christmas Eve bashes (an annual tradition at the Finn household) include Wendt, Flynn, Joel Murray (“Shameless,” “Mad Men”), Steve Carell (“The Office,” “Despicable Me”) and David Koechner (“Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and its forthcoming sequel). Veteran character actor Mike Hagerty (Google him) lives close enough to wander over and snag beers from Finn’s garage fridge.

“There’s a point where if you’re inviting people over for the Bears game, you’ve got to ask them Saturday or you’ll end up with 50 people,” says Murray, Finn’s onetime Wilmette neighbor.

For Finn, it’s the perfect setup. Seventeen years ago, while driving from Chicago to California, he and his still-wife Donna lamented what they’d left behind: the neighborhoods, the culture, the people. The remedy, they decided, was “to bring as much Chicago to [L.A.]” as possible. Little by little, they’ve done just that.

“I never thought my kids would be surfing,” Finn says. “But they can surf and then wrap themselves in a Bears towel.”

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