Tom Kiesche didn’t start his career in the entertainment world but instead in the corporate world, working for a Fortune 500 company. After a spur of the moment performance at an improv club, Tom decided a new career path was in order. Since than, Tom has become a Jack of all Trades dabbling in everything from improv, acting, screenwriting, to even singing. We recently chatted with Tom to see what is new with him.
Tom: First let me say, hello to anyone reading that doesn’t know me, and thank you to you for wanting to know a little more about the path I’ve taken and some of the experience I’ve had along the way… If there’s anything I answer that you would like more information about, or that you’d like more detail on, don’t hesitate to ask… I’m truly honored to be answering these questions. I’ll also include some links for you, of things I talk about.
Mandy: You took a big risk jumping from the corporate world to the entertainment world, any regrets?
Tom: Life is a big risk, but it seems the only way to really live is to continue risking… I didn’t make that particular decision quickly, and when my business contacts in the corporate world would joking say… “So, you’re going to give all this up to become a starving/struggling actor/artist?” I made sure that they understood that “starving” or “struggling” was not part of my plan. As for regrets, as Frank sang in the song, My Way, “Regrets… I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention.”
On my 25th birthday, after I had finally convinced myself to fully jump into the entertainment arts, I gave notice to my regional manager, because, ultimately, I never wanted to look back when I was ninety and say, “What if?”
However, what I’ve learned since, and the actual truth is, there are always “what ifs.” Had I stayed lodged in Corporate America, I may have risen to the top, been married, had kids… I may have changed the world, or saved a small child from the jaws of a crocodile at the Bronx zoo… But then again, maybe I would have been downsized, divorced, and dead from a stress induced heart attack while lugging quarterly sales reports out of my Ford Taurus… I can tell you I LOVE what I do, when I truly get to do it… And when I am doing what I LOVE, it doesn’t feel at all like work, it simply feels like I’m living large.
Mandy: What possessed you to go and try Improv, which is one of the hardest things to do?
Tom: Personally, I think improv is one of the easiest things to do, as all you have to do is show up and GO! There’s really no prep, and both success and failure are expected on a regular basis. An actor is only responsible for staying in “improv shape,” keeping those particular muscles quick, flexible and sharp. You don’t tend to have to get too deep into any character or situation, and there are no lines to learn, research to do, or precise actions to repeat…
That said, when I graduated college, I was offered that corporate job with a big fat salary, full benefits and a company car. I had very little acting experience up till that point, only have fallen in love with it, during an elective class for TV and FILM acting my last semester.
Six months after I started selling pharmaceuticals in New Haven, CT I went to an improv show at a local theater called the Stony Creek Puppet House. Honestly, I’m not sure if before that moment I had ever heard of improv, and certainly I hadn’t heard of Theater Sports. I stuck around after the show, chatted with some of the actors, and was invited to work out with the group the following Saturday… A couple weeks later, I was on that same stage in front of another audience… Ripping it up.
Mandy: You’ve worked on some of the biggest shows on television, any memorable experiences you can share?
Tom: Yes, though I’d rather keep it positive… We can never know when someone might have been having a bad day, and I hate to publicly stain anyone’s reputation, even if they’re already a bit stained.
I loved so many people I’ve worked with, shows I’ve been on, and characters I’ve played, but my weeks on Bones (episode: The Man In The Bear) and 3rd Rock From The Sun (episode: Gwen, Larry, Dick and Mary) are among two of my favorite memories…
Kristen Johnston was so open that she would often ask me for my ideas on what would make our little scene even funnier… When I would tell her my thoughts, she’d laugh, hug me, and then run over and tell the director… They kept making all these little alterations that the writer actually started getting a bit pissed. It was a hilarious week of fun and creativity. That entire cast was so fun and welcoming, and John Lithgow actually invited the entire cast for the week to his dressing room for a run through and gifted me a sketch of the entire cast, including the guest cast.
Emily and David were friendly, jovial, hospitable, and incredibly trusting, as was the director, Allan Kroeker… And because the show was just finding its legs, they didn’t quite have anything locked down and were all scrambling working on their own characters. Early on in the week I must have done something that they all felt was clever or funny, and very often during the week of shooting of the episode if a line wasn’t working for one of them, one of them would turn and say… “Just give it to Tom.”
David and Emily would repeatedly whisper to me throughout the week… “You should have your own show.” Unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet. But it’s a great feeling to be valued as a creative individual, and to feel like you really contributed…
I also have to mention both working on four episodes of Breaking Bad with Vince Gilligan, Bryan and Aaron was awesome, as well as working on Criminal Minds for a week with one of my favorite directors, Guy Norman Bee. Oh and Justified really let me do just about anything I came up with, from flicking coasters to flipping the bird. They even gave me props on the bonus features/commentary for being inventive, though they referred to me by the other actor’s name, and then as “that guy.” (I cut that bit and posted it with my own commentary just for fun https://vimeo.com/24199638)
Mandy: You are also known as the Closet Singer, would you care to explain for those who don’t know what that means?
Tom: Fun question. Yes, a few years back I found singing again… After leaving it behind in New York City, because of too much heartbreak, I sang at a party with some friends, and a few of them would not let me leave without promising I’d start really singing again. Through a series of incidents, accidents, and circumstances, I found a new vocal coach, and that led me to recording a few songs in my closet. A few months later, I had a website (ClosetSinger.com). Soon I was semi-regularly pumping out odd little creative videos either solo or with musical guests. I think I’ve done about six-seven of them at this point in time… I always tell people to watch three or four of them before making an opinion, as many of them are quite different from each other.
It started out mainly as a way for me to remain creative, and continue to learn more about all of my crafts, as I believe that learning all sorts of aspects does nothing but help influence all the other aspects.
Oddly enough, these days I’m now singing more “out of the closet,” on cabaret stages, and recently I did a show in Hollywood called Twisted Misters & Sisters. It sold out, went over huge, and has been asked back for two shows in September.
I have plenty of Closet Singer stories… But I’ll just mention two… For two years in a row, I’ve been asked to come in and audition for a Broadway Show, and the first time I was in front of the six or seven member production team, I found out that half of the people behind the two folding tables were closet fans of Closet Singer, and, quite literally in front of me, explained how great the episodes were to the people there that didn’t know what Closet Singer was… That was an awesome moment. The second year I was told I was asked to audition once again because, “they’re in town, and apparently just enjoyed having you come in.”
But honestly, the two funniest to me, were being recognized as “The Closet Singer” in public… One was while I was traveling through a train station in Germany, and another was when someone I didn’t know at the time, made a big loud awkward deal out of spotting me at a SAG meeting, while I was quietly sitting with my friends and near several actual big named celebrities. “Oh my God you’re the Closet Singer! Oh my God I love you!”
She and I have since become good friends, and she actually appears as one of the pirates in the Love Crazy King & Closet Pirates, which is probably one of the weirder, more complex Closet Singer videos. Not at all a first video to watch… (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o9bOLqb1j4A)
I should also mention that Closet Singer has also inspired a screenplay that I have co-written, and it’s currently being “shopped” to select producers. Since it’s not what most Closet Singer fans might expect it might be the working title is Behind Blue Eyes. The story is a powerful drama, with an undercurrent of important social issues… However, not to disappoint, it’s also got plenty of awkwardness and laugh out loud moments.
Mandy: You act, write, sing, produce, is there anything you haven’t done yet that you would like to?
Tom: I’d like to travel more. I’d like to have a career that has me booked in advance so that I can plan trips and plan a little more of life.
I’d love to be a lead on a big show, and have a character story line that builds over a few years. I’d love to have several of my screenplays made into feature movies, and contribute creatively that way too.
I love learning new things; I learned writing, acting, editing, directing, producing all because I just loved the creative process, and coincidentally at a dinner last night, a friend reminded me of my week of learning how to green screen, because I simply wanted to know how to do it… What happened is that I had an audition come in that they wanted me to put myself on tape, and I instantly saw an opportunity to experiment, not only on how to shoot and edit green screen, but also how to interact with myself as different characters. In retrospect, I probably should have only focused on doing the one character I was auditioning for brilliantly… But honestly, so much is out of our hands in the casting process, that the fact that I learned so much out of that experience, actually made the audition “worth it.” I’ll include a link to the audition, again this was my first green screen attempt, and I’m doing everything, sound, editing, shooting… After putting in all this creative time and energy, would you believe I never heard a peep from anyone about it…? But that’s show biz baby. (https://vimeo.com/11512616)
Mandy: What is your favorite role to take on, in front of or behind the camera?
Tom: I get asked this question a lot… I’ve had dozens of plays produced that I’ve written, written blogs, songs, screenplays, shorts that have gone to festivals, and been on dozens of TV shows, stages, movies, web shorts and commercials…
I love working as an actor where I can contribute creatively, where I know NO ONE in the world would do it like I would, and I have the ability to make the role uniquely my own. In a new web-series School & Board, they started the week long, fully scripted shoot, with me improvising for ninety minutes in one of the other character’s office. And so much of that initial improv has made it into the promotional stuff and the actual episodes. So, much of my improv, and even a “fight song” I wrote made it into the final cuts.
However, I also love writing, I absolutely love it… I can sit for days on end just being creative and letting ideas and characters flow from me… Screenplays, blogs, even my just released novel… I love watching actors say my lines, and explore my stories. I love editing projects, shooting projects, directing creative collaborative geniuses… I love it all.
Basically, in the nuttiest of shells, if I’m allowed to be creative, even if it’s building a giant wave structure for an arts festival called Burning Man, in the middle of the desert… I love it. And what I love most is, I love that nobody can restrict me from trying and experimenting with new forms of creativity.
Mandy: You’ve worked with some big names, but who would be your dream person to work with?
Tom: I’m sorry I’m going to give you a lame answer here, but the truth is, I don’t really feel like I’ve “worked” with very many big names at all. While I’ve supported many, did a commercial with John Cleese, scenes with Dick Van Dyke, and going, half-speed, toe to toe, with Harrison Ford… Very rarely do I feel like I’ve actually “worked with them.” I don’t know how to really explain it… But that’s what I loved so much about the shows I mentioned as being among my favorites… We worked together.
I would love to work with so many huge name people, icons, and trail blazers… By the way, listening to John Cleese, off camera, detail the proper techniques on how to take a pie to the face was incredible, and being in a fight with Harrison, as he marked through a fight with the camera department was a lesson in on camera action… But the truth is, I truly just want to work with talented, creative, brilliant people who respect my work as much as I respect theirs… People that make the game of it fun, exciting, unpredictable, challenging… People that make me look better. The possibility of serving a coffee to Dustin Hoffman “Anything else sir?” or showing up to arrest Charlie Sheen, with no lines, might impress my family and friends, but I’d personally rather have a dramatically powerful, freakin’ hilarious, or memorable scene with someone, going back and forth, and creating something exceptional.
Mandy: You’re an active blogger, what’s your favorite thing to blog about?
Tom: In the past I’ve been paid to blog, and that was about my experiences as an entertainment professional… But now, my blog is completely open… I’m not trying to sell it, or sell anything. People can read it, or not read it… I really like that I don’t have to blog about anything, or have to blog at all for that matter. Some weeks I blog three, four, or seven times, and some weeks, when I’m being creative somewhere else… I may not blog at all…
I’d have to say my personally favorite blogs are the ones where I don’t have an idea fully flushed out before I start, and I’m personally unaware the outcome of the entry… But while writing the words, the “story” or “subject” becomes clearer to me.
Mandy: Can you tell us one random thing about yourself that you wouldn’t be able to find out from the internet?
Tom: I’m an Internet whore, so I’m not sure what’s not been written or hinted at somewhere on the Internet… But, okay, I got something… I’m often incredibly shy, feel awkward, and constantly battle heaps of self-doubts. Most days I eat the bear, but some days the bear eats me. I don’t know if a majority of these feelings came from being horrifically picked on in High School or we all battle this as part of the human condition… To give the amount of how much I was picked on some scale, I was picked on so much my freshman year of High School; I quit the marching band… Yes, that’s right — Even band geeks picked on me. I was picked on so relentlessly, that several years after graduating, after putting on eighty pounds and stretching out another five inches, I unexpectedly bumped into a guy that I wouldn’t even consider one of the top twenty people that made my life difficult… I didn’t say a word, or even pay him any regard, but I swear to you, at the site of me, this guy turned white as a ghost, frightened for his life, and the only words that escaped from his mouth were, “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
I think the “It gets better campaign” is a noble and honorable thing, but I think it’s also a bit simplistic… “It” doesn’t get “better”… But “we” as resilient and inventive beings have the ability to make some things “better,” to make “it” much “better.” Long ago are the days when I was told by a cheerleader that she couldn’t go out with me, because she had to wash her hair on Friday night… And then when I asked about the possibility of a date the next night, apparently she was out of imagination ink, because she came up with again was that she had to wash her hair again that night too. Ah, the simple genius of it all. (Yeah, that specific little diddy made it into a character’s rant in a monologue that’s been performed in front of audiences in NYC a few times.)
We should embrace the challenges and the difficulties, because all of our past experiences lead us to where we eventually end up. So, in retrospect, as miserable as some moments and months were, I’m not sure what I would change. I am where and who I am today, and where I’ll be tomorrow, because of so many: Family, friends, teachers, and even super douchey-trash-bags, who really were just trying their best to fit in and not be the one who was being abused.
So, I know no one asked, but this answer turned public service announcement, for any awkward teen going through a rough period of life, I guess know that the only thing you can count on in life is that things will change, and you have the ability to make it better.
Mandy: Any upcoming projects you can tell us about?
Tom: As I alluded to earlier, I do not yet have the luxury of knowing what projects are on the horizon. I’m actively auditioning for the next role along with thousands of others, and I’ve got several scripts bouncing around town that I’m hoping to get moving towards a full production. However, I’m incredibly excited that several of my recent projects have recently released or will be released very shortly.
At the top of this list is my first novel. It’s called Sympathy For the Devil. My test readers loved it and it just became available on Amazon this week, this past Labor Day to be precise. People can read the first few chapters for free on Amazon, via the Kindle page… And they can find the links to the paperback and Kindle versions by doing a quick search, or by just going to my new author page. http://www.amazon.com/author/tomkiesche
Here’s the current draft for the description for sales..
“‘(while reading I was) told to keep the guffawing down to a minimum… I REALLY, REALLY, REALLY liked the book. Seriously, really!’ – Jack Kusler, Publisher
‘Wish I had a big old beach chair to stretch out in and while away the afternoon as I read it ? Suspenseful, sexy, funny, nice commentary on today?s culture, tremendous variety and far-reaching story, quick, compelling, engrossing, lots of twists and turns ? Fun summer reading!!!’ – Sasha Carrera, Writer
‘Dramatic, funny, dark, light, supernatural? I loved it? So, unpredictable and fun.’ – Feona King, Editor
Continually at odds with the brass of the Los Angeles Police Department and the paparazzi, Mitch Ryan has a gift for giving himself powerful adversaries. After pulling himself off a barstool to discover a gorgeous reality-TV star bleeding-out in a back alley, the ex-cop puts himself square in the sights of an Internationally feared Columbian street gang, an insanely hot Voodoo Priestess, and a culture sick with celebrity. It’s pop-culture flash meets suspenseful sexy noir, in a cynical contemporary tale, filled with ripping repartee and Old Testament consequences.”
Another exciting thing that I also alluded to is that I am one of the leads in a new very funny web series called School And Board. The producers premiered the first four episodes at El Cid here in Los Angeles, to a packed house, and the audience really responded and loved it. That night, on stage, the producers promised it will be released to the public, via the web, by the end of August… But who knows?
Apparently the only thing holding it up is the overwhelmingly positive response from advertisers, and the production company is making sure all their ducks are in a row. There are several promotional videos already up at SchoolandBoard.com and of course you can find the project on twitter and Facebook, as an IMDB page http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2229838/.
While there are several other projects I’m excited about people watching, like Closet Singer episodes, or my “winning” fight as the Gladiator and video interview at WarriorShowdown.com (Fight #3). The last thing I think I should mention is “my” upcoming cabaret show, Twisted Misters & Sisters, and that I’ll be singing one song at a benefit concert for the Connor Lynch Foundation (More info: http://inhonorofconor.org/) at the end of September.
Twisted Misters & Sisters is where the “women sing the men’s songs, and the men sing the women’s.” It will be returning to the Hollywood Studio Bar & Grill for TWO MORE performances Sept 19th & 21st. The night stars: Sandra Benton, Heather Olt, Todd Sherry, Pat Whiteman, and myself. Ron Snyder will be on the baby grand, Kevin Widener will be on drums, and there is the possibility of another musician joining us. The event is again being produced by: James Mooney. Purchasing TICKETS prior the show is highly recommended. http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/264161 and the Facebook event page for Twisted… is: https://www.facebook.com/events/315249641904682/
I guess the best way for people to keep updated on release dates and new projects, is by signing up for the nearly monthly newsletter, the unpredictable blog, twitter, and the Facebook fan pages… Again, all of these links can be found at TomKiesche.com
Truly thank you again for your interest in my career and journey, honestly I hope my “story” helps inspire others in ways that other people’s stories have inspired me, and I hope one day there are even higher peaks in my career and life that I reach.
Check out more about Tom at his official website and social networks… click here
Interview by Mandy Raytik