by Conner Tighe
Actor and comedian Monty Geer was relatively not as well-known when he was trying to make it big in the TV industry. That was until he landed a role on MTV’s drama/comedy Awkward. The show lasted five seasons and won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite Cable TV Comedy. Geer played lanky, tall geek Cole Higgins, a recurring character on the show’s last two seasons. Since the show’s ending in 2016, the actor has been doing small projects here and there along with his own stand-up act in LA. Geer took the time to speak with me about his past career and the hard work and perseverance that got him where he is today.
Conner Tighe: Did you want to be an actor when you were little?
Monty Geer: Yeah, I’ve loved acting from a young age. I’m from a small town called Snohomish in Washington state. It’s just lots of farms and stuff. Acting wasn’t an option at all. Like everyone I talked to, they would say, “How do you do that? That’s not a real thing.” So, when I was a little kid, I made videos a lot with my friends. They were like sketches, basically. The only industry was this improv team in Seattle an hour away, and I auditioned for them when I was like 14 or 15, but everyone on the team was like 45, and here I am as this 14-year-old auditioning. So, I didn’t get that. When I was 16, I started going to New York to go to the New York Film Academy during my summers when I was in high school. After high school, I moved to New York to pursue it full-time. So, it’s definitely something I’ve always wanted to do, but it was a hard time figuring out how to do it for most of my life.
CT: Who has strongly influenced your life?
MG: Definitely lots of other actors for sure, like Seth Rogen. I love how he writes and directs his own stuff or Will Ferrell. When I was a kid, at night I would watch the 1975 SNL tapes and stuff with John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. I lived off of that. My uncle was always the funniest person in my life. He made me pursue comedy because he was so funny, and he died this year because of COVID-19, so that was pretty rough. He was definitely the biggest influence for me, as a child, to even pursue the enjoyment of comedy.
CT: How did you get into stand-up comedy?
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MG: Stand-up I didn’t even know was a thing in high school. I would listen to Dane Cook, George Carlin, Eddie Murphy, or whatever back then. But then, when I moved to New York, I went to NYU to study film and TV. I moved there to do acting, but in the city of New York, stand-up is huge, so I quickly fell into that. I did comedy at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York and stand-up at the same time. When I started stand-up, I think I was 19, so it was another way to pursue comedy back then. I kind of just fell into stand-up by just being in New York and doing improv, and I found out there’s a whole other form of comedy right next door.
CT: How did you start writing for Jimmy Fallon?
MG: That’s about when I started stand-up. I started interning there, and I had to intern at lots of other places to get there. I interned at a script reading place where I read scripts and just say “yes” or “no.” And then I interned at Broadway Videos, which is like NBC’s video editing company, and then I wanted to intern for SNL, and they were like, “Hey, why don’t you try this new show called Late Night with Jimmy Fallon?” And I was like, “Okay,” and then referred me to there, and the very first day of being an intern, I ran into someone who was a writer on the show, and he was someone who was in my UCB 101 class. He was like, “Oh, I didn’t know you worked here.” And I said, “I didn’t know you worked here.” And he said, “You’re really funny. You should write jokes for me under the table,” basically. And then that day, I wrote tons of jokes...
Then after that, he said, “You should join the Fax Writer Program.” Way back in the day, they used to fax out the headlines of tomorrow’s show before like, “We want to talk about these headlines. Can you come up with punchlines?” And then all these freelance writers would fax them punchlines. During my time, they still called them fax writers, but it was just on your phone, so like I would be running around delivering coffee at 30 Rock, going to SNL to get packages and stuff, and in my other hand, I have my phone, and I’m just writing jokes for the headlines that morning. I did that the whole time I interned at Fallon, and then eventually, Writers Guild of America was like, “Hey, you have to pay these freelance writers full-time salary.” And they're like, “We can’t pay all these freelance writers thousands a week.” So, they got rid of the whole fax writing program across all of TV. So, I was one of the last fax writers.
But I wrote monologue jokes for Fallon, and it was really cool, because I would be delivering coffee and writing jokes. You would see him do the jokes at rehearsal and test it in front of tour groups that would walk into their studio, and then you’d see him live and see how he’d changed the jokes and what he added to them. And Fallon would always add bits and stuff to them that made them way funnier. You’d constantly keep trying to see how far your jokes made the chain from dress rehearsal to air.
CT: How did you land the role as Cole Higgins on Awkward?
MG: Before Awkward, I did a non-union movie called Raised by Wolves, and the leads were me and Evan Crooks, who played Theo in Awkward. We shot for two weeks, it was a horror film, low budget, but it was a lot of fun. We became friends on it, and then like a year after we filmed it, I had the audition for Awkward. For the audition, I went in wearing a McDonald’s shirt that said “McShit” on it. Because Cole is this very offensive, outlandish character, I walked into the casting director’s office and put my feet on the other actor’s headshots, and started the scene like that, with my feet on the desk. That’s something I would never do now, but at the time, with the character, I was so ballsy I did it. She loved it; we did like 12 takes so she could send them the perfect take, and I come in for the call-back, and I come in the room, and it’s my friend Evan Crooks, and I was like, “No way! You already booked things?” And he’s like, “Yeah!” Our chemistry was immediately amazing, because we know each other. It was like catching up in front of the director and show runners.
When we started the scene, we both bombed the scene. It was terrible; we got nervous, his hands were shaking, so it made me nervous, and then we switched roles, and we bombed again. There was no chemistry between us, and I was like, “Dang. There’s no way I’m going to book this.” And then Evan texted me a week later and was like, “We booked it.” It was basically off of my first read and the chemistry we had knowing each other, and I guess we probably didn’t bomb it that hard since we booked it, but to me, it felt like it was the worst performance of my life. I went home and cried afterward and thought I ruined this opportunity. And then I found out later I got it.
I think it was supposed to be a couple of episodes. But the first day of shooting, we had a scene on the episode where we were screening some graphic horror film. Everyone is in their sleeping bags, and the scene is supposed to be the back of our heads as they are screening this graphic film as Jillian Rose (Tamara) is freaking out seeing how graphic it is, but then I started improvising a bunch of stuff. And then they punched in closer to us, and I improvised a whole other thing, and they punched in closer and put lav mics on us.
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So, a scene that was supposed to be the back of my head turned out to be this huge scene of me grabbing other actors by their legs and screaming at them. I think I grabbed an actor and pulled her out of the sleeping bag or something. It was a very cool thing to do, so then after that moment, I was able to do a lot more improv and explore the character a lot more. I think that’s what kept me for 22 episodes or whatever it was, because they loved how much I brought with the character as much as I had put on their well-written lines.
CT: How do you get yourself into the characters you play?
MG: With Awkward, it was harder because I had to call back on Friday because I was shooting on Tuesday, so it was immediate. So, it’s kind of just what I brought in, which is what led me to book it, which was this very aggressive character and extreme hipster. When we first started, I didn’t know where they wanted the character to land so a lot of just asking them, and a few weeks in, they showed us friends of theirs that they wrote these characters off of. That helped us understand the characters a lot more. And then the whole series you just start developing over time which is great.
In another circumstance, I just shot a movie in Canada called Clive Boomer’s Success, and I play a stand-up who gets involved in the mob. It’s a drama, but because I’m a stand-up, it’s also funny, but it also takes place in the ‘60s, so I had tons of research to do about what that was like and what being a stand-up in that period was like. The jokes are totally different. It’s more like one-liners and cleaner material. You can’t talk about cell phones or Tinder, you know?
I booked that in January, and then because of COVID-19, it kept getting pushed back a month and another month. We had to end up shooting it in August, so I had like eight months to work into this character where I was able to do heavy research, and just a lot of sitting and learning the backstory of the character, and learning how this makes me feel, and having relationship thoughts about the other characters in the movie and the backstory about them, so I could build a relationship with these actors before I even met them.
To get into character thought, it’s a lot of imaging what they went through and how they would see the scenario that’s given to them. Sometimes you have to do it like in an hour. If you have an audition, you have to do it in a couple of hours, so it passes by really quickly sometimes. You just have to make strong choices and just really be specific on your thoughts and on how you see different things.
CT: What was your best memory while filming Awkward?
MG: I mean, the sleeping bag thing was one of them, but let me tell you a different story. One day I think we were shooting this stuff that took place in Mexico, and I was super sick. I think I had the flu or something, I don’t know. But like between takes, I just kept throwing up, but I was trying to hide it from everyone, so I’d go behind a tree, throw up, come back, and do the scene. We’d change shots; I’d go and throw up again. So that was definitely a very hard thing to do, but it was definitely cool seeing how I could feel during the performance was as good as it would’ve been if I was healthy, because you just get this adrenaline kicking in while you’re performing.
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Another funny moment was like a senior prank or something we were doing, and we had that whole fog machine where we filled the hallway with bubbles. But the problem is with the fog machine, the bubbles go down quickly, and the fog disappears quickly, so they had to use dish soap so we were spraying dish soap all over the place so it would stay, and it made some stronger dish soap to not ever pop, but it was super acidic to breathe in, and everyone was coughing massively. So, all of us were in this bubble cage in this closed space, and we could only say three or four lines before we started violently coughing. So, the editing of that scene is super-fast, where everyone says a couple of words, and you don’t see that we’re in extreme pain. And we had to shoot 10 or 12 hours that day, so it was like we were just in this bubble mist all day and couldn’t breathe and probably have long-term lung damage that we probably don’t know about. It was just hilarious that we had to rush out of that room, breathe, rush back in and say two lines. And especially Evan because he started the scene like under the foam, so like when he popped up, he looked funny. He would say his lines, but he had to be breathing this foam underneath it, and it was definitely just a graphic, very hard way to act as your lungs were burning inside.
CT: Do you get used to being a celebrity?
MG: It’s funny because, with Awkward, I booked this, and I don’t want people to recognize me. I chose Cole to wear glasses, and I spiked my hair so I wouldn’t be recognized, but then it bothered me because Evan got recognized more than me when we would go out. In Canada, I’m a spokesperson for a company called Skip the Dishes. Me and Jon Hamm are the spokespeople, and we’ve done for like four years, and I get recognized so much up there for that instead of anything else I’ve done. I do stand-up up there, and they’ll say, “Your next stand-up is from MTV’s Awkward,” and people get excited and freaks out and goes crazy like I’m a super celebrity because of these commercials, so that’s really funny.
I guess because of social media, you kind’ve get used to people knowing everything about you already. Like anytime I run into someone, they always know what I’ve been doing the past six months just because I post about it. I guess it’s nice not having to catch up like that as much unless you’re close friends and you want to catch up on a deeper level. I’ve been with some people that can’t go in public anymore, and that sucks. That’s a whole different vibe, so I’m glad I’m not being stalked as much.
I had a friend where someone knew where they were filming up in a different city of theirs, and then they went into their apartment, and they walked in someone was inside their apartment, and the lights were all out, and they were just like waiting for them, and they started crying and took a photo with them and then left. They asked the security guard how this person got in, and they said, “Oh, that person said she was your cousin, so I let her up. She flew in from wherever.” So, they just let her inside the apartment. That’s a whole other level of fame that’s scary when people start breaking into your home and staying in the dark so they can see you.
CT: What has been your favorite role?
MG: Cole has definitely been one of my favorites, because he was just such a neat character because of the improv. His character thoughts are so out there and so wild, like a Tasmanian Devil that, like I could improvise anything. So many scenes, we’d be on a bus— it was the snow jobs episode, and we were driving up there to the mountain, and I would climb over people’s heads and steal someone’s hat, put it on, and that’s all within the character's thoughts. You know, Matty McKibben couldn’t climb over people’s heads and take a background actor’s hat and wear it.
He was a gay character, but it wasn’t centered around that, and he didn’t play in the stereotypical way that Hollywood has you doing for years. Now they’re a lot better at it, but definitely at that time during Awkward; what was so cool was that both Cole and Theo were two gay characters on a TV show who weren’t dating; they were just friends. And that was such a cool thing because, in so many shows, it’s like two gay characters have to get together, or there’s one gay character, and he keeps bringing in guest stars for different boyfriends. But with Theo and Cole, they were just gay friends, and being gay wasn’t their identity which was a really cool thing to portray, and the writers did a really great job with that.
CT: If you weren't in the entertainment industry, what would you be doing?
MG: I feel like I would be a scuba diving instructor, like I like a lot of extreme sports like rock climbing, skydiving, scuba diving, and stuff, and not even because I love doing it; it terrifies me like my biggest fear is open water, so I started scuba diving to get over that fear and the same thing with skydiving. What scares me most is jumping out of a plane—let’s try that. With acting and especially stand-up, you put yourself out there, and stage fright is so scary with performance anxiety. I was trying to do things much more scary to make that calm down. And I learned the fear doesn’t go away; you just get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. So with all that stuff, you have that feeling of “Oh, I’m about to jump out of this plane. This is terrifying.” And you get very used to just doing it and the feeling okay, I’m going to live through this very vulnerable, uncomfortable scenario, and you get more comfortable doing that. Like stand-up is very scary because everyone’s worst fear is public speaking plus with stand-up, you’re like “Here’s the joke.” And they know it’s a joke, and they’re right there, and they either laugh or don’t laugh, and you immediately feel the judgment of them. With stand-up, it’s obvious like “Okay, make me laugh,” while with improv, they’re all in it with you. It's a much more forgiving environment. You feel very uncomfortable performing, and I thought that fear would go away, but it really doesn’t. You just get used to having that fear there, and it’s less scary where you expect it and get comfortable feeling uncomfortable.
CT: What do you hope people remember you by?
MG: I hope I book bigger stuff in the future people remember me by. In a broad sense, I hope people remember how happy I made them, making them laugh and how much comfort I gave people in hard times. Especially during this time, I get people who have seen my stuff, and they’re like, “Life has been really hard.” So, I just really like making people laugh and an escape from stuff that’s troubling them in life. So just a long career of being that person who they relate to as this really funny actor as well as a really grounded, down-to-earth person who cares about all the people he’s performing for.
As of now, Geer continues writing his comedy and is excited to start back up his stand-up shows once businesses begin opening back up nationwide. He’s writing a film and recently began starring in season 2 of Hot Mess Express, a cooking reality show available through DirecTV and the Sling TV app.