Written by Ryan Cormier, April 24, 2015
When thinking back to his days acting in local productions at the Wilmington Drama League, Neil Casey can't help but marvel at the amount of young talent the community theater group had at the time.
Casey, who stars on Yahoo's new comedy series "Other Space" and has written for "Saturday Night Live" and "Inside Amy Schumer," acted alongside a couple of Delaware's biggest up-and-coming Hollywood stars: Aubrey Plaza ("Parks and Recreation") and John Gallagher Jr. ("The Newsroom").
"The Wilmington Drama League in 1999 was a really great place to be," said Casey, 33. A University of Delaware and Salesianum School graduate, he was the head writer of this month's MTV Movie Awards. "A lot of talent came out of Lea Boulevard and a lot of talented peoples' cars were getting broken into in the late '90s."
Casey, who lives in Los Angeles, is building up quite the comedy resume following his 2012 hiring as a writer on "Saturday Night Live," where he worked closely with A-List guest hosts on the vaunted comedy show.
He's not easily blown over by celebrity, which came in handy when pitching sketches or jokes to hosts like Justin Bieber, Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Zach Galifianakis.
"You have a job to do. The only people I was starstruck by at 'SNL' were Paul McCartney and Big Bird. Those two are my threshold for having my breath taken away," joked Casey, who likes to grab dinner with his parents at Eclipse Bistro or beers with friends at Scratch Magoo's when visiting his hometown.
His start in comedy came at the University of Delaware. It was there that his parents, Tim and Dianne, who still live in Wilmington, first realized their son's future was not in computer engineering, his first major.
"I remember we were at dinner at the Szechuan Restaurant on Kirkwood Highway and he told us he was switching from computers, which he had a scholarship for, to English and drama," Tim Casey said. "We figured better do it now than wake up one day at 30 and realize that's what you want to do."
Neil Casey was a member of the UD improv group The Rubber Chickens and, starting his freshman year, began driving to New York to perform and study comedy at Upright Citizens Brigade, which counts Amy Poehler as one of its founders.
After graduating from college in 2003, Casey moved to New York to focus on comedy and within a few months, he was on one of the teams that had a regular show at the UCB Theatre. Soon, he began writing and performing his own shows.
Following years of UCB comedy work, Casey got a big break in 2012 when he was hired as one of 15 writers on "Saturday Night Live."
"Before that, so much of what I would work on would be really funny stuff that played on cable for particular audiences," said Casey, who lives in the same Los Angeles neighborhood as Plaza. "There was something humbling about the viewership for 'SNL.' You know that when you write something and the camera goes red, there's like 7 million people watching it. We're not just talking about stoned college kids."
While he only lasted one year — his contract was not renewed — he got plenty of sketches on air at the notoriously competitive sketch comedy show.
While he wasn't gushing over celebrity hosts like Anne Hathaway or Vince Vaughn, he was living the historically hectic schedule that "Saturday Night Live" thrives upon: "Someone else made this joke, but the 'SNL' hours are still designed for people doing drugs in the '70s and there I am with my green tea."
After his year at 30 Rock, Casey slid into a job as a writer for Comedy Central's "Inside Amy Schumer" last season. Schumer, who hosted the MTV Movie Awards earlier this month, brought Casey along as her head writer. He wrote for the final season of the comedy channel's "Kroll Show," which ended its three-season run last month. And he will appear as a cable news pundit on this season of HBO's "Veep."
But it's "Other Space" where Casey has his biggest on-camera role yet.
The goofy space comedy was originally written about 10 years ago by Paul Feig, who recently earned back the rights to the project and sold it to Yahoo. Feig, who directed the 2011 hit comedy film "Bridesmaids" and created the cult favorite television "Freaks and Geeks" in the late '90s, is also directing next year's "Ghostbusters" reboot.
The Yahoo show is like "Star Trek" meets Adult Swim's "Childrens Hospital" — a goofy mix of phasers and dim-witted characters creating laughs in another galaxy.
Casey plays Kent Woolworth, the ship's science officer. His character has a back-story that allows Casey to revel in his robotic delivery. Over the show's debut eight-episode run, all of which is available for binge-watching at screen.yahoo.com, Woolworth reveals that he was the first baby born on Mars, lived comatose under water for most of his life and sleeps in a mucus pod.
Oh, and he also has an Oedipus complex and and has gills for breathing.
The Washington Post singled him out in its review, writing that his "deadpan expressions really heighten his oddball character," making him the "Dwight Schrute of this ship."
Even in that magical television world in outer space, Casey couldn't escape Delaware.
The show's first episode was directed by Luke Matheny, a fellow Wilmington native, who won an Academy Award for his short film "God of Love" in 2011. After a few minutes of small talk, the pair realized their Delaware connection.
Once again, Lea Boulevard and Wilmington came rushing back.
"When he said he was from Wilmington, I couldn't believe it," said Casey, who is in Wilmington this weekend to attend the annual gala fundraiser for Delaware HIV Consortium. "I was flabbergasted. I thought I did a pretty good job clocking all of the other talented people that sprang from Christina River."
IF YOU WATCH
What: "Other Space" co-starring Wilmington native Neil Casey
Where: Yahoo Screen, screen.yahoo.com
When: All eight episodes are currently available