Before there was Belushi, there was Bo.
Wayzata resident Bo Kaprall has spent more than four decades in show business, and he’s got the psychic scars to show for it. Kaprall tells how, as a rising young comedy writer-performer, he was offered a spot in the cast of a new NBC show. His agent advised him to turn it down, doubting whether the show would succeed.
“It was ‘Saturday Night Live,’ and after I turned them down, they hired [John] Belushi,” Kaprall said with a wry smile.
But his life in entertainment has had plenty of upside, too: performing with Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop and Second City; writing for comedy legends Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks and Bob Hope; a recurring acting role on America’s top-rated show, “Laverne & Shirley.”
Now in his 60s, Kaprall is offering an opportunity to the next generation of aspiring comedy writers with the National Sitcom Writing Competition. He’s targeting closet writers in 9-to-5 jobs, college kids with great ideas, moms with a knack for killer dialogue — anyone who’s ready to follow their dream of success in showbiz. He’s lined up a panel of Hollywood writers, producers and performers as judges, including Elaine Ko, co-executive producer of the TV hit “Modern Family,” comedian Fred Willard and actress Cindy Williams, his pal since they met on “Laverne & Shirley.”
“I love reading scripts and giving notes, and finding a great writer who’s obscure because they don’t live in New York or L.A.,” Kaprall said. “You gotta pass it on.”
The sitcom competition, he said, is a way for aspiring writers to make important connections: “It would take you decades to meet this caliber of people on your own.”
Kaprall’s comedy career started early. Growing up in Chicago, he had a friend “who wasn’t very good looking, but he was popular because he was funny,” Kaprall recalled. “I always wanted to be in showbiz: the love, the notoriety — and you didn’t have to wear a tie to work.”
Kaprall got his start in the Second City touring company, then moved to Minneapolis in the early ’70s to join the Dudley Riggs troupe, making $75 a week. After a couple of years, he moved to Los Angeles and performed at the legendary Comedy Store, which led to TV writing and acting jobs. He also wrote and performed with the Kentucky Fried Theater, whose core members — Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker — went on to create the movie “Airplane!” Kaprall also wrote in L.A. with Minnesota-born comedy writer Pat Proft.
Kaprall’s wife at the time was from Minnesota, and they moved here in the ’80s to raise their daughter, Mandy — who, ironically, is now back in L.A. as a TV programming executive. Kaprall has lived here ever since, except for a brief stint in New York. He said it’s tough to keep an entertainment career going in flyover land, but he’s been able to do it.
Just this year, WGN America aired a show he developed, “Outlaw Country.” It’s a dramatic program, not Kaprall’s usual arena. In fact, he’s got another drama/reality show in the pipeline, this one about a journalist and a retired L.A. homicide detective who look into the mysterious deaths of conspiracy theorists. But he struck out with one Minnesota-tinged program that he was sure would be a hit.
“It was a show like ‘American Chopper,’ but with pontoon boats,” he said. “I thought it would be a slam dunk. I got an instant deal with a production company, but they couldn’t get it on the air.”
John Reinan • 612-673-7402