In his first job out of college, Drake alumnus Mark DeCarlo, who attended Drake from 1981-82 before transferring to UCLA, was dressed like Ronald McDonald, complaining about hamburgers and wanting a taste of the hearty Arby’s roast beef sandwich instead.
He’s made it a long way since then, with gigs in stand-up comedy, hosting, acting and animation. Currently, he is a contributor to the show Windy City Live, which recently replaced Oprah’s show.
However, he is most known as the voice of Hugh from “Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius.”
“I was really lucky to get onto a show with really talented writers and really funny people in the cast,” DeCarlo said. “The scripts were hilarious. That’s probably the most fun you can have in show business — working on an animated show — because you can be anyone you want.”
DeCarlo said that though he loves being a comedian and he loves hosting and acting, there’s something about animation that can’t be found elsewhere.
“(Animation) is more challenging, but it’s also more rewarding because it’s more fun,” DeCarlo said. “You can be a bear or a dragon or a monkey or a chimp, but I couldn’t be any of those from a sheer acting point of view.”
In his upwards of 30 years in the animation business, DeCarlo has mastered more than 50 character voices in shows such as “Rugrats” and “Fairly Odd Parents.”
“It’s a great way to make a living,” DeCarlo said. “You don’t have to shave and you don’t have to wear long pants.”
In the acting realm, DeCarlo has had roles in films and shows such as “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Raising Helen,” “Boy Meets World” and “Seinfeld.”
“People recognize me all the time from ‘Seinfeld,’” DeCarlo said.
While working with the “Boy Meets World” cast, DeCarlo was fortunate enough to meet one of his “favorite actors of all time,” William Daniels, who also guest starred with DeCarlo and is most known for his role as John Adams in “1776” and his role in “The Graduate.”
As a comedian, DeCarlo actually kick started his stand-up routine at Drake. He won “Best Individual Act” in Bulldog Tales, and every Friday and Saturday night, he put on a stand-up show in the metro area and earned a couple hundred bucks a weekend. He’s dealt with “tough crowds,” but, “I’m a little bit more impermeable to that now,” he said.
DeCarlo has performed all across America at comedy clubs, travel shows, food festivals — basically anywhere a laugh is needed.
But of all of his gigs as a comedian, actor and in animation, if he had to choose one, he would choose hosting.
“It’s a fusion of all the things I like to do best,” DeCarlo said.
He has been the host on various shows such as a ’90s dating game show, “Studs,” “Goodnight America” and “Sunday Dinner.” But his most notable hosting gig was in “Taste of America.”
When the Travel Channel wanted to start up a new food show, DeCarlo fit what they were looking for.
“I grew up in an Italian family,” DeCarlo said. “There were always very funny people in the kitchen so I thought I would be a great match (for the show). I wanted to do something that captured what traveling was like today.”
They called it “Taste of America with Mark DeCarlo.” DeCarlo, who hosted the show in 2004 and 2005, and his crew traveled all around the country to 400 cities, searching for the best Texas barbeque, the best beef in Chicago and the best crawfish in New Orleans.
“You name the food, and I’ve eaten it,” DeCarlo said.
He and the crew traveled seven to eight months a year, whether by plane or vehicle. They’d arrive in a town, find a restaurant unique to its locale or even the kitchen of a good neighborhood cook, cook with the owners for three or four hours, shoot the show, then hit the road.
“It was a lot of traveling, but luckily a lot of good eating,” DeCarlo said. “We would never eat in a chain restaurant and we’d always find a local place. It’s more fun that way. You really get a good flavor for the place that you were at.”
The only chain spot that was acceptable was the Waffle House — but “not for the food,” DeCarlo said.
“The people you meet in Waffle Houses are hilarious,” DeCarlo said.
They’d go after the bars closed around 2:30 a.m. and wait for the staggering drunks to saunter in.
“It’ll always be a show,” DeCarlo said.
What DeCarlo couldn’t include in the show, he saved for a book. He took notes while traveling and compiled blog posts about his daily endeavors.
The book, “A Fork on the Road: 400 Cities, One Stomach,” is one of DeCarlo’s proudest accomplishments. It highlights the 40 best recipes that DeCarlo discovered as well as the stories — some hilarious — behind how he discovered them and the people he met on the way. It is currently in the U.S. Library of Congress.
A more recent project that DeCarlo has been pursuing is a new type of animated show — one that can be put on in front of a live audience. The show is called “Boffo the Bear,” and it will unite the appeal of live acting and the creative animated character voices.
“It’s something that’s never been done before,” DeCarlo said.
Throughout his decorated career, there is one thing that DeCarlo has learned well: People never fail to fascinate him.
“I learned that you’ll never get bored if you pay attention to people,” DeCarlo said, “because no matter where you are, there are interesting people around — all you have to do is talk to them.”