From Kansas Roots to Hollywood Buzz
The scene quietly unfolds in a Johnson County restaurant—five unscripted, comedic minutes that could easily play for laughs in a television sitcom.
Here’s the setup: Four women are lunching together, chatting about their sons, family and raising children. At the end of the meal they agree the tab should be settled democratically, and pile their credit cards in the middle of the table. When the server returns with the receipts for signatures, she quickly scans the jovial, unassuming quartet gathered in the booth, clearly intrigued by the last names she just ran through the computer.
“Mrs. Riggle?” she asks, handing the first receipt to the woman nodding her head.
“Mrs. Rudd?” she continues, sliding the black leather portfolio across the table to the diminutive woman responding with a crisp English accent—“Yes, right here.”
“Mrs. Stonestreet?” the roll call continues, the third woman accepting her receipt.
“And you must be Mrs. Sudeikis,” says the server, giving the final diner her bill.
Riggle, Rudd, Stonestreet and Sudeikis—strung together the four names could be mistaken for a high-powered law firm, or perhaps a bunch of CPAs or maybe even a physician gastroenterology group.
The scene ends as the server thanks her customers, quips “Have a nice day!” and with a smile curling her lips, realizes the mystery group walking out the door has everything to do with Hollywood fame, and evidently nothing to do with pretension.
That’s how the unofficial Celebrity Moms Club rolls. Kansas City and Johnson County residents Sandy Riggle, Gloria Rudd, Jamey Stonestreet and Kathy Sudeikis have famous sons—Rob, Paul, Eric and Jason—who are first and foremost their sons. Each son just happens to have a brilliant career in the fickle entertainment industry, plopping them in the public spotlight, under the bright lights and harsh glare of Hollywood success.
But the boys were raised here in the Heartland, by parents with strong work ethics and values who taught the Golden Rule and nurtured their sons’ burgeoning creative souls from an early age.
Here are the celeb moms, unplugged. Find out, among other tids and bits, why their sons still think there’s no place like Home, with a capital H.
The most overused word in the Sudeikis household when Jason was young?
Travel executive Kathy Sudeikis’ personality is as bright as the yellow jacket she’s wearing for today’s photo shoot in a Johnson County field. She’s ready—but then Kathy’s always ready, to jet off here and there, to attend fundraisers, to talk about her three children, to kid her husband, Dan.
And to laugh. Kathy laughs often, and long.
Today Kathy is talking about being a mom to Jason, a comedian and actor who currently resides in New York City where he is in his seventh season of “Saturday Night Live”—a gig that has been good to him and allows his creative wings to take flight.
“One of my favorite characters is Jason’s Joe Biden opposite Tina Fey’s genius Sarah Palin,” says Kathy. “Dan and I were in the SNL studio audience the night they faced off in the mock presidential debate that Queen Latifah moderated. It was electric.”
Jason is known for taking audiences to the point of no return—people have no choice but to succumb to belly laughs when the improv master portrays a spot-on Mitt Romney or one of “The Two A-Holes” with fellow SNL cast member Kristen Wiig (“Bridesmaids”). But the affable Jason has been making his family—including sisters Kristin, a choreographer in NYC and Lindsay, who teaches at the Dominican Academy on the Upper West Side—laugh since he was young.
“There really wasn’t a glaring moment when I thought, ‘Yeah, Jason is star material,’” says Kathy, whose brother, George Wendt, created one of television’s most-loved funny guys, the barstool-hugging Norm Peterson, on “Cheers.” “Jason was creative, but he wasn’t the class clown.”
Jason still makes sojourns back to Overland Park to visit his parents and friends—to the same house he grew up in, sitting in the same kitchen where kids hung out late on Friday nights during high school, waiting for Dan’s famous cheeseburgers and Kathy’s trademark hospitality. He slips in and out of town quietly, unless the local media spies him attending a University of Kansas basketball game at Allen Field House, like they did last December when Jason was with beauty Olivia Wilde, an actress and model who proudly supported a baseball cap bearing Kansas City’s initials.
Current projects include “Who Do You Think You Are,” a poignant show in which Jason traces his family tree (May 11 on NBC) and “The Campaign,” a film with Will Ferrell that premieres in August.
Like all of her fellow celebrity moms, Kathy is proud of Jason’s image—a nice guy with a big heart. He’s involved in the Big Slick, a fundraiser that Rob Riggle started three years ago to benefit Children’s Mercy Hospital; Gilda’s Club (Kathy is a breast cancer survivor); Campaign Happiness; and Bill Self’s Assists Foundation.
“Paul, Rob, Eric and Jason—they’re all good Midwest guys, generous in spirit,” she says.
By the time Paul Rudd was 2 years old, Gloria and her husband, Mike, knew they had a character on their hands.
Has Gloria Rudd experienced an uncomfortable moment as a celebrity mom?
“He was forever putting on what we called ‘performances,’” recalls Gloria. “As a youngster Paul was quick-witted and spontaneous, really cut out of the same cloth as his father. He was hysterical.”
As a student at Shawnee Mission West (SMW), Paul took acting and participated in theatre and thrived. He left the University of Kansas to go to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts-West (AADA) in Los Angeles, a decision that he initially questioned.
“It was important to Paul that he not be one-dimensional, that he could still go on and study geology or architecture and get a second degree if acting didn’t work out,” says Gloria. “But Mike and I raised our children to have a passion, and if they could make that their vocation, that was wonderful.”
Gloria didn’t want Paul to be stuck with the “what-ifs” and encouraged him to give acting a whirl for 10 years.
“People with passion chase their dreams,” says Gloria. “I didn’t want Paul or my daughter, Mandi, to be shadowed by the ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ syndrome.”
And of course, Paul Rudd’s foray into acting wasn’t a one-night stand by a long shot. Audiences are familiar with Paul’s earnest face and comedic timing that have served him well in films such as “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “I Love You, Man” and “Knocked Up.” He’s also had his turn on Broadway with Julia Roberts in “Three Days of Rain” and at Lincoln Center in NYC in Shakespeare’s eternal comedy, “Twelfth Night” (Paul is classically trained and did an intense semester of study at the University of Oxford in Gloria’s native England).
Gloria relishes being a member of an opening night audience watching a film in which Paul appears.
“I love seeing people’s reactions to what’s happening on the screen,” she says. “And when they get it, I’m thrilled.”
When it comes to favorite roles that her son has played, Gloria names “My Idiot Brother,” in which Paul portrays Ned Rochlin, a kindhearted and clueless man.
“He played that character with a good, good heart,” says Gloria. “He saw the good in everyone, which is like Paul in real life. Loving and sincere.”
“The Object of My Affection,” was a 1998 hit in which Paul starred as a gay man opposite Jennifer Aniston.
“Paul played George Hanson with no affectations,” says Gloria. “He played a man who knew who he was and was torn. It was a captivating performance, again, straight from the heart.”
Paul, who is married to Julie and has two children, lives a relatively quiet life in New York City. He poses for pictures with fans, but never with his children.
“People understand and respect that,” says Gloria.
In addition to his professional resume, Gloria takes pride in Paul’s philanthropic endeavors, including his involvement in the Big Slick that supports Children’s Mercy Hospital; Stand Up to Cancer; as a board member for a nonprofit that helps kids who stutter, Our Time; and mentoring SMW and KU students.
“Paul is lucky,” says Gloria. “He landed on his home planet and leads a rich life doing what he adores. And he has stayed true to himself.”
Currently Paul is shooting an independent film with Paul Giamatti (“Sideways”) and can be seen in June with Tina Fey in “Admission.” The much-anticipated sequel to “Anchorman” starts production in early 2013.
One of Sandy Riggle’s favorite characters Rob developed was named Leviticus.
Rob Riggle’s middle name could have been “Routine” when he was growing up in Overland Park, attending Cub Scout meetings and playing Little League baseball. He had everyone around him—especially mom Sandy, dad Bob, and sister Julie— in stitches by doing comedic turns.
“Rob always made us giggle around the house—Julie and I were his best audience—so I wasn’t the best judge of his ability to make others laugh,” says Sandy. But her suspicions that she had a genuinely funny kid on her hands were confirmed when the father of one of Rob’s pals told Sandy he had to pull off the road while driving the boys home following practice.
“He said tears were streaming down his face from Rob doing one of his routines in the back seat,” says Sandy.
Rob’s upbringing in the Heartland was meat-and-potatoes, an idyllic Midwestern childhood of school, church activities and family. Following graduation from Shawnee Mission South where he played football, Rob entered the University of Kansas to study communications, film and television production. He enrolled in the United States Marine Corps, and later earned a Master of Public Administration degree from Webster University. He left the military to pursue a comedy career (he’s still in the reserves) where he appeared for a season on “Saturday Night Live” (Jason Sudeikis was a writer on the show at the same time) and as the faux military analyst on “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” where he reported for punchline duty for three years. Currently Rob can be seen at the multiplex in “21 Jump Street” as Mr. Walters.
Rob is married to Tiffany, has two children and lives in LA and is known for memorable roles that elicit big laughs in movies like “The Hangover”—think Taser. He also has a penchant for giving back, and started the popular Big Slick event for Children’s Mercy Hospital that raises big money, brings in big stars (Will Ferrell, Jon Hamm, his buddies Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis) and creates some big fun every June (this is the third year).
“Rob’s nature is to give back,” says Sandy. “He entertained the troops with the USO in Iraq, and is involved with helping marines returning from deployment to apply for behind-the-scenes jobs in the entertainment industry in LA. He recently participated in Drive4COPD, a cause close to his heart since my mom had emphysema.”
Sandy has sage advice for mothers raising young children.
“Enjoy them and appreciate the things they do,” she says. “My husband always said when Rob and Julie were growing up, ‘Give your children roots and wings.’”
When Eric Stonestreet flies back to Kansas City he prefers to spend time with family and friends at Jamey and Vince’s home. “Most of the time we’ll stop at Wyandot BBQ on the way home from the airport because he needs that fix,” laughs Jamey. “But other than that, he’s low-key.”
Jamey Stonestreet remembers the September 2010 night that her son Eric won the Emmy for Outstanding Support Actor in a comedy series as Cameron Tucker on the ABC hit, “Modern Family.”
“My mouth was wide open,” says Jamey, who accompanied her son to the ceremonies in Los Angeles. “Thrilled doesn’t even begin to describe my feelings.”
Juxtapose Jamey’s joy with tears she stifled years before when she and husband Vince dropped Eric off in Chicago to pursue a career in comedy at The Second City and IO (Improv Olympic) following graduation from Kansas State University.
“I was like any mother, wanting the best for my child,” says Jamey.
The Stonestreet clan grew up in Kansas City, Kan., on the spot where the Kansas Speedway sits today. Eric and his siblings—sister Mauria and brother Paul—all had chores and responsibilities for which they were held accountable. Eric was in charge of feeding the pigs before and after school—not without some cajoling every now and then, of course.
“Eric Allan were probably the two words I used the most when he was growing up,” laughs Jamey. “Sort of like when Marlon Brando yells for Stella—except Vince and I were always inquiring about the status of Eric’s chores.”
It’s well documented in the press that Eric grew up delighting people with his clown character named “Fizbo.” He made kids and adults laugh with his antics, became adept at making animals from balloons, had business cards printed up and performed at birthday parties when he was 12. US Toy on State Line Road was one of Eric’s favorite hangouts, where Jamey limited his buying sprees to balloons and a magic trick.
One of the many full-circle moments Jamey has experienced since Eric’s rising-star career was jumpstarted was when Fizbo the Clown appeared on a “Modern Family” episode.
“We went with Eric to Arrowhead last December, and we were in a suite right above where our seats were when we had season tickets,” says Jamey, citing another full-circle moment.
In addition to “Modern Family”—a show that has no signs of slowing down in popularity—Eric was recently cast in a Beneful dog food commercial with his beloved pooch, Coleman Hawkins, a beagle-Jack Russell terrier mix. He is also working on an HBO project where he plays silent screen star Fatty Arbuckle.
Jamey says one of the traits she most admires in her son—besides his fierce acting chops—is his inherent giving nature. “He treats everyone well, would do anything for his friends, and is involved as an ambassador with Stand Up To Cancer (Jamey is a survivor of kidney and uterine cancer, and her mother had colon cancer).
“He’s a good, grounded kid,” says Jamey.