(TJAGS weekly column) It was 9:30 PM, on a Thursday night, and I was in the middle of dinner and (more than a few) drinks at a local establishment. My phone starts vibrating in my left pocket, I don't recognize the number. I sheepishly answer and on the other end is the unmistakable voice of Nicole Sullivan (MADtv, The King of Queens, Rita Rocks) asking if this was a good time to speak. Our interview, scheduled earlier in the day, had been postponed -- I had thought, wrongly -- to another day.

She did not want to impose and explained we could reschedule. "Nonsense," I said, "we can still do this now," as I run outside to find some quiet on the sidewalk.

"You are out partying and you are still going to do this interview?" she asks. "That is awesome! I love it!" Though, she also added, in respect to the people I abruptly left inside, "you're like that douchey guy that they're like: oh, I guess he takes his calls." Touché.

So yes, the interview went on. In a new series on this column, that I can only think under the circumstances to call "Drunk Dialing the Stars," we discuss what went wrong (and right) with MADtv; her time on The King of Queens; what she has in common with Harry Morgan from M*A*S*H; some college football, and her new show, Rita Rocks, which just moved to Monday nights at 8:30 PM EST on The Lifetime Network.

Mike: You grew up in Manhattan; I grew up in the Midwest, I can't imagine not growing up without a backyard. Though, now that I live in Manhattan, I can't imagine not going to the 86th and Lexington subway station without the guy on the corner yelling at me. But, I still can't fathom what was it like being a child and growing up in Manhattan?

Nicole: You know, even looking back it seems odd to me, too. At the time, we didn't know any different. When it used to rain -- we lived on the hill -- my mom would watch from the balcony and we'd go down, with our raincoats, and we were allowed to have a stick and we would ... as bottles would come rushing down the gutter with the rain, we would pick bottles out with our sticks and we would get points for which color they were. That was what we did for fun and we didn't think it was weird at all (laughs).

Mike: Yeah, well, what you grew up with is always going to be "normal" to you and, even though I live here now, it's hard to translate that to what it's like having a childhood here.

Nicole: I'll tell you what rocks in New York City is Halloween when you're a kid. You just basically go to one big building and you're done in like 45 minutes and you've got all the all the candy you can eat for a year. It's awesome.

Mike: See that's a really good point ... see now this all makes more sense. So, OK, MADtv. You were in the original cast, what were your expectations going into that show?

Nicole: I didn't have an expectation to speak of, I was just like "oh my god, I have a job?", I was so excited. I was working 80 hours a week when I got that job; I was waitressing, temping at a chocolate factory... you know, life was not easy, the fact that someone was going to pay me to do comedy I was like: OK!

Monday nights at 8:30 PM EST on The Lifetime Network.

I was terribly unprepared, I really didn't know what I was doing and I sort of got the job because they needed someone sort of young and cute and I wore a mini-skirt to the audition. There were 150 more people that were more talented than I am that should have gotten it, but, at the end of the day, I think I learned really quickly on the job. It was sort of a 'fight or flight' kind of thing and I decided to fight and I stayed and really made the most of it.

Mike: What's frustrating for me about MADtv, not the show itself, but people always seem to be clamoring for more sketch comedy on television and people have complained about some down years, in the past, of Saturday Night Live; maybe not this year, but there have been some down years in the last 12 years. Now, here is MADtv and it appears -- though not official, I think they might be shopping for another network -- it might be the last year of the show. Why do you think it never -- even though it has a strong fan base and it did well, lasting thirteen seasons -- became more of a cultural icon?

Nicole: I think from the top down, I don't think it was run exactly the right way. I think the people in charge were a little more interested in making money than they were in branding a really great show. The producer is a decent enough guy, you could always tell his goal was to make as much money as possible and whenever that's your goal in the entertainment business you creatively get very stunted by that. That can't be your goal, it doesn't mesh.

Mike: So, in other words, they weren't trying to make "watercooler talk" or "let's do something different"?

Nicole: They wanted to, I feel like they took some shortcuts. When I left, they were like, "let's find another blond"; well, it doesn't have to be someone blond, it should be someone funny. They were constantly trying to squeeze in certain ethnicities they felt they needed on certain years; that's not the way it should be, it should be who's funniest for the job, always. Not "oh, we already have two black guys, we can't get another black guy." Well, that's not true, you can have three black guys. Again, that's just my opinion, that's not "facts" based; but, having been on the show and a big fan of the show for years, there were some mistakes made along the way.

But there were years - years three, four, five -- we beat SNL in the demographics almost every week, so, we had some really great years and we did great numbers.

Mike: I just think it's a shame it's ending. I mean, unless it gets picked up by another network, but Fox seems done with it. It's just too bad that happened.

Nicole: Yeah, it's like losing a kid; it's like a baby to me. I remember shooting the pilot and getting out there and being like: oh my god, we're doing this crazy sketch comedy pilot.

Mike: Yes, you're like the Gilda Radner of MADtv.

Nicole: Yeah, I wish it would go on forever and ever and it's a shame it kind of got run into the ground. Unfortunately.

Mike: So, correct me if I'm wrong. On The King of Queens you actually played a one-time-only role before you got the role of Holly.

Nicole: Yeah, I call it I Love Lucy casting; on I Love Lucy there were two guys that played every part.

Mike: Yeah ... and as a kid that drove me nuts. The guy who drove me nuts the most was Jeffrey Tambor on Three's Company because he was on that show, probably, five times as five different characters, then he got the role on The Ropers as their neighbor. As a child this made no sense to me, was it supposed to be the same guy? So, you're in this exclusive fraternity now with Tambor; Harry Morgan, who played a role on M*A*S*H* before he played Colonel Potter; and Jerry Orbach who played a defense attorney on Law & Order, before he later played Det. Briscoe.

Nicole: I love that bit of trivia! I love it! That's Awesome! Yeah, I played a really mean lady in a baby store, or something like that. Yeah, The King of Queens was super fun because Kevin (James) and Leah (Remini) are just two of the funniest people out there.

Mike: And another guy is Patton Oswalt.

Nicole: Yeah, he wrote on MADtv; he was another one that was there from the beginning.

Mike: You know, when I talk to people who have never seen The King of Queens, for some reason they -- and there is nothing wrong with the shows I'm going to mention -- lump it in with Everybody Loves Raymond or Home Improvement, you know, more of a family type comedy and it's really not at all. Did you find that at all?

Nicole: You know what, I'll be honest, I had not seen it until I showed up to work. I was on season four and I hadn't watched it and I come on and I am like: this show is friggin funny. For some reason, middle America got it but the cities -- New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles -- the big cities never really got into it. It is so not an average comedy; it's sassy, these people yell at each other all the time. It's hilarious.

Mike: I'm glad you said that because, yes, when I lived in the Midwest everyone watched it but when I moved to New York people were bewildered that I did watch it. Ironic, considering it's called The King of Queens -- which is obviously a borough of New York City -- and nobody in New York was really watching.

Nicole: I think they looked at it and they thought it was going to be like Still Standing or something and it's so not like that show.

Mike: Now you are on Rita Rocks. Here is the thing: you actually do have a substantial male fan base. Do you know the conundrum you're putting guys in by doing a show on The Lifetime Network?

Nicole: I know! I bet your girlfriend is really happy because you are watching lifetime with her now (laughs).

Mike: It's funny you mention that. I actually, through my friend Stephanie, play on The Lifetime Network's softball team. I have my own jersey and everything.

Nicole: Oh my god, that's hilarious...

Mike: Yeah, so for me to watch the network ... once you play on the softball team, my guy friends can't really tease me more than they did for that; so now I am like, whatever, I can watch anytime I want.

Nicole: That's so funny, I love that!

Mike: So, what drew you to that role ... actually, let me rephrase that: Is there any chance you couldn't be drawn to a role that lets you pretend you're in a garage band?

Nicole: (laughs) It was of one of those things for a second I was like: wait a minute, it's going to be like doing karaoke every week; I get terrified when I do karaoke. On the other hand, I was like: dude, this is an opportunity to get out there and sing, even if it's bad. How can you pass up an opportunity to be that person? The thing is, I really like this show because it's about moms and how moms are overworked -- that some old kind of thing -- but it's also about this woman who is kind of friggin awesome and she is this really awesome person trapped in sort of a mundane life and she sort of makes the most of it.

Teenagers And Cellphone Cams - Rita Rocks

She is like: Yeah, I work at a stupid Bed, Bath & Beyond type of store. And, yes, my fifteen year old daughter is horrible to me and my husband doesn't fix the sink like I need him to. But, she finds humor in everything and I think that's what is so fun about her.

Mike: Yeah, and the cast is really good, too.

Nicole: The cast is awesome! It's a bunch of TV vets.

Mike: I always enjoy Ian Gomez, he was always funny on The Drew Carey Show.

Nicole: Yes. Everyone, every single person on, even like Raviv Ullman -- who plays the teenage boy -- his credits are huge. Tisha Campbell-Martin is f^cking brilliant ... oops, freaking brilliant, sorry.

Mike: (laughing) When I transcribe this, which intensifier should I use?

Nicole: (laughs) whichever one you want. Also, Rich Ruccolo, who plays my husband, is such a ... every day is a treat working with him.

Mike: Yes, he was hilarious on Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place.

Nicole: Oh, he's got such impeccable timing. I mean, that's the thing ... I have to say, I'm a little bit of a comedy snob sometimes. You know, I've done so many pilots with these "B" movie stars who, by the way, have their talent, they definitely have their own niche, but it's not really sitcom. It's kind of hard to do, comedy is just different.

Movie people (take the attitude): "OK, I'm not Cameron Diaz so I will go and do TV and now I will become a star there." Well, you can't really cross over that easy; it's not that simple. I've done too many sitcoms with people like that where I'm like: OK, I'm "wacky best friend" to this person that's not that funny and the show, of course, goes nowhere.

I'm so proud that with this show they were like: let's get everyone that's actually done this before, who knows what they're doing, who likes this material. People who understand how to do a four camera sitcom. Because, you know what? America really loves sitcoms; they always have and they always will. America tunes in to watch them, so why are we disappointing America by giving them, sort of, half-ass material?

Mike: I'm also finding a lot of shows are going away from being filmed in front of a live audience, you can count them on one hand now.

Nicole: Don't you think that when you're watching a show that has people laughing in it ... I think it allows people at home to laugh. If there's no laughter -- when you watch a single camera show -- you're enjoying it in your head but you don't really laugh out loud.

Mike: I think sometimes it depends on the show. I don't think a show like The Office could get away with having a live studio audience because it's so quirky ... at the same time, a show like yours is the perfect situation for that. It's nice to hear people actually having fun while they're watching the show.

Nicole: Yeah, absolutely.

Mike: I have one last question. You attended Northwestern, correct?

Nicole: Yes.

Mike: Do you still follow their sports?

Nicole: Well, we won a bowl game this year, didn't we?

Mike: This is what I wanted to ask you about. My friend, Diana, attended Northwestern and is not speaking to me right now because they actually lost the Alamo Bowl to the University of Missouri, where I went.

Nicole: Oh no, I thought we won?

Mike: Well ... now I feel bad for breaking the news to you. But, as someone who attended Northwestern, what is your advice on how to get her to talk to me again?

Nicole: Just remind her that Northwestern has pieces of shit football teams and that they're never any good. So, if she had any delusions that they were good for a minute, it's her mistake ... not yours (laughs).

Mike: That's a good answer.

Nicole: You can quote me on that! (laughs) I loved going to Northwestern but you don't go to Northwestern for the sports.

Mike: I know, she went there for journalism and now... all of a sudden, she is concerned about their football team. I feel I ruined her dreams of a good football team.

Nicole: Well, Northwestern ruined that a longtime ago (laughs).

"Truth, Justice and Gordon Shumway" (yes, that is ALF) is a weekly column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan which appears Wednesdays, focusing on pop-culture current events. For any comments or complaints, you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com.