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TELEVISION: Moriarty has instant connection with 'Ghosts'

by Anying Guo, The Washington Post | January 11, 2022 at 1:54 a.m.
Caroline Aaron (left) is Carol and Richie Moriarty is Pete in the CBS comedy “Ghosts.” (CBS/Bertrand Calmeau)

The scene, circa 1987: Actor Richie Moriarty is standing onstage with a stuffed dog puppet in his hand at his school talent show. The 6-year-old gives a quick introduction: "Hi, my name's Richie, and this is my talking dog. His name is Troubles. My mom thinks he doesn't talk, but I think he does." Then, Moriarty stumbles over his first joke, a pun intended to sub out "roof" for "ruff."

From there, Moriarty fires off joke after joke, both his and Troubles' voice higher and higher pitched until he tells one of his final jokes in an almost unintelligible pipsqueak: "Yesterday, I saw a new ad for a new soap that's called Lost. So next time your mom goes to the store, tell her to get Lost!"

Decades later, Moriarty, now 41, is co-starring on the CBS comedy "Ghosts" but still recalls his ventriloquist stand-up routine with clarity and laughter. "The audience is laughing because they legitimately do not understand a word I'm saying," Moriarty says. (When he posted a video of the performance on YouTube, he added subtitles.)

This was his first foray into performance after moving to Rockville, Md., at age 5, and though he has never really done stand-up again, he remembers that flicker of joy when hearing an audience respond to his jokes in real time.

His love of performance has led to an acting career, dabbling in a little bit of everything — improv, commercials, voice-over work — before landing a role as Pete on the CBS comedy "Ghosts."

Originally based on the BBC series of the same name, "Ghosts," which premiered in October, is about a group of spirits who all apparently met their corporeal end at a wooded country estate, the mansion that serves as their main haunt. They include a hippie mauled by a bear, a pants-less hedge-funder, a fastidious Viking, a gay Revolutionary patriot, a vivacious '20s jazz singer and a Victorian-era doyenne whose family originally owned the property.

And there's Moriarty's Pete, a scout troop leader who took an errant arrow through the neck during a troop outing decades ago, which is still stuck in his ghost form. ("It's very comfortable, though," says Moriarty, who just has to watch how he walks through doorways.)

When the elderly occupant of the estate dies (and quickly shoots upward to the afterlife), ownership of the mansion transfers to a distant relative, Sam (Rose McIver), a freelance journalist and her chef-husband, Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), who decide to leave the city and move in. To the ghosts' profound dismay, Samantha and Jay plan to refurbish the place as a bed-and-breakfast inn, constantly filled with (ugh) people. "I hate getting walked through," Pete observes. "It's probably the worst pain I can think of. No, wait — arrow through the neck. That beats it."

On Moriarty's first read of the "Ghosts" script, he felt an instant connection. "['Ghosts'] came at a time where I had done a lot of small, but more significant, television and film roles, and it was right in my wheelhouse," he says. "If I am what they're looking for, I think I can deliver."

Show creators Joe Wiseman and Joe Port were likewise captivated by Moriarty. He was one of the first actors they saw for Pete, and saw how Moriarty could play up Pete's dorkiness without painting him into caricature.

"He was also incredibly good at being a dramatic actor," Wiseman says. "There was this anger he could tap into. There's a quick part [in the show] where he remembers an argument [he and his wife] were having and you can see him snap at it. But it's funny anger, not like an ugly sort of anger, but it feels very real."

Moriarty's journey to "Ghosts" was not a straight shot from that Rockville talent show. He lost interest in drama after a lackluster experience in a freshman-year play. At Wootton High School, he dove into leadership roles in student government and swimming and served as senior class president (coincidentally, cast member Ambudkar also went to Wootton). Those activities superseded any interest he had in drama. Although now based in Maplewood, N.J., he thinks fondly of Rockville and the friends he still has there.

As a student at Boston College in the late 1990s, Moriarty attended improv and sketch shows, itching to participate. But it wasn't until after graduation that he pursued it.

"I started taking classes at Improv Boston — which is oddly in Cambridge — and right away, I was like, this is what I want," he says. "These are my people. This is what I want to do."

He joined the main stage cast of Improv Asylum in Boston. "[That's] where I got my 10,000 hours," he says. "That's where I met some of my best friends. I did a solid decade of improv and sketch comedy and commercial work in Boston before I made the jump to New York."


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