Six years ago, Mark Proksch’s life took a Hollywood fairy tale turn. The writers for “The Office” saw the viral videos in which he punked local news shows by portraying supposed yo-yo master Kenny “K-Strass” Strasser, who actually had no yo-yo skills. He got the call-up from “The Office,” enlisted to portray Nate, the new maintenance man at Dunder Mifflin.
To start with, Proksch expected he’d be on “The Office” for four episodes or so, but he went on to appear in at least 19 episodes from 2010 to the show’s finale in 2013, and his career as an actor has taken on a decidedly upward arc since then. Among the couple dozen roles he’s had in TV series, specials and movies, he’s been in three episodes of AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and has been on most episodes of Fox’s new Sunday night comedy, “Son of Zorn,” playing Todd, an office co-worker of Zorn, an animated, sword-wielding He-Man-like character trying to adapt to life in suburban Orange County, Calif.
And things are on the verge of breaking even bigger for Proksch, an Onalaska High School graduate.
When he was reached by phone recently to chat about “Son of Zorn” and the other adventures he’s had since 2010, Proksch mentioned that he had just finished editing the pilot episode of a sitcom he wrote and stars in for Comedy Central.
The show has a working title of “Terry,” named for the main character, a man who gains viral fame on the web and moves to Los Angeles to parlay that fame into a career. Sound familiar? Wait, there’s a twist.
The show, Proksch explained, takes place five years after Terry’s initial moment in the sun and his hoped-for fame and fortune have failed to materialize. He’s left floundering, trying to figure out what to do to get another taste of that celebrity status. It’s sort of an alternate version of Proksch’s own story, a version that corresponds more closely with reality than what happened to him.
“There are so many real viral video stars that are, for lack of a better word, morons,” Proksch said. “These internet celebrities quickly fade from view. They’re kind of left alone, wondering what just happened.”
While there might be some basic parallels between Proksch’s story and the situation in “Terry,” the lead character in the sitcom is quite unlike Proksch, who oozes humility, gratitude, good sense and good cheer.
Terry, Proksch said, “is an arrogant idiot. He thinks he’s just one phone call away from achieving stardom again. He has a little bit of Quixote in him and is quite delusional in his own way.”
It’s a cautionary comedy, a reminder that there’s no easy path to the kind of success Proksch has had in Hollywood. Talent, preparation, intelligence, hard work and persistence all factor in somehow, but there’s also an element of dumb luck, meeting the right people and clicking with them, being available at the right time, treating people with respect.
“I’ve been more fortunate than a lot of people who come out to L.A.,” Proksch said. “I’ve been really fortunate. I’m not being falsely modest. A lot of it is having a lot of good friends who help you when you need it or being at the right audition at the right time. I’m very lucky that people find me amusing.”
Foot in the door
For Proksch, there’s no question that “The Office” was huge for him. For one thing, he married one of the writers, Amelie Gillette, whom he had known before his K-Strass videos went viral, when she was writing for The Onion.
He also made a lot of friends among the cast of “The Office,” something he wasn’t sure would happen. After all, bringing a new character into a show could only mean less screen time for existing characters, but Proksch said he found no territoriality and everybody was great to work with. Proksch clicked especially well with Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight.
“Rainn has been a real champion of mine,” Proksch said. “He was so welcoming and warm. They were all very nice.”
In fact, Proksch said, contrary to what many might think, there aren’t a lot of difficult people in show business. If you’re difficult, you don’t get far. “I haven’t had to work with anyone who was rude or disrespectful or had ego issues,” he said.
Personal connections really help, and there was an especially personal connection for “Son of Zorn” as Gillette is one of the show’s writers. Not that him being on the show was all her doing.
Proksch said the creators of the show wanted him for the role of Todd even before Gillette was hired as a writer, but he couldn’t be a regular on the show because he was under contract to Comedy Central for “Terry.” However, they persisted and found a way to get him for “Zorn” by making him a “guest star.”
This arrangement has meant less character development for Proksch’s role because the writers don’t know if Proksch will have to jump ship if his own show gets picked up by Comedy Central. Still, it’s been fun for Proksch and a new acting challenge in his scenes with the animated Zorn, who is voiced by former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Jason Sudeikis, who records his dialogue on the other side of the country in New York. A lot of times, all Proksch has to interact with in his scenes is a piece of tape, indicating where Zorn’s eyes would be.
“Acting with a green screen is really fun and interesting,” Proksch said. “You act to nothing, really. You pretend there’s someone there, which is fun and kind of challenging.”
Fox bought 13 episodes of “Son of Zorn” for the first season and Proksch is eagerly awaiting word that it has been picked up for a second season, and not only for his role. If the show is renewed, his wife gets to keep her writing gig, too.
“If the show comes back, which we’re all hoping, hopefully Todd will have a little larger part,” Proksch said.
“It’s a really fun show to work on and it’s a great concept,” he added. “I think they really hit their stride with the show. I think they’ve hit it on the head. They’re able to take on topics because of Zorn’s Zephyrian nationality, topics of race and sex, in ways you really haven’t seen before.”
The big show
Of course, if Comedy Central decides to produce “Terry,” Proksch is not going to have time for Todd. Proksch already has beaten the odds by, first, getting Comedy Central to buy his script, and, second, getting the network to pay for filming the pilot. He estimated only 10 percent of the scripts Comedy Central buys actually have pilot episodes made.
Comedy Central bought a script from Proksch before and made it into a pilot but didn’t end up going anywhere with it, so he knows very well that he doesn’t have his show yet. Comedy Central has six months to make a decision, during which time the network will test screen the show and weigh the potential market for “Terry.”
On the plus side, Comedy Central got a “great director” for the pilot and Proksch thinks the pilot got a great production. In any case, Proksch said, he enjoys working with the people at Comedy Central. “They’re very friendly with your creative choices,” he said. “It doesn’t always mean that they’ll pick it up, of course, but they had enough confidence to put in the money to make our silly show.”
Besides the potential for more episodes of “Son of Zorn,” Proksch is still hoping he might get written back into “Better Call Saul,” a “Breaking Bad” spinoff on AMC. His character, Pryce, is an “IT guy” for a pharmaceutical company who steals inventory to sell on the black market, enlisting “Breaking Bad” character Mike Ehrmantraut (played by Jonathan Banks, who looks a bit like Proksch’s high school principal, Paul Neman) as his “muscle.” Pryce has been used in “Better Call Saul” as a sort of comic relief, as his cluelessness is laughable.
“I’d really like to go back because it’s such a fun show. I wasn’t killed, which is always a good sign,” said Proksch, who got some Emmy Award consideration in the guest star category for his portrayal of Pryce. “It was very nice of AMC to put me up for that. None of this is really making sense to me.”
Proksch auditioned for a different character early in the first season of “Better Call Saul,” which he didn’t get, but he made a good enough impression that they called him back for the Pryce role.
Roles have come to Proksch in all kinds of ways. For the episode of “Portlandia” he was in, the show’s executive producer and director had worked with him on an episode of “Kroll Show” and had Proksch in mind from the beginning.
In “Portlandia,” he plays a tax lawyer and the boyfriend of the show’s star, Carrie Brownstein, who thought a tax lawyer would be a great choice of boyfriend because she was tired of dating musicians. Proksch’s character, naturally, has a strong desire to play bass guitar in a band and Brownstein recruits real-life music stars St. Vincent and Duff McKagan (original bassist for Guns ‘n’ Roses) to talk him out of it.
“That was neat because I love the show and I’m a big fan of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein,” Proksch said.
Other highlights of Proksch’s last six years of acting include appearances on “Modern Family,” “New Girl,” “Eagleheart,” “Drunk History,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “Dream Corp LLC,” “Decker,” “On Cinema,” “Hello Ladies,” “TripTank,” “Marry Me,” “Selfie,” “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and several TV movies.
He’s especially excited about an indie movie project, “Another Evil,” which should be released sometime in 2017.
“I play kind of a very troubled moron exorcist who comes to a guy’s house to get rid of the ghost but then ends up staying there needing a friend. When the guy tries to get rid of me, I end up having a breakdown. It’s kind of dark but kind of funny,” Proksch said.
“I’m proud of that movie,” he continued. “I think we created something new, something of a twist on horror movies on the independent scale that we haven’t seen yet.”
Proksch’s work as K-Strass on “The Office” was directly responsible for him getting cast in “Another Evil,” which was filmed two years ago in Arizona and was shown last spring at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. The movie’s writer was a fan and sought him out, and it turned out that the writer’s manager was a good friend of Proksch and Gillette, which made things even easier.
That’s just another illustration of how good things have come to Proksch in unexpected ways, and he’s deeply grateful for the chances he’s gotten to do what he dreamed of doing as a kid. He put the dream on the back burner for a while, working at a bank in San Francisco before moving back to the Midwest and getting involved in the Found Footage Festival, which led to K-Strass and opened the hidden door.
“It’s been incredibly fun. I’m getting to do what I always wanted to do but I didn’t know how to get to do it,” Proksch said. “There is no road map and there is no formula, and a lot of people don’t want to hear that. You work hard and you keep going and people will take notice if you have something to offer.”