The Heart of La Crosse Cast

I’m the one cast member who made it because my spouse declined. Initially, Lisa Olson and a Director wanted my wife to audition. She balked saying “who you really want is my husband”;  something I’m not sure any husband wants to hear. 


At any rate, I did some improv gigs then got the opportunity in 2007 to hit the big time. I guess the Central Class of ’87 honor of “Class Clown” got me more than just an arrest record.


Growing up I loved the Carol Burnett Show, Cheers and Monty Python. The Python’s were  fascinating to me because they were so different. It was blatantly obvious they weren’t part of the American sitcom type of writing or comedy and they really hooked me. Honestly, I think the Python’s expanded my vocabulary more than any English class I ever took.


I love sketches about everyday life or the human condition as opposed to politics and current events. To me, daily experiences are more absurd than anything you’ll watch on Television. That strangeness, that break from ordinary expectations just fires my imagination. Well, that and puns. Word play always makes me laugh. Lisa Olson and I are slowly trying to convert her husband Todd, into a punster.  It’s a slow process, but I’m sure we’ll win him over.


My favorite character to play was Mayor Matt Harter. The interpretation was never meant to insult, just to laugh at the strangeness of having such a young Mayor in charge of our city.  I think my favorite sketch was from 2007, the “Three Billy Goats Gruff”. It was bizarre and so much fun, probably because it was so strange.


I love laughing with these people.  Standing backstage listening to people get applause from lines I helped write is amazingly rewarding for me. The great thing about Heart is, it doesn’t matter who gets the laugh as long as the audience gets to laugh.

Doug Lietke

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Lisa Olson

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Back in the early 70’s, I was a kid who found escape and inspiration in television programs. Then I’d have my own shows where I’d arrange my Barbies as the audience and perform songs and comedy for them.  They never failed to be entertained.


The Carol Burnett Show was a favorite of mine, the way Carol, Harvey and Tim got each other laughing.  Looking back, that was my first dose of improv.  I also loved “All In The Family” because it was a comfort to see the dysfunction and “The Tonight Show” because, like me, Johnny had an audience (but his was made up of real people.)


In 1999 I was singing with the La Crescent Apple Annies and a family member encouraged me to audition for the Heart Of La Crosse because “They need another female”. I had no idea what I was in for.


My favorite characters to play are Gladys, a sassy elder and the lovable redneck Lurlene from “Cletus & Lurlene”.   I love singing song parodies Brad Williams’ has penned. My best loved are “The Breakfast Song” (2007) and “Bliss Road Up To Grandad” (2011).


Maury & Irv sketches with Todd Olson and Brad Williams always make me chuckle and Tracy Ballzer absolutely kills it as the Bachelorette each time we do “Dating Game”. I also remember laughing every night when Doug Lietke performed as the Norwegian Rapper “Lutefisk”.


Heart is an extended family. Each time I think about quitting – it never sticks. That’s a tribute to these talented and fun people who challenge me and create with me every year.

Todd Olson

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When I was about 8 years old I recall seeing Abbott and Costello perform “Who’s On First” in a television broadcast of their film “The Naughty Nineties”.  I remember thinking that someday, I hoped to make people laugh like I just did.


The Carol Burnett Show was a Saturday night event in our house. My parents didn’t go out on the town until the regular season was done and reruns were broadcast.  Tim Conway and Harvey Korman never failed to keep my funny bone functional.


I would sneak downstairs and turn on the old black and white television in the basement to catch Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Marty Feldman’s Show even though my parents deemed them “inappropriate” for someone my age.


My favorite Heart sketches I appeared in are “You Filled Out My Census” (2010), a song that Doug  Lietke wrote and I got to sing with Lisa Olson before I fell in love with her. I’m also partial to an Oktoberfest rant I was able to do a few years ago – I don’t think it was ever the same twice.


A few years ago I was challenged to work a Dramatic Poetry Reading into the show and it’s been one of my favorites. Well that and “Downtown”, a video Trevin Thomson directed and Tracy Ballzer penned that opened our show in 2014.


Barista Priesta” (2015) with Jonathan Lamb and Tracy Ballzer is one of my most loved sketches simply because it made me laugh backstage every single night. In 2014 Doug LIetke and Tracy Ballzer did “It’s Not Me, It’s You” that I absolutely flipped for. They were so amazing with their performances that every night I turned a bit more green with envy. 

Tracy Ballzer

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I did some theater in high school, and college, mostly male parts due to lack of dudes. I've hosted comedy nights in La Crosse many times and opened up for the late, great Jim Wiggins with the lovely Lisa Olson.


Growing up I loved Punky Brewster, The Smurfs, and Saturday Night Live. I have a lot of comedic influences including: Tina Fey, Margaret Cho, Catherine O'Hara... there should probably be some men on this list, too. Let's toss in Chris Farley for fun.


I was pulled on stage at a Heart of La Crosse show I attended and was encouraged to audition for the cast; little did I know what I was in for. Luckily competition was light that year and I got in. My favorite sketches that come to mind are: Smoke Talk, the Roller Derby sketch where Lisa Olson and I got to wear skates, and anytime I get to play Judge Ramona Gonzalez. 


I have to say my favorite Heart characters I don’t get to play must be Brad Williams playing Don Satori,  Doug Lietke as Matt Harter or Ranger Todd played by..well you know.


I love performing with Heart because it's an incredibly rewarding experience to create and dream with  such great people and have the opportunity to make an audience member's life more enjoyable... even for just a moment. I am humbled and honored to be a part of this troupe.

Trevin Thomson

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The closest I ever got to stage was during Heart Rehearsals. I’m more of a “behind the scenes kind of guy”. I really like the idea that cast depends on me to hit the cues for them and make sure everything is tight. A Director told me once that the biggest compliment you can get running tech is not to be noticed.  I’m that guy.


Growing up, I remember my favorite movie was “The Jerk”. Probably because it was the first “R” rated movie I had ever seen.  The idea of pizza in a cup was awesome to my 10 year old brain and even though I didn’t understand Bernadette Peters’ “Slippery When Wet” tatoo, I laughed every time I thought about it.


I really loved watching the hidden camera, prank style of shows. “Tim & Eric”, “American Dad” and “Eric Andre” were three I couldn’t miss. In High School  I made small films and videos . I got lucky when Heart asked me for an idea and I threw a video at them. I shot “I survived La Crosse” and things kept getting more busy for me.


I think my favorite is the Jackass parody I did with Tracy Ballzer as my Mom a few years ago. Though “Five Second Trevin” and “In Search of Peaches” were fun.  Who wouldn’t have a good time running in slow motion on Pettibone beach to the tune of Lionel Richie’s “Hello”?


A few years ago, Doug Lietke did a “Three Billy Goats Gruff” sketch that still makes me smile. I’m partial to Cletus and Lurlene; mainly because everyone finally gets to see my Mom (Lisa Olson) when she’s not acting.


I’ve grown up with these people. They’re like family.  Family I can leave behind when they really irritate me.

Brad Williams

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As a kid, my TV tastes tended toward Hanna-Barbera and Goodson-Todman...but also Bullwinkle, and The Dick Van Dyke Show.


The Marx Brothers and Monty Python have been big influences on my humor and even though I know all the sketches by heart, I still laugh out loud.


I was in the La Crosse area when Dan Lee started setting up Heart in 1980, but moved away before the group actually formed.  When he revived it in 1996, I was eager to be a part of it.  


My favorite Heart sketches would include Bavarian Rhapsody (the Oktoberfest musical), the Banjo the Bear Memorial Service (2009), and the Christmas dinner (street people).


Two of my favorite Heart sketches I wasn’t in are “Somewhere Over At Dad’s House” (2015) with Taylor Gruszka, Lisa Olson and Tracy Ballzer. Another classic is and Trevin Thomson’s “Jackass” parody video (2012).


I love doing recurring characters when I get the chance and I think two of my favorite are Irv from the “Maury & Irv” series of sketches in front of Dublin Square and everyone’s favorite mafioso art gallery owner, Don Satori.


My favorite character I don't play?  Everybody loves Lisa Olson as Gladys.


Heart continues to be a great outlet for crazy comedy ideas, commentary, and song parodies.  (And I get paid for doing it.)

My Mom, Betty use to take me to kid’s theater productions when I was a kid myself. My first “adult” show experience was a ballet.  As the curtain came down, I turned to my Mom and whispered (too loudly I’m sure) : “It’s dark and I’m not even scared!”


The first adult production I attended was “Little Shop Of Horrors” – not necessarily appropriate for a ten year old, but my Mother trusted her judgment and my enthusiasm and I experienced what I can only call a Transformative Experience. For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be transported to a completely different world in an instant.


Growing up I loved watching “The Golden Girls”. Estelle Geddy taught me how to deliver lines, whether then were caustic, tender or flippant. She was a model of how to pace your lines in an ensemble. Betty White always gently steered situations towards the innocence that was central to her character and that showed me the how power on stage doesn’t have to be loud or boisterous, just firm and true.


As I made my way through college I got the chance to choreograph “The Fantastiks” and I learned that movement could be just as laugh inducing as dialog and motion could tell a story as well as words.


Everyone loves Gladys, as do I. Doug Lietke’s shirtless Mariachi always made me laugh and Tracy Ballzer as the Nun in Barista Priesta is one of my all time favorite characters. My favorite role to play was the hapless guy who always delivered his singing telegrams at exactly the wrong time.


I’m in theater for a singular thrill: the moment of darkness when the house lights go down until the stage lights come up. That moment of expectation, fear and strength is what I live for.

Jonathan Lamb

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Taylor Gruzska

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Heart of La Crosse is my first experience performing theatrically. I grew up watching Saturday Night Live, Monty Python, and Mel Brooks movies with my sisters. I take a lot of inspiration from women like Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, and Tina Fey. 


 I didn't audition for Heart as much as I got pushed face-first into it. After seeing a show I was hoisted onstage to play in a couple improv games. The trust and kindness I felt from the other players made it easy to continue performing. 


One of my favorite sketches to perform was Somewhere Over at Dads House, with Lisa Olson and Tracy Ballzer. Another one I loved was Poddycast with Jonathan Lamb.  Wait, I have to throw in Regina Knowidahl from “Let Me Tell You This About That” when I shared the stage with Brad Williams. I love playing pseudo-intelligent personas, which made Christina and Regina so much fun to play. I loved watching Lisa Olson as Gladys poke fun at herself and others.


When I first started performing with Heart of La Crosse, my mom thought it was a joke. She never thought I was funny as a child, just really weird, but after seeing the show in September 2015 she finally believes me!


I love performing with Heart of La Crosse because I love making people laugh. I love working as a group to make an idea for a skit come to life. I love that there are people in my life that share the same weird sense of humor as me. I love my funny family, and they are the reason that I continue to perform."


© 2016 Heart of La Crosse LLC

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