'Mike and Molly' Creator Mark Roberts Returns to His Theater Roots

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By his own admission, Mark Roberts has had a lucky career. He began as a stand-up in Chicago, and was soon spotted by a casting director who helped him land work in commercials and "every movie that filmed in Chicago." Sitcom work soon followed, including a series regular gig on the Tea Leoni series "The Naked Truth," before Roberts chose to pursue writing, his true passion. His 2000 play "Couples Counseling Killed Katie," starring Roberts and Jessica Tuck, caught the eye of producer Chuck Lorre, who went on to hire him as a writer and producer on "Two and a Half Men." Roberts would then go on to create "Mike and Molly," which won an Emmy last year for star Melissa McCarthy. Lorre serves as an executive producer on the show.

With his TV career flourishing, Roberts has decided to return to the stage with a vengeance. The next few months will see the mounting of three of his stage works. In Los Angeles, Roberts and Tuck are reuniting for a revival of "Couples Counseling," opening June 9 at the Elephant Theatre. In addition, Rogue Machine's production of his "Where the Great Ones Run," about a country star who returns to his hometown, is now running through July 29 at Theatre/Theater. And in Lenox, MA the Shakespeare & Co. production of the family drama "Parasite Drag," about two estranged brothers going to visit their dying sister, will run June 20-Sept. 2 with an eye on a fall run in New York.

Did you always intend on writing, or was it a transition you made from acting?
Mark Roberts: I'd always wanted to be a writer, that's really what I'd always wanted to do. I got into standup because it's a good way to communicate ideas. Then it kind of snowballed without me really trying. At a certain point I really had to say, "I'm not going out for auditions anymore, I have to be serious about my writing." And of course all my agents dumped me and I was flapping in the wind.

How did Chuck Lorre discover you?
Roberts: I got really lucky. When I tell people about my year and a half of struggle, they're not really sympathetic. I mounted "Couples Counseling Killed Katie," and Chuck Lorre's wife at the time was friends with someone involved in the play. So she dragged him to this thing and that's how I got my job. It's kind of ridiculous. He came up to me outside and said something along the lines of, "If nobody has made you rich writing television, I'd like to be that guy." I didn't really watch television so I was kind of like, "Okay, all right, move along." The next day, I called a friend of mine who was like, "That guy is huge!" I started working with him on a lot of things. When "Two and a Half Men" came along, I did punch up on it before it went to Charlie Sheen. When it got picked up to series, I was literally the first guy he hired. He's been a gigantic force in my life and really took this struggling playwriting and pushed me into a career.

What was your reaction when Melissa McCarthy won the Emmy last year?
Roberts: We were ecstatic. At the beginning of the first season, I think we had filmed three episodes, and I made a bet with the other writers in the room. I said, "She's going to win an Emmy this year." And I won 200 bucks!

As a producer, do you think you have a certain empathy for actors who audition for you because you've been on both sides?
Roberts: I do. I made a lot of mistakes early on because I don't have any kind of formal training. So my entire career was pretty much trial by fire. But early on I told myself that I wanted to be able to walk out of a room knowing I had accomplished what I set out to do. I didn't want to get home and say to myself, "That's not the way I wanted to do it"! I found if I always did what I set out to do, it didn't matter if I got the role.

What's it like returning to "Couples Counseling" after all these years?
Roberts: I love working with Jessica. We play seven different couples going to couples therapy. It's a lot of crazy quick changes and insanity. It's a revival back-not by popular demand-but by Mark's boredom, I guess.

So even with a hugely successful TV career, you continue to return to theater?
Roberts: I know, my agents don't get it either. (Laughs) But I love theater, it's how I started. It's what got me excited about a career in entertainment. So it doesn't feel like it's something I could ever stop doing.