There's mad variety to this "MadTV" cast

By Mike Hughes

LOS ANGELES -- Chances are, Carlie
Craig and Jeremy Howard won't be competing for the same roles.

He's black, she's
blonde. He's 6-foot-2 (“6-3 on a good day”), she's 5-foot. He's a
well-sculpted 250 pounds, she's less than half that.

Still, they have
this in common: They're enthusiastic Southerners, part of the new
“MadTV” cast. “I have literally prepared my whole life for this
show,” Craig said.

We may have
mentioned that Craig – spending part of her 25th
birthday with the Televsion Critics Association -- is enthusiastic.
Credit that to her dad in Florida (“as a tennis coach, he spends
his whole life motivating people”) and to her mentor in Los Ageles.

That's Todrick Hall,
who does ambitious musical numbers on the Internet. Craig auditioned
for him, was rejected, but asked him to keep her around as a
production assistant; by the time he had a brief MTV show, she was
busy on-camera and in production. “He's the best gay dad I could
ever have,” she said. “He took me under his homosexual wing.”

Howard's motivator
was his mom. Doubling as a pastor and a Home Depot employee, she
helped people who needed to repair their souls and/or their drainage

“She started the
church in our house,” Howard said. “I used to set up chairs; then
she got a storefront.”

He became her
musical youth minister, then moved to a bigger church when hers
folded. Then came Los Angeles; “I thought I was going to be a
dramatic actor.”

Instead, he was
steered toward comedy and placed in the CBS Diversity Workshop. That
workshop produced others in this ultra-diverse “MadTV” crew:

-- Michelle Ortiz,
the daughter of Mexican immigrants, grew up bilingually and
theatrically. “I'd walk around the house being Shakira or Urkel,”
she said. “My mom says she knew I'd be an actress.” She spent
half of a summer-abroad studying opera in German and the other half
studying theater in Russia; “I actually sat in (Konstantin)
Stanislavsky's chair.” Then she went from method-acting to comedy.

-- Amir K moved to
the U.S. with his parents when he was 5, after the Iranian
revolution. “They gave up everything,” he said. They did well in
California, where his dad was a structural engineer. “I spent a lot
of my teen years surfing and skating.” He tried to have a grown-up
career -- “in real-estate, I made a lot of money and then lost it
all” -- but when his parents returned to Iran, he decided to try

Returning to TV
after a six-year break, “MadTV” was revived with some elaborate
casting. “I auditioned six times,” Howard said He landed a spot
alongside Chelsea Davison, Lyric Lewis, Piotr Michael and Adam Ray,
plus Craig, Ortiz and Amir K.

Their work
alternates – a week of shooting sketches on-location, then a week
preparing to work in front of an audience, with two alumni hosting.
Those elements are the re-arranged into two episodes.

Craig said it's fast
and frantic and fun – mostly. “We have lots of wigs, and I'm very

-- “MadTV,” 9
p.m. Tuesdays, CW

-- Aug. 9 is a new
episode, the third, hosted by Aries Spears and Debra Wilson; Aug. 16
reruns the second episode, hosted by Ike Barinholtz and Bobby Lee.