Wayzata’s Renaissance Man of Television Reflects on Career in Hollywood

by | Jun 2019

Bo Kaprall, the comedy writer and occasional actor on shows like "Laverne & Shirley" and "Saturday Night Live," sits on a chair at the Guthrie Theater.

Photos: Rachel Nadeau

Wayzata-based TV producer, writer and actor Bo Kaprall shares his show biz success story.

“Downtime” and “time off” are not words that easily fit into Bo Kaprall’s story—unless they’re preceded by a hard “no.” On the contrary, the phrase “complete and utter success” definitely comes to mind. The Wayzata-based television producer, writer and actor’s résumé is decorated with credits such as Laverne & Shirley and Saturday Night Live, and spans four decades. In an industry where work can be scarce and time between projects is abundant (for someone like Kaprall, perhaps overly), his on-the-clock mentality literally pays off. “I like being busy,” he says. “I like having three shows on the air. Inactivity kills me.”

Bo Kaprall

Kaprall began sharpening his comedic skills early in life in the name of love (as adolescents are wont to do with newly minted talents). “I discovered it when I was in high school. A good friend of mine was very funny and the girls liked him a lot,” he says with a laugh, “and so, I said, ‘I’m going to be funny too.’” Kaprall has certainly lived up to those aspirations, as his most notable works are already regarded as classics 30 years later.

Though the most notable of these accomplishments were divined in sunny Hollywood, his origins are Midwest-based. Born in Chicago, Kaprall began his career as a member of The Second City, an improvisational comedy theater, school and production company. The institution is decidedly talent-rich, with scores of alumni going on to become household names in television, film and stand-up comedy. Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Amy Poehler and Stephen Colbert are alums, to name a few.

Following his time with The Second City, Kaprall moved to Minneapolis in the early 1970s to write for Dudley Riggs’ Brave New Workshop, another improvisational and satirical comedy theater. Situated in the downtown theater district on Hennepin Avenue, Brave New Workshop has been in operation since 1958 and is the longest-running theater of its kind in the United States.

After a time in Minneapolis, during which Kaprall and his then-wife started their family, he moved to Los Angeles after several years to be at the heart of show business. Though improv remained central to his career, stand-up comedy became his focus in Hollywood in the late 1970s. “I originally wanted to be a stand-up comedian. The day The Comedy Store opened, I was there,” he says. Kaprall started The Comedy Store Players, a collection of performers that rotated through the renowned club. The Comedy Store itself was a launching pad for comics like Garry Shandling, David Letterman and Jay Leno.

Bo Kaprall

Kaprall continued to balance sketch and improv comedy with stand-up while in Los Angeles in the 1970s. He joined Kentucky Fried Theatre, the Wisconsin-born sketch monolith founded by Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker. That group found success as filmmakers in Los Angeles. Though Kaprall is modest about his affiliation with the notable entity (he asks, “Have you heard of that group?”), he was an integral part of the group that brought us hit films like Kentucky Fried Movie and later, Airplane!

Writing quickly emerged as Kaprall’s passion and career trajectory. “People started coming down and seeing that we were writers, not just performers,” he recalls. “[Writing jobs] were more available than acting jobs. In those days, it was the heyday of variety shows. We just went from one show to the next and then parlayed it into sitcoms through our relationships.”

Two of these relationships proved particularly fruitful. Kaprall’s first sitcom credits were for the smash-hit series Laverne & Shirley, which broadcast on ABC from 1976 to 1983. The series’ soon-to-be stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams knew Kaprall, as he tells it, “from just hangin’ around. We were friends, they thought I was funny, and they knew I could write. I got the job.” The Happy Days spinoff earned nominations for a Primetime Emmy and two Golden Globes during its original run. In addition to writing, Kaprall also appeared in a recurring role in the series as police officer Norman Hughes, boyfriend of Laverne (the late Penny Marshall).

Kaprall bolstered his résumé during his time in Los Angeles with credits as a staff writer for The Carol Burnett Show on CBS. He remembers the experience as particularly challenging, teamed daily to work with an unsavory writer. He assures us that Burnett herself was not the culprit: “She was great.” Kaprall says producing the series When Things Were Rotten (ABC, 1975) with Mel Brooks, on which he was a head writer, and Friends with Aaron Spelling (ABC, 1979, not to be confused with the NBC series), which he executive produced, were career highlights.

While in L.A., he received a casting offer for the first season of Saturday Night Live. His success in Los Angeles kept him from relocating to New York for the show. “I passed on it, and they went and got [John] Belushi,” he says with a laugh. “True story.” Kaprall maintained a relationship with showrunner Lorne Michaels through the years and wrote for the “Weekend Update” segment from 2014 to 2015.

In the late 1980s, the relentless hustle and pace of Los Angeles and a new career trajectory prompted Kaprall and his family to return permanently to the Twin Cities. “I didn’t want to raise my kids [in Los Angeles]. I felt that I had achieved enough that I could leave. And I ended up staying in the business, so that was a good thing,” he says.

Back in Minnesota, Kaprall began his own creative company that specialized in advertising and other projects. He also did voiceover work. “When I first moved back here, we were doing humorous radio and TV commercials,” he says. His credits include ads for Miller Beer, Northwest Airlines, Best Buy and McDonalds.

Kaprall continued to write and produce for television, this time with some help from his two children. They worked with him on the Nickelodeon series What Would You Do? in the 1990s. “They knew my business,” he recalls. Though neither of them showed initial interest in following in their dad’s footsteps, his daughter did find her way into show business after college. “She is now the vice president of 20th Century Fox and lives in Los Angeles.”

Though he prefers writing scripted television (and still does), reality TV is a logical medium for Kaprall, who develops and works on L.A.-based productions while residing in Wayzata. His series Outlaw Country currently airs on WGN and he has two more productions in the works. “One is a six-part documentary about the similarities between motorcycle gangs and the mafia,” he reveals, and the other is aptly titled Help Me Sell My Haunted House.

The desire to be close to his grandchildren in California keeps the idea of a move back to L.A. alluring to Kaprall, but for now, he enjoys calling Wayzata home. He cites the lake, the ever-changing seasons, and ability to escape as reasons to stay. “I love that it’s 15 minutes from downtown. It’s about the lifestyle here; I can’t live like this in L.A.,” he says. And Wayzata is certainly a whole lot funnier with Kaprall as a neighbor.

Learn more about Bo Kaprall’s career and current projects at bokaprall.com.


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