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First Person

The Experience Questionnaire: Joel Murray

Actor-writer-director Joel Murray is best known for portraying Freddy Rumsen on AMC’s “Mad Men.” He has appeared in some 250 sitcom episodes, on shows such as “Dharma and Greg” and “Two and a Half Men,” and is currently touring the country with the improv show “Whose Live Anyway?” His older brother is the actor Bill Murray.

Where do you come up with your best ideas? 
When I’m driving. I find myself talking to my phone, recording ideas. In great open spaces in the middle of nowhere is where I come up with my best ideas.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve received?
I got advice from my brother Bill at one point: “In conversation, ask people about them. Don’t talk about yourself all the time.” The best advice I ever got. This of course is coming from someone who’s talking to you about himself right now.

What is the best non-material gift you’ve given?
Advice. I’ve had a lot of people ask me how to get my job. I tell younger people, “You’ve got to do the work, you’ve got to do the stage time.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?
On a day-to-day basis, the biggest challenge I face is my weight. And keeping my wife happy.

If you had to choose a different profession, what would you do?
I used to always say I wanted to be an NCAA women’s diving judge, but I think I’d definitely want to be a professional golfer. I want one hand very tan, the other pale white.

What is the most useful mistake you’ve made?
My most useful mistake would be my oldest son Hank; he’s very helpful. He house-sits and take care of my dogs. My boy Gus is another helpful mistake; he’s very handy. My boy Louie, he’s a wonderful mistake. But my favorite mistake is my youngest, Annie.

“I’m not really a high-strung person. I don’t have a hard time relaxing. I wake up in elevators, literally. Like, ‘Oh, lobby, excellent. I was headed that way.’”

What’s the strangest experience you’ve had?
So many. None are short, is the problem. Here’s one: [Comedian] Bobcat Goldthwait and I were going to see U2 at Anaheim Stadium. This trucker came up and said, “Hey, Bobcat! You’re my favorite! But you’re in the wrong section, man; let me give you a ride!” We get in the truck and drove all around the stadium. He brought us in the submarine door, with “high voltage” signs all over the place…we turn around, and Bono is standing there with Winona Ryder. Bono recognizes Bobcat and goes, “Bob, you’ve been doing me in your act, you should have the real glasses.” And he walked away. And we looked at each other and said, “We should leave now and beat the traffic. It’s not going to get any better than that.”

What opportunity do you regret passing up?
None that I can think of.

How do you relax?
I’m not really a high-strung person. I don’t have a hard time relaxing. I wake up in elevators, literally. Like, “Oh, lobby, excellent. I was headed that way.”

If you could go anywhere in the world tomorrow, where would you go?
I really love Italy. I might go up to Lake Como and just look at the hills and drink wine and eat good food. Or I’d go to Wrigley Field.

What is your most indelible childhood memory?
My father died when I was 5 and I have very few memories of him, but I remember once he was trying to fix the dryer. He was bent over, and I accidentally opened the dryer door and hit him in the head. We laughed about it a few seconds later, but initially, I wanted to start crying. I hang on to that one for some reason.

What’s the most valuable thing you learned in school?
I guess math. You use it in business and accounting. I suppose reading was important, too, but I’ll go with math.

When you’re stuck how do you get unstuck?
If you get unstuck, you weren’t stuck anyway.

What is your proudest moment?
My daughter just graduated from high school and got a partial college scholarship because of all the service hours she’d done. Don’t tell the rich, but you can get into better schools by doing good deeds.

What would you like to experience before you die? 
It used to be a Cubs World Series. I still would like to play in the AT&T Pebble Beach [Pro-Am Golf Tournament.] People probably say things like, “Oh, grandchildren.” But I’ll stick with the self-centered: AT&T Pebble Beach.

Interview has been edited and condensed. As told to Lauren Daley.

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Photo by Associated Press

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