Rick hails from Brooklyn, Indiana, along with his somewhat lesser-known brother Perry. Their first venture into entertainment was as a comedy team, which was a modest success for them as they travelled around western Illinois and eastern Missouri between 1974 and 1981. They were well-known for several years as they appeared at county fairs in between hog-tying contests and harness races, and in the winter they would perform at American Legion and Knights of Columbus halls in the area. By 1982, they were still doing okay, but both brothers had married and started families, and Perry Van Wyck landed a daily job as a radio host in nearby West Point, which limited their ability to travel. This caused their act to go on hiatus, and Rick needed to find other work. "I couldn't continue in comedy," he told us, "because, like George Burns, I was the straight man in the act, and I didn't have the talent that George had to evolve enough to work as a solo act."
He got a job as a gravedigger, which paid the bills but was depressing for a man who had spent so many years in comedy. That job ended after four years when the side of an open grave caved into the ground while Rick was standing alongside it. Fortunately, Rick was not buried alive, but he did suffer injuries that precluded him from continuing that sort of manual labor. "That's why I always tried to be nice to my fellow workers on that job," Rick recalled, "because I knew that something like that could happen at any time, and I wanted them to dig me out if necessary and not just finish the job."
Rick gives his wife Paula credit for getting his career on the right track. He admitted, "I wasn't really involved in the anti-grunge movement at that point, but Paula was always big on it, and she was planning a fundraiser at that time. It was going to be a one-act play called Return of the Grungy Governor, and it was almost ready to begin rehearsals when she came to me and said, 'Rick, why don't you try acting? A lot of comedians have jumped to acting, and I have one part left to fill.'" The part was that of an overzealous campaign worker; while not a big part, it was a good way for Rick to get his foot in the door, and he would never, ever say "no" to his wife, who would do anything for him, so he decided to give it a try.
Rick did so well that he stole the show, which started touring the anti-grunge fundraising circuit, where Rick eventually caught the attention of Mabel Bravo, who was in charge of the casting team for a new television sitcom revolving around a perfect family. "It was so perfect that everyone would pull out scissors to snip out of place hairs in the middle of a sentence!" said Rick. He initially read for the part of the postman, but Mabel thought so much of him that she told Rick, "You're too good to be second fiddle in this show. I want you to be the father, and the show is going to be called The Rick Van Wyck Show!"
That first big break was a tremendous success, but after five years, Rick started sensing something wrong with his marriage. He remembers now with regret, "Paula had started to become distant from me, but because she didn't want to hurt or upset me, she wouldn't tell me what was bothering her. Finally, I realized that I had to win her heart again." He asked her out to dinner, reminded her how much he loved her, and they had a long talk where she finally told Rick what was gnawing at her. "It was the grunge," he said sadly. "I was on this show where the kids were wearing jeans and sneakers, and my TV wife was wearing stupid t-shirts that just drove Paula crazy. That's when I told the producers to write a final show and end it." In the final episode, the entire family was killed in an accident with a laundry truck making a delivery of uniforms to a hospital. "Paula and I both hated that episode, and neither of us will ever watch it, but when we saw how they were planning to end it, we knew I had done the right thing, and nothing was worth sacrificing my marriage!" Rick said firmly.
It was far from the end of Rick's career, though. Paula had developed many lasting relationships with good people in the anti-grunge world, and she quietly started letting her friends know that Rick was available. This news made its way to Vicki Saquerio, who had just landed a job with with NRN Productions in 2013. NRN was working closely with the Anti-Grunge Channel to develop a new sitcom, and the idea that was kicking around there at the time was an American version of the English classic Fawlty Towers. Saquerio recalls, "We liked the idea of an anti-grunge Basil Fawlty, someone who wasn't content just to rent rooms but wanted to have standards besides and went bananas when yahoos violated those standards. The biggest problem we had was finding a star." When Saquerio heard about Van Wyck, she became excited and contacted him right away.
Rick continues the story: "By that time I had resolved that I would never do another pro-grunge program or movie, and I was more actively involved in the anti-grunge movement with Paula. When Vicki called, I was ready." Not only did the producers have a star, but they also had a title befitting that star: The All-New Rick Van Wyck Show. Now in its seventh season, the show is nothing like the old Rick Van Wyck Show and has garnered consistently good ratings, but Rick tells us what is most important: "Paula and I are married 39 years now and I am so glad that I had the nerve to ask her out that night. She's my whole world."
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