Cover Story

'Name'-Dropping With Greg Garcia

By Patricia Brennan
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 27, 2006

Greg Garcia is a guy who doesn't forget his roots. He sprinkles Washington-area references throughout his sitcoms. He named one son after the Baltimore Orioles' stadium and then used Camden for the setting of his quirky NBC series "My Name Is Earl."

But where did he get the inspiration for those hilarious low-life characters?

As it turns out, at the beach. The collection of losers who inhabit the Thursday night comedy had their genesis in Garcia's head one summer when he was hanging out with his family at Nags Head, N.C., he said.

The idea: A fairly stupid but good-natured loser wins the lottery, is hit by a car and, while recovering, hears TV's Carson Daly discuss the concept of karma. Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) gets the message: He needs to straighten out his so-called life.

The result is a sitcom that looks at the bottom-dwellers of American life.

"I've always been drawn to the world these people live in," Garcia said. "I believe in karma. I like the idea of people having an awakening in life and changing. So it was sort of the perfect storm."

The cast includes Earl's hapless brother Randy (Ethan Suplee), illegal immigrant Catalina (Nadine Velazquez), Earl's ex-wife Joy (Jaime Pressly) and her husband, Darnell (Eddie Steeples). Beau Bridges periodically shows up as Earl and Randy's father.

"Earl" earned a 2006 People's Choice Award for best new comedy. The show is up for five Emmys this year -- supporting actress, directing, writing, casting and picture editing -- though Lee and the show itself were not nominated, drawing complaints from some critics.

Garcia, 36, who grew up in Arlington and graduated from the same high school (Yorktown) as his mother, knows a bit about setting the bar too low. Because his high school SAT scores were less than stellar, he said, he applied to only one college, Frostburg State University in Maryland. He was accepted.

"And it turned out to be the best thing, because Frostburg had a television writing program that got my script sent to Warner Brothers," Garcia said.

Garcia, who had worked on Washington Post sports columnist Tony Kornheiser's radio show, thought his future was in that medium. But after college, he set out for Los Angeles with his parents' encouragement and the name of a junior high classmate of his mother's who had become a makeup artist. For a while, he slept on the couch of a friend from Yorktown High who was working at a Foot Locker store. And he made certain to look up his mom's classmate.

Drawing from what's familiar works for Garcia. Fans will recognize area place names, including Hagerstown, Cumberland and Frostburg, as well as some from Virginia. And Michael Pennie, a writer for the show, is a friend of Garcia's from high school who Garcia said once lived in a trailer in Fairfax County. "I had a little window on that world," Garcia said of his friend's situation.

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