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Rob Riggle talks about his Sony Crackle comedy series 'Ski Master Academy' and more

Rob Riggle stars in the new series "Ski

Rob Riggle stars in the new series "Ski Master Academy" which begins streaming Aug. 23 on Sony Crackle. Credit: Getty Images/Phillip Faraone

Kleenex. Xerox. Jet Ski. Trademarks all. So when Rob Riggle was creating a title for his new Sony Crackle sitcom about a school for personal-watercraft stuntpeople, Jet Ski manufacturer Kawasaki was all "Thanks but no thanks." Thus the former "Daily Show" correspondent will star in the more legally acceptable "Rob Riggle's Ski Master Academy" premiering Thursday, Aug. 23.

The surreally comic series — with a ghost bride and a mermaid in the first two episodes — finds Riggle as the disgraced star of the "Ski Master" action-movie franchise, now heading the titular lakeside school. The cast includes Eliza Coupe, Britt Baron and Samm Levine, with West Islip Senior High grad Frank Barrera ("Dog Days") as cinematographer.

Riggle, 48, who plays Phil Dunphy's recurring nemesis Gil Thorpe on ABC's "Modern Family" and had terrific big-screen turns as a Taser-happy classroom cop in "The Hangover" and a drug-dealing gym teacher in "21 Jump Street," was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and raised there and in Overland Park, Kansas. He spent nine years as an active-duty Marine and 14 in the Marine Corps Reserve, rising to lieutenant colonel while pursuing a comedy career.

Now living in Los Angeles with his wife, Tiffany, and their two children, the Upright Citizens Brigade improv alum spoke with Newsday contributor Frank Lovece.

The year is barely halfway through and you've appeared in three movies, have three more awaiting release, have done voice work for an upcoming animated feature, plus you have this series. Why are you so lazy?

[Laughs.] Well, I'll tell you what: Show business has taught me a valuable lesson and that is that there is no finish line and that if you're an actor, you eat what you kill. You have to be working all the time or trying to find work all the time. If you do a good job, you'll get another opportunity.

In your opinion as this series' co-creator: Why personal watercraft?

People would ask me, "What are you doing these days" and I'd say just as a joke, "Oh, I'm thinking of opening a Jet Ski academy." So I thought. "What if I did have a world like that?" The world of a Jet Ski academy just sounded so, so rich with comedy potential. I started pitching it to two buddies [co-creators Chris Pizzi and Bennett Webber] and someone at Sony Crackle had the vision and the comedy wherewithal to say, "You know what? This sounds ridiculous. Let's do it."

I hope this doesn't keep you from coming back to "Modern Family."

I love being Phil Dunphy's nemesis because Dunphy's the nicest guy in the world, so in order to be his nemesis you have to be the biggest jerk in the world. So that's a fun character to play, no doubt. . . . Should they call, I will be there!

After a stint in the Marine Corps, you were in the Reserves. But you returned to active duty for a time after 9/11.

I was ordered to Ground Zero on the morning of Sept. 12 and I began working in the rubble piles — moving rubble in bucket brigades. When I was down there those first weeks, it had such an impact on me. . . . I was a captain in the Marine Corps and my country had just been attacked. I knew I could help. I had a pretty high security clearance and I knew they were going to need me, so I volunteered to go back on active duty.

You were on Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" from 2006 to 2008 in New York while your family stayed in Los Angeles. Why not just move them here?

New York is great, but "The Daily Show" didn't pay that much money and I couldn't afford to live in New York [with a family]. We would have had to get a very small apartment somewhere in New Jersey. And we just had a baby and my wife had family around elsewhere and it just was one of those things.

And also, when I got hired for it was a six-month probation. Then at the end of six months, they go, "Hey, we like you. So you get another six months and we'll tell you after that." . . . So at the end of the [second] six months, they said, "OK, we'll hire you for next year" . . . At that point they still weren't paying enough for me to move my wife and child out here — it was easier to just do the commute. I did that for almost three years and [eventually] I went to Jon and said, "I can't do it anymore." . . . He said, "I totally understand. Stay through the election." And I said I absolutely will, and that's what I did.

It's funny, you watch the show, you see the regular correspondents, you think, "Oh, they must be making a great living." But I guess it's just a gig like anything else. 

Yeah. Look, it's a great gig. I'm not knocking the gig. Maybe they're getting paid more these days, but back in the day, it wasn't that much.

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