‘Ted Lasso’ Star Jason Sudeikis Is Related to an ’80s TV Icon
With critical acclaim and expected Emmy nominations, Jason Sudeikis’ name is quickly becoming synonymous with his titular character on Ted Lasso. He seems to be following in the footsteps of his uncle, who just so happens to have played one of TV’s most recognizable characters: Norm from Cheers.
Known for sitting at the end of the bar and racking up an expensive tab, George Wendt’s Norm made audiences laugh for 11 seasons on the iconic ’80s sitcom. To Sudeikis, Wendt was just his mother’s brother who lived in California.
Jason Sudeikis didn’t know his uncle George Wendt was famous
Sudeikis was only 7 and living in Kansas when Cheers premiered, and he didn’t know his uncle was a celebrity. “When I realized that [Cheers] was watched by other people than just our family, I thought, ‘Oh wow,” he told ABC 7 Chicago in 2017.
His initial ignorance didn’t stop the future Golden Globe winner from enjoying the fruits of his uncle’s labor. Sudeikis recounted one memorable childhood visit involving Wendt’s new car to The A.V. Club.
“It was a badass BMW, manual drive, which I’d never seen before,” Sudeikis said. “I was pretty young, and he took me and my dad for a ride. My dad sat shotgun, and I was in the back all by myself. This was not when you needed mandatory seat belts. He drove us through Laurel Canyon as a man who had driven that thing hundreds of thousands of times. My dad was holding onto [the car] like it was nothing he’d ever seen. And I’m just sliding around in the back.”
Wendt’s lifestyle left an impression on a young Sudeikis
Once he understood his uncle’s fame, visiting California became an instrumental part of his childhood. “It was everything the 10-to-15-year-old me dreamed of … The 37-year-old me still dreams of it,” he expressed to actor Michael Keaton in a 2013 conversation for Interview magazine.
“He was a huge deal. What a major influence it was on me, coming from Kansas to go visit Uncle George, who was joking around on the Cheers set and doing all these great movies, like Gung Ho and Fletch,” Sudeikis told Keaton, who coincidentally worked with Wendt on Gung Ho.
Seeing what Wendt did with his Cheers salary, such as knocking down the house next door to build a basketball court, let Sudeikis know show business could be a future career option. “I was like, ‘Well, that’s the job I’ve got to get.’ I mean, he had a full-on three-point line and a glass backboard,” he said.
Sudeikis didn’t start acting because of Wendt
Though his uncle certainly showed him that comedy could be a feasible career path, Sudeikis doesn’t credit Wendt with his love of performing. Instead, speech and debate class and an influential teacher pushed him into writing and acting. In college, he took improv classes at the ComedySportz Theater in Kansas City before moving to Chicago to join the first of many troupes.
Sudeikis admitted to Playboy magazine, via HuffPost, that during this time Wendt wasn’t giving him advice, but letting him figure it out alone. “He’s always been very encouraging, but there was no ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’ kind of relationship between him and I,” he explained.
“He was just a good example that being an actor was a viable option. Here’s a guy from the Midwest, in my family, who took the road less traveled, and it worked out for him. The advice he gave me, and I say this jokingly, is ‘Get on one of the best sitcoms of all time and then ride it out.’”
Wendt urged Sudeikis to try out for ‘Saturday Night Live’
While Sudeikis wasn’t initially cast on a high-rated sitcom, he eventually made a living off performing and improvising after college. Wendt had taken a very similar career path, both working with the prestigious Second City improvisational theater.
In 2003, Wendt encouraged Sudeikis to send in an audition tape to the producers at Saturday Night Live. The Cheers actor previously hosted the show twice, in 1986 and 1991, and is known for playing one of the iconic Chicago sports-crazed superfans. His advice worked, and Sudeikis spent 10 seasons on the show, two as a writer and eight as a cast member.
The two are still close. Every year, Sudeikis hosts the Thundergong! benefit concert for the Steps of Faith Foundation, on which Wendt has appeared. In 2017, Chicago’s Second City Theater held a roast for Wendt in which his nephew was the host.