Glenview PR expert takes his own turn in front of the camera
Justin Breen has found his tribe.
Among his contact list of influencers it includes a former professional rugby player turned Hollywood producer, Hamish Wright. In an unlikely alliance, Wright has enlisted Breen to write a skit and appear on his new comedy vehicle, "The Real Fake Show."
"Hamish, he's just one those folks, and he just happens to be connected to Hollywood," Breen said.
After two decades as an award-winning journalist and editor at such places as The Times of Northwest Indiana, Block Club Chicago and DNAinfo.com, in 2017 the Glenview man founded BrEpic Communications. As its website states, it serves "visionaries and exceptional businesses."
The Publicity Club of Chicago has honored BrEpic the last two years with Golden and Silver Trumpet awards.
"A good part of my day is spent talking to amazing people around the world," said Breen, 43, who in May also published a book, "Epic Business," based on how he applied some of their lessons to build his own business.
Through the wonders of networking he connected with Wright, a New Zealand native who landed in California to play and coach rugby.
Delivering an insidious, dry wit, Wright has since evolved into a writer, script editor and producer. His latest concoction is the improvisation-based "The Real Fake Show," for which he's got dozens of ideas and has lined up funding and a production company. Working to secure a network, he hopes to launch within 6 months.
Talking with Wright is like riding a rickety roller coaster on helium, a thrilling joy ride threatening to run off the rails but with laughs along the way.
Breen was hooked.
"That just reminded me of the conversations my frat brothers and I had when I was at the University of Illinois," said Breen, who took acting lessons at Glenbrook North and the University of Illinois.
"One of my frat brothers (Andy Schelitzche) and I still talk like that in a silly type of way."
The skit, "The Frat Twins," was born.
"I think it's his honesty. He's got many great qualities, but the best comedy is honesty," Wright said of Breen's insight. "Ninety percent of what I write happens to me."
"The Real Fake Show" is based on what Wright called "structured improv." Host Alan Massengale, a veteran broadcaster and producer, "sidekick" Wright and a guest or two wrap a freewheeling conversation around a general story line.
With shades of "Between Two Ferns," "It's Garry Shandling's Show" and "The Daily Show," Wright references "Fernwood Tonight," with Martin Mull and the late Fred Willard, as the closest relative to "The Real Fake Show."
"I got to show this to Fred Willard before he passed away (in May), and he said, this is where the network wouldn't let us go," Wright said.
One pilot episode welcomes the lead singer of a 1990s band who "could have been the next Bono" but under Wright's mismanagement -- including a booking in Death Valley -- saw his career fizzle.
Another is of a 47-year-old baseball player in his 30th minor league season still confident he'll make the Hall of Fame.
The genius of the execution is that, while only one of these plots is true, both could be.
"I was watching it and I'm like, that's pretty ingenious," said Breen, who appeared on the "Today" show and "Windy City Live" with his wife, pediatrician Dr. Sarah Breen, after they fulfilled a New Year's resolution to have a date night every week in 2019.
"We can have celebrities having fun with themselves," Wright said, "we can have real people that are funnier than anything that we can write, and we can have comedians playing characters."
Breen and his Theta Chi pal, Schelitzche, who owns a financial services company in Minnesota, are in that second group. Their script for "Frat Twins" will fit the show's character since Breen is dark-haired and brown-eyed and Schelitzche is blond and blue-eyed.
"I'm very excited for this to evolve and see where it leads to," Breen said. "When you talk to some of the coolest people on earth all the time, these are the types of opportunities that can happen."