Michael D. Cohen
Carol Burnett is His Beacon
Winnipeg has a thing for spawning artists. Too bad Michael’s family moved to Vancouver when he was only ten years old. Dad didn’t like Winnipeg much – too many memories of his days as a boy during the Depression.
But Richmond, B.C., the Vancouver suburb in which the Cohens transplanted, took some adjustment. It would be years before Michael could appreciate the natural beauty of the region. In the mean time… No relatives. No bagel shops. No Jews. Michael was starving on his diet of rain, accordion lessons and tacky salad bars.
Thank goodness for Carol Burnett.
You know how some people just reach through the tv set and you feel a special, inexplicable connection? That’s what young Michael had with Ms. B. She spoke to him in a language he understood, and it wasn’t English. Her show became his creative beacon.
It was funny. It was brilliant. It was a constant. Every week, same time, same place. He studied the show. He studied Carol. He studied Tim. He studied Harvey. He even studied Vicki.
Michael showed his talent for writing and acting at a young age. He won a Young Playwright’s Contest at the age of 12 and his teleplay was produced for television. He kept writing. He performed everywhere and anywhere he could. People laughed. He wanted more.
Post High School Confusion
Having parents who are educators is wonderful. Usually. They share their values for higher education and say things like “you can be whatever you want, dear”. However, Michael got confused and got degrees in cell biology and adult education. After graduating college, he was still in denial. He got jobs behind the camera. He worked as a writer, researcher, associate producer and assistant director on a variety of shows at CBC, CTV, Global, Discovery Channel and Life Network before awakening to his truer calling.
Doin’ His Thing in Toronto
He moved to Toronto, studied more acting, and started working. He landed his first voice job without an agent on the animated tv series Pippi Longstockings. He landed numerous roles in MOW’s and on tv series including Queer As Folk, Doc, Moville Mysteries, Roboroach, Jojo’s Circus and Henry’s World. He also voiced ads for Microsoft, BMW, Dell, Ikea, Rogers AT&T, Bell Yellow Pages, Hyundai, among others.
Michael wrote, produced and starred in the short film Jew Jube Lives, co-starring Luba Goy and Bruce Hunter. The film was nominated for the prestigious Golden Sheaf Award for Comedy from Yorkton’s Film and Video Festival in 2005, and won the national Moc Docs award for Best Mockumentary. Ironically, his next film job was playing an ineffectual skinhead in the comedic short Skinheads, produced by NBCUniversal and Norm Jewison’s Canadian Film Centre. Michael starred in the Canadian Film Centre’s Song of Sloman which screened at Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Michael plays Rabbi Yosef Sloman, a Chasidic rabbi with a penchant for bacon and disco. Since its Tribeca premiere, Sloman has also screened at the Montreal World Film Festival, AFI Dallas, the Toronto Jewish Film Festival, and the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto. The film made it’s way to festivals in Europe and Asia, and was also nominated for a Golden Sheaf award for comedy at the Yorkton Short Film Festival.
It was a matter of time before Michael began directing (his M.Ed. research was on creative potential and the role of the director as facilitator of creative process). In early 2006, he directed Second City alumnus Rob Hawke in his one man comedy Norm Vs. Cancer, based on Rob’s real life fight with thyroid cancer. Rob conceived the show, and the duo co-wrote. They also produced the show in November 2006 in Toronto at the award-winning Bad Dog Theatre. The show won the “Best Solo Show” award at the San Francisco Fringe in 2007 and was nominated for a Canadian Comedy Award in 2011. Michael moved to L.A. in 2007.
… And now?
FILM: Most recently, Michael was cast by George Clooney in the Coen Brothers’ latest film Suburbicon and in An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn starring Emile Hirsch and Craig Robinson. Michael was nominated for an ACTRA Award for Outstanding Performance as the lead role in the film It Was You Charlie directed by Emmanuel Shirninian and DP’d by Luc Montpellier (Away From Her, Take This Waltz). The film was shot in November-December 2012, was fully funded by Telefilm Canada. It premiered at Busan International Film Festival in South Korea and will be screened at Victoria Film Festival in February 2014 and at Cinequest in March 2014. Michael also landed a role in Whiplash, which just premiered at Sundance 2014 winning both the audience and grand jury prizes. It stars J.K. Simmons and Miles Wells, is directed by Damien Chazelle and executive produced by Jason Reitman.
TELEVISION: Michael is a series regular on Nickelodeon’s longest running live action show Henry Danger. He plays “Schwoz”, a foreign genius of indiscernible origin. He shot a large guest star role as a mean HR boss on ABC’s Powerless with Vanessa Hudgens, an episode of the Carrell’s hilarious Angie Tribeca with Rashida Jones and ABC’s The Real O’Neals. Michael is a featured guest star in a recent episode of comedian Chris Elliott’s Eagleheart. You can also see him as a nutty taxidermist on The Mindy Project and in episodes of Disney’s Kickin’ It and Austin & Ally.
Other primetime credits include an episode of 2 Broke Girls that was directed by Fred Savage, and playing a neighbor of the Dunphy’s on the Emmy award winning comedy Modern Family. He is a featured guest star role on the CBC series Michael: Every Day co-starring Ed Asner. This under-publicized Canadian dramedy was helmed by the brilliant creative team of Bob Martin and Don McKellar who did the Tony award winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone. Other credits include Disney Channel’s The Wizards of Waverly Place and a recurring role on ABC’s short-lived series Eastwick. Michael also appeared with Danny Glover in the last season of My Name is Earl on NBC.
In the animation voice-over world, Michael is a series regular on the new Disney series It’s a Small World, where he takes on different accents voicing various kid characters from around the world. He plays the character of “Ben” in another Disney animated web series Talking Friends. Michael is the voice of “Ty Archer”, one of two leads in the animated tv series based on the Sylvia Branzei books Grossology. The series garnered several Gemini (Canadian Emmy) nominations including one for Michael for “Best Ensemble Performance in an Animated Series”.
Commercially, Michael stars in the current Wendy’s campaign, and can be seen in the current Nespresso ad with George Clooney. He appeared in the Super Bowl Hulucampaign with Will Arnett, and a Honda campaign with Patrick Warburton. Other recent national network and cable commercials including FedEx, Starburst, Capital One, Boston Market and Cox Communications.
Mixing his knowledge and skills of film/tv production, script writing and acting, Michael has been in demand as a script consultant. He has consulted for Alliance Atlantis, CBC and BC Film, as well as independent screenwriters and producers. He works as a freelance story analyst for the Canadian Film Center and for Astral Media The Harold Greenberg Fund.
TEACHING: Michael is a faculty lecturer with the Theatre and Dance department of the University of Texas, Austin, Hollywood Campus. He is the past Co-Chair of SAG-AFTRA Conservatory in Hollywood at the AFI, and also teaches acting for camera, cold reading and voice over at the Conservatory. He produces/moderates popular panels for SAG-AFTRA Member Education. He also moderated many panels for the Conservatory, the SAG Foundation, and for ACTRA in L.A. His panelists have included April Webster (Criminal Minds, CSI), Sarah Isaacson (Bates Motel), Seth Yanklewitz (VP Casting, FOX), David Milch, Kerry Barden, Rick Pagano, Dorian Frankel, and Carol Goldwasser among others. Michael also has his own acting studio where he holds classes and private audition coaching. He specializes in helping actors transform performance blocks.
Go to www.mdcohenstudio.com for more info on his workshops, panels and classes.
Things that make his eyes glaze over with glee (in no particular order):
High floors in skyscrapers.
Fancy ice creams.
Sports that use wind.
Restaurant buffets (any ethnicity).
And of course…Carol Burnett.