By Ray Pride

Second City Veteran Actor-Writer-Improviser Tino Insana Was 69

Tino Insana: ‘The funniest man you ever spent the evening with.’

Tino Insana, improviser, actor, writer, award-winning voice-over artist, best remembered as Mr. Grouper in “Bubble Guppies,” for which he was nominated for a Kids’ Choice Award, USA, died Thursday, June 1, 2017 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Cause of death was complications from cancer. He was 69.

His role as “Uncle Ted” in “Bobby’s World,” was the beginning of a 25-year career as a sought-after voice actor.

“He was like his Uncle Ted character,” related Howie Mandel, co-creator of the hit FOX series. “Tino was like that teddy bear that brought you comfort and you didn’t want to lose.”

Insana lent his voice to hundreds of hours TV animation, including: “Spaceballs,” “Darkwing Duck,” “Barnyard,” “Camp Candy,” “Bubble Guppies,” “Pepper Ann,” “Teacher’s Pet,” “Buzz Lightyear,” “Bobby’s World,”  “Aladdin” and “Goof Troop.”

Insana’s career began as John Belushi’s partner in a comedy troupe that performed in a coffee house in Chicago in 1968, doing counter-culture material, mixed in with routines “borrowed” from the Second City cabaret. When the producers of The Second City went to investigate, instead of suing them, they hired them.

During his tenure at this famed venue, Tino was directed by the legendary Del Close, and appeared with such luminaries as John Candy, Harold Ramis, Bill Murray, Eugenie Ross-Leming and Betty Thomas. David Rasche, fellow company member and long-time friend, said, “The Second City has produced scores of talented and brilliant performers. Many have become richer and more famous. But Tino was the funniest.”

In 1975 he left the company to form his own comedy troupe with two other cast members, Jim Staahl and Jim Fisher. “The Graduates” became a staple of the comedy landscape of the 80’s, as they toured the country performing at comedy clubs and colleges, and appearing on many of the variety shows of the day, including “The Merv Griffin Show” and “The Tonight Show.”

When The Graduates disbanded in 1980, Tino’s dazzling wit and endearing whimsy took him in many directions. As an actor, he appeared in episodic TV shows such as “Designing Women,” “Night Court,” “Mad About You,” “Dream On” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”  He appeared in such films as “Neighbors,” “Three Amigos,” “Who’s Harry Crumb?” and “Beverly Hills Cop III.” He wrote for the television series “Police Squad” and “Sledgehammer.”

Michael Reese, producer of The Simpsons recalls working with Insana on “Sledgehammer.” “Tino was a great writer whose improvisational antics kept the writing staff in stitches.”

In the 90’s Tino returned to his improvisation roots when he began a long association with Viola Spolin, founder of the Improvisational Movement, and her son, Paul Sills, creator of Story Theater, performing with their company, The Spolin Players, at their theater on Heliotrope in Hollywood. Among his peers, Tino was known “as one improviser who never failed in an improvisation.”

Tino was born in 1948 in Chicago, the son of an Italian maestro. He is survived by his wife of 42 years, Dana, brothers Craig, Chris and sister Cynthia.

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