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SCENE Editor is UWFDL Distinguished Alum

Mike_CasperBY Jim Moran

His parents hark back to his not speaking until he was three.

“They thought something may be wrong with me,” Michael Casper, the UW-Fond du Lac 2015 Distinguished Alumni recipient said “then suddenly, as they put it, they couldn’t shut me up! There’S a lot of warmth like that in our family (laugh).”

Michael grew up watching and idolizing all comedians from Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, and Jonathan Winters to Alan King and Jackie Gleason. At the time he had no idea you could actually become a comedian.

It was at Theisen Jr. High that his best friend nicknamed him ‘Silk’ because of a smooth jump shot, and when he discovered a science teacher, Mr. John Newman, who was both entertaining and an educator, breaking into characters and dialects as he lectured.

“I thought ‘what a great job!’ Captive audience everyday,” Casper said “maybe I’ll teach!”

He already loved speech classes, and being in front of people, but it was a Career Day and a visit from another “other” Michael Casper, who worked in radio at the time for KFIZ, that piqued his curiosity.

He was a Fondy High grad in 1977.

“Sports kept me from theater and forensics,” Casper said “but speech classes were still my calling, and a ‘chance to work a crowd.’”
Then it was onto the UWFDL and his becoming a Centaur from 77-79.

“It was an easy choice,” Casper said “I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. What direction to take. Radio? TV? Chase the dream of doing stand-up? Or, as my mother always said, ‘Get a real job.’ So I enrolled, because a ‘real’ job just didn’t sound appealing at the time. To go off to a four-year school not knowing what I wanted would have been a poor decision, and a huge waste of money. The Campus allowed me the time to accrue credits and figure things out.”

It’s there that he found Judy Kosted, Ellen Balthazor, and another entertaining educator, Dick Knar, who also used humor while teaching.

“The driest and most deadpan I’d ever seen in person,” Casper said “Dick was a classic. And Judy and Ellen were simply brilliant. Judy taught public speaking, and forensics, and Ellen taught me how to not end sentences with prepositions. Obviously they taught me more than that, but it was they and many other teachers at the Campus that began to show me my path.”

Laurie Krasin is the Director of Marketing & Communications for UW-Fond du Lac.

“The UW-Fond du Lac Distinguished Alumni Award honors and recognizes a former student who has made an impact in the community,” Laurie explained “provided inspiration to others or attained notable achievement in their career field. The recipient is selected by a committee with representation from campus faculty, students and staff along with representatives from the UW-Fond du Lac Foundation.”

It was during the late 70‘s that comedy clubs were becoming more and more popular.

“It was in the campus library where I read about these burgeoning clubs,” Casper said “and came to realize there actually were places where I could get stage time and try to be funny. So I started working on writing jokes and funny stories, and practicing at home in front of a mirror using a vacuum attachment as my microphone.”

Casper’s first open mike was at a place in Milwaukee called “Jack’s or Better.”

“I drove there without telling anyone,” he said “including my folks. Scared out of my mind. Told my jokes. Died. Was heckled by someone other than my siblings. Went in the tank. Loved it.”

Casper transferred to UW-Oshkosh.

“I commuted to school and thought as long as I was in Fondy, I may as well look into maybe getting a job in my prospective field, visited KFIZ, and interviewed with the legendary Joe Goeser. That was on a Wednesday. The next Sunday I was on the air…live.
5:30 am until noon playing actual vinyl records.”

The Michael Aaron Show…(they already had their quota of Michael Casper’s.)

“I wasn’t hired because of any great skill, or signs of broadcast acumen,” Casper said “rather, Joe was sick of getting up at 5am. Now I’m a ‘dee-jay,’ going to school at the same time, getting experience light years ahead of my fellow communication majors.”

At the time Showtime held a Funniest Person in America contest where you’d send in a video of yourself doing stand up. One winner from all 50 states. Casper won Wisconsin’s Funniest.

“Then I was in the running to become the funniest in all of America,” he said “instead they chose some chick from Louisiana…Ellen-something or other…DeGeneres, that was it. Not sure what ever became of her.”

mike_youngerHe graduated UW-O in 1982 with a degree in communications, and the next week was hired full time at KFIZ.

The following fall he got married and had his first son, Benjamin.

With the thought that California was the only place to be if he was ever to break into the world of comedy, he took a job in radio in Susanville, California. Moved the family there until a radio station in Reno, Nevada called with a job offer. He took it.

“We moved again, in a span of 6 or 8 months,” Casper said “my wife at the time was not pleased.”

He entered the Showtime contest again that year as a resident of Nevada, and won that year too.

“I thought, maybe if we kept moving, I could keep entering the contest, and eventually win in all 50 states (laugh).”

His wife’s career led them all back to Fond du Lac, and Casper back to KFIZ.

“I kept pursuing stand-up,” he said “traveling to Chicago clubs on their open mike nights.”

A second son, Alex came along in 1987.

Before Alex turned two, KFIZ was sold, new management moved in, and Casper was fired.

“It was then that I considered myself a full-time comedian,” he said “and began a concerted effort to advance my status from open mike’s to emceeing shows, to opening act, feature comedian, and eventually a headliner.”

Casper then moved to Chicago, working on the road, and locally, and in the mean time picked up bartending and waitering gigs.

“I chased my dream for about ten years playing clubs, colleges, Holiday Inn’s…anywhere that a show could be put on, from a classy stage at Bally’s in Las Vegas, to the next week atop a sheet of plywood balanced on empty beer cases. I once did a show where the main attraction after me was midget-tossing. I opened. That means the midget tossing was the headliner!”

He drove home every two weeks to spend time with his sons.

“I finally plateaued,” Casper said. “Knowing I had to move to one coast or the other, continue chasing the dream…or move home to try to be a better dad. Easy choice, really.

On my drive back to Wisconsin I promised myself to not only go back to a regular job, but to pursue more.”

It was on the drive home that he came up with the idea for what became Movies in Minutes.

“Siskel & Ebert were popular at the time,” Casper said “I’d taken a class and written a screenplay. I ran the idea past a friend, and she was up for the challenge of what I called a ‘conversation and review of movies in print.’”

Editor Scott Wittchow of the Action Advertiser was willing to listen to the pitch.

“Michael ‘Silky’ Casper is one of the most talented individuals I have ever met,” Wittchow said. “Whether it is writing for newspapers and magazines, broadcasting on radio and TV, performing as a comedian across the U.S., he is one impressive individual. Throughout his life, he’s stood out among his peers. He is such a likable guy because he inserts humor with everything he does. He is outgoing, carries a smile constantly and has people skills that put him head and shoulders above those around him.”

After a short stint selling cars at Holiday Auto, Casper found himself back in radio, hosting the morning show for Sunny 97.7 and eventually helped start a new radio station in Mayville, Wisconsin – The Great 98 as news director.

Three years in at The Great 98 he took a call from Mercury Marine.

“They offered me a position in their sales and technical training division,” Casper said. “It was the salad days for the marine industry. I followed the money.”

Two years later, the 9/11 attack happened. The boating industry ebbed. He was high salary, and low totem pole, and was let go between Christmas and the New Year.

“Happy holidays,” Casper laughed. “By March I was back in radio at the Great 98, as if I’d never left.”

“Silk is one of those guys on our team that is over qualified for the market,” Terry Davis, President of Radio Plus & Record Entertainment said. “What I mean by that is that it’s likely he could maintain a broadcast or commercial production gig in a bigger market. He’s our go-to guy for voice impersonations, major market commercial production and creative writing. I first met him in 1981 as he allowed me to shadow him while he was doing play-by-play at a high school basketball game. I bring that up because that is yet another thing (sports play-by-play) Silk could do if time allowed. Jack of all trades? Yes. And I’d say a master at them as well…that’s Silk Casper.”

Casper has also freelanced voice over narration for Mercury Marine, New Holland, Johnson Controls, Speed Queen, Gravely Mowers, and many others, and has been the on-camera talent for the EAA in Oshkosh.

“He’s a great spokesperson for UW-Fond du Lac,” Wittchow said “emceeing campus events and helping the university’s foundation raise money for wonderful causes such as scholarships and training for instructors. I worked with Silky for 13-years at Action Advertiser and got to know his talent very well, first as a movie reviewer and then as a feature writer. All the while he was a radio personality who could throw his voice so effectively that many people did not know it was him behind the microphone.

“Then in October 2013,” Casper said “I received a call from Jim Moran, the publisher of the SCENE Arts & Entertainment Newspaper with an offer to become editor of the Fond du Lac-area version. Sounded like a challenge.”

“Starting a publication in a new market is very difficult. It takes the right mix of people to put together a start-up newspaper in a market that is well served by strong publication. Our decision to go into the Fond du Lac market meant that we needed someone very connected to the community. In looking for the right person, Michael’s name kept coming up as a person I should talk to. It took only our initial meeting to know that Michael was the person we needed to be our Editor for the Scene in Fond du Lac, stated Moran.” Fond du Lac is very fortunate to have Michael managing the editorial for our publications. He is not only wellconnected, but really cares about the stories that make up our newspaper. No deserves this award more than Mike.

“Completing the editorial circle of life,” Casper said “in May of 2015, the editor who took a chance on me many years ago at the Action Advertiser, wrote a feature for me that was subsequently published in the SCENE.”

“To me, Michael Casper is a Fond du Lac treasure,” Wittchow said. “He is as funny as any comedian I have witnessed or met, is an outstanding radio personality, has teaching/training experience with the area’s leading employer, is a talented writer and editor and always speaks highly of his start at UW-Fond du Lac. In my opinion, he is a very distinguished alumnus of a great Fond du Lac university.”

“The selection committee was impressed with Michael Casper’s involvement in the local community and his broad range of experiences during his career,” Laurie Krasin said, “Michael has often volunteered his time and talents to the university over the years. His achievements and contributions to the Fond du Lac area will be inspiring to students.”

An RSVP is requested in advance for anyone interested in attending the reception on Sept. 30 via e-mail to uwfdlfoundation@uwc.edu.

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