Meet Greg Tally: Actor and Entrepreneur
My love of an audience started at birth. I had my “nuchal” umbilical cord tied in a knot doing acrobatic flips inside the womb. This can kill a kid. But my cord was so thick, it did not cut off my oxygen supply. There was a group of medical students observing my birth, and they applauded when the doctor slapped my butt, and I began to cry. From my first breath, I had an audience and a standing ovation. Guess I’ve been chasing that moment ever since.
I was a ham growing up, loved pranks and jokes and puns. Would buy knock-knock joke books and dirty joke books and try out my material on the other kids during gym class. When the middle school bullies started picking on me, I kept them mostly as bay with either dirty jokes or cutting remarks. I was a pipsqueak, so rather than my fists, I had to fight back with a sharp tongue. Ten-year-old me learned most people would rather take a punch than look like a fool. So I became the class clown, a dreamy neurodivergent child with undiagnosed ADHD who would stare out the window during algebra class, unless provoked.
I attended one of those “Fame” schools, the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Houston, Texas. Beyonce’s alma mater. First in the media department, and later theater. It was a transformative experience. It not only exposed me to the arts but began the process of pulling me out of a lily white, homogenous, upper middle-class existence. I was around openly gay kids and people of color. HSPVA was a surprisingly woke oasis for Texas in the ‘80s. But it was the beginning of not only honing my performances, but having to check my privilege and assumptions, too.
I took thirty years off to move to Colorado, go to college, fall in love, get married, raise kids, build businesses. Along the way, my immediate family built a wine hotel in a vineyard in Colorado’s Wine Country, and I became a certified sommelier. And ex-wife and I created a dinosaur-themed hotel and helped save Nikola Tesla’s laboratory in Long Island from the wrecking ball. We supported STEM programs, sat on the board of the Morrison Natural History Museum Foundation, went on dinosaur digs. I got to pry Triceratops bones from the soil of Wyoming bone beds. Well, the dinosaur lifestyle attracted several agents, and pretty soon, we were developing a sizzle reel for a reality show with Craig Plestis, who later went on to produce “The Masked Singer.” It was our first serious foray into Hollywood.
The road to show business is never smooth. It’s full of potholes and roadblocks and unexpected dead ends and detours. The important thing is to keep trying. The gas in the tank for long term success is perseverance. My biggest challenge during this time was my divorce.
So the reality show was shopped to about 15 networks, but we kept hearing we weren’t “loud enough.” My ex and I weren’t throwing chairs and pulling each other’s hair like “Cake Boss” or “American Chopper.” My partner and I had imagined like a Steve Irwin-style show, but with dinosaurs. Instead everyone wanted us to be “Duckbill Dynasty.” It was an eye opener.
We regrouped, and our next big philanthropic effort after Tesla’s lab, was to help bring back “Mystery Science Theater 3000” to Netflix as executive sponsors and producers. Christmas 2015, I was in the room at the old Meltdown Comics on Sunset Blvd in L.A. for the countdown telethon. Patton Oswalt, Felicia Day, Kate Micucci, Dana Gould, Dana Synder, the Game Grumps, Paul and Storm, all converged to help MST3K show runner Joel Hodgson revive his dream. I made up a sign that I had each of the celebs hold up to “#BringBackMST3K” to blast out on social media, and made up a, “We did it!” banner to unfurl when the Kickstarter campaign topped $6 million. When we crossed that line, everyone cheered and into the show’s theme song. “In the not too distant future, next Sunday. A.D…” It was a heady time.
Later came the set visits to Apache Studios and Raleigh Studios to watch MST3K being filmed. In Episode 1107, “The Land That Time Forgot,” Patton and Felicia plugged The Dino Hotel in a Mesozoic Ranch Dinosaur BBQ sketch, proclaiming us the purveyors of a Triassic-Jurassic-Cretaceous turducken, a plateo-stego-guanodon. (“That is a plateosaurus stuffed in a stegosaurus stuffed in an iguanodon. It took 65 million years to create this meal, but you’ll get it in 30 minutes or less!”). This is blatantly false advertising. It takes at least 35 minutes to warm up our time machine behind the kitchen.
To further work with the MST3K fandom, my friends and I launched a podcast called The Revival League, which Joel Hodgson later asked us to change our name. We obliged, and became The Damn Dirty Drive-In. We produced over two hundred episodes, interviewed almost every cast and crew member, created a prolific output of original radio plays. But my wife and I were splitting, and all the pain and heartache of a separation and divorce had to be dealt with behind-the-scenes. Up front, it was all public “Facebook” smiles. Behind the scenes, we were both falling apart. We consciously uncoupled in Oregon, on the set of “Manos Returns.” And later divorced in 2019. But I kept my foot on the gas pedal, and kept pushing, and persevering. The only way out is through.
What, besides the plateo-stego-guanodon, a “flame-broiled, deep-fried crime against nature?” Vino, Dino, Kino – Wine, dinosaurs and movies. That is my life, my identity. I am proud of the family hotel and winery, The Wine Country Inn and Grand River Vineyards. My brainchild was building a natural history museum-themed lodging, The Dino Hotel. But my passion is movies. Movies are my church. Acting, producing, writing and directing them. I love it all. I cry watching movies and am happiest when a call sheet hits my email in-box at 2 am, telling me what the next day on set will bring.
A month after my divorce finalized in 2019, I moved to Glendale, California, about fifteen minutes from the Hollywood sign. I hit it hard making several dozen indie movies. Everything from art house projects like “Swamp Lion” and “American Trash” to grindhouse flicks like “From Dusk ‘Til Bong” and “Hollywood Werewolf.” I have industry friends cautioning me that perhaps my catalog is a little too silly. Maybe I need to curate my credits more. But my role model is John C. Reilly. He fearlessly bounces from highbrow cinema to Tim and Eric goofiness. I’d rather disappear into a character and have a blast on set, than worry about a carefully cultivated image. It’s about living true to myself, not what other people think.
The ambitious part of me wants to act at the highest levels, to have the best of the best as my scene partners. But really, I’ve won the cosmic lottery. I’m incredibly blessed. I could make indie movies, or retreat to my dinosaur hotel or wine country inn for the rest of my life. That’s hardly a fall back. Thing is, I value being rich in true friends as the truest measure of wealth. I don’t want to climb to the mountaintop alone. That’s a cold and lonely place. I want to climb there with my buddies. Then there will be enough hands to do everything. Maybe we’ll put up a tent or build a campfire and make a stew, and sit around the fire and tell ghost stories together.
We’ve got one life. For me, success is doing what I love and being myself. Sure, others are welcome to join me for that climb to the summit. I love my closest friends, and do everything to include them on my mad little journey, the one full of wine and dinosaurs and cinema. But it’s not necessary for anyone to approve of my path or choices. As long as I’m comfortable in my own skin and being myself, that’s key. Along the way, it’s up to me to be kind, and help others, and not be a jerk. And occasionally make sure we remember to lock the allosaurus paddock before it wreaks havoc. Again.