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Back Where He Began

Rama Gottumukkala | Friday, October 7, 2005

The last time Vince Vaughn performed on campus, he caught the harsh end of an Ara Parseghian tongue-lashing and was dropped from the third-string to the practice squad.

Times have changed. Vaughn is no longer the scapegoat he was in “Rudy,” his first major film role. The A-list Hollywood star has since enjoyed tremendous success with blockbusters like “Swingers,” “Dodgeball” and “Old School.” His most recent film, “Wedding Crashers,” earned over $200 million this summer, ranking it as the year’s top comedy and the third highest-grossing film of the year.

Still, despite all the success, Vaughn has a soft spot for the University where he first launched his film career. His first speaking role was playing running back Jamie O’Hara in “Rudy.”

“I’m sure it’s going to be a great experience for [Vaughn] to come back to where his film career started,” said John Pisani, Vaughn’s publicist. “I think he’s always had a fondness for Notre Dame, and there’s a great tradition there. So to be able to come and do a show on the campus, he’s thrilled about it.”

Saturday, Vaughn brings his national comedy tour, “30 Days & 30 Nights – Hollywood to the Heartland,” to Stepan Center, the 27th stop on the tour’s nationwide road trip. Vaughn will act as the event’s emcee and also take part in some of the skits. The show will also feature national touring comedians Bret Ernst, Sebastian Maniscalco, Ahmed Ahmed and John Caparulo, all comedians from the famed Los Angeles Comedy Store.

Playing in 30 cities in 30 days is a daunting task for any performer, but Vaughn and his comedy crew have embraced the rare opportunity to tour all the way from Los Angeles to America’s heartland, taking in the sights along the way.

“We’ve been having a great time and it’s been awesome performing at all these venues, some more historical than others,” Ernst said. “We visited a few college campuses already, but nothing to the magnitude of Notre Dame. I’d love to go down to the [football stadium] field, especially since ‘Rudy’ was one of my favorite movies.”

The idea for the tour was spawned from Vaughn’s previous work on comedy benefit shows for charity. He organized a similar show with the Comedy Store performers more than a year ago to support the Army Emergency Relief Fund. The success of that Memorial Day weekend show convinced Vaughn to spawn a nationwide tour. Proceeds from the current tour’s profits have been used to support various charities, including those aiding the victims of Hurricane Katrina. The tour is also being filmed for an upcoming documentary movie detailing the trip’s experiences.

“Vince really respects what we do as far as stand-up comics go,” Ernst said. “He’s really an amazing individual as far as his work ethic and his character. [He and his staff] put this all together in pretty much four weeks, which is unbelievable. The idea of doing it for charity just motivated him even more.”

For Maniscalco, a fan of Vaughn’s 1996 hit comedy “Swingers,” the tour has offered a chance to travel around the country and work with someone who had inspired him onscreen years ago. When “Swingers” came out, Maniscalco was still living in Chicago and thinking of pursuing a career in standup.

“To work with Vince Vaughn was a pretty surreal experience – to watch this guy’s movie nine years ago and love what he did, and now, nine years later, we’re roommates on a tour bus,” Maniscalco said. “For me it’s been great because now I get to tap into Vince Vaughn’s audience base and he’s validated us as his favorite comedians. It’s been great. He’s like the Johnny Carson of the millennium.”

As the comedy tour has neared South Bend, more discussions on the tour bus have been directed towards football and Notre Dame. Vaughn, a college football fan, also grew up in Lake Forest, Ill.

Between his love for college football, growing up in the Midwest and starring in “Rudy,” Ernst isn’t surprised that there might be a correlation there.

“[Vaughn] is a big Notre Dame fan,” Ernst said. “We were arguing on the bus. He kept bringing up Notre Dame and saying, ‘classy program, Notre Dame doesn’t do what the University of Miami does.’ He’s pretty attached to it and plus he’s a Midwestern boy, which might explain why he loves Notre Dame.”

It’s been over a decade since Vaughn started his film career on this very campus. He met fellow actor and good friend Jon Favreau during the filming of “Rudy,” a relationship that opened an avenue to “Swingers,” the film that helped launch the pair to stardom. This Saturday, Vaughn’s career progression will come full circle.

“I’m sure it’s going to be a great experience and one that he’s excited about – being able to come back after the success he’s had in films like ‘Dodgeball,’ ‘Wedding Crashers,’ and ‘Old School’ that helped him become an A-list movie star, which is a nice arc,” Pisani said.

Not bad for a third-string running back.