PASADENA — There weren't a lot of places for Ginger Gonzaga, one of the stars of the new ABC comedy "Mixology," to show off her comedy skills while growing up in Modesto. That didn't stop her from finding ways to make people laugh.
"My cousin, who's dating a girl I knew in high school, found all of her home videos. I was in them. It's a lot of us improvising really funny commercials and doing characters and dressing up. There wasn't that much to do, so we would dress up and knock on people's doors as these funny characters," Gonzaga says. "When I saw those tapes, I realized I have enjoyed acting since I was like 7 years old."
From that simple start sprang a career that now has her part of a large cast for a new comedy that takes place in a high-end Manhattan bar over one night. Each episode will feature what happens to the different bar patrons, including Gonzaga's Maya, a sports attorney who is tough as nails and tired of the wimpish metrosexual men who populate New York's dating scene.
The cast also includes Adam Campbell, Adan Canto, Alexis Carra, Craig Frank, Blake Lee, Vanessa Lengies, Andrew Santino, Frankie Shaw and Kate Simses.
Gonzaga got her first organized taste of being in front of an audience through her Beyer High School's speech and debate team, where she competed in a variety of areas, including Humorous Interpretation. She often found herself in Fresno for competitions.
After graduation, Gonzaga attended the University of California, Berkeley and UC Santa Barbara — majoring in political science — but she found working with The Groundlings, The Second City Theater and Upright Citizens Brigade helped her turn her high school competition skills into a career as an improviser and comedian.
"I think, in my bones, I always wanted to be an actor. But it wasn't until I drove to L.A. to audition for the Groundlings school of improv that I knew," Gonzaga says.
That was the start of a performance career that's taken her from comedy clubs and U.S. military bases in South Korea to a variety of film and TV roles. Before being cast in "Mixology," she appeared on "The Millers," "The Finder," "Growing Up Fisher," "Family Guy" and "Legit."
Although "Mixology" is a scripted series, Gonzaga has been able to use her improvisational training.
"We always get the scene as it's written, and then a lot of times they will let us run with it," Gonzaga says. "If you are the the main story of the show, you are going to have a lot of monologues, and you can change some of the jokes in the monologue. It feels so good to have that freedom, and it means a lot to us because you get to show how clever you are."
The series takes place over one night, which gives it a similar time structure to a show like "24." Gonzaga jokes that "Mixology" will have fewer terrorists.
Most of the action will take place over a few hours, but there are flashback scenes that fill in the history of why the patrons — and some of the staff — are acting the way they do. Gonzaga considers those flashbacks important so the audience is less judgmental of the characters. That's important for her because, on the surface, Maya's the kind of ice queen who can cut a room full of amorous men.
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, firstname.lastname@example.org or @RickBentley1 on Twitter. Read his blog at fresnobeehive.com.