NEGAUNEE - It was early 1994 and a teenage Dan Aho really wanted to see "Blue Chips," the college basketball movie starring Nick Nolte and Shaquille O'Neal.
"My aunt was taking me to the movies and she wanted to go to see 'Ace Ventura: Pet Detective' instead," Aho, now 32, recalled. "It was like a revelation to me."
And that Jim Carrey comedy - "I was drawn to the energy" - was the spark that got Aho started on his path toward an entertainment career that, so far, has included stand-up comedy, a hilarious web series, television commericals and a small role in a upcoming Matt Damon-Kate Winslet film.
Aho, a 1997 graduate of Negaunee High School, now lives in Chicago, but is planning a move to Los Angeles later this year to continue his career evolution.
"Growing up, I was always drawn to comedy," Aho said. "But I was really into sports."
The son of Ed and Sandy Aho, he was a four-year basketball player while at NHS and participated in some high school plays.
Aho on the Web
Matrimonious on the web:
A sample of Dan Aho's Florida ads:
"I went to Northern so I could live at home," he said with a chuckle. "I didn't have a major until I was a junior. The summer after my sophomore year, I went to stay with my friend, Danielle Rosten, in St. Louis."
Funny Bones, a comedy club, was a St. Louis hotspot he visited that really intrigued Aho.
"I wanted to do stand-up. My like for comedy had turned into desire," he said. "I was terrified but the week before I left for home, I did it. I couldn't go home without doing stand-up."
When he got home, Aho approached Clark Gravedoni Jr., who had comedy nights at his Negaunee pub, Pasqualis.
"Clark Jr. let me do stand-up. I have to thank him for that," Aho said. "It was a great experience."
Aho began taking acting lessons and became a theater major at Northern Michigan Univerisity.
"As much as I love theater, I didn't want to do that all the time," he said. "I made some comedy CDs as part of my broadcasting minor. Those were produced locally. The broadcasting department had its own sound studio. I saw the opportunity and took it.
"My CD became part of a class project. My professor let me do the CD for a grade, which was great."
Aho graduated from NMU in 2002, then headed to Mackinac Island for a summer job.
"I had to pay off my student loans," he said. "I met my wife, Jen (Ball), there. She's from Ireland."
The next summer, the two returned to their jobs on the island, then Aho had to make a decision about his next step.
"Originally, I was going to move to New York with a couple of college friends but I had to call them to let them know things had changed," he said. "I decided to move to Chicago instead."
The lure of the Windy City was its unparalleled comedy scene along with the invitation from a playwright who he had met while at NMU.
"I got to know him while he was at Northern and he said his family was involved with Second City (the comedy troupe) which was one of my favorite things. Which is still one of my favorite things," Aho said.
While he wasn't able to take classes at Second City right away, he did take some through The IO (an improv theater) and The Annoyance Theatre. In the course of things, he met Howie Kramer, who is his writing partner.
"Chicago is the best place to get trained, especially for a comedian," he said. "There are so many small storefront theaters."
But Aho feels now is the time for him to go to one of the coasts to further his career.
"I am going to Los Angeles later this summer," he said. "Howie's been there for two years and has a writer's assistant's job with 'Community,' which is a great (TV) show."
Kramer has been networking and making contacts.
"We were kind of clueless, so at a certain point, you need someone who knows how the game goes to shepherd you," Aho said.
While he might refer to himself as clueless, Aho already has a strong start on his career. His web series, "Matrimonious," is an example.
"It was an idea I had a long time ago, back when I first saw the English version of 'The Office,' which was so different from other things I had seen," Aho said. "I wanted to do something similar about marriage, something raw and real and 'behind the scenes'."
Aho wrote a 30-minute pilot for his proposed series, then got busy acting. When he got back to his idea, it evolved into a web series for which he's written 15 scripts.
"Each couple has their own idea of what marriage should be. Two people just living together is the hardest part," he said.
Aho also has worked with filmmaker Dana Ferguson on some projects filmed in the Upper Peninsula.
And then there's the red Speedo.
"I was in a national Mazda commercial four years ago and did some regional ones, like for Culver's," Aho said. "Then I landed a special project."
It was a nightly series of fresh "still pristine" ads for the beaches of the Fort Myers-Sanibel Island area of Florida that were shown nightly during commercial breaks on the ABC News with Diane Sawyer.
"I was allowed to improvise and got to spend 10 days in Florida. They let me go for an hour at a time. We'd get up at the crack of dawn and head to the beach," he said. "It was edited right after and send off to New York to get the OK, then aired that night. The red Speedo I wore is somewhere in my closet. I think it's going to stay there."
While he's not permitted to talk about the project in depth, Aho did have the role of "Aaron Barnes" in the upcoming movie "Contagion," directed by Stephen Soderbergh and starring Matt Damon, Gwenyth Paltrow, Jude Law and Marion Cotillard.
"I got to work with Kate Winslet for a day and a half," he said. "They filmed in Chicago for about a month and a half and also filmed in Tokyo and London. I expect to see a trailer soon, but I can't talk about the film too much. My name was watermarked on my script, so security is pretty tight."
During the course of the interview, Aho mentioned his discomfort with talking about himself so much. The way his career is expanding, he had better become accustomed to media attention.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.