Curtis Fortier ’91 ’94 made the most of his time at Michigan Tech. While earning a BS and MS in mechanical engineering, he was captain of the swim team (a varsity sport at the time) and recipient of the prestigious Clair M. Donovan Award for service to the University, and his involvement in student government led him to establish Spring Fling. It was also at Tech that Fortier began performing. He appeared in plays and was a member of Tech’s improvisational acting ensemble, The Troupe.
Fortier’s first job after leaving the University was with Delphi Energy and Engine Management Systems, a former subsidiary of General Motors. He worked in their development lab, making and testing roller-lifters for car engines. It was his first and last engineering job. After two years, he hit the road as a stand-up comic. Now based out of Los Angeles, Fortier has performed with the likes of Weird Al Yankovic, Louie Anderson, and Gabe Kaplan. Recently, he was nominated by the London International Film Festival for best supporting actor in a short film.
Fortier says he still keeps his foot in the world of STEM by tutoring kids in those subjects. But for the most part, he says his career has progressed in a completely different direction from what he studied at Michigan Tech.
Q: You were a renaissance man at Michigan Tech—actor, student-athlete, student government representative, and comedian. Is there anything that particularly stands out?
A: Just how constantly exhausted I was. I really had to stay on top of things. I remember every Sunday night, plotting out my study time, athletics, meetings, and fun, literally by the hour just to stay on top of things. I’m so glad I learned those skills back then from my coaches and teachers. Those skills are invaluable as I live my life today.
Q: Was there a moment while working at GM that you realized you wanted to be onstage?
A: Not a specific moment. I just remember that during the day, I was always thinking about what would be funny in my act and how I could meet the people casting local commercials and how one day I could move to LA. I mean, I actually enjoyed the job, and making “real money” for the first time in my life was good, but I always had my eye on what was next. And that “next” was out west.
Q: How did performing at Michigan Tech, in particular with The Troupe, prepare you for the life of an entertainer?
A: The Troupe opened a door for me. It showed me I could actually do this full time. When you’re in a play, you rehearse for a few weeks, do the play, have a cast party, and then wait for the next play to come along in a few months. Being in The Troupe was a full-time job, so to speak. We were constantly thinking up ideas and pitching each other. We did crazy things to fuel our improv engines. It was constant. And I liked that. I liked the fact that it wasn’t solely a few weeks on and a few weeks off. It was all the time. It trained me to think like an actor or a comedian as a full-time job, and most importantly, to treat it as such. How can you be good at something that you only do a few times a year? I wanted to be an actor and comedian consistently so I could get better and better at it.
Q: Your experience entertaining troops in the Middle East was the basis of an episode of the sitcom Rodney, on which you guest starred. The experience in Iraq and Afghanistan must have had a profound impact on you?
A: It certainly did. When we were over there, one of the soldiers said to me, “Every day here is a Monday.” That really stuck with me. Some of them had shifts that were 12 on, 12 off, seven days a week. Oh yeah, and it was really, really hot in some places. Watching them work in those conditions and still be as upbeat and professional as they were was an inspiration.
Q: You were nominated for your role in Hide and Seek, and your film Secret Santa was awarded Best Comedy at the Silicon Beach Film Festival. How can we see these and other films you’ve been in?
A: Yes, it’s been an exciting year. I feel very fortunate. You can order Secret Santa off the website along with autographed posters and other fun stuff. Hide and Seek is a short film that’s still on the festival circuit, so the only place to see it is at a festival where it’s screening. Once it’s made its festival run and the director releases it, I’m sure it will be online somewhere. Another film I did, 5th Passenger, is available on all sorts of platforms. If you like Star Trek, be sure to check it out. It’s a sci-fi horror movie with just a ton of Star Trek alumni in it. Another fun project was a rap video. No joke. I appeared in Thomas Hobbs’ video for “Aldo,” where a good friend of mine played my wife. Just search for it on YouTube.
Q: What’s next?
A: A few things. I’ll be shooting a sci-fi time travel feature film this summer. You can catch me in the first episode of Ronald D. Moore’s (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Outlander) new show For All Mankind on Apple TV. It chronicles what would have happened if the Russians reached the moon first. I’ll be returning to the Silicon Beach Film Festival this year with my own web series, 12-Sided Die. Put simply, it’s a romantic comedy with dice, as in Dungeons and Dragons dice. I wrote it, starred in it, executive produced it, and it’s finally done. It will be screening at more festivals around the country this year.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.