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For Dunn, playing dumb is paying off

From left: Tyler Ritter, Laurie Metcalf, Joey McIntyre, Jimmy Dunn, Kelen Coleman, and Jack McGee in CBS’s upcoming new sitcom “The McCarthys.”

Sonja Flemming/CBS

From left: Tyler Ritter, Laurie Metcalf, Joey McIntyre, Jimmy Dunn, Kelen Coleman, and Jack McGee in CBS’s upcoming new sitcom “The McCarthys.”

No other working professional would highlight “chubby” and “dim” on a resume. But those attributes are, by his own admission, Jimmy Dunn’s calling card, and it’s hard to argue with the results. His persona has helped him get gigs in comedy clubs and on commercials, and now a co-starring role on the new CBS sitcom about a Boston family, “The McCarthys,” which debuts Oct. 30.

That was how the role of Sean McCarthy — older brother of the main character, Ronny — was described to him. Far from offended, Dunn was excited. “That’s my wheelhouse, ‘chubby and dim,’ are you kidding me?” says Dunn, who plays three shows at Laugh Boston Thursday and Saturday. “If you’ve ever seen me doing stand-up comedy, you know I can play chubby and dim.”

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It was a long road to network TV for Dunn. The show, based on creator and writer Brian Gallivan’s family and experiences growing up gay in Boston, was originally shot as a one-camera pilot. CBS passed on that in 2013 but decided to retool it as a multi-camera show taped in front of a live audience. Many parts were up for recasting, including Dunn’s role; he says the producers were looking into better-known actors with more sitcom experience. The rest of the cast includes Joey McIntyre (of New Kids on the Block), Laurie Metcalf (“Roseanne”), and Tyler Ritter (son of John Ritter) as Ronny.

“I knew it was a longshot,” says Dunn. “I knew there was a very real possibility that I was going to see that show on TV in the fall and it wasn’t going to be me on it. I’m not going to lie, it would have been heartbreaking.”

Dunn had never been this close to a shot on a network show before. He’s been on TV frequently, at least in the New England area, in a popular series of commercials for Olympia sports in which he played a sports-obsessed cab driver. And he’s had a few feelers but never a chance at a sitcom. He’s also not the only chubby and dim guy trying out for parts. “It’s a room full of them,” he says. “You walk in and there are 50 guys who look just like you and that are talking just like you, and you go, ‘They could pick anybody in this room.’ I audition with the same guys all the time.”

His advantage this time around? His Boston roots. He grew up in Beverly and worked at the old Boston Garden and Fenway Park. He’s a dedicated fan of the local teams (see his 2005 book, “Funnyball,” about the Red Sox’ 2004 season), just like his character. “I know the reason that I got this and some of the great actors in LA didn’t get it is because they were looking for an authentic Boston type, and authentic New England voice,” he says. “I’m the big, loud guy from Boston. That’s one character that I really know how to play.”

Gallivan says Dunn is perfect for the role. “He’s authentically Boston, and he is just really, really funny,” he says by e-mail. “We came back to Jimmy for the role of Sean because it was hard to imagine anyone else in that part. He was just so good in the first version of the show we did. And now we’re really glad he’s in this version.”

There is also the matter of the Boston accent, which has been a stumbling block for many otherwise capable actors. “I think if you don’t have it, the worst thing you can do is try to fake it,” Dunn says. “There were a couple in ‘Perfect Storm,’ we just went, ‘Aw, please don’t. Don’t do that.’ ” Just as in real-life Boston, not every Bostonian on the show will have a thick accent, but Dunn’s character does, and he’s more than qualified. “When I perform onstage, I’ll turn my accent up for comic effect all the time.”

If the show is a hit, Dunn will be spending several months a year in Los Angeles. That will mean fewer stand-up gigs in the New England area; his Laugh Boston show and the Hampton Beach Comedy Festival in New Hampshire on July 24-25 might be his last in these parts until next year. And it may eventually mean Dunn will sell his Hampton Beach home and move to Los Angeles. But he’s not making any plans yet.

He knows it will be viewers who decide its fate. “I’m not buying a million-dollar house in Hollywood right now,” he says, “but I’m really confident that this show’s going to be a success.”

Nick A. Zaino III can be reached at nick@nickzaino.com.
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