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Modern Family star Ty Burrell launches project to help bar and restaurant workers, donates $100,000

The actor also talks about ending the hit show, and how playing Phil Dunphy is “like taking a trip to the spa.”

The actor also talks about ending the hit show and how playing Phil Dunphy is 'like taking a trip to the spa'

Actor Ty Burrell accepts the award for outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series for his role in Modern Family during the 2014 Emmy Awards. The show went on to win 22 Emmys. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

When the COVID-19 crisis hit with full force across North America, millions of hospitality workers found themselves out of their jobs as restaurants and bars were forced to close.

In response, Modern Family star Ty Burrell has launched the Tip Your Server Project — and he chipped in a hefty tip himself.

After 11 seasons, Modern Family is ending. As the show ramps up to its series finale on April 8, Emmy Award-winning actor Ty Burrell joins Tom Power to talk about saying goodbye to his character, the endearingly clueless and unfailingly positive Phil Dunphy. Burrell is also a bar owner in Salt Lake City. He fills us in on his efforts to help workers who were laid off due to COVID-19. 9:07

The project is based in Burrell's hometown of Salt Lake City, which, in addition to COVID-19, was hit with a series of earthquakes that shut some restaurants down entirely.

"They're not even able to do takeout," said Burrell in a new interview with q host Tom Power. "So they've been hit twice."

TV comedy Modern Family, whose ensemble includes (from left) Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, Ariel Winter and Sarah Hyland, has been among the most popular TV comedies of all time. Its final episode airs April 8. (Peter Stone/ABC/Associated Press)

The program is for all food and beverage workers in Salt Lake City who are out of work, and as Burrell points out, represent a particularly vulnerable population.

According to the Tip Your Server website, 15,000 people were working in Salt Lake City restaurants and bars last month; this week, thousands of them don't have a paycheque, and don't know when they'll be getting back to work.

The program will provide eligible workers with grants of $2,000. Burrell is a part owner of two Salt Lake watering holes, and kicked off the fundraising with a $100,000 contribution. 

"Because of the earthquakes in Salt Lake, it's really tough," said Burrell. "So we're trying to raise money for these food and beverage employees as a stopgap to get them between now and to their unemployment, or between now and to the stimulus package, with a little bit more in immediate funds."

'The sound of tall grass swaying'

It's also an important time for Burrell because next week marks the final episode of Modern Family — one of the most popular comedy series of all time.

For 11 seasons, Burrell played Phil Dunphy, a devoted dad who constantly tries to connect with his kids but often falls short. At one point, Burrell said that being in the character's head is "like taking a trip to the spa."

"I feel like the default setting for Phil's brain was always the various sounds that you get on a sound machine, like 'meadow' or 'waterfall.' He's always just a person who, no matter the circumstance, you find him in a place of sort of blissful emptiness," Burrell said with a laugh.

"And every day going to work to play Phil was a pleasure, because who wouldn't want to show up and play somebody who, no matter where you find them, is in a good mood? Essentially the sound of tall grass swaying."

'It was amazing'

Burrell says he loved working on the show because he had so many unforgettable experiences along the way — getting his motorcycle licence, learning trapeze, walking a tightrope, and even donning a jetpack.

"The jetpack specifically was on my 50th birthday, and I really took a moment and thought, 'This is crazy. I'm 50 years old and I'm doing this jetpack,'" he remembered. "Luckily the water was soft because I fell a lot. But it was amazing."

But more than anything, Burrell says he'll remember the days they shot group scenes, because it deepened the bonds between everyone involved in the show.

"The group scenes were sort of like an all-day, alcohol-free party," he said with a laugh. "You know, a lot of give and take and working hard on the material, but then you're also kind of catching up with each other. Those are the memories I'm going to keep forever."

Modern Family's final season was entirely filmed before the COVID-19 pandemic swept the planet. But how does Burrell think Dunphy would be handling self-isolation?

Julie Bowen, left, and Ty Burrell in a scene from Modern Family. (Peter "Hopper" Stone/ABC/Associated Press)

"I know for sure he would be working really hard on his magic," quipped Burrell, adding that Dunphy would likely craft some incredible, if ultimately useless, invention.

"I don't know what it would be, but it would probably involve a variety of household goods and then ultimately it would serve no purpose."

About the Author

Jennifer Van Evra is a Vancouver-based journalist and digital producer for q. She can be found on Twitter @jvanevra or email jennifer.vanevra@cbc.ca.

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