Photography by Gabor Jurina

A Ghost Story

Meet Richie Moriarty ’02, the guy with the arrow stuck in his neck on the hit show Ghosts.

The sitcom Ghosts was still in its first season when a Halloween trick-or-treater showed up in 2021 at Richie Moriarty’s house, dressed as the character Moriarty plays on the hit CBS show. “My jaw dropped,” Moriarty ’02 said. The actor had been working as a journeyman performer for years, steadily building a portfolio of voiceover work, guest appearances on TV shows, and commercials. But Ghosts was his first series regular role on a TV show, and given the uncertainty of any show gaining a following, he had no way of knowing if it would ever find a committed audience. But here, after only a few episodes, was proof that people were watching, and even connecting with his character, Pete Martino.

It helps that Pete has a pretty distinctive look. He’s a ghost, of course, and in every episode he’s wearing exactly what he was in the moment of his death: a Boy Scout uniform with the arrow that did him in sticking through his neck. He’s just one of the many spirits on the show who can suddenly be seen and talked to by a young woman after her near-death experience. Ghosts is a comedy, and a bit of a tragedy, and Moriarty’s role is to embody all of that while emoting around the arrow, or because of it. It’s quite the journey for a guy who never thought about becoming an actor until he was in his mid-twenties.

Moriarty didn’t have a noticeable passion for performing while growing up in Maryland, though the seeds were there. “I just remember him always being very funny,” said his sister, Colleen Moriarty Ryan ’99. But it wasn’t until he had graduated from BC with a degree in communications and was working as a real estate photographer in the Boston area that he began to perform with any regularity. That was after a friend who was taking an improv class suggested he give it a try as a way to meet people. He took a few classes in 2004 and “very quickly, things snowballed from there,” he said. “It ignited something within me that hasn’t gone away since.” Two years later, he joined the Boston sketch comedy troupe Improv Asylum. The experience helped him to develop the important skill of working with an ensemble, and also gave him instant audience feedback on what was working with his performances and what wasn’t.

Photo of Richie Moriarty in character as TK from Ghosts

  Photo: Richie Moriarty

By 2010, Moriarty had teamed up with his fellow Improv Asylum performer Matt Catanzano to create comedy videos. Their work gained the attention of producers at the influential New York production studio Broadway Video, which is behind the hit shows Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, and Late Night with Seth Meyers. The company started giving them money to make videos, which elevated the production quality, and in 2013, he moved to New York and quickly started booking national television commercials, including one for an NFL playoff game in which his character tries to direct the actor John Malkovich in a football ad. He also managed to land guest spots on shows ranging from the acclaimed Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt to the FX vampire mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows.

Then, in February of 2020, came the Ghosts audition. As written, Pete had “a lot of Ned Flanders in him,” Moriarty said. “There’s a lot of super optimistic and cheery—almost to a fault—attitude the character has.” Moriarty’s take on the character is inspired by his dad, a warm and welcoming pediatrician. After some pandemic-related shooting delays, the first season premiered in 2021. 

After years of making his own projects and stepping into other shows only briefly, Moriarty says he is relieved to be working on such a friendly, collaborative set making something he’s proud of. “It’s just the nicest group of people making this show,” he said. “I feel exceedingly grateful.”

Moriarty’s costar Rose McIver said she’ll often ask fans which ghost they most relate to. “And there’s a lot of people who do really connect with Pete and really like his optimism,” she said, crediting much of that to his acting ability. “There’s a kind of fragility to his enthusiasm that we can feel we’re on the edge of at any moment that Richie nails,” she explained. 

Moriarty’s success may seem impressively rapid, but to his sister, Moriarty Ryan, the only surprise is that it didn’t come sooner. “We were surprised by how long it took,” she said. “Because we were like, of course this is going to happen.”

Catanzano agreed that making it in the acting business was an inevitability for his comedy video cocreator. “Richie is someone that people gravitate toward,” Catanzano said. “He’s the one you’d see in a show and you’d be like, ‘oh, the show probably runs because he’s there.’”

Ghosts is now filming its third season. The ten-person cast is unusually large for a sitcom, but that’s part of what Moriarty enjoys about the show. It reminds him of his improv days. “To enter into this show that is such an ensemble comedy in the truest sense…I find it so comfortable,” he said. “I just love that style of comedy.”