Interview Date: 10/22/2010
Run Date: 11/01/2010
If you’re a regular viewer of “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show,” then this will probably not surprise you any more than it did me, but for what it’s worth, I now have personal confirmation that it’s very easy to go over your allotted time when you’re interviewing the man because you find yourself shifting from doing an interview to having a conversation. He’s just that easy and enjoyable to talk to.
If you’re not a regular viewer of “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show,” maybe it’s because you didn’t know he had a chat show…and, okay, fair enough. After all, it’s an online show, and the world at large is still taking baby steps toward embracing online-only programming. It is available for download, however, but…what’s that? You’re not a big fan of watching stuff on the computer, but you swear you’d watch it if only it was available on DVD…? Well, my friend, today is your lucky day: Amazon’s CreateSpace program has begun to make episodes of the show available on DVD for the low, low price of only $9.99.Indeed, it’s at least partially because of this new collaboration that Pollak and I were able to chat, so I’ve no problem making such an unabashed plug. As you’ll soon see, it was a great conversation, covering the ins and outs of his show as well as a few other projects he’s worked on over the years. I had plenty more things I could’ve asked him about, of course, but…what a surprise…we ran long
Bullz-Eye: Well, my first question is the most obvious one possible, given why we’re chatting, and yet I don’t know the answer to it, so…how did “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show” come about?
Kevin Pollak: The genesis, if you will…?
KP: All right! I, uh, was visiting a friend at his place of business, the friend being internet mini-mogul Jason Calacanis. I should say internet mini-mogul / jerk.
BE: Well, sure.
KP: ‘Cause that’s what I like to call him, as his partner in a bit of crime. Yeah, we were at Mahalo.com, and he had this little studio. And I said, “What the hell’s this?” He said, “One of my worker drones does a ‘This Week in YouTube’ show.” And I said, before I could stop myself, ‘I think I want to do a ‘Charlie Rose with a sense of humor’ from here.” And, unfortunately, he said, “How soon can you start?” And my sphincter tightened, and I said, “Oh. Right. I guess I wasn’t kidding. Uh…soon?” (Laughs) And then I just started making some calls, and, also unfortunately, have been booking the thing myself some 19 months later. Actually, that’s my favorite part: to avoid an agent, manager, or publicist successfully with over 100 guests so far.
BE: That is pretty impressive.
KP: It’s fantastic.
BE: Fortunately, you’ve worked with a lot of highly respectable people. And some unrespectable, too.
KP: Well, I’d pretty much gone through my rolodex in about six months. (Laughs) And that was over a year ago. So then I had to reach out a little bit. Friends of friends and that sort of thing. And through my own, I was able to build up enough of a library to put together an E-mail dropping names as an invite, and saying a “Look who else has been on! Maybe you would…?” kind of thing. And last night… (Starts to laugh) It’s so funny how it’s taken over my life, literally. Last night, I was on the phone banks for the “Night of Too Many Stars” on Comedy Central that Jon Stewart hosted, and I arrive…and it’s a Who’s Who, starting with Tom Hanks and George Clooney. And I arrive, and I say, “Well, clearly, I need to bag some elephants…” And I bagged several…including Hanks.
KP: But not Clooney. I actually didn’t have the muster to ask Clooney, even though I’ve known him for 20 years. I just…it’s so funny, we had a great, great sort of catching-up conversation, but also about how much I love “Fantastic Mr. Fox” and so on and so forth. And I just…there are certain whales, as I call them, that I just can’t seem to pull the trigger. Your Bruce Willises, your… (Hesitates) Although I did talk with Bruce last time, when we were shooting “Cop Out,” and he promised to do it. And now it’s all on me to follow up. Again, I’m dragging my feet a little bit. I’m not sure why. It’s one of those “we’re not ready” things…which was our original mantra.
BE: Actually, one of my questions was going to be about guests who have remained elusive. I know that…well, in fact, you mention during the Neil Patrick Harris episode – that’s the DVD they sent me – that you were still trying in vain to get Zach Galifianakis on the show.
KP: Spoke to him last night.
BE: Well, there you go.
KP: Yeah! I said, “Did Samm Levine hassle you about coming on the show? I’m not asking you to come on the show. I just want to make sure that Samm’s hassling you and not a liar?” He said, “No, he hassled me. I live in North Carolina…” Or South Carolina, or someplace in the south. “…so I don’t get to L.A. too often, but I’d love to come on.” And, again, that was one of those situations…what happens is we have the initial conversation, and then I have to say, “So, is there an E-mail I can contact you at and send you the official invite?” And sometimes I just can’t…I don’t know if I’m protecting myself from rejection, because I’ve yet to actually be rejected. Every single person I’ve ever asked has said, “Of course!” Even in the case of Jason Reitman, who I’d met only once before. And he was really nice, and it was at Hank Azaria’s poker game, and it was for hours and hours and hours, and, you know, I had cause, but…I didn’t have any contact information, so I didn’t want to hassle Hank about it. So I did go through another mutual friend of ours, and I wrote this huge, long E-mail with all the guests we’d had on and all the circumstances of how it’s a real conversation and…I mean to say that the E-mail went on ridiculously long. And he writes back within 20 minutes, “All you needed to do was ask.”
KP: But, still, I couldn’t quite ask Zach Galifianakis for the E-mail contact. Also, he’s white-hot right now, and I felt like, “Oh, look, another person using you…” So I didn’t want to jump on that bandwagon. Even though he’s probably my favorite stand-up comedian alive right now. If you’ve ever seen his show live…
BE: Not live, but I’ve seen the DVD that Shout Factory put out, “Live from the Purple Onion.”
KP: Ridiculous, right?
BE: Completely. I was going to say, “Stand-up, or ‘sit-down’ when he’s at the piano.”
KP: Yeah, I guess “sit-down” in his case would be correct. So, yeah, we landed some whales last night. (Laughs) I was very excited about that. And, like I said, it’s taken over my life. So rather than just enjoying my giving of myself and time to this important cause last night, all I’m doing is cherry picking. Ridiculous.
BE: Well, you mentioned Samm Levine a minute ago. So he was a guest on the first “Chat Show.” Did he just never leave? Is that’s what happened?
KP: Yep. That’s exactly what happened. He packed himself a suitcase, and I didn’t know. (Sighs) Pretty funny. Yeah, his official title, if you look at the credits, is “Kick in the Side.”
BE: Now, had you known him prior to him appearing on the show?
KP: Uh-huh. Yeah, we had been friends, and…he’s sort of my Mini-Me. (Laughs)
BE: I wouldn’t have said that, but since you have, I feel better about having thought it. Well, you two have a really nice rapport on the show.
KP: Yeah, it’s strong one-sided admiration, but, still, I’m an actor, so I can pass it off as mutual.
BE: So easy or hard is it to pull sponsorship for the show?
KP: Um…you know, it’s something that I didn’t even pursue initially. For the whole first year, really. My thought was, from the beginning…well, first I struggled with coming from traditional media to new media, because as we were gearing up, my head was still in traditional media, and I was saying stupid things like, “Why aren’t we hiring a publicist? I don’t understand this. How are people even going to know we’re doing this?” And Calacanis would calm me down each day, and he said, “That’s not how it works here in this space. You need to let people find you, because discovery is one of the joys of why they will end up watching you. They will turn their friends on to you, and it’ll actually mean something.” That just about killed me. And then…I didn’t even tell my agents, but within eight weeks of doing the show, we ended up in Column 1 on the front page of The L.A. Times. Now, no one, of course, reads The L.A. Times, but the only way someone like me getting into Column 1, front page, is if I rape or kill someone. So that was physical evidence of what the show was capable of.
But, still, I kept my head down and my legs moving, and I thought…well, privately, I thought, “Well, let’s just make sure I enjoy doing this, and that I can sustain my interest.” And then as it slowly took over more and more time of my life, I thought, “I’m now hooked for life. I’m madly in love with the process and the doing. And if sponsors come along, great.” From the beginning, I believed that the 1950s model would serve us best. “This hour brought to you by…” But that’s going to take a big brand. So if we can reach critical mass, maybe a big brand will find us, the way The L.A. Times found us. And then there’s been a couple of smaller sponsors along the way that have come through the small network that I’ve started now with Calacanis, the ThisWeekIn.com network. We have about…I think we’re close to 16 shows now. And, so, there was a person brought onboard as a “sales staff,” and they’ve put together an impressive amount of sponsorship that covers over the 16 shows, a couple of which were glommed onto mine. And, you know, they didn’t really seem organic. They just seemed…attached. And they ran their 20-week course, and that was that. I’ve had a few…I guess ad-agency types from traditional media who love the show and want to help us find a big sponsor. There are three of them currently in the field, looking for that big brand, one of which, actually, was just added three days ago. And this one is a hugely successful one in this particular field. He does Leo Laporte and “This American Life” and several others. So we may have a real one now, who’s making all sorts of claims about how easy it’s going to be.
But, you know, the show doesn’t really cost anything. I mean, literally, it costs $500 a week because I choose to pay five of my crew members $100 each, all of which work on other shows on the internet and don’t get paid anything. So I really am taking it upon myself… (Laughs) …to go out of pocket so that I feel better and they take it as seriously as I want them to. So the show virtually costs nothing, and I feel like when the right representative can find us the right brand that’s organic to the show, then great.
BE: Who’s been your favorite participant in “The Larry King Game”?
KP: Ah, that’s impossible. We’ve had…oh, God…
BE: I can believe it’s hard to pick just one. I got stuck on YouTube for the better part of an hour watching the clips of various guests playing the game.
(Writer’s note: If you’ve never watched “Kevin Pollak’s Talk Show,” one of the staples of the show is that Pollak asks each of his guests to do a Larry King impression where they come back from a commercial break, make a completely ridiculous statement, and then throw it to a caller from a city with an ostensibly-funny name. Trust me, if you go to YouTube and type in the words “Larry King Game” and “Kevin Pollak,” you’ll keep watching the clips as long as I did.)
KP: Then I think it’s fair to ask you: who’s your favorite?
BE: My favorite? Well, I’m partial to Weird Al, where he talks about what he does with the bones of his enemies. That’s the first one that leaps immediately to mind, anyway.
KP: Um…one of the early ones might still be my favorite, but I say it’s impossible because, in my opinion, there’s been at least 20 that were mind-blowing. Greg Proops comes to mind. Certainly, Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel was a classic. But Dana Carvey was the most worked-on, as in previously scripted, and the most absurd. Did you see that one?
BE: (Laughs) I did.
KP: Yeah, that’s hard to beat. Mainly because it goes on nine minutes. He just beats you down until you say, “I give, you win.”
BE: I forgot that I like Paul Rudd, too. It’s short, and there’s a lot of silence in it, but it’s really well-timed silence.
KP: Yes! I’m saying, it’s not fair. There’s literally 20…there may be 40, but there’s definitely 20 that blew my mind how good they were. Nia Vardalos was crazy.
BE: Have you ever had a guest who took awhile to warm up to the format of your show? I’d presume it might have happened with someone you didn’t know as well.
KP: Adam Carolla.
BE: Really? That’s surprising.
KP: Yeah, he’s some people’s favorite, but to me, I felt like I was being yelled at for an hour. Now, granted, that’s just the volume of his voice. But because it’s such a big character of a voice, I didn’t feel like we were actually talking in a conversation as much as he was performing his answers. Not quite like a comedian’s performer’s ego taking over. It wasn’t that. And I’m sure to this day now that it’s probably just his delivery and volume with which it’s served that has left this memory of being yelled at for an hour. But that was the same day as Dana Carvey’s, so in contrast, here’s a guy I’ve known 30 years, where we had a conversation that…you know, he E-mailed me the next day, saying basically, and genuinely, thanking me for the opportunity to go into such detail about his heart story, with which he felt people had never really understood. So in contrast to that epiphany-ladled fantastic hour, the flip side is I was yelled at for an hour. In fact, I think… (Starts to laugh) I think it’s on camera, but I start the Carvey interview by saying, “I feel like I’ve just been yelled at for an hour.” I think if we go to the tape, if there were such a thing… (Trails off)
BE: So, now, do you put a cap on the length of the show? Because they hover pretty close to the two-hour range, but have there been any that have gone longer?
KP: You know, it’s funny. We started doing one guest only because when we were doing two guests, I started going into two hours, two and a half hours. My director said, “You know, you may want to do just one guest. It’s a bit much for your crew.” And now I’ve got one guest, and I’m doing two hours into two and a half hours. (Laughs) So, apparently, I just enjoy being in the studio for two hours, no matter what I’m doing.
BE: It’s a subconscious thing.
KP: There have been very, very few…only one comes to mind…who came in and said, “I have to be out by this time.” Two. Two came in. “I have to be out by this time.” And they both went probably ten minutes over that allotted time, and with apologies and then saying, “It’s no problem at all, don’t worry about.” Otherwise, it is that freedom…I mean, there’s a small monitor over my guest’s shoulder that my director will send me messages during the interview. “This clip is ready,” “That thing is ready,” the answer to a question that the guest and I are discussing, and they’re looking it up in the other room. And he’ll flash on there, “80 minutes,” “90 minutes,” “100 minutes,” when we get to those points. So, apparently, that’s when the crew is, like, “Are we really going to do two hours again?” But most of the time when I say to the guest, “Can you believe we’ve been talking to 93 minutes?” they will not. There’s a little clock over their shoulder…I don’t allow them to see a clock, but there’s one over their shoulder by the monitor…and I’ll point, and they’ll turn around and look at it, and that’s when…it’s as if they think I’m lying when I say, “Do you believe we’ve been talking for 93 minutes?” So, in fact, when I spoke to Tom Hanks last night, who has agreed to come on… (Hesitates) Did I drop that name loudly enough?
BE: A little louder, please.
KP: (Laughs) Tom says, “How do you go for 90 minutes? What do you talk about?” And I said, “You can’t think about it in terms of a 90-minute interview. You just have to come in the room. If you want to do 45 minutes, we’ll do 45 minutes.” ‘Cause I know, once I get him in the room, it’s 90 minutes minimum. And what I found out was…which was not by design at all, it was one of the discoveries of doing the show…you can’t shut these people up, for the most part. Once they realize they’re in a safe environment and they can have an open conversation, they stop editing themselves, they stop censoring themselves, they say things they never thought they’d share. There’s no audience in the room, which is so crucial to me to remove the performer’s ego and to remove the inhibitions. And, then, in some cases, it turns into a therapy session, which I’m fine with.
BE: It’s funny, but speaking of Tom Hanks, I’m a member of the Television Critics Association, and whenever we have our annual awards show, it’s the loosest that we ever see these actors or directors or whoever during the year. Nobody brings their recorders, it’s not filmed…it’s just critics and the folks from the show. This year, Tom Hanks came and stuck around ‘til they were stacking the chairs on the tables, just chatting about everything under the sun.
KP: Yeah, I think he may set the record.
BE: (Laughs) I was actually getting ready to say that! I don’t even know what the record is, but I can believe that he’ll beat it.
KP: I mean, it’s a tough record to beat, because it’s Eddie Izzard at two hours and 31 minutes.
BE: Now, see, if you tell him that, he might get competitive.
KP: Yeah, we now…I mentioned the internet network that Calicanas-Jerk and I are building with 16 shows, two of which follow mine, and the one that follows me immediately, “This Week in Comedy,” with Ed Crasnick, which is a phenomenal show, goes on at 6 PM PST, whereas we go on at 3 PM. So, technically, I shouldn’t go more than two and a half hours, because they need to set up. But before that, it was wide open, and I think one of our shows went over three hours, because we had nine guests. It was a big celebration of an indie film called “Drones,” so I had the writer / directors and the cast, one or two at a time, for over three hours. And I think the anniversary show might’ve gone on too long. And the Oscar show obviously went on too long. I don’t think the Oscar show is in the library, though.
BE: I don’t remember seeing it.
KP: Yeah, I think we took it out because it was long and ridiculous and only appropriate if you were watching the Oscars.
BE: I feel like one of the unofficial mottos of “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show” is, “We will not rest until we have everyone from ‘Mad Men’ on our program.”
KP: (Laughs) Well, funny you should say that. Guess who’s on this Sunday?
BE: A-ha, I saw that on the schedule: Robert Morse (who plays Bert Cooper). That’s awesome! I’m looking forward to seeing that. I’m sure he’s got plenty of stories from a very long career.
BE: But, now, have you had any of the female cast members on yet?
KP: We’ve tried. Lizzie Moss has threatened to come on several times. I can only nudge people so much. And Rich Sommer reached out to Christina (Hendricks) on my behalf. But I’m going to get them, I know it.
BE: I know we should probably start wrapping up, but I think I’ve gone long myself, but I had a few questions about a few non-“Chat Show” things.
BE: Whose idea was it for your character on “The Drew Carey Show” (Mr. Bell) to not appear until he was fired?
KP: (Laughs) It was the way he got me, actually. I knew Drew through stand-up, and he said, “I’m doing this pilot, and there’s a voice of my boss. You never have to come on camera. You can record it from anywhere in the world.” And I said, “Where’s the bad? Of course I’ll do that.” And then I tried to insist to Craig Ferguson when he was on (my show) that he owed me a weekly check, if not endless thanks, that when Drew called me towards the end of the first season and said, “Look, the network loves the boss, and they want me to have a boss, so if you don’t want to be the sixth lead on my show, we’re going to have to fire you and hire someone,” I said, “Yeah, I don’t think I should be the sixth lead on your show.” At that point in my career, it made no sense. (Sighs) Oh, what I wouldn’t give for… (Laughs) No, but, needless to say, a star was born.
BE: Yeah, those checks really should start coming soon, if they haven’t already.
KP: I’m just sayin’…
BE: Speaking again of Tom Hanks, I loved your bit in “That Thing You Do!”
KP: Oh, yeah! That was great, great fun.
BE: Did he ask you to play the part?
KP: Yeah, he personally called me up and said, “You’ve got to do this.” And I said, “Who is this?” Yeah, that’s one of those great calls, where you don’t even have to send the script. Just tell me what to do.
BE: You’re also in one of my favorite underrated ensemble comedies, “Indian Summer.”
KP: Oh, yes. I loved that movie.
BE: It didn’t seem to get a huge amount of critical love, but I loved it when I saw it.
KP: Yep. I think…it might’ve come out at a strange time, but, also, although there are stars that were in the movie, they weren’t stars then.
BE: Also, I just have to tell you that your Albert Brooks “possession,” as you describe it…
KP: Yes. It is a possession.
BE: Well, it may be my favorite part of “The Aristocrats” movie…and it’s not even in the movie!
KP: Oh, wow. Thank you! You must have searched the special features.
BE: I did, indeed, yes.
KP: Yeah. A lot of people don’t know that’s there.
BE: When I found out I was going to talking to you, I went onto YouTube, found the clip, and said, “I will, of course, be telling him how much I love this.”
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved?
KP: Hmmm. There’s a film out there, a political thriller called “Deterrence,” that’s probably some of the best work I’ve ever done in a dramatic role. And because I was #1 on the call sheet, it was very difficult to market the film. Paramount Classics picked it up for distribution, and they put it out in a handful of theaters, and it got some of the best reviews of my career, but nobody really had a chance to see it. And I get stopped on occasion…rarely…by someone who saw it and loved it dearly, but it certainly was missed by…nine-tenths of the masses.
BE: What was it like having Walter Matthau play your father in the “Grumpy Old Men” movies?
KP: (Laughs) That was a dream job beyond possible description, in every way, being around all of those Mount Rushmores…Burgess Meredith, Ann-Margret, and, of course, the two fellas. Yeah, it was astounding, and…I made the mistake of doing my impression of him for him. In the guise of a conversation, which is the worst crime. I said, “I loved that moment in ‘The Odd Couple’ when you take the bowl of spaghetti and throw it again the wall, and you said, ‘Now it’s garbage!’” And he said to me… (Goes into his Walter Matthau impression) “Gabage. There’s no ‘R.’” (Laughs) “Now it’s gabage!” Yeah, he was the smartest, funniest, silliest genius I think I’ll ever work with.
BE: Between “The Usual Suspects” and “A Few Good Men,” which was your favorite performance?
KP: Whoa. (Long pause) That’s a Sophie’s Choice.
BE: It is.
KP: Uh…see, one of them brought me up from the minors to the majors for the rest of my life. And, also, working with some of the biggest stars of the day, who all treated me like an equal from the first day I arrived. And the other experience was the antithesis of that, where Gabriel Byrne was the most known person, and only from a small Coen Brothers movie, “Miller’s Crossing.” Kevin Spacey and I were character actors who were often up for the same roles, no one knew who Benecio del Toro was, and people had pretty much overlooked the great Stephen Baldwin.
KP: In fact, he’s the ultimate proof I offer anyone if they’re curious as to whether the film is indeed lightning in a bottle. You needn’t look any further than how great Stephen Baldwin is in the movie, if you want evidence…he said, three-quarters not kidding. But in terms of my own performance…? (Long pause) I’m going to have to say “A Few Good Men,” just because I still laugh when I see me trying to be a bad-ass in “The Usual Suspects.” So there’s your answer.
BE: And I’ll close with the appropriately-titled “Our Time Is Up.” When I posted on Facebook that I was talking to you, someone wanted me to tell you that they’d just finished watching it and thought it was fantastic.
KP: Yeah, I had high hopes for that writer/director (Rob Pearlstein). I’ve only been in one short film, and it was nominated for an Oscar. So I think I should never be in another one again.
BE: Best to keep your record clean.
BE: Well, I’m sorry I’ve gone long, Kevin, but it’s been a pleasure talking to you.KP: My pleasure! Thank you very much for your interest!