By Sean Keane
Jimmy Pardo is legendary for his quick wit and improvisational skills on stage. He’s appeared on That 70’s Show and Becker, and starred in his own half-hour Comedy Central Presents special. He hosts his own talk show, “Running Your Trap”, and a live version of The Match Game, both at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in LA. This week, he will be performing at Rooster T. Feathers in Sunnyvale, along with John Hoogasian and Kevin Camia.
I think I got this interview because I’m about five foot six, and Chad wants me to interview any comic who’s shorter than five foot eight.
JP: Who else have you interviewed? A lot of ladies, I imagine?
I did one with Matt Kirshen, a British guy who was on “Last Comic Standing”.
JP: Oh yeah, Matt Kirshen, that little fellow. He’s adorable. How tall does he claim to be?
I think he’s five foot three, five foot four. I don’t know what his official listed height is.
JP: I don’t know what he comes in at either, but I’ll wrestle him if that’s what you’re suggesting.
That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.
JP: Put it together. I’ll fucking take Kirshen down.
For America, too. It’s a national pride thing.
JP: Let me tell you something, Sean. We beat those people in a war a couple of hundred years ago, and that gives us the opportunity to steal their television shows now, 275 years later.
I am a fan of your podcast, Never Not Funny, but I have not begun paying for it yet. I’ve been enjoying the free 20-minute version. Sorry, I’m a freeloader.
JP: Oh, a little chintzy? Pay the money!
What inspired the switch to the pay format?
JP: The switch was basically inspired by apathy. We had taken it to where we had to either move to a pay format, or stop doing it. With having a baby, and having all these other things to do, I’m spending a lot of time on this podcast, and I’m not getting that much out of it other than the joy of doing it. So I told Matt [Belknap], let’s give it a try in a pay format. If it doesn’t work, we’ll stop doing it, but… we were going to stop anyway.
Luckily, it’s been phenomenal, the success. People always tell you that you have to do your own thing here in Los Angeles to get recognition and noticed. While [the podcast] isn’t helping me in Hollywood, it’s really true. You have to make your own projects and ideas work, and I was able to do it.
Was there any backlash?
JP: At first. Obviously, there’s not gonna be backlash now, because we’re three months into it. But at first, there was a lot. Even if you go on iTunes – which I don’t anymore, because I don’t want to feel like crap about myself – every now and then there’s an a-hole saying, “I liked this show when it was free, but then Pardo got greedy.” I didn’t get greedy. I just wanted to make money for providing an hour and a half of entertainment.
No one wants to pay for anything on the Internet.
JP: Even legitimate CDs, people get pissed off that they can’t get them for free, and have to pay $9.99. I did two years of free shows… it’s people acting like children. “You’re ruining my day by asking for 76 cents a week!” So the backlash is gone now. It lasted maybe two weeks, then people moved on with their lives. As they should. If not, kill yourself.
Was there a specific goal, in terms of subscribers?
JP: I can’t get into numbers, but I will tell you we had a certain number in mind, and we exceeded it three times over. Knock on wood, people seem to like this damn thing, and I really do enjoy doing it.
Now, because I am serious about this interview, I did some research.
JP: Sean, you are a journalist first and foremost.
Thank you. I read that your main ambition is, you’d like to host a talk show, and the podcast seems like ideal preparation for that. But, is there something else you need to do to establish yourself, in order to get to the level of, say, a Daly, or a Fallon?
JP: I’ve been doing this live talk show in town, called Running Your Trap, for three years now. The truth is, any executive who comes out to see it thinks the show is amazing and great, but no one is buying talk shows. There’s just nowhere for a talk show to go.
Carson Daly came from being a sixteen-year-old kid hosting on MTV, and somehow stumbled into a talk show with his amazing charisma and wit. With Jimmy Fallon, I wish him well, but he is going to fail. History has shown that any time a famous person gets a talk show, it doesn’t really work. Jay Leno was a really successful standup, but no one really knew him other than standup, and it worked. Conan O’Brien was a great, successful writer, but no one knew him, and it worked. When it’s someone famous – Pat Sajak, Chevy Chase, Megan Mullally – it’s a disaster.
It reminds me of when a baseball team will hire a former star player to take over the team, instead of someone from the minor leagues who has actually done that job in the past.
JP: That’s a great way to put it. Like when the Reds brought in Ray Knight to try to make the fans happy. It didn’t work. He was a horrible manager.
Or like Isiah Thomas in basketball.
JP: Or even in Chicago, John Paxson with the Bulls. Horrible GM, but everyone loved him when he played.
Going back to Running Your Trap With Jimmy Pardo. You started that three years ago in LA, and it later moved to the UCB Theatre. When you started out, comics would do sets, and then get interviewed?
But now, it’s more like a conventional talk show with just the interviews. Was that change made due to time limitations, or did the first format just not work?
JP: All time limitations. It’s just a matter of trying to find the right thing that works. The venue where I was doing the old version was the M Bar, as part of Comedy Death Ray. People were coming to see a standup show. So the concept was, if I’m going to host the show, I’m going to host it my way. People can do standup, then they get interviewed, and we move on to the next act. Then we moved over to the UCB Theatre, the show got truncated to one hour, and there really wasn’t time for the standup. It was all about time.
I’ve actually turned Running Your Trap into a game show, so I haven’t done the talk show in four, five months.
What is it like as a game show?
JP: It’s an improv panel game, sort of like Liars Club or To Tell The Truth, or a Whose Line Is It Anyway sort of game. I’ve got three comics who all tell a story, and you’ve got to figure out which one is telling the truth. I grill them and try to trip them up. It’s hard to describe, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun to watch.
JP: See, you’re not a premium subscriber, or else you would have heard the live episode.
I swear, I’m going to get right on that. Congratulations on the new baby.
JP: Thank you.
I saw a clip of your appearance on Craig Ferguson, where you discussed how common it is for people to talk about their own kids. Have you managed to resist that urge with your own kid?
JP: I still maintain that everyone thinks their kid is fascinating when they’re not. But, sitting in the house watching a kid grow up, God, it’s the greatest thing in the world. There’s nothing cooler.
Has the new baby changed how much you go out on the road?
JP: It actually changed things for the worse. I took so much time off when he was born, I panicked when I saw my empty calendar, and I made my agent book WAY too much stuff to compensate for being gone. I was gone every other week for the first four months of this year. I hated it. Now I’m gone once a month, and that’s perfect.
Your ambition is mainly toward hosting and standup, but you also do some acting?
JP: I do about one role a year. I am doing an episode of Monk this week. I’m doing something for Comedy Central this week as well, I’m doing a movie called The Informant, and I just did a pilot with Daniel Stern. I’ve actually done a lot of acting in the past couple of months. I usually get one sitcom role a year, at the most.
And then who knows what pilots get picked up.
JP: I always joke that I’m the new George Clooney, because he did thirteen pilots before getting on television. I’m That Guy. I do SO many failed game show pilots that you’d think I was never working, when in fact I’m working constantly. You’ve got to hope one of them clicks and then I can make money and have a career.
You’re known for your riffing, obviously, and people say that no Jimmy Pardo show is alike. How did you pick up the confidence to rely on in-the-moment- stuff, rather than being tied to your prepared material?
JP: The truth is, when I was an open miker, I took a lot of chances, both with material and with riffing with the crowd. And then, when I started getting booked, I began to rely on my material, which wasn’t horrible by any means, but it was probably crappy. I got tired of people saying I was funnier offstage. It was New Year’s Eve of 1992-93 when I decided, I’ve got to trust these instincts. The truth is, it’s only in the last three years that I am now unafraid to ignore the act completely, and just go with the crowd.
It seems like you’ll even do that on television.
JP: And that took me years. Again, the jokes are OK, but my personality is really what’s there. When I’m on Ferguson, who I know is going to let me be loosey-goosey, I’ve got to show that side of me. Otherwise, I’m going to look like just another white guy standing there with a microphone telling jokes.
I saw an interview where you talked about your quick rise up the ladder – going quickly from open mics to emceeing, and then quickly up to middling, and then headlining. You said that “a lot of guys give no validity to the craft of hosting.” In that vein, what elements are important to being a good host?
JP: It’s making the audience comfortable, letting them know that you are in control of the show. So many young comics today – and I hate to sound like this old Bill Cosby windbag, because that guy is a pain in the ass to listen to talk about comedy the way it should be done. But in the world of club comedy, you’ll often see a young emcee get introduced, say “What’s up?” and launch immediately into his act. And then the audience is like, “Jesus Christ, what’s happening?” They don’t even have time to adjust.
I always thought it was important to keep the energy up, going right out of the box. Saying, “This guy is your headliner, this guy is your middle, you’re here on a great night,” and then slowly easing into the material. The audience is comfortable, as opposed to being punched in the face with material. Maybe things have changed and young guys don’t feel like they need to do that.
That’s what it’s about. Confidence and comfort. Jeez, I don’t know if I answered that at all. I talked in a circle there for 45 minutes, and got nowhere.
Don’t worry, it’s going to look awesome when we edit it down. The article is gonna have a graphic and everything. It’s the Internet.
JP: You can do whatever you want.
We’re basically conducting this interview in the future, that’s how advanced this thing is.
JP: I would actually find someone else’s answer and put it in there instead, that’s how shitty my answer was. Even if it doesn’t apply. It could be something about Ford cars, just go ahead and put it in there.
Will do. The standard question I have to ask is, how do you like playing the Bay Area, specifically exotic Sunnyvale?
JP: I enjoy it. I’ve always enjoyed Rooster T. Feathers. I’ve only been there half a dozen times, but I like the club and I like the manager. I like it when a manager – and this holds true for the Punchline as well – when a manager trusts you, and knows that the funny is coming. In my case, as much as I riff, some club owners get scared: “Oh, he’s going to piss off the audience! They haven’t laughed for a few seconds! Why is he going down this road?”
With Heather [from Roosters] and Molly [from the Punchline], they know that with me, the funny is eventually going to happen. And if it takes a few extra seconds to get there, so be it. That’s what great comedy clubs are about, and there’s maybe twelve in the whole country that know how to do it right.
One final question. Your father-in-law is Walter Koenig, Star Trek‘s Chekhov. Are you going to be attending George Takei’s upcoming wedding?
JP: People have asked me, but I don’t know yet. Obviously, we hope so. It would be neat. I’m not sure that “neat” is the right word for something so historic, but it would certainly be fun to be at.
Watch a clip from Running Your Trap With Jimmy Pardo: