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Kevin Pollak Is Ridiculously Talented!

A SacramentoComedy.Com Interview

From his start telling jokes at family Passover dinners at age 10, to catching hell for doing impressions of his high school coach, Kevin Pollak was meant to perform.

Comedy

"I was born in San Francisco but moved to San Jose when I was young. When I began performing, it was in venues that were designed for music. There were no comedy clubs then in San Jose. I would go on between the bands breaks when nobody really wanted to listen. When I moved to San Francisco, I was amazed that people loved going to see comedy and would actually pay to see it!"

Entering the San Francisco comedy scene in the late ’70’s, Pollak was the youngest performer in the San Francisco Comedy Competition in 1977 and finished in the semifinals. In 1982, he took second place behind Jim Samuels and placed ahead of Sacramento’s Jack Gallagher.

Pollak is famous for his spot-on impersonations of Christopher Walken and William Shatner. We  asked which one he preferred and whether there were some voices he would like to do but hasn’t mastered.

"Yeah, there is no contest in that they both (Walken and Shatner) serve me incredibly well, so no, I really couldn’t pick one over the other. I’m asked quite often if there are people that I can’t do and the answer to that is that there are always going to be people outside my wheelhouse. But the truth is, it’s like being asked ‘Why can’t you hit the curve ball?’ Why is that? I don’t know, but I hit the one down the pipe out of the park. How do you talk about the things that you can’t do other than to say that you can’t do them?" He added, "I’ll play with a voice and if it falls into place I’ll do it. If it doesn’t, I let it go as easily as a glass of water. It’s not something that I dwell on."

Acting

Pollak has appeared in more than 60 feature movies ("with four or five being really good ones"). He has called stand-up comedy his first love, what "feeds the beast." We asked him to elaborate.

"I think the reason that stand up is so powerful for the performer and why many try to recreate that ‘high’ using drugs or alcohol is that there’s nothing else in the performer’s life that matches that ridiculous energy of the live performance and the immediate, instant response, either good or bad, to your own thoughts or musings. It’s a magical thing.

"When I started off in movies, all that was gone. If you did something funny during a shot, the crew was not allowed to laugh for fear of ruining the take. In terms of the acting, it was always fairly frustrating. So, as much as I love acting, it is that desire for that live experience that draws me to stand up. That need just doesn’t stop when I do movies."

Pollak has worked with some of the greatest actors and under some of the finest directors.

"My first really large role in a large, dramatic movie was working with Barry Levinson in ‘Avalon.’  For a comedian who had no formal training, this was a bizarrely huge opportunity. Because Barry had just won awards for his last film ‘Rain Man,’ everyone in Hollywood was watching ‘Avalon’ to see what he would do next. Because of that, I got the opportunity to audition for more serious acting roles."

"The next giant movie was ‘A Few Good Men,’ which was like being brought up to the majors. This juggernaut studio movie where I am one of the leads and everyone else in the film is ridiculously famous and I’m not. After that was the goal line that you cross as an actor between auditioning and getting offers. And that was 52 movies ago."

One of the films Pollak is most remembered for is "The Usual Suspects." We asked him about that experience.

"It was ‘lightning in a bottle’ like I have never experienced. In terms of an utterly unknown writer and director, Christopher McQuarrie and Bryan Singer, it was amazing. McQuarrie went on to win an Academy Award for best screenplay and Singer went on to ‘X-Men’ and other great movies. But at the time, they were just these young punks that hadn’t done anything and the cast was relatively unknown, other than Gabriel Byrne. We debuted at the Cannes Film Festival, which was otherworldly. It was another milestone. That same year, I was offered the role in ‘Casino’ by the great master director Martin Scorsese. Then, of course, there were a few more."

We asked how Pollak chose his parts and whether there was one he liked best.

"I like working," he deadpanned.  "It’s really about the script. I long for great scripts."

Kevin Pollak Chat Show (KPCS)

"Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show" debuted in April 2009 and has become an award-winning entry in the rapidly growing field of Internet-only entertainment.

"Just last month we won a ‘Streamy Award" and that was a big thing as it is the highest award to having original content online," he said. "That was pretty awesome."

The show has featured Seth MacFarlane, Kevin Smith, Matthew Perry, Jim Gaffigan, Joe Montegna, Bobby Slayton, Adam Carolla and many more.

"We book this show ourselves, without a marketing department or a publicity department. I don’t deal with agents. I just reach through to friends and friends of friends. It’s an every week process that is sometimes easy and sometimes not. We have been incredibly fortunate in that we have had FIVE Academy Award winners and Grammy winners and some of the greatest comedians alive on our show.

"We also have had captains of industry such as Tesla Motors founder and CEO, Elon Musk."

We asked why he chose an "Internet-only" format.

"The Internet is the ultimate ‘if you build it, they will come’ model. It not only allows complete creative freedom, it also means that you can’t force your audience to watch anything. You have to just put it up there and wait for the results. There is no big, splashy advertising campaign like a network television or broadcast television in general would have. It took awhile to get used to the ‘be patient’ aspect of letting the audience find you, which is part and parcel to the original content online process."

Did he consider putting the show on broadcast television?

"No, I designed it to be Internet only. That is how I could do two hours of Seth MacFarlane, and Eddie Izzard holds the record at two hours and 30 minutes. There isn’t a network that is going to give me that much time. We are averaging 90 minutes to two hours with every guest. It is a real conversation as opposed to a talk show with commercial breaks.

"So, here we are a year later and we are up to about 68,000 live viewers every Sunday afternoon and over a million and a half have seen our show. Amazon just ‘knighted’ us by being our partner in offering the show in downloads, DVDs and Video on Demand. So, that is unbelievably and insanely rewarding and exciting and validating our ‘if you build it they will come’ strategy."

One of the games Pollak plays with his guests is "The Larry King Game." Guests are asked to imitate talk show host King, tell something revealing (and usually humiliating) about King and then take a call from someone in a little known town.

We asked him to demonstrate using a theme suggested by the local comedy troupe "The Real Funny Housewives of Rio Linda."

(In his best Larry King voice): "I just had sex with the real funny housewives! …Rio Linda, you’re on the air!"

"That was invented by my partner in life and crime, my better half and head writer on the show, Jaime Fox (Pollak spelled the name to make it obvious she wasn’t the African-American Oscar winner). She also came up with the Twitter game. If you go to the website  kevinpollakchatshow.com, these are actual interactive games you can play on the site. But we also have our guests play them each week."

Vamped Out

Pollak’s newest venture on the Internet premiered April 12 as a six-episode series called "Vamped Out."  It features a real-life vampire who also is an actor who keeps getting turned down for vampire roles. Pollak is the creator, executive producer, writer, director and has a featured role as well. It runs on Mondays on Babelgum.com.

"This level of creative freedom and control I have never experienced in decades of writing, producing and acting in movies or television. Suddenly, it was opened up to me in original content through the Web."

How did the concept develop?

"Jaime and I were meeting some friends for lunch, one of which is a very talented character actor like myself, named Jason Antoon. We sat down bemoaning this billboard that we saw driving to lunch advertising the TV show ‘Vampire Diaries.’

" ‘Can you fucking believe that there is another vampire TV show?’ Then Jason asked, ‘Can you imagine being a vampire right now and you can’t get hired to do any of these movies or TV shows because you are not skinny or pale or handsome?’ Jaime thought that it would be a good bit for my comedy act, but I immediately thought of it as a Web series. I had not thought prior to that moment about a Web series  but it just sort of came out of me. Before I knew it, it was too late and Jason and I were in my living room writing episodes for the show. Babelgum.com was one of the first places we pitched it and they gave us all of the freedom to produce it as we needed."

SacramentoComedy.Com Viewer Questions:

Christopher Hampl wanted to know if Pollak had done his ‘Columbo’ impression for Peter Falk, the actor who played the role in the television series.

"I did that impression one night on the ‘Tonight Show,’ sitting on the couch next to Johnny Carson. Peter say me on television doing that and the next time we met,  he referenced that by saying, (using his best Columbo voice), ‘How do you do that with your eye? Me, I understand, but how doyou do it?’ "

Svitlana Kurylo asked if there was were an actor or comedian with whom he wanted to work.

"Oh yeah, I can’t really answer that. There is an endless list of people I would love to work with. I think Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio are as good as it gets, in terms of their generation. I would certainly kill to work with either of them, but there are so many others. I have been insanely lucky to work with many of the most brilliant people; there are hundreds more, I assure you."

Kurylo  also asked if Pollak ever got stage fright or was starstruck.

"Stage fright, never have. Like a lot of comedians, some get nervous every time but the rest of us were just born to do this. We suffer from what I call ‘Hey, look at me’ disease.

"Star struck? Definitely. Just like a normal human being, I am blown away by any actor or actress that I see or meet in person whose work that I admire. I am no different than anyone else."

Walter Kawamoto asked if Pollak was upset when another actor was cast as Captain Kirk in the "Star Trek" movies.

(Sarcastically):"Yeah, I cried for a couple of days. I have a good group of friends, so I was able to lean on them. Especially when I saw the ridiculously young and handsome guy they hired, I was really thrown for a loop."

Remy Gervais wanted to know if he had a favorite role.

"Not really. If there had to be one that I enjoyed doing, that nobody saw, it would be the sequel to the movie ‘The Whole Nine Yards’ called ‘The Whole Ten Yards.’ I was in makeup for three and a half hours to get into prosthetic makeup to play the role of the father of the character I played in the original. I played a 70-year-old Hungarian mobster. That was probably the most fun comedically that I have had portraying a character in movies. And about 17 people have seen it." he added.

Pollak will appear this Saturday at Cache Creek Casino. Follow this link for tickets and reservations. Must be 21 or over. 

If you enjoyed this interview and would like to have all of the SacramentoComedy.Comfeatures, interviews, news and reviews delivered to your iPhone, download the SacComedy App at iTunes.

Steven Bloom is the founder of SacramentoComedy.Com, the official guide to the Sacramento comedy scene. This website is dedicated to comedian interviewscomedian biographies and videos, and consolidation all of the Sacramento comedy events into a single comedy calendar for your convenience. You can send your questions directly to The Comedy Guy at[email protected].

 

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