Comedy, stand-up routines, hilarious stories, films, television, drama, impersonations…
16 March 2022 | James Porteous | Clipper Media News
07 April 2019 | STEPHEN SILVER | PhillyVoice
Photo: COURTESY OF KEVIN POLLAK /FOR PHILLYVOICE
Kevin Pollak is one of those famous people well-known for different reasons by a lot of different groups of people.
He’s been a standup comedian for more than 30 years, and one of comedy’s most skilled impressionists.
As an actor, he’s been in a long list of memorable movies, including “A Few Good Men,” “Casino,” “The Usual Suspects,” “The Aristocrats,” and “She’s All That.” More recently, he’s been working a lot as a prestige TV actor, playing the main character’s father-in-law on “The Marvelous Mrs, Maisel,” and also landing memorable guest spots on “Better Things” and “Billions.”
Pollak recently finished a ten-year run hosting Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, an Internet video show and podcast on which he interviewed actors and comedians, sometimes for as long as three hours at a time. He’s also well-known in the poker world, as an avid player who hosts celebrity games and once competed in the World Series of Poker.
On a weekend break from filming the third season of ‘Mrs. Maisel’ in New York, Pollak heads to Philly this Saturday, for a stand-up show at Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park (tickets are available here.) PhillyVoice spoke to Pollak last week about his career, his comedy, and how “Mrs. Maisel” has caught on with demographics he never thought possible.
“My standup has always been that of a storyteller, more than a joke teller. Damn funny stories, mind you. But, definitely autobiographical, or semi-autobiographical,” Pollak said, when asked what he’ll be talking about on stage Saturday night.
“I tend to come with a ‘leave your troubles at the door’ kind of act,” he added. “It’s always been my intent to be a bit of an escape act, instead of talking about the woes of the world. It’s more like, let’s go on a journey, and let’s talk about what happened when I met Christopher Walken.” Pollak also said he will indeed be doing impressions – “I’ll be teaching the audience how to do Jason Statham.”
On “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Pollak plays Moishe Maisel, the father of Joel, the protagonist’s ex-husband. He says that while he knew the show would catch on, he had no idea it would have the reach it has.
“I’ve been gainfully employed for 30 years as an actor, comedian, and a writer, and recently a director,” he said. “And over the years, I’ve had a few seminal films. Like, ‘The Usual Suspects’ premiering at the Cannes Film Festival and us being treated like The Beatles when we arrived. ‘A Few Good Men’ having its premiere at the Ziegfield in New York. ‘Casino,’ just an absurd experience and a film that just becomes more legendary with every generation.
“So, I’ve had that rarefied air experience over the years- studying at the feet of Matthau and Lemmon in the two “Grumpy Old Men” movies. I’ve been already ridiculously blessed here. But nothing that broke through the noise [like Mrs. Maisel.” He added that the show recently had a European premiere and press tour, and the show is even popular in places like Indonesia.
“When we all read the script and were shooting the thing, we thought, ‘we’ll certainly have a lot of fans [among] Upper West Side Jews, of New York- older ones, in that, who remember the late ’50s. We didn’t know that 20-year-olds who have never seen a Jew… I don’t know that I’ve been a part of something that crosses every single demographic.”
The “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” isn’t the only current hit show that Pollak is a part of. Last week, he kicked off a guest stint on the Showtime drama series “Billions” as Douglas Mason, the father of Taylor Mason (Asia Kate Dillon), the show’s gender non-conforming financial genius.
Pollak said the part came about when he attended an event at MoMA in New York, following a special screening of last year’s “Mission:Impossible” film, which was directed by Pollak’s friend and “The Usual Suspects” screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie.
At an after-party, which was attended by the likes of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Pollak met “Billions” co-creators Brian Koppelman and David Levien, who pitched him on the guest-starring role. Pollak eventually signed up, even though it required special arrangements with Amazon to allow him to appear in more than three episodes of a non-‘Mrs. Maisel’ show.
The busy acting career of late has helped bring about the end of “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show,” the talk show that he hosted that ran nearly 400 episodes over 10 years. Pollak got into the show, he said, at a time when there were fewer than 50 entertainment podcasts.
“I had done every form of talk show. A couple dozen Tonight Shows with Carson, and Letterman, and Conan, and one of the more enjoyable ones was Charlie Rose, before he got all handsy. Because it was a conversation with a journalist, someone who had done their research.”
The original pitch, he said, was “A Charlie Rose Show, but fun.” The show’s guest list over the years has included a virtual who’s-who of important actors and comedians from the past two decades. Tom Hanks was on the show, as was Larry David, and even Elon Musk.
Pollak said he’s asked every day about some episode or moment from the show. But once he got too busy, was missing lots of episodes, and noticed it was getting to the point where “in Los Angeles, being asked to be on a friend’s podcast became like a jury duty notification,” the decision was made to wrap the show up.
Another past role with which Pollak is often associated is “She’s All That,” the 1999 teen movie that recently marked its 20th anniversary. The actor, who played Rachael Leigh Cook’s “Jeopardy”-loving dad, said he signed up for the movie in part because he was impressed with Freddie Prinze, Jr., in an indie film a couple of years earlier and was eager to work with him.
“There are a lot of great performers in that damn thing,” he said. “I thought it would speak to its own generation that it was earmarked for, but I didn’t know we’d be celebrating it  years later.”
As for the state of comedy itself, Pollak is bullish.
“I think it’s celebrating a boom bigger than the one that I worked through in the mid-to-late ’80s,” he said. “What I’m seeing is, a lot more comedians are touring the world, a lot more comedians are playing theaters instead of just clubs. And yet the small indie theater/club scene is thriving, with alternative acts as well. And some of the alternative acts are blowing up on a world scale as well. So I can’t imagine a time that was bigger and more exciting for stand-up than right now.”
Another example Pollak gave of comedy’s health is the big paydays comedians are getting for specials from Netflix- one of which went to his friend, the comedian Bill Burr, for an upcoming special.
The breakthrough moment of Burr’s career, of course, was the incident in the summer of 2006 when he cursed out the city of Philadelphia during a performance at the Camden venue now known as the BB&T Pavilion, after they had booed previous performer Dom Irrerra off the stage. (“F– all you people you ya know what you f—ing losers, I hope you all f—ing die, and I hope the f—-ing Eagles never win the Super Bowl. Go f— yourselves.”)
Pollak was told that he can probably expect a warmer reception when he takes the stage at the synagogue this weekend.
“I would become equally as famous if I turned on a roomful of Jews and yelled at them,” the Jewish comedian said, though he acknowledged that might not earn him the kind of fans he wants.
While he doesn’t do as much standup these days as he once did, Pollak said he keeps his toe in it.
“It’s in you for life, there’s no getting out. Harder than ‘The Firm.'”
In his 30-year career, Kevin Pollak has appeared in more than 60 films and created indelible roles in such modern classics as A Few Good Men and The Usual Suspects. His Internet awakening occurred in 2009, when he started his Streamy Award winning weekly talk show Kevin Pollak Chat Show backed by Jason Calacanis (Mahalo).
In his 30-year career, Kevin Pollak has appeared in more than 60 films and created indelible roles in such modern classics as A Few Good Men and The Usual Suspects.
His Internet awakening occurred in 2009, when he started his Streamy Award winning weekly talk show Kevin Pollak Chat Show backed by Jason Calacanis (Mahalo). He ventured into the world of Web video with his acclaimed original Web series Vamped Out (it was his directorial debut and he wrote and starred in it as well). Vamped Out returns for season 2 on Babelgum this fall.
In a series of interviews about his projects, Pollak shares the story of his evolution and what he loves about this new entertainment medium.
Fast Company: How did Kevin Pollak Chat Show start?
Kevin Pollak: About a year ago, I was visiting Jason Calacanis at Maholo’s offices. He was doing a live streaming thing with his disciples, he pulled me into the Q&A, and we did that for about 45 minutes or so. When it was over, I said, ‘What the fuck was that?’
During the chat, Calacanis signed me up for Twitter, and I was like, ‘What’s a Twitter?’ And he’s showing me around the offices, and he shows me a small studio that he’d been using to shoot This Week in Startups.
In the recesses of my brain, out popped an idea. You know, I’d like to do a Charlie Rose thing, involve the fans–something real, live, no censorship, no time limits. As an actor, I’ve done all the shows back to Johnny Carson.
The only one that’s a conversation, the only one without a pre-interview where they ask you what you did on vacation or whatever, is Charlie Rose. Carson was the master, but it was still a performance. Tom Snyder’s old show came close, but still a pre-interview. Bob Costas’s old show came close to a conversation.
Jason said to me, ‘You know you said that out loud, right?’ It came out of nowhere. And I wanted to hit the ground with my feet racing. Our mantra from the beginning has been: “We’re Not Ready.” We did a live streaming Twittercast of the Oscars, and we’ve been doing a show almost every week since.
FC: What was the first sign that this might be working?
KP: After about eight weeks, the LA Times did a front-page, above-the-fold story on us. They found us. We haven’t done any publicity whatsoever. That was physical evidence that we were doing something unique and special.
FC: In that LA Times piece and on the show, I’ve heard you allude to how you’ll make money off Kevin Pollak Chat Show. What can you tell me about that?
KP: I ask myself, is this something that I enjoy doing? If so, I can’t be that concerned about the notion of monetization.
That said, I have thought about the model being the earliest days of television: ‘This hour is brought to you by … .’ The show I was always reference is the old 1950s Colgate Comedy Hour. Who’s our Colgate?
Ustream came in within a month and they’re a financial sponsor and handle our live streaming. But when I start to get serious about thinking about other sponsors and wondering when you go out looking for advertisers, I say, ‘Let’s just keep doing it a bit more, get a little bit better.’
FC: That interview you did with Jason Reitman [director of Up in the Air] was really amazing. I got the sense that everyone knew within 30 seconds that this guy got it.
KP: When it was over, I told everyone, ‘I think we just shot the pilot.’ That was the first time in 40 shows where I wanted someone to burn a DVD of the interview for me.
Every show we’ve done, I get a follow-up email the next day saying two things: 1) I can’t believe how fast it went. We’re talking for sometimes two-and-a-half hours. Eddie Izzard holds the record with two hours and thirty-one minutes.
This is the longest, most in-depth interview any of them have ever done. And 2) It felt so loose and natural. But with Jason, he also wrote me and thanked me because he had never expressed the father-son thing in that way before. [Jason’s father is writer-producer-director Ivan Reitman, perhaps best known for the Ghostbusters franchise.]
I’m not sure what it all means. I don’t want to have to explain that magic, that lightning in a bottle, to an advertiser. There’s nothing else like this online. That’s its own reward on some level.
People are stopping me on the street to tell me that they love the Chat Show. I said to Calacanis, who’s more machine than man really, ‘I have a weird inkling that this is my legacy.’ To compare that with how to monetize this? It’s kind of ridiculous. So I’m not in a hurry to figure out who my Colgate is.
FC: Kevin Pollak Chat Show is distributed via TiVo. How did that come about?
KP: TiVo wanted to offer KPCS in its online menu. I’m fortunate to have George Ruiz as an agent. He’s the one everyone is following and continues to be brilliant. I asked him if there’s some relationship to be had. There’s no money in TiVo. He said, ‘That’s not a rabbit you want to chase.’
They want to promote Chat Show, the money is so minimal that it’s not really worth it. He said, ‘I could squeeze them for pennies, but it’s better to just go along with it.’ We’re being offered for free in every single way–our Web site, iTunes, YouTube–it’s hard to ask for money from one channel anyway. It’s bragging rights for us, a new number for us to consider.
FC: You’ve talked on the show about building a network with Jason Calacanis. What can you tell us about that?
KP: Calacanis’ feeling is, ‘Let’s set up a theme, a very focused milieu.’ He’d been doing This Week in Startups. Let’s bring other talent to the network.
We thought about a FunnyorDie model–run millions without care how to get it back. We thought about MyDamnChannel–the HBO route, all the money gets spent on promotion. There’s no way to cover production costs. We didn’t want to be a Web series hub. And a slew of talk shows doesn’t make sense.
The template is ‘This Week In … .’ It’s open for every subject. Cars. Games. Literature. Phase one is to see how that goes. Establish the format. See how many interesting people we can gather. Some incredible get from the music world. A total unknown but some geek wizard to do video games. For literature, who wouldn’t want to sit around and listen to this person talk about books? I’m excited about the development phase. Develop a cohesive consistency as a start.
[Update: Since we spoke, ThisWeekIn.com has launched, with a slate of shows including ones devoted to books, comedy, iPad, Mad Men, poker, and venture capital.]
FC: You’ve been on this Web adventure for more than a year. Has it been worth it?
KP: There’s an utter lack of marketing today. We’re getting as many as 2,500 viewers on YouTube during the show. 10,000 uniques on UStream. Even more on iTunes. It’s growing. Right now, the numbers don’t mean much. We’re creating demand and can’t get too sidetracked by how we’ll make money. It’s inevitable that we will. If there’s anything I’ve learned through my career in traditional media, it’s that you can’t predict anything. So I can’t anticipate when this will pay off. But it will.
FC: When will the second season of Vamped Out debut?
KP: The “when” is hard to say, as we’re still writing the scripts. I can say that the first season went awfully quickly, though, from pitch to premiere, about 5 months. Best case, we’re shooting in 6 to 8 weeks, it’s only a week-long shoot, then post production for a month, or so, and the second season could premiere as early as, October. Hey, maybe a Halloween premiere… Oooooh… Feel it?
FC: Can you give us a bit of a preview of what to expect in season two? And how many episodes are you doing?
KP: The story picks up just a week or so after last season ended. Our core characters are back with the addition of a few new ones. The one big difference is that my character, along with our audience, now knows for certain that “Al” is a vampire.
Antoon (my co-creator who stars as “Al”) and I received such a great response from our famous friends who saw it and loved it, that we’ve written in several cameos for them. So, because we’re not stupid, there will be more famous faces in season 2, for sure. No, I won’t say which faces just yet. As for how many episodes we’re doing this go around, we’ve written 6 as we did in season 2, but we anticipate that they’ll each be a bit longer.
FC: What it’s been like creating a Web series with Babelgum?
KP: Honestly, it’s been sort of dreamlike working with Babelgum and Amber J Lawson, in that we’ve basically had more creative freedom and control than anything I’ve worked on in my entire career. It’s why we came to the Web with this idea.
I’ve been a member of the Writers Guild since ’87 and have just had too many experiences with the studios and broadcast networks and their savant like ability to find the heart and soul of what makes the script utterly original or funny or just special and then add water to it. They are GENIUSES at it, really. I came from stand-up comedy, where I’ve always had total creative freedom and control, but I’ve never found it in traditional media. Amber J, who “got” what we were after with this, offered minimal notes, all of which we’re helpful, quite frankly. The complete “hands off” support we received from her is what made the experience one of the best of my creative career.
FC: Do you think more of your peers will follow your lead into Web entertainment?
KP: I absolutely know that more series like ours are coming straight to the Web. Since I started my online talk show–Okay, yes, the 2010 Streamy Award winning Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show. Geez–I’ve spoken with a ton of people who are famous in traditional media who are now VERY into the freedom and control that is afforded them when creating original content for the Web.
I’m happy to go on record as saying that this is “that moment” for us in this brave new world, like it was for TV in the late 40’s, when radio and film we’re scoffing at the notion of a new medium. Of course, like TV, that blink of an eye takes about three to five years.
The new phase of brands being creatively involved and financially supportive with the Internet networks as well as the writers/producers/directors/ actors & actresses, i.e., “talent,” is quite new on the scene, and it will make the leap to the next level of awareness and success happen like it did for TV.
“In a lot of ways, Hollywood is just like high school with money,” said comedian/actor/producer Kevin Pollak.
“You’ve got all the clicks and peer groups and the pecking order just like you did in high school. The football players, the popular chicks, the nerds, and then you’ve got all the smokers huddled around a car outside. The money gives people a false sense of power but when you strip all of that away, they’re still the same idiots, only with money. The biggest misconception about this industry is that it’s so glamorous. It really isn’t.”
As a veteran of both the stand-up comedy circuit and the big screen, few people can lay claim to Pollak’s level of experience within the entertainment industry.
Aside from establishing a successful stand up career that began when he was 19, Pollak has also appeared in over fifty motion pictures including A Few Good Men, Casino, and the incomparable Wayne’s World 2.
“Stand up and acting are two completely different animals,” said Pollak. “With stand up, you could tell great jokes for 45 minutes but if you serve up three bad ones and ruin the last 15 minutes, it’s over. With acting, you might tell a joke or do something that’s supposed to be funny, but because there is no audience, you never really know until you see the movie 10 months later.”
Thanks largely to his success in the realm of stand-up, Pollak has been fortunate enough to avoid the machine that is the American workforce.
“The worst job I ever had was pumping gas when I was eighteen, right out of high school,” said Pollak. “One day I was working, you know holding the lever, and my high school principal pulled up. He looked at me and said ‘So, how’s it going?’ What I wanted to say was “I’m pumping gas, you’re paying for that gas, how the fuck do you think I am? But instead I said ‘Just fine, sir. Thanks for asking.’”
“That 2 week stint at the gas station serves as motivation enough for keeping and enjoying the job I have now.”
Kevin Pollak will be performing at the Funny Bone Comedy Club on February 15th and 16th. For tickets and information, call the Bone Phone at 493-8036.
“Some of the best shows I’ve put on during this tour have been in towns like Omaha because everyone gets extremely excited before I even show up,” said Pollak. “I’m really looking forward to the show and I’m interested in seeing what kind of place Omaha is.”
06 May 2021 | Haydee M. Rodriguez | Jewish Exponent
Actor, comedian and impressionist extraordinaire Kevin Pollak, 63, has starred in more than 80 films.
His work includes playing Moishe Maisel in “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” on Amazon Prime and also doing “Alchemy This,” a podcast featuring five improv comedians.
He spoke about his work, among other topics.
Tell us more about the magic in what you do, what inspires you and how you keep it all fun?
We are coming on the 30th Anniversary of “A Few Good Men.” Rob Reiner, who directed the film, announced one day, “If you are not having fun, I don’t know what the point is.” And that really resonated with me. That was, what, 80 movies ago?
What inspires you?
True-life stories. A great idea for my stand-up or script comes from life stories these days, and I’ll put that in my notes app, one of those modern conveniences that simplify life.
For example, I look at today’s phones and wonder, “How the hell did we miss the push buttons to begin with?” The rotary phone seems so archaic now. The idea of a push button pad of what is now known as a landline — why wasn’t it always like that? These little, tiny life questions like that stay with me.
Is it fair to say that comedy is still your first love?
Comedy is my first love for sure. When I was 5 or 6 years old, my mom would take me to the movies, and I became engrossed in the world represented on the screen, and when I left the theater, I would play act as though I was living in the movie. It had a deep effect on my psyche because I carry that with me to this day.
Your first podcast, “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show,” lasted 10 years, and you are now doing another podcast, “Alchemy This.” Can you tell us more about the podcast and the magic you find in the process?
The chat show was really about people’s journey — how did you get from there to here. So when I started doing “Alchemy This,” a theme suggested by fans, we gathered suggestions from emails, as a way to prep the show. I wanted to cast the show with the fastest improvisers I’ve seen in LA. We’ve been doing “Alchemy This” for two and a half years now. It’s incredibly fun and completely improvised. It’s a great creative outlet, like stand-up comedy, which has been a ghost town for the last 15 months.
What drives you to stay busy, to keep comedy at the forefront of what you do?
A good 15 years ago I came up with a mantra, “If you are not creating, you are waiting.” So I became more proactive in my career. I’ve been a writer for a long time, writing stories. I love writing, might be my favorite thing to do, and that fueled this notion if you are not creating, you are waiting.
I’ve been reading “How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets And Stories From Stage, Screen, And Interwebs.” You wrote the book in 2012. If you were writing the book today, would you choose a different title?
It’s a show business term, not meant to be demeaning to say about something. But for a character that has had one love scene in 80 movies, it seemed funny. But today … I am working on a new project, an audio book, for audible.com, the ultimate joke book, street jokes, that start with “Did you hear the one about … two Jews walk into a bar, they buy it” as a punch line. These street jokes are ultimately offensive to someone. We can’t worry about that, and we’ll put a disclaimer about that, “If you are easily offended, good for you, I don’t want to hear about it. And please know ahead of time that none of these jokes are opinions or even facts, truths of any kind.”
Tell us about your mom and her influence in your career.
My mom was my first audience and remained my best audience. Thankfully, her biggest contribution was how supportive she was from the very beginning. In 2015, I did a documentary, “Misery Loves Comedy,” where I ask, “Who’s your mommy and or daddy? Were your parents supportive?” I just know how lucky I was that my mom was so supportive from the very beginning.
I read that you grew up in Reform Judaism. Can you tell us more about that?
Yes, I was bar mitzvahed, and I went to religious school on Saturdays. We were California Reform Jews, which means we were almost Catholic. … There was a slow building of a pride of being Jewish, what it meant for family and friends and the holidays, learning about the sacrifices, the oppression, the anti-Semitism.
Comedy Central named you as one of the top 100 comedians of all time. In a 1994 interview with Rich Eisen, you said that you had crossed the goal line to getting offers in films. Once you cross that line, how do you stay grounded?
I would attribute that to my mom, and also how one is raised. Show biz is a bizarre undertaking. A lot of your dreams are being fulfilled, and I didn’t see this coming, I have succeeded beyond my dreams. And even though there are a lot of great actors and comedians who have succeeded beyond my plateau, there is a sense of gratitude, instilled by my parents, to be grateful for the fruits of your labor, and also for your labor, to be able to work, in any capacity. I don’t have to beg for this part. That is a goal or a threshold I am so grateful for, and it contributes to my disposition immensely.
This story first appeared in the Baltimore Jewish Times.