Q: What made you go into acting?
Pollak: Well, I guess it was a number of things. From a very early age, I was quite taken by what I saw on the silver screen. My mom would take me to a movie when I was 5 or 6 years old, and it seemed like an amazing imaginary world. One that I found out that was actually going to be a job that one could do, I guess I became interested. Then I started performing for strangers, lip-synching Bill Cosby’s first album when I was about 10 years old. I did that til I was about 16. And all through those years, I guess I was formulating a fantasy of sunbathing in movies as an actor. I think I suffered from “Hey-look-at-me” disease from an extremely early age.
Q: What inspired you to do impressions?
Pollak: It was just a natural sort of gift, like, I don’t really remember there being a day or one moment when the situation where it was a lightning bolt revelation. I would mock my teachers and whatnot in school, and my friends would laugh, and next thing I knew, I was getting great response from doing the head football coach. I didn’t play football, but he was kind of a mean guy to make fun of. You know, I was in high school, and I was in the quad, the gathering area for my schoolmates and I on campus, and one day I was hanging there with them, and they had this strange look on their faces as they were looking behind me, and before I knew it, I was in a headlock from someone standing behind me. Then, I heard the football coach’s voice in my ear saying, “I heard about it, and I don’t think it’s funny.” And I thought, as I was passing out, I could probably do Marlon Brando. He wouldn’t find me. That’s kind of how it began.
Q: How did you know you wanted to be a comedian?
Pollak: Again, you know, suffering from the “Hey-look-at-me” disease and whatnot, but really, my mom brought home Bill Cosby’s first album. She put it on the Stereo Hi-Fi, this giant six foot wide, wooden piece of furniture, in the living room. Let’s compare that to the Nano, shall we? So she put the album on, and sat down with my dad, and Bill Cosby started talking from the Stereo Hi-Fi, from the album, and I saw my parents laughing uncontrollably. They had laughed so hard, instantly and unnerving, as if they were openly weeping. I mean, to even laugh that hard at this strange voice telling stories, it immediately captured my interest in, “Wow, wouldn’t it be amazing I can make mom and dad do that.” If I can do that, wouldn’t that be great. So, when no one was around, I put the album on, and then slowly memorized it. Then stood in front of the stereo, pretending I was the guy telling the story. Then, I think my mom pointed out Bill Cosby on television, so I can see him. Then, I was lip-synching the album in the living room when nobody was around. Again, I don’t really think I invented lip-synching. I didn’t know what lip-synching was. I was just reenacting this comedian. Then, my mom caught me, and I really was horrified. It wasn’t as if I wanted her to see me doing this. At that point, it has become a sort-of private thing, over many many months of enjoyment. Then, she said, “That’s hilarious. You have to do that for the family at Passover.” It didn’t take too much encouragement from her. Then I thought that would be great. Then, I did it in front of the fireplace at the Zuckers at Passover, amongst cousins, and that was it. I had the bug, and never looked back.
Q: With a movie career going at the same time, why did you decide to do stand-up?
Pollak: Well, I’ve done so many films now, that I really came to appreciate how much more fun it was. I mean, doing movies is an absolute fantasy beyond my wildest dreams, how well things have gone. After a while, it slowly became clear that the actual “doing” of the film, you know actors work 12 hour days. But 11 out of those 12 hours, you’re sitting on your ass, and accumulatively, over the course of 12 hours, you might peak an actual hour of work that you were in front of the cameras, and that hour is magic beyond description. But the other 11 hours is sheer fucking boredom, and then times three months, 5 days a week, times 60 movies, and now you start to realize, “Oh, this doesn’t even come close to standing on stage, live in front of an audience, taking them for a ride of my choosing for an hour.” There’s no comparison. I would never want to give up one or the other. Then, once I started to get touring again in 2001, well I thought, “The magic here is to find the balance between the two.” So, around this time in October, my stand up agent and I will book the next year, and we’ll book probably two dozen dates, and then I’ll reschedule them throughout the year; postponing or canceling, depending if work comes up. I just did two more films this summer, so I had to reschedule some dates. I have a movie coming out this weekend called The Big Year starring Steve Martin, Jack Black and Owen Wilson. I am in Kevin Smith’s Red State, where I have been touring the world with him, which is now on video and On-Demand. Then, the two movies I did this summer was a Rob Reiner film with Morgan Freeman and Virginia Madsen. Then, a little independent film, a dark comedy, called Cheer Up, Charlie.
Q: What is your favorite role that you’ve played?
Pollak: I don’t really have a favorite, I mean Avalon was huge, an incredibly important first sort-of dramatic film, Barry Levinson’s masterpiece. It’s a great beautiful film. Ridiculously fortunate for me to work with such incredible actors coming from being just a stand-up comedian, with no real training to speak of. To be an actor, with all those hundreds that auditioned. So, this was the first real step up to the plate sort-of thing. Then, A Few Good Men was being brought up to the majors, and being able to swing with some of the best players in the games, and a legendary hold of my own. That movie came out in 1992, and I crossed the threshold that every actor fantasizes and dreams about, which is going from auditioning to getting offers. Then, of course, The Usual Suspects was almost on its own level of insanity, getting prized, and international credit along with street credit in the independent film world. Playing a sociopath, something I had never contemplated or been allowed to do. That was extraordinary on 17 different levels. It’s difficult for me to really choose a favorite. In Casino, you know, Scorsese, it doesn’t get much better than that. Grumpy Old Men with Matthau and Lemmon. I can go on, unfortunately, for hours.
Q: Who’s been your favorite actor to work with?
Pollak: Oh boy, well, that’s an impossible question. I can’t boil it down to one. I can give you a list, and the list would be: Jack Nicholson, Robert DeNiro, Denzel Washington, Tom Cruise, Walter Matthau, Jack Lemmon, Sophia Loren, Sharon Stone, Gabriel Byrne, Benecio Del Toro, etc.
Q: Who are your biggest influences?
Pollak: Well, when I got a chance to work with Matthau and Lemmon, that was especially meaningful, because, as a kid, they accomplished something, that I later in life, came to appreciate, which is being a character actor. Being able to portray a wide variety range of people. So I admire Matthau and Lemmon the most. I think, because they are not typical handsome leading men, and yet they became marquee stars, who were allowed within their singular career, to do the most brawd, silly comedy, to drama. Only character actors get a wide range like that. I mean, there’s been a few exceptions, of course, but not many. They had just extraordinary careers. They probably inspired me.
Q: How did your chat show come about?
Pollak: It actually became one of those “careful what you wish” kid of things, because I just walked into the studio space, and before I knew it, these words were coming out of me, that I hadn’t ever thought of , which was, as I was walking around in the studio space, I just blurted out, “I think I wanna do a Charlie Rose, but “fun” from here.” Then, unfortunately, the guy that owned the studio said, “How soon can you start?” And I was fucked. Next thing you know, I was taking over the show, and it has literally taken over my life. It’s been an extraordinary journey. It’s been 2 1/2 years now. Really, on so many levels, just to be a part of a new medium that grows exponentially every six months in such divert ways. To be considered by some, on the forefront of that, in terms of accomplishment. Then, to be able to spend a couple of hours with the people I have. It’s been extraordinary. We’ve got some great ones coming up, Megan Mullally on Sunday, Glen Howerton from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia next Sunday, Ivan Reitman on the Sunday after that, and Ed O’Neill.
Q: If you could meet 3 people in the last 150 years who you haven’t met yet, who would they be?
Pollak: Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), Buster Keaton, and Billy Wilder.
Kevin Pollak will be playing:
The Jukebox Comedy Club Peoria, IL 61604
For tickets call 309-673-5853 or visit www.jukeboxcomedy.com/shows
Donnie B’s Comedy Club Springfield, IL 62707
For tickets call 217-391-JOKE or visit www.funnybonecomedyclub.com