In which readers learn the origins of Jimmy Pardo.
When did you develop an interest in comedy?
I don’t remember having an interest, but we uncovered a drawing I had to do where we had to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up and mine was a picture microphone in a mic stand with a spot light hitting it. This was in seventh grade.
What were you like in school?
In grade school, I was the class clown doing anything to get a laugh. In high school, I was the sarcastic guy who made fun of the class clown. He would do all of the heavy lifting and I would be able to top him with one line.
Is school something that you enjoyed?
I hated every second of it. School was the eight hours before play rehearsal for me. I had no interest in it at all.
You did a lot of plays?
I went to a high school whose focus was ninety-eight percent sports and two percent theater. I took part in what little choir and theater there was.
Is television something that impacted you greatly growing up?
Yes. I wanted to be Fonzie in the worst way. My parents were hip. They knew who Steve Martin was before he was famous from his spot on The Tonight Show. I stayed up often to watch The Tonight Show as a kid. We watched Saturday Night Live when it came on. I got sick of Saturday Night Live as a kid. Every sketch was getting on my nerves. I went to bed one night and my mother woke me up to say, “Hey, there’s another show on now called SCTV.” I came running downstairs and loved it. We watched Dave Allen at Large on PBS.
Did you do talent shows at your school?
I was in the Cub Scouts and because my dad was such a Steve Martin fan, I decided to do my impression of Steve Martin. I reworked all of his jokes so that they worked for an eleven year old boy and, in doing so, sucked out all of the funny.
Did you do any writing at the time, like short stories or sketches?
Not really. A little bit in high school. I wrote a screenplay with another guy. It was like Airplane, but set in high school. Like, you’re driving by a no passing zone and you see a quarterback that was unable to release the ball.
Were you in some sort of comedy troupe at the time?
Right out of high school I studied at the Players Workshop of Second City in Chicago. While everybody else in the classes went on to perform in sketch groups, I moved to California to go to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, which sounds much more impressive than it is. It was like Fame. You study acting, singing, dancing, and Shakespeare, all of which comes into my life very little now. I probably wasn’t mature enough at the time to appreciate how much I could have gotten out of it.
When did you decide to perform standup?
I moved back from California a year later. I was working at a record store and one of our regular customers was Bob Odenkirk. I worked in a store that wasn’t really busy, so I had time to talk with people. Bob and I would make each other laugh for an hour at a time and then he would just leave. I kept calling him Tom because I went to high school with a guy named Tom Odenkirk. He’d come in and I’d say, “There’s Tommy!” He thought my name was Johnny, and somehow we still got along. I found out that he was in a sketch group called Duck Logic, which I saw him perform in. I said, “I didn’t know you were in a comedy troupe,” and he told me, “You’re one of the funniest guys I’ve ever met in real life. You should think about doing standup.” I always had an interest in that and two weeks later I started doing it. It was ’88 when that all happened.
How did that first performance go?
The first one was great. I thought that I had fifteen minutes of material, but really it was closer to seven. It was in the middle of the boom, so people were there to laugh. Everyone was there to embrace the veterans or the new guys. My second time I bombed like I’ve never bombed in my career.
How has your material changed with time?
I started out very much being who I am today onstage. Then, when I started getting paid work I thought, “I’m getting paid now. I need to be a real comedian,” and started doing generic stuff that you’d expect a guy in a sports coat with rolled up sleeves do. Comics would tell me, “You’re one hundred percent funnier off stage than you are onstage. Once you find this guy, you’re going to be great.” Late ’92, I got up onstage and started doing what I used to do at open mics, which evolved into what I do today. I thought, “This is how you do standup comedy. Be yourself. Don’t be a comedian.”
How many open mics were you doing at the time?
I didn’t do open mics long because it was the boom and Chicago had paid gigs every night. I was getting paid almost immediately. When I did do open mics, it was three a week.
Did you meet any interesting characters at these open mics?
At the time, I would think, “Why is this guy playing the bongos and telling jokes. What a ridiculous thing to do.” There’s always those guys that show up at open mics and they never get better. They’ve got their seven minutes. I don’t even know why they show up every week and do the same seven minutes without improving. They just have a dream, I guess.
How long was it before you moved up to middling or emceeing?
I emceed immediately. I was never afraid to perform, so I was always comfortable onstage. I worked a year and a half in Chicago before I went on the road consistently. I started open mics in October of ’88 and my first paid gig was March of ’89. Maybe another six months for middling. Everything happened way too fast for me. I started emceeing when I should have been doing open mics, I started middling when I should have been emceeing, and I started headlining when I should have been middling. It wasn’t until mid ’98 after I’d been headlining for three years or so that it clicked.
Is emceeing something that you enjoyed doing?
I love it. If anyone ever asks me to host a benefit or, “Hey, the standup class is having their graduation, would you be able to host their show?” I’d be more than happy to. I love emceeing. There’s an art to it. I’m pretty good at it. A lot of guys go up their, do their material, and give no validity to the craft of hosting. They can’t wait to be famous or move up to middling so that they don’t have to do it anymore.
What were you doing to support yourself financially at the time?
I worked for MCA Records for my first six months of being a paid comic. That was easy living. My mom and stepfather let me live with them while I went on the road. I didn’t have to pay any rent, so all I needed to do was make enough money to live on. I could go on gigs and make a hundred and fifty dollars a week and it didn’t matter because I didn’t need to make a lot of money.
What are some misconceptions about standup that you’d like to clear up?
I don’t think all road clubs are evil. I think that there’s a lot of good road clubs out there and there are a lot of good road comics. I don’t think that the road is a bad thing.
What do you think of the term “Alternative comedy”?
I think that the name made sense when Largo was the happening place in Los Angeles. It let people know that they were going to see something different from what they would see at the Improv, but today you can see the same stuff at the Improv as you would at Largo or UCB. Guys like me, Greg Behrendt, Patton, Paul F. Tompkins, we’re on the same shows all over town, whether it be at the Improv or UCB. I think that it’s all melted into one.
What sort of venues do you prefer to perform in?
I was lucky enough to do a theater tour for the Bob and Tom radio show this past fall. There’s nothing like a theater full of people sitting in their chairs, facing the stage, and not talking or eating cheese sticks. Just a nice focused audience. Rock clubs are not my scene. I’m not a fan of performing comedy for standing people.
Are you noticing that comedian is a career that young people aspire to have?
More so than when I was a kid. Now, we see fame much more than we did when I was a kid. So much so that kids say, “Yeah, I want to be a comic and be famous.”
Tell me about Running Your Trap With Jimmy Pardo.
It started out at the M Bar. Scott Aukerman, who I have a good friendship with, wanted me to host the M Bar once a month. I said that the only way I would do it is if we mixed standup and a talk show. People do standup and I interview them afterward. Our first show was in February 2004. Now I do it at UCB and it’s been cut down to an hour. The standup is gone and now I just interview the comedians. There are also video pieces and in studio games. My goal is to host a talk show. I think that it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever done. It gives comics the chance to tell stories that don’t necessarily work in the standup environment.
How did you meet Todd Glass?
Todd and I used to have the same agent. The first time I met him was at a Burger King commercial, back when I used to audition for commercials. We made each other laugh so hard that we thought that there was no way that we weren’t going to get that commercial. Of course, we didn’t get it. We’ve been friends ever since. He did a pilot presentation for Todd’s Coma and I played his best friend in that. When I started doing Running Your Trap, it was a two-hour show. I asked Todd to be my sidekick because we have a good chemistry. Now that I’m at the UCB he’s no longer my sidekick because there’s not enough time for it.
What do you think of the state of television today?
I think it’s coming back. Even though Arrested Development doesn’t get any ratings, I’m glad that Fox took a chance on it. I think that the American version of The Office is much funnier than people give it credit for. My Name is Earl and Scrubs are funny. I think it’s coming around and that we’re getting some good TV.
What do you think of this current trend of adaptations of remakes in films?
I don’t get it. As though there aren’t enough original ideas in Hollywood.
What sort of projects are you currently involved in?
I do Running Your Trap once a month at UCB. I’ve also been hosting a game show called Win Their Approval, which is a mock on American Idol but for comics. Paul F. Tompkins, Carol Leifer, and Blaine Capatch are judges. The critiques are always good natured and funny. This coming month, we’re doing Jimmy Pardo’s Dance Party again. Scott Aukerman, BJ Porter, and I created it back in 2002. We put it up live back then and sold it to Comedy Central. They had a regime change and it never got made, but there’s been some renewed interest in it so we’re going to be doing four shows in February.
Tell me more about this dance party.
It’s Larry Sanders meets American Band Stand. It’s the behind the scenes of a Total Request Live sort of show. I play Jimmy Pardo, a guy that’s been hosting the show for twenty years (I won a talent contest when I was a teenager). The network wants me out so, hopefully, it’s a bunch of episodes about me trying to keep my job and the craziness that goes on at this TV show.
Do you enjoy being an adult?
More than I did being a kid. I’m only five foot four so I spent most of my life being made fun of and mocked, and now, as an adult, it doesn’t happen as often because people know how to behave. The end of high school, I started loving life.
Do you partake in any shenanigans when you’re out and about?
I’m a fan of the shenanigan.
Do you have a special message to leave our readers with?
Safety first. Goggles and gloves.
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