Jimmy Pardo’s journey started out simply enough. He was an ordinary kid from the south suburbs of Chicago who learned to use humor as a powerful form of self defense! It was that very sense of humor, along with amazing comedic timing and countless hours spent honing his craft, that took him on an incredible ride to stardom. With more than 20 years in the comedy game, his greatest achievements include appearances on “The Tonight Show,” hosting TV shows like “National Lampoon’s Funny Money” on GSN and “Movies at Our House” on AMC, and starring in his own Comedy Central special. As if those weren’t impressive enough, he was tapped as the warm-up comedian for Conan O’Brien and has one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes, aptly titled: Never Not Funny. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Jimmy Pardo to discuss podcasts, standup, coming up with new material (the writing process), working with Conan O’Brien, the future of The Pardo Patrol and never being not funny.
Let’s give everyone a little background on you. Where did you grow up and how did you initially discover the world of comedy?
I grew up in the south suburbs of Chicago. My parents were always into comedy. They loved Johnny Carson, “The Tonight Show,” they loved Steve Martin before anybody knew who Steve Martin was. They would let me stay up and watch Saturday Night Live and Second City TV, so I was exposed to comedy at an early age. I am also not the tallest guy in the world … to defend myself against bullies, I would always use humor to diffuse the situation. I think comedy was a defense mechanism that led to the way that I do comedy today and ultimately to me doing it professionally.
Who were your biggest influences during that formative period?
Obviously, Johnny Carson is my number one but I think as far as stand-up goes, it is probably a combination of Richard Lewis, Paul Reiser and Robert Klein. Those were the guys that, before I did comedy, that I really admired and thought were really great. Don Rickles and Groucho Marx also played a big part in it but the real front-runners were Richard Lewis and Robert Klein.
You are a working comedian and have been very successful. Was there a moment where as a comic you said, “OK, now I’ve made it!”?
I don’t know if I am there yet! That is the easy answer and I am sure that every comic would say that because, God forbid we not be self deprecating for one second! Ya know, this podcast [The Never Not Funny Podcast – Click Here] has brought me a whole audience that I never had before, so if I were to put “made it” in quotes, this podcast has done that for me. Now people are walking into the comedy club because they know me and not just because they are coming to the comedy club.
Podcasting is still a very new medium for a lot of people. How did you initially get into it and what can you tell us about the rapid growth you have seen in that arena?
I started about five years ago with mine and I think that at the time, Ricky Gervais was the only other professional stand-up comic doing a podcast. There was Jesse Thorn’s “The Sound of Young America” and Jason Nash had a podcast, along with some other folks. Jesse and Jason aside, the comedy ones were just guys talking into the microphone on their computer. When Matt Belknap, who is now my producer and co-host, came to me with the idea of, “Hey, let’s turn your live talk show into a podcast!” I didn’t really know what that meant! But I said, “OK!” [laughs] Then we just started doing it but I insisted that we use quality equipment and that we sound like a professional radio show. Because there were so few people doing it that way, we got a lot of listeners right away! There were a lot of people saying, “Who the heck is this guy and why doesn’t his podcast sound like he is talking into a tin can in his basement!?” We saw a lot of growth right away because we were putting out a professional product and the people at iTunes took a liking to us as well! Probably for the same reason. And it’s a funny show too! I am not going to deny that! With the whole comedy podcast boom that has happened in the last 18 months, I am lucky that I started three-and-a-half years before this because I was able to pump up a really nice audience before the boom. Now, everybody has a podcast! It is almost the way that stand-up comedy was back in the ‘80s.
You are busy with so many different projects. I was curious to learn a little more about your writing process. Is there a time you sit down and write or is it more fluid than that?
Ya know, it is more fluid than that. For better or worse, I have never really sat down to write material. It just has never fit in to what I do. I might bring a story of something that has happened to me on stage and work it out there or now that there is a podcast, I might tell it there and think, “Oh yeah, that will work on the comedy club stage too!” Then I will tighten the screws and keep working that through on stage. The few times that I sat down to write and give myself a topic, I remember that I told myself, “You are gonna have some discipline! You’re a professional comedian and you are gonna write!” I gave myself the topic of tornadoes. I was going to sit there and write about tornadoes and Jesus they were horrible! [laughs] Just unfunny and almost like a child had written them. It was such a horrible experience I said, “That’s it! I am never doing this again!” I am where I am now in my career. Would I be further if I wrote more? I don’t know the answer to that but I am pretty happy with where I am at!
What is the biggest challenge in performing stand-up comedy?
Wow, that is a really great question. I don’t really know if there are any challenges anymore for me because, like I said, I am getting lucky that if the entire theater isn’t there to see me or in the comedy club, 30 or 40 percent are there to see me, that I have a core audience there to enjoy what I am doing. I would say that overall, at least up until four years ago, the biggest challenge was getting the people to like you. I mean, you are getting up on stage and who the hell are you to think that you can convince 300 people that you are funny?! You are almost like a salesman knocking at the door. They don’t know who you are! It’s a bachelorette party or Bob’s retirement that came out to the comedy club and then it’s, “Please welcome, Joe Comedian!” You have to try to convince them that they have every reason to give you respect and listen to you. I would say that is probably the biggest challenge, right?!
Some people are able to do it and some don’t. Then there is always the added part of, “OK, they liked me! Now I am going to stand by the table and try to sell my CD and have them like me a second time!” That is another weird part of what we do, ya know?!
A lot of people might recognize you from your work with Conan O’Brien. How did you land that gig and what has that experience been like for you overall?
It is kind of a convoluted story but I will try to condense it as best I can. The weirdest part of it was that when I heard that Conan O’Brien was coming to Los Angeles to take over “The Tonight Show,” oddly enough, the night before I got a phone call, I had a dream! I don’t mean like Martin Luther King “I Have A Dream!” but I mean I was asleep and I had a dream! [laughs] I dreamt that I got a phone call offering me a job on “The Tonight Show.” I didn’t know what the job was because it was a dream but it was probably something crazy. I can’t even come up with an example because I am not funny. [laughs] Dreams are always crazy and unreal! So I had the dream and sure enough, the next day, I am in a movie theater and I get a call from my manager saying, “Hey! They want to meet with you about being the warm-up comic for ‘The Tonight Show!’” I initially had no interest because I didn’t want to be a warm-up comic. I don’t want to be a babysitter or the guy throwing out candy bars and T-shirts or doing TV show theme song sing-a-longs. But at the same time, I was thinking, “It is really bizarre that I had this dream and now they are calling me to come in and sit down so that they can offer me a job! A) It’s Conan O’Brien, who I have always respected and B) It’s “The Tonight Show!” How do I not go to that meeting!? I went to the meeting and I met with the head writer, Mike Sweeney. I told him that I wasn’t really interested in doing any of the things that I had mentioned. He said, “Well, you don’t have to do any of that stuff here! You don’t have to do any of the babysitting, warm-up stuff. All you have to do is go out and do eight to 10 minutes of comedy and welcome the people!” What had happened was that Andy Richter had recommended me and said that, “There was nobody funnier, off the top of his head, than Jimmy Pardo. He’s the guy that you should get for this! He has the same sensibility as the show and he is the guy that you should get.” They were nice enough to listen to him! Then they looked at a few of my things online and had decided that they were going to stop looking, I was their guy and they were going to hire me. Then I threw in the wrinkle of, “I’m not sure that I want this job!” They convinced me to take it and then I spent every day at “The Tonight Show” hoping that they didn’t think they made a mistake! [laughs] It was the greatest job in the world! I got to go in every day and perform on the stage of “The Tonight Show,” the show that I grew up idolizing! I thought that was amazing! And I was working with Conan O’Brien, who I think is one of the top comedy minds of our generation and his staff who are all amazingly creatively, like-minded people! I had this pleasure of going to work each day with these brilliantly funny people and I am part of the team! It was amazing to me! Then, of course, we all got fired from NBC because they were dumb! [laughs] They made one of the biggest mistakes in the history of television! Now, I am on TBS. I am lucky! I say lucky but talent obviously plays a big part in it, I am not gonna deny any of that! [laughs] But I am lucky in the fact that Conan wants me there, him and producer Jeff Ross want me on the show. I truly believe that I am lucky and blessed, I am not a religious man, but I am blessed that I get to go in and work with these people. I am headed there right now and I am excited to go to work! There isn’t one day that goes by that I think, “Oh, crap! I have to get in the car and go to work.” I get to go in and work on a great comedy show with great people and I am extremely grateful that I have this gig!
Let’s talk about “The Pardo Patrol.” Definitely a cool little feature from Team Coco. What has been the highlight for you so far?
The biggest part of that is www.teamcoco.com has so many eyes on it. So many people go to there and it is one of the top websites. They decided that they wanted to start doing original content. At some point, Conan said, “Well, let’s have Pardo do something.” They called me in and said, “Conan wants you to do something and we think that would be great!” We bounced ideas around and at the end of the day, we decided to have me do these behind-the-scenes interviews with these celebrities. We literally have four minutes with these people! From start to finish of me barging into the dressing room to the point where I leave, I am probably in there less than four minutes. Then they edit that down to about two-and-a-half minutes. They are all fly by the seat of my pants outings, so it is very exciting in that regard. Very little is planned, It is all improvised. This is a long, long way to go to answer your question! [laughs] Obviously, improvising with Tom Hanks was amazing! It doesn’t get better than that! Who doesn’t like Tom Hanks!? The person that reads this and says, “I don’t like Tom Hanks!” I am going to punch in the face. [laughs] He is brilliantly funny, he is a nice man, he is one of the best actors of our generation and here I am getting to improvise with him! And improvising with him in my way, I get to make fun of Tom Hanks just as much as he is making fun of me and to me that is a win! Ya know what I mean!?
Absolutely! What else is in store for you for 2011? Anything we should be on the lookout for in the coming months?
Ya know, “The Pardo Patrol” and “Never Not Funny” are really the things that I am focusing on at this point. I still do my live shows here at the UCB Theater in Los Angeles, which are game shows and talk shows and that sort of thing, trying to get this stuff off the ground in that way. But the podcast has been so successful, I am lucky to have “The Pardo Patrol” and use different comedy muscles for both. Those are the focus for now.
There are probably going to be several people who read this who are aspiring comics. What advice do you have for anyone who is looking to pursue a career in comedy?
Ya know, I am such a broken record on this. Lately, a lot of young comics are asking me for advice, which is very flattering and very frightening because I don’t want to steer anybody wrong. Really it is just a matter of doing it, getting on stage. If you have ever done comedy, just do it! Quit talking about how you want to be a comedian and go up and do the open mics and fail — and you’re going to fail! We all fail. Not one comic can honestly say that they haven’t failed. Again, you are begging for the approval of strangers, so some nights you aren’t going to get it! That is until you get better at it and figure out your craft. Then that is the second piece of advice that I always give — be true to your voice. Every comic has growing pains and you might have influences in your voice or in your act or your jokes but eventually you have to be yourself. My advice is to never stray from being yourself. You might not know that you have these influences in you. You know what makes you want to be a comedian, so stay true to that. Even if it means failing more than you have ever failed, stay true to that because if it is truly there and funny is in your bones, you’ll figure it out and reach success! Maybe that is easier said than done, I don’t know but it is the best I can put it!
Thank you so much for your time today, Jimmy! We are big fans of the podcast and your comedy, so it has been a pleasure for us to speak with you! Anything you want to say to your fans before I let you go?
Well, I guess if I have anything to say to my fans it is, “Mind your own business!” [laughs] Thank you, Jason. It was really nice to talk to you!
For all the latest news on Jimmy Pardo and his upcoming projects and appearances, check out his official site at www.jimmypardo.com. You can also swing by www.pardcast.com to give the Never Not Funny Podcast a listen!
Jason Price founded the mighty Icon Vs. Icon more than a decade ago. Along the way, he’s assembled an amazing group of like-minded individuals to spread the word on some of the most unique people and projects on the pop culture landscape.