From Comedy Clubs To Conan, This Comedian Is Never Not Funny
Written by J.T. Ryder
After studying for a year at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Pasadena, California, Jimmy Pardo decided to go back to his home state of Illinois and entered the comedy scene during the halcyon days of the eighties. Coming up through the ranks, Jimmy went on to become a headliner, appearing in his own Comedy Central half-hour special and making guest appearances on television shows like That Seventies Show and Becker. Always casting a nervous eye on the future, Jimmy has taken a practical approach to his career, creating opportunities for himself instead of waiting for that ephemeral big break. By doing so, Jimmy has created several shows of his own, such as Running Your Trap, You Bet Your Life and a very successful one man show, understatedly titled Attention Must Be Paid: The Jimmy Pardo Story. Not satisfied with becoming stale or behind the times, Pardo hosts a critically acclaimed and wildly successful podcast, Never Not Funny, which is an unscripted talk with various guests from the world of comedy as well as Pardo’s unique humor.
What follows is an (almost) unedited transcript of my most recent interview with the acerbically witty comedian as he was in transit to the world’s best day job…
J.T.: How are you doing?
Jimmy: Good! Jimmy Pardo calling…but obviously you know that.
J.T.: See? I was editing pictures from a pole fitness class. That’s where you rate with me. ‘Pictures of hot, nubile women exercising on stripper poles…what? Jimmy Pardo is on the phone? Well, let me just put these away then!’
Jimmy: Well good for you! And those are ladies you know, right?
Jimmy: That’s makes it hotter, doesn’t it?
J.T.: Yeah, it has that ‘girl next door’ quality to it.
Jimmy: Yeah! Right! I like it. I love the idea of it.
J.T.: Well, how is everything in your world?
Jimmy: Everything is good. As we speak, I am driving to go to work with Conan.
J.T.: That was going to be my first question. I was wondering where that was going to lead because you were there right when the Jay Leno hammer fell.
Jimmy: I was. I was there for the whole seven months of the Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien and, luckily, I got picked up to go to work again. Today is our first test show and, as I said, I’m heading there right now.
J.T.: That is just ultra-cool.
Jimmy: Yeah! I’m really excited about it. I don’t…and if I’m repeating myself, I apologize… this is a great group of people to work with and Conan is just a terrific guy and I’m honored to be part of such a terrific team. I know that sounds like a press release, but I mean it.
J.T.: Oh, well yeah. You know, the way that he has handled this whole situation, from beginning to end, has just been classy and funny at the same time. I think that it has boosted his image in a lot of people’s eyes.
Jimmy: It really has. It’s made him sort of like this underdog/folk hero too. People are like, here’s this guy who, for no reason, got shit on, basically. He was putting on and doing a great show, he was being funny and he was getting the ratings in the demographics that they had told him that they had wanted him to do, and then they went, ‘Yeah, you know what? That’s not what we want after all *click*’ It’s just ridiculous.
J.T.: Yeah, and things went the other way for Leno as well.
Jimmy: Oh, absolutely.
J.T.: On many different levels.
Jimmy: You know, he didn’t come off well in any of those interviews that he gave, during and post, in my opinion.
J.T.: Well, switching gears, Never Not Funny is doing really well…
Jimmy: We are doing very well and I’m proud to be a part of that as well. I’ve never been prouder of anything than I am about the podcast.
J.T.: Well, I read a while back that it even got a write up in GQ Magazine…
Jimmy: Yeah! They were nice enough to mention us as their Number One Relatively Obscure Thing To be Paid Attention To and hopefully that got us a few more listeners.
J.T.: Well, that’s kind of a left handed compliment, isn’t it?
Jimmy: (Laughing) Yeah, right! Well, you know how everything needs to be snarky, right?
J.T.: Yeah, but it’s like, ‘Should I say thank you or smack the fuck out of someone?’
Jimmy: Yeah, well, you read Entertainment Weekly and everything has to be some backhanded compliment. It just can’t be, ‘Hey! This is great!’ Everything just has to have that subtext of snarkiness to it.
J.T.: Right! You know, when people have asked me to describe your show, I always say…and you might disagree with this…but there seems to be different styles of stage presence and types of delivery, so I put it into musical terms which is to say that there are those whose performance is more like grunge and some that are more like classical jazz. I’ve always describe your act as being like watching classical jazz. It’s almost got that Catskills quality to it.
Jimmy: I don’t, uh…I don’t disagree with anything you have said. In fact, I’m very flattered when people refer to my delivery as jazz because I do think it has some of those elements, if you are trying to compare it to music because it’s got that rhythm and it can take off into another rhythm. No, I one hundred percent agree with you and I appreciate the compliment and I take it as such.
J.T.: Well, how would you describe your act to someone who hasn’t seen you perform?
Jimmy: You know what? I’ve been trying to figure that out for twenty years. How do you put into words the nonsense I do? You know, I used to call it ‘high energy sarcasm,’ or somebody once described it as that in a review of my show and, at the time, I thought it summed up what I do. I still think it does, but when people think of sarcasm, they picture some dour guy, like a guy that just stands there and is mean, bitter and angry…and that is certainly not what I am. But when they said ‘high energy sarcasm’ I thought, ‘Well, that makes sense because I’m also not Dane Cook or Steve Byrne, who are both fine comics. I’m not one of these guys that shits on those guys. But, they are these high energy kind of guys, but they aren’t really sarcastic. So, for me, high energy sarcasm worked, but I do so much improvisation on stage these days that if there was a way to figure out something like, ‘high energy improvisational sarcasm’…but boy, doesn’t that sound like a shit show? (laughing) I don’t know. I really don’t know how to describe it.
J.T.: That’s what I mean. I have a hard time describing your show because you can go from an egocentric dictator at one point directly into some self deprecating rant about yourself.
Jimmy: It’s, uh…you know what? I mean, that’s exactly it too.
J.T.: Maybe highly energetic schizophrenia.
Jimmy: You know, I want to say that somebody used that term to describe my show once before too. A woman in Ann Arbor called me that. But, I don’t disagree with that either. You’re right…I mean the egocentric dictator is kind of rough…but yeah, I turn it around and then I’m the stooge, which I think is necessary because if you’re just up there yelling, you’re just and a-hole, don’t you think? I mean, you have to turn it on yourself at some point. I think some of these young comics don’t realize that part of it. I apologize J.T., but at zero with this question. It’s odd to try and describe what it is that I do. It’s just funny and…I don’t know. I’m a failure. (laughs)
J.T.: Let’s talk about the Never Not Funny podcasts for a minute then. What do you have coming up with that? Any interesting interviews slated?
Jimmy: You know, we have Scott Aukerman makes his return (October 27th) and next week my beautiful wife Danielle Koenig will be on the show. We’re coming to the end of this season, and we’ve had a lot of new guests this season and added some new faces to the show and I already have a lot of new faces lined up for season eight, but I don’t want to give those away because it won’t be a surprise when we do it.
J.T.: That and you’ll jinx yourself and they’ll pull out at the last minute the moment you utter their names.
Jimmy: Oh, of course. The minute you printed their name, that guy would cancel. We also have the Podcast-o-thon coming up the day after Thanksgiving. This year we’re going to go for twelve hours where last year we only went for nine. We raised over twenty-one thousand bucks last year. We’re hoping to best that, but I don’t see that being possible, but I would should love it if it happened. Starting today, as a matter of fact, we began to book the people for that event. I sent out a bunch of invitations to appear for it and hopefully soon they will start to come back to me, so there will be that as well as well as the regulars from the show and we will have a great twelve hour marathon.
J.T.: What is the charity that you are raising money for?
Jimmy: It goes to Smile Train. That’s the charity that goes to Third World countries and fixes cleft palates.
J.T.: Oh yeah!
Jimmy: Yeah, you’ve probably seen the ads like in the back of Parade Magazine.
J.T.: Yeah, some of the most horrific pictures in those ads.
Jimmy: They really are. I picked up Parade Magazine and I saw this ad and it says, ‘Each surgery only costs $250.’ So, I immediately donated…not because I’m this big money guy…I don’t have money to donate, but I was so moved by those horrific pictures that I thought, ‘Jesus Christ! For $250 bucks you can fix this kid’s face? Why not donate?’ Then when it came time last year for the end of the season, we said, ‘Hey, let’s do a marathon podcast just for the fun of it!’ and then I thought, ‘You know what? Let’s do it for this charity.’ So, when we raised this much money…I never…I never felt like I had done something better for the world in my life than giving this much money to save this many kids. It really felt great and hopefully we can do the same this year.
J.T.: Well, I sincerely hope it does as well. With the podcasts getting more popular, are people seeking you out asking to be a guest instead of visa versa?
Jimmy: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah! People…uh…not so much calling, but if I’m like out at a show, (comedians) are like, ‘Yeah, I’d sure like to show up on that podcast!’ Nine times out of ten, I go, ‘Yeah!’ and walk away and hope they never bring it up again. With the one out of ten, I’ll go back to my co-host producer Matt (Belknap) and tell him, ‘Hey! Kevin Pollak wants to do out show!’ and so it’s like, ‘Great! Let’s book him!’ and we definitely get him on as quickly as we can. But, with all of the requests, sadly, there’s a reason you haven’t been asked my friend. By the way, some of those are really funny people, but not funny in conversation. You know, I used to hear Steve Dahl and Garry Meier do radio out of Chicago and they interviewed Jerry Seinfeld who, at the time my…you know…and man, he was awful!
J.T.: Oh yeah, I’ve seen a ton of interviews where you would have gotten better reactions out of coma patients.
Jimmy: Don’t you think?
J.T.: Yeah, he always just gave really short, deadpan answers.
Jimmy: Just horrible! Not even funny! You’re not promoting your show! You just…showed up! So, again, it’s not an insult to these people when I don’t want to have them on, it’s just I know that they are not going to be right for that format.
J.T.: I’ve always thought that about some of these morning radio shows. There are some absolutely hysterical people that have been on there, but the format kills them.
J.T.: Ron Shock is a perfect example because he is a brilliantly funny man, but his long drawling type of storytelling does not survive on that ADHD programming format. I mean, before he is 1/16th through a story, someone has already interrupted him and derailed the whole thing…
Jimmy: Exactly! Boy! You’re not kidding either. You’re just derailed and, like in Ron’s case, with that Southern drawl, how do you go back like, ‘Anyhow, what Ah wuz sayin’ wuz…’ It would make you sound like a dick, so you drop it and you’re done. So, instead of coming off with this really funny story, people listening are like, ‘Well, that made no sense! Thank God someone interrupted it!’ Yeah, I agree with you. I one hundred percent agree.
J.T.: By the same token, there are people that are absolutely hysterical on radio, and you would think that their stage show would utilize that improvisation, but after four or five years, it’s the same routine.
Jimmy: (laughing) Right!
J.T.: Well, that’s like that air bass thing you do on Bob and Tom. At least since their program has been picked up for television broadcast by WGN, you can get the more subtle nuances of the air bass performance.
Jimmy: Definitely. You know, as much as I want exposure, the downside is that anytime I go to a Bob and Tom market, there’s always at least one guy that yells out, ‘Air bass!’ It’s like, ‘Okay, there’s no music playing sir. It doesn’t apply to what we are doing currently.’ And by the way, and you know this: They don’t yell out when it’s quiet…they yell it out one word before the punchline. ‘Air bass!’ Yeah, thanks.
J.T.: Well, have you picked up any other air instruments like the accordion?
Jimmy: I have not. I stick strictly with the bass. You know, when you perfect an instrument like that, you don’t want to take away from its uniqueness. How’s that for a ridiculous answer (laughing).
J.T.: What you should do is if someone yells out for air bass, you should just stop what you’re doing and do like a three minute solo without any music or noise whatsoever and then, when your done, remind everyone to thank the gentleman after the show for suggesting that encore performance.
Jimmy: Right! I mean, obviously I do other nonsense, like I tap dance for no reason…you know, I’m doing this Cajun character who just shows up out of nowhere now, for no reason.
J.T.: (laughing) I haven’t seen that yet.
Jimmy: Oh, it is the dumbest thing you will see in your entire life. I’m not going to lie to you: I’ve never, in my entire career in comedy, I’ve never heard an audience laugh harder than when I do this dumb Cajun guy. It doesn’t last more than two minutes, because it can’t because it is so ridiculous, but when I do it, I still get spit-takes. I mean, Jesus Christ, I’ve worked my ass off for twenty years and, as it turns out, I do this dumb Cajun guy and he gets the biggest laugh. Fair enough.
J.T.: You caught the Larry the Cable Guy syndrome.
Jimmy: Yeah, right. But I never go more than two minutes because I don’t want to be that guy…you know, with all of his billions of dollars. I don’t want that. No.
J.T.: That’s funny because I just watched the roast of Larry the Cable Guy and Greg Giraldo just tore into him.
Jimmy: He was great, Greg. Everybody says Jeff Ross, they call him the ‘master of the roast,’ but I think Greg was. Don’t you think?
J.T.: Greg’s stuff was brilliant.
Jimmy: Nobody was writing sharper material than Greg.
J.T.: Jeffery Ross seems to have that appearance that when he is at the mic, that is his first brush with the material.
Jimmy: I will agree, certainly on the more recent ones. I think early on, when Jeff got that reputation, I think he probably took it really seriously, but now it’s like, ‘I’m Jeff Ross! I can just phone this in and it’s a win!’ and it’s like, ‘Well, Jeff, it’s going to look like you’re phoning it in.’
J.T.: Oh, I mean, Greg Giraldo doing the Flavor Flav roast with, ‘You look like Idi Amin after a three year crack binge on the sun!’ That is an elegant reference.
Jimmy: (laughing) Gorgeous!
J.T.: I got to meet Greg once when he middled for Colin Quinn. I was very surprised. He was a very subdued guy off stage.
Jimmy: You know, it surprised me to. I met him a couple of times at the Montreal Comedy Festival and he’s one of those guys that, like when you see him, with what he does on stage, which is so quick and sarcastic, but off stage, it’s like, ‘Hey man, I’m Greg.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh! Oh good! We’re just people.’
J.T.: If you ever get a chance to, look up Greg interview in Psychology Today…it definitely gives some insight into what happened.
Jimmy: Okay. I will definitely look that up when I get home tonight.
J.T.: So, your role on Conan: are you doing the warm up only or are you going to be getting into the writing as well?
Jimmy: You know, I’ll still be just the opening act, but I’m hoping to get in some more sketches this go-round. I did a few for the Tonight Show (with Conan O’Brien) that, due t time constraints, never aired. I am hoping to get in some more sketches and to be a little more involved, but for the most part right now, I’m happy to just go out and be the warm up act and have, quite frankly, the greatest day job in the world.
J.T.: That would be fantastic. Have you been told to keep things in check?
Jimmy: You know what, the only notes that I was ever given, to be honest with you, is just ‘don’t swear.’ That was it.
J.T.: I couldn’t do it.
Jimmy: Trust me. It is difficult for me as well. I did say ‘fuck’ once…and I did it on a Friday, so I spent three days…no! We had Monday off for some reason, so I spent three days panicked that I was going to get fired and so I showed up on Tuesday and, I’m not kidding you, nobody knew that I had swore or cared that I swore. So, at least it was a lesson for myself: Don’t do it anymore because you don’t need the hassle of being stressed about it.
J.T.: I interviewed Archbishop Schnurr and the whole way to the interview, I’m smoking like a freight train telling myself, ‘Don’t say fuck, don’t say fuck and for fuck’s sake, don’t say goddamn.’ Then I got worried that I had hyped myself up so much that the first words out of my mouth were going to be, ‘Fuck, fuck, fucking, fuckity fuck!’…and then I would go straight to hell.
Jimmy: (laughing) Of course! You know, it’s funny, I did a private gig once, which I can’t stand doing, by the way, and before I went on, the guy goes, ‘The only thing I ask is just don’t say fuck.’ So I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ So I decided to replace every ‘fuck’ in my act with ‘goddamn.’ As it turns out, that might be a little more offensive to some people. Turns out that saying, ‘This goddamn thing and that goddamn thing’…some people truly get offended by that. Okay, good enough.
J.T.: Now, you’ve played Wiley’s a few times…
Jimmy: This will be my third time there. I used to play Joker’s way back in the day, so when that kind of went down, Rob (Haney) was kind enough to call me up, so I went over there and I love it.
J.T.: Do you think it’s a good room for you?
Jimmy: You know what? I’m a guy that speaks so positively about comedy clubs as opposed to venues, and you have one of each in Dayton. I love Wiley’s and while he might not get the numbers that the other club gets, in my opinion, you’re getting comedy fans as opposed to people who just want a night out. I like a nice 150-200 seat room with the stage right there and the people are right there with you, so you can communicate as opposed to perform. That’s the problem…well, I guess it’s not a problem…well, I kind of think it’s a problem…I think that having the stage and the audience so separated has made some comedians go in the direction of, ‘I should perform! I need to kill!’ as opposed to just worrying about being funny. That’s what I love about Wiley’s…even back in the day when Joker’s was there. There were many years when Joker’s drew tremendous crowds. Then, sadly, it became a place for bachelorette parties and you end up wanting to slam your head against a wall.
J.T.: There’s no competing with a bachelorette party.
Jimmy: The day that someone puts a rule out across the country that bachelorette parties are not allowed at comedy clubs, that guy will be my hero.
J.T.: Speaking of Rob, when he told me he sent you an email warning you that I wanted an interview, he said, ‘Oh, I told him that a local writer wanted to interview him and that you were a big fan of his iPod.’ Rob and technology equals a bad mix.
Jimmy: You know, Rob will send me an email and if it takes me more than one word to respond, he’ll write back, ‘Can you just pick up the phone!’ He’s like a dad in that way. Like a dad…if you picture the stereotypical dad…that’s Rob. ‘I don’t understand this future!’
J.T.: When he said I loved your iPod instead of Podcast, I was like, ‘Yeah, I love how Jimmy’s playlist jumps from Marilyn Manson to Air Supply…it’s such an eclectic mix.’
Jimmy: You know, there’s a good chance that might happen. Yeah, you’ve seen my iPod. You like the way I handle it. You like the case and the clear plastic I put over it to prevent scratches.
J.T.: Well, let’s wrap this up. Is there anything that you want out there that we haven’t covered.
Jimmy: Nah, I think that covers it. In fact, I’m going to be pulling into a garage and I’m probably going to lose you. I sure do appreciate you taking the time to do a story.
J.T.: And I surely appreciate you taking the time to talk with me. I will definitely see you when you get to Wiley’s then.
Jimmy: Fantastic! I look forward to it. Thank you so much and I appreciate it J.T.
(Originally published on December 10th, 2010 at DaytonMostMetro.com)