Revered standup and actor Kevin Pollak's new autobiography, How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen, and Interwebs , fulfills precisely what its subtitle promises, chronicling his rise as an formidable impressionist and standout player in The Usual Suspects, A Few Good Men and Casino. He also receives frequent "help" in the form of input from the likes of Dennis Miller, Kevin Smith, Jim Gaffigan, Christopher Guest, Adam Carolla, William Shatner...and his mother.
Here's our Q&A with Pollak:
Where did the idea to do a book come from, and even more, the idea for its unique format?
I got contacted by a literary agent from the book world who said, "We think you're ready to write a book." He went on to sort of explain how my stand-up act has really evolved the last 10 years into storytelling. I always did impressions in my stand-up act, and now in the last 10 years I really started telling first-hand anecdotes about meeting Christopher Walken or William Shatner or these people that I've been mocking all these years. So all these stories are the kind that one would read in a book, and this literary agent insisted that I get to work immediately. So it was his idea. And then in terms of the idea of inviting famous people to mock me within the book, that was my idea.
It's a bit tongue-in-cheek, but kind of like a roast, lovingly poking fun at the ones they love.
It felt too ridiculous of a notion to have them just compliment me... I'd rather not attach the word "roast," just because today's modern version of a roast is so disgusting and vile that it's certainly not that. But yeah, the idea was to give ass-backward compliments.
You claim you're responsible for getting Steve Martin to Tweet. Explain.
Well, Joel McHale and I were working with Steve on a movie. Sitting around in this particular case, they had us waiting in a conference room. While cooling our heels in the conference room, Joel and I were on our phones and Steve said, "What are you guys doing? Seriously." And we introduced him to the world of Tweeting and explained the joys to be had, so as I believe I say in the book, "If you're following Steve Martin, enjoying his Tweets, you're welcome."
You've obviously had a great deal of pioneering success with Kevin Pollak's Chat Show. What are the secrets to successful internet programming?
First of all you have to be really good at it. Which I clearly am...I'm waiting for a laugh. I think the secret is to create something that there's already a demand for, that you feel is missing in the marketplace. And that was certainly the case for me.
I've always been a big fan of reading biographies. I'm always fascinated by certain peoples' journeys, how did you get from there to here. So the idea was to book the show myself, thereby making sure that I would be fascinated with the guests. And then doing the research on our end. All these talk shows have pre-interviews, where their guest is basically auditioning their anecdotes.
So the idea was let's do a little research. Let's dig deeper than Wikipedia and Google. I get, like, a 30- to 50-page dossier every Saturday, which I study, and put together a six, ten, twelve-page list of bullet-point questions. This long-form interview that's averaging two hours with people like Eddie Izzard, John Hamm, Seth McFarlane, it doesn't exist out there. So in my case, I would suggest find a form of entertainment that's missing in the marketplace in traditional media, create it for new media, and sit back and wait.
You mentioned being a big fan of biographies. What are some of your favorites?
I thought Steve Martin had an amazing one most recently with Born Standing Up. There's an enormous Marlon Brando [one], the David Niven one's incredible, Charles Grodin [has] a couple that are absolutely fantastic. There are far too many to list.
Which young comedians are carrying the great-impressionist mantle these days?
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I think the kid on SNL, Jay Pharoah, is amazing and does brilliant impressions....That's where you find the new breed of impressionist, as opposed to someone getting their start on a late-night talk show the way I might have 20-something years go. I'd say Pharoah is the latest, greatest, and he's truly amazing.
What else do you have coming down the pipeline?
I have three movies that I've done that are coming out over the next six to eight months. Next one up is this Christmas movie called Saving Santa. The book tour of course is just gearing up now. There's a film I wrote, a contemporary noir, sort a detective thriller that I'm directing as a film, Waiting for Helen. That will happen in the New Year, which I'm very excited about. And there's about 37 other projects that are in development. I'm pretty active in writing and producing, so there's all kinds of TV and film stuff that are in various stages of development. The idea is if you're not creating, you're waiting.