Jimmy Pardo is like a living, breathing Swiss Army Knife. Every time you reveal one talent, you find another.
A Chicago native and 20+ year veteran of the entertainment business, Pardo has been been heard on Never Not Funny, one of the longest running comedy podcasts on the internet, seen as a TV host, on GSN’s National Lampoon’s Funny Money, VH1′s The Surreal Life, Bands Reunited and the Love Lounge, AMC’s Movies At Our House and many more, made guest appearances on many television series including That 70s Show, Becker, The List, Balderdash, and Monk and was featured on Comedy Central’s Premium Blend, Penn & Teller’s Sin City Spectacular and Comedy Central Presents. Late night viewers have seen Pardo on NBC’s The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and Conan’s Writers Live on TBS.
Warming up Conan
AmericasComedy.Com caught up with the renowned comedian, writer, TV host and podcast pioneer as he was driving the LA freeway on his way to what he describes as “the greatest job in the world” as the warm up and opening act for the Conan O’Brien Show on TBS.
Pardo, who was also the warm-up act for the short seven months of O’Brien’s now infamous, The Tonight Show with Conan O’Brien, said that he was fortunate to be rehired when the Conan show moved to Los Angeles to be on TBS.
You are known for your inventive material when improvising. Because “working the crowd” takes such skill to pull off well, have you had many nightmare experiences doing it?
“Well not in the last 5 to 7 years as I perfected my tool [my crowd work] but I did warm up in the late 90s and had horrible experiences. I mean, horrible, horrible, horrible!
Early on, while I was trying to find my voice, I might have been too mean. Instead of having fun, I might have just attacked a few people instead of having fun with them.”
But didn’t Don Rickles make a career attacking people in the audience and on stage?
“Yes, he did, but he was famous and famous people can get away with a lot more. I’ve learned to become a little more Groucho Marx-ish” where it’s a fun thing as opposed to a put down thing. My goal is to include them in the show, but I’m always turning it back on me that, ‘I’m the fool.’”
Before Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, Mark Maron’s WTF!, Doug Benson’s Doug Loves Movies, Adam Carolla’s podcast, The Adam Carolla Show and so many other famous comedians began their internet endeavors, Pardo and his long time producer, Matt Belknap began their podcast “Never Not Funny” in May 2006. As one of the early pioneers, they had some doubts.
“Early on I wondered, ‘Am I really in show business doing this or am I just some guy doing cable access on the internet?’”
That question was soon answered. Now with over 230 episodes under his belt, Pardo’s award winning podcast (“Pardcast”) guests have included luminaries such as Conan O’Brien, Sarah Silverman, John Hamm, Maria Bamford, Ty Burrell, Andy Richter and other very accomplished comedians, storytellers and actors that may or may not be common household names.
Who would you like to get to appear on your show?
“Certainly people like Steve Carell, Tina Fey, Paul Rieser, Don Rickles, Joan Rivers and Richard Lewis,” he stated quickly. “I’d like to get more ‘legends’ on, even though people of an earlier generation might not really understand podcasting.”
The Never Not Funny show is recorded out of a studio in Sherman Oaks in Southern California and was one of the first comedy podcasts to go to a paid format, though you can still listen to the first 20 or so minutes for free.
How did changing to the paid subscription model work and were you surprised at the results of that decision?
“We began that [paid subscription] after about our 100th episode so we are going on about 3 years so it’s been awhile now. We had a paid subscription for our show even before the podcast boom. I will tell you that I was surprised the amount of people that didn’t come along, but I am also generally surprised by the number that did.
We are one of the only podcasts charging for a subscription. Many [podcasters] ask for donations, but I was never comfortable doing that. I would rather charge something and have nobody listen than beg and have more listeners.”
The Pardcast-A-Thon Marathon
Pardo is also altruistic. For two years running, he has hosted the Pardcast-A-Thon. The annual show is to raise money for the Smile Train organization. So, every year on Black Friday, Pardo and producer/co-host Matt Belknap host the podcast in front of a live audience and bring in guests from comedy, film and TV. It’s broadcast live and streaming on www.pardcast.com and UStream. Last year, the Pardcast-A-Thon raised over $30,000 for the organization.
Smile Train is an international charity with the mission of providing free cleft lip and palate surgeries for children in developing countries and providing free cleft-related training for doctors and medical professionals.
How successful is your Pardcast-A-Thon marathon?
“The first year we raised about $13, 000 the night of the event and all I wanted to do was beat that number this year, I didn’t think we could do it because it was like this crazy number. Then, during the night of the 2010 show, we hit over $20,000 and all I could say was ‘Are you kidding me?’ I had just watched the TV show, “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills,” and they had an event with a bunch of high rollers and the host said that she was really happy that at the end of the night they had raised $25,000. And I thought ‘Geez, these are rich millionaires and from the audience of my little podcast, was able to raise over $26,000 on the night of my marathon.’”
Comedy Career – The Prequel
We love knowing the background of successful comedians today. What brought you to this point?
“I grew up in Chicago and shortly after high school, moved to Pasadena to attend the American Academy of Performing Arts. Right after that, I moved back to Chicago.”
Did you just jump right into comedy as a full time career then?
“I was a sales rep for MCA Records at the time and was hitting the open mics with a group of comics, 3, 4, maybe even 5 times a week. When my boss at the time told me to make a choice between sales and doing comedy, I chose comedy. Though it worked out, I probably should have stayed at MCA longer. I sort of sucked at comedy at that time.”
How long did it take before you were getting paid work?
My first paid gig was in March of 1989. I started religiously doing open mics in October of 1988. Because I was really comfortable on stage, I started to get paid work really fast. It was also at the end of the comedy boom which meant that there were many comedy clubs and one nighters to work at.
It was both lucky and a curse that I was getting paid to be the host and MC at the various clubs. I probably should have been open mic-ing and learning my craft a little more cause I kinda stunk. Because I was comfortable on stage, I was able to get up and talk for 15 minutes, but I didn’t have the confidence to talk off the top of my head like I did as an open mic-er. Something went off in my head when I started to get paid that I had to be a ‘comedian’ and have an ‘act.’ I tried really hard to write really average comedy.”
When did you quit sucking at comedy?
“Everyone said how funny I was offstage and whenever we hung out, I would keep my comedian friends in stitches. I wasn’t doing material, I was just being myself. It was in late 1992 and though I don’t remember what was said or who said it, it finally clicked what they meant. Just be myself. So I just decided to bag my act and just go onstage and talk about my day and be funny the way I was offstage.
Then in 93-94, I went through a real ‘dark time’ where I was angry. I didn’t try to emulate Denis Leary or Bill Hicks but I had that anger in me from growing up a short guy [Pardo is 5'4"] and wanting to lash out against everyone who ever made fun of me.
But in 1995 I found the mix of anger and just being funny. From 95 til now it’s just been a matter of honing that skill and getting better at it.”
Was this something that you always wanted to do?
“My dream growing up was to be a guest on Johnny Carson. I remember thinking that being on that either as a comedian or as an actor would be an amazing thing.
I did a lot of theater and acting and as I honed my skills as a comedian, I realized that my skills lent itself more to hosting. So I steered myself into hosting more talk shows and game shows.”
Any advice you want to give the beginning comedians out in our audience?
“Don’t post your stuff on the internet too soon. A lot of comics want to move ahead quicky, but I fear that because they have the internet in their hands, are going to put their third open mic up up on YouTube. I don’t understand why they would do that. When I ask them, they say they just want to get booked. Just because it is online doesn’t mean they are going to get booked. It stinks!
My advice is to learn and grow before you start putting things out there for people to judge you on.”
Oh, and don’t ask him if he is related to the Don Pardo, the famous announcer on Saturday Night Live. He’ll punch you in the nuts!
Here’s a short clip of the 2010 Pardcast-A-Thon:
About the Author: Steven Bloom is Founder/Publisher of AmericasComedy.Com. He is pursuing his dream of laughing every day and associating with some of the most creative people in the entertainment industry. Steven@AmericasComedy.Com