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Jay Mohr talks podcasting, technology and 'Saturday Night Live'

12

March

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If Jay Mohr told you that his podcast, Mohr Stories, is his favorite thing he’s ever done — more than Saturday Night Live, more than Jerry Maguire, more than his two books — you’d probably call him a liar. He knows that, even if he doesn’t understand it.

“There’s always a new wrinkle to negativity,” he said. “Out of all the things I could like about — I would lie on a credit report or something. I would be taller on my driver’s license. It doesn’t behoove me to go, 'Guess what? I’m lying about what I like!’”

Maybe it’s just that Mohr has always been that good at playing cocky and disingenuous. Even today, he says, “I get a lot of tweets from people: 'I’ve always hated you since Jerry Maguire,’” where he played the sleazy agent who fires Tom Cruise at lunch. “Do you hate Glenn Close because of the movie with Michael Douglas? Are you like, 'Glenn Close is crazy?’”

Mohr is 41, but he’s been in the public eye more than half his life. He started doing stand-up as a teen and had his first televised gig, on MTV, at 20. By 22, he was on Saturday Night Live — an experience he turned into the backstage memoir Gasping For Airtime. Movies and other TV shows have followed, but through it all, Mohr has stuck to his first love: Stand-up comedy. His prodigious gift of gab led him to start Mohr Stories, a 90-minute show on Kevin Smith’s Smodcast Network, that he says has led fans to see him in a new light.

As Mohr comes to the Mahaffey Theater for a stand-up show on March 15 (tickets are $35-$75; click here), he called us to talk about comedy, technology and Saturday Night Live.

Do you feel more comfortable in a theater than a club, or the other way around?

I feel comfortable in different ways. I love the intimacy of a club; however, I love the immediacy of a theater. It’s a one-off. You have one shot to make everyone as happy as possible. There’s no second show. There’s no going back to the hotel room and looking at your notes and realizing what you could change for the next time.

I’ve heard that it can throw off your timing, because the applause breaks are different, reaction times are a little bit different, you have to animate a little bit more to get people in the back row to see you. Have you found that to be the case at all?

I actually have not. But if applause throws off your timing, then you’re not the kind of comedian I would like to see. All you have to do is stand there and take it.

You’re doing this interview because you want to promote the show, and I want to have interesting content for my newspaper. How long until that’s no longer the case? You have a podcast. You have a direct link to your audience. How long before you feel like you don’t have to use the media to sell your show?

It will never happen. I heard Chris Rock on the radio — he was playing Madison Square Garden, and he said, “In comedy, I just wanted to get big enough where I didn’t have to do radio.” And I thought, Wow, he really made it. But then I realized, I was listening to him say that on the radio. So Chris Rock’s doing radio to sell shows. I’m pretty sure no one gets out of it.

Yeah. But you have a podcast now. You have a link that’s maybe a little more personal with your audience than you had before. You have a direct megaphone to your audience. Do you think that’s helped you build more of a following for your stand-up?

It’s helped sell some tickets, but what it really has done is, it’s helped set the tone for a great night together. There’s an intimacy where we feel like we know each other before we go onstage. They’re people that bought a ticket two months ago, and they know everything about me. They know all my warts. It’s not a showbiz guy, it’s not the guy from Jerry Maguire, it’s not the guy they heard on the Cowhead radio show. This is a guy that aired his dirty laundry about his father for an hour and a half in their earphones while they delivered mail. It’s very personal, the podcast.

I had a guy last night come up to me after the show; and he said, “Can I talk to you for a second?” There was podcast I did with Gary Gulman where we spent an hour and a half talking about our fathers, and how we could be better fathers. And the guy said he hadn’t talked to his father in 12 years. He called his father because of the podcast, and his father said, “You picked a great day to call. In three days, I’m going in for open heart surgery.” And in front of 40 people in a lobby, the guy’s weeping, and neither one of us were uncomfortable. I knew everything he was talking about, and he knew everything that I had already said. So there is an intimacy. You’re not shouting at people. You’re sort of leaning over and whispering in your ear.

On your blog you wrote something recently about why you do it, and you were talking about the late Patrice ONeal. You said, “Record the laughter in your life, record your parents laughing, be sure to have hours of footage of the laughter of your children. Record your friends and you having a good time. Use all of this technology to your emotional advantage.” Which I thought was a really interesting perspective on technology. Did you obsessively catalog your life before this digital age?

No, I’m a technological dunce. It’s just because of the podcast — somebody comes to my house and hands me a microphone once a week — that I was able to record people laughing. I just got an iPhone, and I maniacally film my son. If nothing happens, you can just delete it. But the other day I saw my son stand up for the first time, just because I kept it running.

What was the podcast you first heard that made you realize, This might be a thing people care about?

I never listened to any podcasts before I did mine. Everybody always asked me to do theirs. I heard that Joe Rogan and other comics had made the jump, from clubs to theaters because of the podcast. Then I spoke with Kevin Smith, who produces my podcast, and he told me if you do it long enough, and people listen long enough, if you come within a 100-mile radius of their town, they’ll come and see you, because they feel like they owe you, because it’s free. If you make them laugh, if you keep giving them content, by the time you get to their town, they feel like, “Well, I should go see him now, because he came to me so many times.”

Kevin Smith is a guy who’s got it figured out. Pound for pound — and I don’t mean that as a fat joke — is there anybody better right now at being a funny raconteur? When it comes to talking, he’s like ’91 Jordan at this point.

Yeah, I can’t figure it out. He’ll show a movie that he’s not releasing at Radio City Music Hall, sell tickets, sell it out, and then do a live video podcast of the question-and-answer afterwards, and he’ll sell 100,000 tickets to that. His fans are sooooo vested in what he does.

Do you compete with other podcasters for guests? Do you look at the download totals for Carrolla or Doug Benson or any of these other guys, and think, “I wanna get there.”

Well, I premiered at No. 1, so that was alarming to me. I kept looking at the iTunes charts for about two weeks, and I was No. 1 for a couple weeks, and then one night my wife came over and she just closed my laptop on my fingers, and I said, “Why are you doing that?” She said, “There’s nothing above 1.”

I’m oddly not competitive. What I love about show business is there is a home for everyone. There’s a guy right now doing magic on a cruise ship, thinking, “I made it!” There’s guys that make a quarter of a million dollars doing commercials and playing clubs once in a while. There’s guys who do theaters, there’s guys who do movies. I think you have to become maybe 40 years old before you realize, “Oh, there’s actually room for all of us.” No one is going in my pocket when they have success. Marc Maron’s podcast success has nothing to do with my podcast success. If I do a quarter of a million downloads, I can show that to an advertiser as a fact, and that’s that.

But you know, I’m starting to think doing it twice a week would be good, too. Carrolla does it every day, so he’s always No. 1, 2, 3 and 4, because he constantly has five up on iTunes. And deservedly so. He’s incredible. And Maron does a really great job. Rogan does maybe two a week. So maybe it’s time to go to two a week. Maybe it’s time to stretch my legs a little. Who knows?

I’m a pretty big SNL nerd. I think there’s no limit to the amount of information I’m willing to consume about that show. Why do you think people are so fascinated with SNL?

It’s the only creature of its kind. There’s no other show that rotates casts regularly, that launches original characters, that fans out into movies and then discovers new people. When you think it’s gone and dead, it just forms a scab, heals, and the tulips come up through the snow again. And everybody we love — Bill Murray, Will Ferrell, Eddie Murphy, Chris Farley — they all have one thing in common: They came from that show. So even as much as people say it’s not funny anymore, the sketches are too long, well, everyone you love was in those sketches that were too long and not funny. Do you love Bridesmaids? Because the lady that wrote it and starred in it is from the show that you say the sketches are too long.

People have tried to copy it, and for some reason, it just never has worked — with the exception of MadTV, I suppose, but I mean, name someone from MadTV? It’ll take you a second. And I don’t mean that disrespectfully at all. But if I said Saturday Night Live, it’s a Rolodex of who’s who. I mean, there’s nine Academy Award nominations from SNL.

See, I find it interesting that you know that. You seem to realize how saleable of a topic SNL is. You wrote a book about it.

Yeah. And I always said, too, when I got SNL, there was no celebration. It was somber. Because I knew how large it was. I felt like a school bus had rolled on top of me. It wasn’t like, “Yes! I got the pilot! I’m gonna get paid! Even if it doesn’t go, I get some extra money!” It’s, “Oh no, I’m now a part of this breathing organism! Forever!” I’ve done 16 Tonight Shows, and even still, the next time I do it, my 17th time, Jay Leno will say, “My next guest was a cast member of Saturday Night Live…” and whatever I’m promoting. It’s an instant pedigree. Especially for a comic. It’s an instant stamp of, “He’s in. Put him in the book.” It’s like being a made man.

What would have to happen for you to ever be invited back to host the show?

I would have to become a lot more famous. Gary Unmarried would have to still be on the air.

You have a skill set that’s sort of uniquely suited for that show. You have great timing. You can write. You have a ton of spot-on impressions. There has to be a part of you that still thinks, “This is the place where I can get out some of the creative things that I want to do.”

My wife and I are a writing team. And I know right now, we would move to New York to write — not even be on camera — on the writing staff of Saturday Night Live. And I know that we would absolutely dominate. It would be Jordan and Pippen. We would dominate. I’m positive. I’m telling you right now, you drop my wife and I on the 17th floor of 30 Rock, it’s over.

One of your impressions that you do now is Tracy Morgan. At this point, has Tracy passed Christopher Walken as your most famous impression?

No. I have a clock in my head of how long I can stand here before somebody yells out, “Walken!” My go-to joke is always, “Do you go see the Eagles in concert, and the second you hit your seat, start yelling, 'Hotel California!’ It comes at the end! It’s a hit! You see how this works?” A lot of times I’ll walk out and open with Walken and then it’s almost like I’ve broken the chain. Now I have an hour to do whatever I want, if I do 10 minutes of Walken. You know what? Maybe I’ll do that in St. Pete. I’m going to open with Christpher Walken in St. Petersburg.

Wow. That’s a bold statement. That’s like calling your shot.

I’m calling my shot. I’m a shot caller. I’m the guy. Give me a bat. Let me get in the game. Let me take my cuts.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 11:26am]

    

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