By Steve Persall
Times Movie Critic
Charles Grodin is a funny guy, seriously. Sneaky funny, with a deadpan voice and enough conviction in what he says that dry asides occasionally blow by.
Grodin, 76, has made a career of certainty: in movie roles often written for him to talk somebody into something they shouldn't do, seven candid books and wry, passionate commentary on his former CNBC talk show and now CBS Radio. A low-key approach works for Grodin. It matches his wonderfully unremarkable face.
He claims he doesn't leave his Connecticut home much. A charity function here, a visit to a penitentiary or lawyer there, working to restore the lives of unjustly convicted ex-cons.
But going somewhere relaxing like St. Petersburg and sharing his career in words and clips with an audience? And he'll get paid?
"It's a first for me, I tell you, the only time in memory that I've gone anywhere," Grodin said. "I haven't been to California for, like 16 years. Sometimes (producers) offer me things to do, and my first question is: 'Where is it?'
"This is the first time I've done this show, and I'm actually going somewhere. I usually do it at charity fundraisers, things like that. Frankly, I was so flattered that a 2,000-seat theater asked me to appear there. That's why I said yes."
The 80-minute show is a comedic distillation of Grodin's varied career, from getting fired from Candid Camera three times in six weeks, to directing an early Simon and Garfunkel special that angered affiliates for its "humanistic" view of civil rights and Vietnam; from playing memorable irritants in films like Heaven Can Wait, Ishtar and Midnight Run, to a string of talk show appearances when Grodin always plays grouchy, making Johnny, Jay and Dave squirm.
"It's all a joke," Grodin said, with a gentleness that is, of course, convincing. "I'm absolutely nothing like that. Friends of mine … would watch it like kids watch a scary movie, with their fingers over their face because they felt people would actually believe that's what I'm like."
A few minutes later, Grodin laughed when piecing together his helping convicts find justice, and an image of being a malcontent.
"It's odd. It's such a dichotomy," Grodin said. "On one hand you have people who think I might be the most miserable guy in the world, and the other people say: 'Oh, he cares so much.' I tell you the truth, if I met me I'd be a little uneasy. I wouldn't know what was going to come, what's serious and what isn't."
Grodin promises that his show Sunday is strictly for laughs. There's plenty about Grodin's career to joke about, perhaps my informing him of several indie bands performing songs dedicated to him. I steered him to a YouTube clip of the Future Kings of Nowhere performing Charles Grodin, You're My Hero.
What do people see in Grodin to inspire songs about him?
"Well, I've always thought very highly of myself so I guess … " he said, laughing. "But it's funny you say that. This may be self-serving, but it is relevant to your question:
"When I was 10 years old, I was impeached as president of my fifth-grade class. When I went to high school, I was elected president every time. I quite honestly had no idea why.
"I asked one (classmate) in all sincerity: 'Why is this happening?' And she said: 'You care about people.' I thought to myself as a teenager, well, what's the big deal about that? Everybody cares about people. Later, as time has gone by, I realize that's really not true.
"What do they see? I think they see someone who genuinely cared, and does."
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365.