He’s one of the pioneers of podcasting, a sometimes actor, and host of the reality game show Race to Escape. As the creator and host of the nearly decade-long Never Not Funny with Matt Belknap, his lightning-fast quips have cemented him as one of the quickest comedians in the business. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jimmy one early morning in Toronto before a weekend of standup and podcast recordings.
How do you approach the road?
You’re doing a lot more time on the road so I honestly think of it as more freeing, and fun. You aren’t under the eye of your peers and any industry people in LA watching a set where it’s got to be a little tighter cause the sets are shorter. So it’s good especially if you wanna try new stuff or tighten the screws. A lot of guys crap all over the road and I don’t understand that, I think the road is where you really learn to be a great comic.
Do you feel the pressure of returning to the same city with new material?
Sure, but I haven’t written a joke in ten years so I’m fine! I do so much interaction that somebody who comes to the eight o’clock and ten o’clock say they’re two different shows. If you think it is, great! It all depends on the vibe of the audience, but for me the same skeleton is always there. You don’t want it to be exactly the same but we aren’t all Louis CK putting out a new hour every year.
Do you approach hosting differently?
That’s interesting, I don’t quite know. It isn’t 100% about you. You’re asking the person about themselves, learning about them or at least a good host is anyway. There’s times when I’m hosting that I have to remember my anecdote doesn’t have to come into play. I’m not always perfect at that, I’m guilty of adding my story in.
I always find it interesting to know, do you have any pre-show rituals?
With the podcast, the ritual is that I get there right at showtime so I don’t talk to anybody before. Any conversation or small talk happens on the show because I don’t wanna waste anything before we’re on air; if it leads to something interesting than we couldn’t recreate it. If we start at 12:30, I try to get there right at 12:29 which is probably not fun for everyone else involved, they’re worried about where the hell I am. With standup, I don’t know if I have any rituals – oh I keep a copy of my set list in my back pocket. I haven’t had to use it in twenty years but I was doing a show in Detroit in 1995 and it was horrible… a horrible show. The audience was winning and did not care for me. I blew through my material and still had twenty minutes left. I froze and couldn’t remember my act and thought, “Well this can never happen again” and I wrote up my set list that night and folded it up. I always have it just in case, that’s my ritual – and having a folded up napkin in my back pocket. One time in St. Louis at Catch a Rising Star I had a runny nose, I turned my head and snot went flying. I swore that was never going to happen again either. Not so much rituals as just in case’s.
What type of audience member do you prefer? Do you want someone who’s a fan, heard of you, or a person off the street?
I think it needs to be a combination. You need to have fans that know everything and people who’ve never heard of you. I tell a story in my act about going to the movie theater and if everyone in the room knows it, that nine minute journey kinda ends with a… yeah. If there are new people who don’t know it, the room explodes. I need a nice mix for what I do, but having good fans there – not an overzealous one. If I ask a question they’ll always answer comedically or say something from the podcast to let me know they’re a fan. You want the supportive fan but not the overeager fan. Someone brought up something on Twitter and I had to text Matt [Belknap] to see what it meant, I had talked about it on the previous episode…twelve hours ago.
I was watching Race to Escape and I have to say, your outfits were fabulous.
Aren’t those great? The woman fit everything that even I look at the pictures and think, “I’ve never looked that good, ever!” I try to buy nice clothes, wear nice suits, but those! She told me to wear things that I would never buy; I’d try them on and look great.
Have you ever played a live action escape games?
Nope and they’re huge. What’s weird is when I met to host the show back in December, I had never heard of them until I met Riaz [Patel] the gentleman who created the show. I thought they sounded fascinating and would be so fun to do with my son. Then when all of a sudden I said I’d be hosting the show, everyone knew what I was talking about. They went from underground hip to mainstream, in LA anyway; which I guess is perfect timing for our show.
When did you get involved in the show? Did you have to audition?
I did not have to audition; it was the one time in my life where I didn’t have to! I got the phone call from my manager about hosting this series for Science Channel. That call happens all the time and you meet and they go, “Okay, well we’re gonna screen test you and three other guys.” I went to the lunch and they said, “We’ve done this research on who we wanted to have host, from really famous guys to somewhat famous like you to nobodies. You were on the top of everybody’s list from the network, production and talent. We looked at each other and since he was the only guy on all our lists, if you want the job it’s yours.” Oh, what? That never happens. I ran to my car and told my manager they just offered me the job and don’t screw it up. It’s the Hollywood cliché of doing something my son can watch.
It is very family-friendly; there isn’t any swearing or real violence. It’s rare to see a show not have that or any sexuality on display.
At all! It wasn’t made that way. That’s one of the reasons they chose Science Channel – they turned down a deal from a major network. The network wanted to do it where there would be a girl in a bikini and everything this show isn’t. These three people want to get out of the room so there is no nonsense; it just stumbled on being family fare.
How do you think doing crowd work plays into hosting?
It’s all about listening and being in the moment. Being in control but putting the focus on the other person. Earlier in my career I was a put-down comic but I don’t think I am anymore. I think for anyone who does crowd work, it’s easy to sweep them into a “Don’t sit in the front row, he’s gonna attack you” type. My fans sit in the front and want Jimmy to make fun of their shoes or whatever. It’s all stupid fun; I don’t make fun of somebody’s job or parents. I’m only 5 foot 4 so who the hell am I to make fun of anybody?
I really like comics who are quick on their feet or find a way to involve the audience through storytelling. It’s more interactive than someone speaking at you –
Or just pressing play. There’s a skill to that, but it’s not what I do and they can’t do what I can do. I would just get bored to tears doing that.
It seems like a monologue. I wonder if they have it written out and memorize it word for word. How do you balance comedy roles – hosting, podcasting, and standup? Do you try to get into a different headspace?
It’s kind of just going with it and doing what the job requires. Doing two podcasts a week, I gotta get better if I tell a great story on the podcast, to go, “Oh hey that would also work in standup.” In the old days without the podcast I’d work it out on stage and then it becomes a bit. Now it’s like, “I exhausted that on the podcast, that’s out of my life.” I need to get better at recognizing great stories that translate. I don’t know if that answers your question or just circles it.
It’s the crossover between roles and balancing the different aspects. It’s always interesting to see how it works.
For me, I have the family, two podcasts a week and was also working at Conan which I don’t do anymore so I would factor that in to. It can get overwhelming and tiring even though I’m not doing anything but talking; it’s still a lot of energy in a day.
It’s a lot of you, you’re vulnerable and putting yourself out there.
Yeah that’s a great point. I guess the easiest of all was Conan because it was fifteen minutes of me going out there and welcoming everybody. I had certain beats I had to hit and it’s really all about the audience, where are you in from, who’s from out of town, out of the country and showtime! That was easy to do for all those years.
Do you set career goals or milestones you want to hit?
You know, I think I did early in my career. Open mics wanna be a paid comedian and hopefully that would happen by X, I gotta get on Evening at the Improv or Caroline’s Comedy Hour then it’s The Tonight Show. Nowadays I just wanna provide for my family. Obviously I still want my own show and I still want to not have to worry. Early in my career everything was hand to mouth; whatever money I made that night at the gig paid for food the next day. I guess the goal now is to just be happy. Before it was all career-oriented or it wasn’t in the nineties when I was a drunken asshole and all I worried about was getting hammered. I’m more driven than I’ve ever been but at the same time I’m more at peace.
Do you think it’s because you found your – not really niche, but comfort zone?
I think so. The podcast changed everything. We’ve been doing it nearly ten years – nine and a half. I found an audience, everything you really want. I still want to be on TV, I love Race to Escape, but that’s not The Jimmy Pardo Show and I still want that. I don’t know if it’s a talk show or reality show. I don’t think that’s a sitcom, that’s not my bag but if someone said they wanted me to do it and star in it tomorrow – I would!
Do you have big plans for the tenth anniversary of Never Not Funny?
That’s a good question… I don’t know the answer to that. We do Pardcastathon every year but we’re now pushing it back to the spring, which might coincide with the tenth anniversary. But then you get into if it’s about you or is it about Smile Train or can they coexist. I don’t know what we’re gonna do, we gotta do something. Ten years of podcasting is pretty crazy.
Ten years of anything is a big achievement, but then you think of ten years of something that hasn’t been around for much longer…
That’s been around about eleven years that we knew of, right? It was something new and really neat. Ricky’s was the first I listened to, the second was old Abbott & Costello. I didn’t look on there and think, “Oh there’s Don & Drew, maybe I should listen to them” like people do that for me.
What was it like joining Earwolf?
Earwolf has its loyal fans, I’m glad we’re part of it. It brought us to the free model after being behind a paywall for so many years and then getting ten times the listeners than we had. The Earwolf fan is so devoted to all those shows so we kinda came in when it was running. I don’t know all the inside jokes that people write or reference, I don’t know what it means but great. Long story short – it’s all been great!