You could say Kevin Pollak was born to do stand-up. In fact, he started at the tender age of 10 and quickly learned that he had an incredible gift for impersonation, which would become his calling card.
Pollak has had an illustrious film career, appearing in movies such as A Few Good Men, The Wedding Planner, The Usual Suspects and The Whole Nine Yards, but it’s his dead-on impressions of Christopher Walken, Peter Falk, William Shatner, Al Pacino and many more that people rave about the most.
You can see Pollak in action Friday night at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, when he teams up with fellow comedy giant Richard Lewis for a show to benefit the future Catskill Resort Museum in upstate New York, which will honor a long list of Jewish-American legends — Sid Caesar, Jerry Lewis, Buddy Hackett, Mel Brooks, Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield and Jerry Stiller — who helped develop modern stand-up in the ’50s and ’60s.
Pollak talked to the Miami Herald about the show and what drew him to stand-up.
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Why is this benefit important to you?
I actually have very little experience, if any, with the Catskills, other than being sort of fascinated by the long-standing history and tradition of its success and existence. Being California born and raised, we had no relatives who were kind enough to introduce me to this wonderful world, so I’ve been perhaps overly fascinated because it wasn’t in my back yard.
What can we expect from the show?
We will be performing separately, and we reserve the right to perform together should the situation present itself and make sense. We are solo acts that rarely get to see each other, let alone work together, and we’re both pretty damn thrilled to be a part of this.
So you two are close friends, then?
Known him a long time. He’s in my directorial debut, a documentary that just had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, called Misery Loves Comedy. I interviewed over 60 famous funny people with the thesis that you have to be miserable to be funny, so of course I had to include the great Richard Lewis.
You started doing stand-up at 10 — what led you to it?
Well, I collected stand-up comedians, watching them on television, the way my friends collected baseball cards. And I was just fascinated by, you know, a person standing by themselves and getting laughs on their own material and performance style. I don’t know why the art form grabbed me at such a young age, but I became instantly fascinated by those that did.
Did you test yourself out on your family?
Of course. Lip-synching comedy albums, and eventually learning that I had this natural gift of impersonation, and then that became the staple of my act by the time I was 17 and performing in nightclubs.
Obviously, one of your favorite people to impersonate is Christopher Walken. Who are some others?
Oh, the list is long. I can wander around the house in pajamas impersonating Al Pacino until I’m arrested: [slips into Pacino’s gruff voice] “I don’t know, Michael, if you’ve noticed, but something has transpired here. Nowwwww I’m an old black blues player, so I can be found walkin’ down the grocery aisle, in particular, where the condiments are, and just shouting the name of my favorite marinade maker, and that’s ... McCormick!”
That’s actually based on a true story. My fiancée had sent me in search of McCormick Barbecue Marinade, and I stood in the aisle, and there’s fifty-five hundred flavors of marinade, and I can’t find the one she’s looking for, and I know I can’t leave the grocery store without it. And I’m just staring like a lunatic, and finally, as Pacino, I just start mumbling, “McCormick!” And I couldn’t have been happier.
Do you have to train your voice or do anything special to keep it in shape?
No, it’s funny — it’s a weird, freakish gift. I liken it to a fact, which is children learn to speak by mimicking the sounds we hear from our parents, and there are a few of us freaks who never lose that ear to mimic. And I guess there have been technical geniuses at it, like Rich Little, who would study audio and videotape, but for me, I just pick it up through osmosis, and become a little obsessed with somebody. And then they get into the act.
Do you ever get any feedback from your victims?
Oh, a lot of them. A lot of my act is based on true-life, first-hand experiences from working in movies and meeting these heroes of mine — Christopher Walken, Alan Arkin, William Shatner, President Clinton — the list goes on.
Richard Lewis and Kevin Pollak headline the Catskill Resort Museum Benefit at 8 p.m. Friday at the Parker Playhouse, 707 NE Eighth St., Fort Lauderdale; www.parkerplayhouse.com; $51.50-$126.50.