Talking Pictures: Million Dollar Babies


From Pacific Sun

January 30, 2009
By David Templeton

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According to Los Angeles comedian Jimmy Pardo, his deep, head-over-heels affection for the Oscar-nominated film Slumdog Millionaire has nothing to do with the fact that the movie is about a game show, and that he himself has hosted a number of game shows on and off television. The real reason Jimmy Pardo liked Slumdog Millionaire?

“I’m very easily manipulated,” he says.

Slumdog, by British director Danny Boyle (Trainspotting, 28 Days Later), is the story of a poor, uneducated, 18-year-old orphan from the bad parts of Mumbai, who finds himself a contestant on the Indian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Pining for his lost love, he becomes a national sensation when he starts winning his way toward the grand prize, much to the dismay of the show’s producers and the local police, who assume the kid must be cheating.

“Truth is, I’m just a total sucker for love stories,” Pardo admits, “and Slumdog is, more than anything else, a great love story. I fell for the music, the scenery, everything. Like I said, I really am very easily manipulated. It’s like with the movie Titanic. Watching that movie, I was so manipulated by everything that was going on on-screen, I was just putty in that movie’s hands, in spite of the fact that the whole thing was hokey and obvious and it kind of sucked. I feel the same way about Slumdog, though it’s a much better movie than Titanic.”

As a guy with a love-hate relationship with cinematic manipulation (I wept like a penitent at the end of Marley & Me, but then lost all respect for myself for doing so), I know exactly what Pardo is talking about and yet, with this guy, I sense that he actually likes being manipulated by his cinematic entertainments.

“So you don’t resent being manipulated by a strip of celluloid?” I ask.

“No, not really, I don’t mind,” Pardo laughs, his voice a blend of sandpaper and butter. “I know a lot of hipsters like to sit up and tell you they hate to be manipulated, as if there’s something wrong with surrendering your emotions, or your dignity, for a couple of hours in a movie theater. You know what? I go to the movies to be entertained and to enjoy myself, and if Celine Dion’s awful song makes me cry like a little wet baby at the end of the flick, then so be it.”

Pardo, a staple at comedy festivals around the country and beyond, will be appearing this weekend at the closing days of the eighth annual San Francisco Comedy Sketchfest where, among other things, he will be hosting his signature Game Show Explosion! event at Cobb’s Comedy Club Friday and Saturday nights. Known best for his TV appearances as host of National Lampoon’s Funny Money game show on the Game Show Network and also as a co-host of AMC’s Movies at Our House (alas, both now off the air), Pardo has also appeared in his own Comedy Central special, and has done his stand-up routine on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Late Late Show and others. His regular celebrity-interview podcast Never Not Funny has become a huge hit—so freaking popular he can actually now charge for it—and has consistently been in iTunes’ top 50 podcasts of the week.

“You know what’s interesting?” I suggest to Pardo. “I’ve heard that for all of Slumdog’s press about being the feel-good movie of the year, a lot of people are actually complaining about that really violent thing that happens 10 minutes into the film. In some theaters, people are actually demanding their money back.”

“Are they out of their skulls?” Pardo exclaims. “Don’t they realize that sometimes you have to sit through a little torture and violence before being treated to the ‘feel-good’ stuff?

“Though, you know, it is interesting that you mention this,” he continues. “My best friend, on my recommendation, went to see this film, and he texted me while he was sitting there, and what he said was, ‘I’m 10 minutes into Slumdog, and man, I’m finding it really hard to watch.’ And I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is a sensitive guy!’ But apparently, his reaction is actually a lot more…what’s the word? Um, oh yeah…common. People reacting badly to the opening of Slumdog is apparently pretty common.”

“The previews do make the movie look like some magical slice-of-life thing,” I mention, silently marveling that anyone would be best friends with a guy who texts people during movies, “so is it really any surprise?”

“What,” Pardo picks up the thread, “is it any surprise that some people go, ‘Hey, I thought this was a movie about a game show! Why is some guy getting electrocuted by policemen?’ Maybe they misread the advertising. I think torture and electrocution are totally implied in the movie posters for Slumdog.”

Pardo, to his credit, has been patiently waiting for me to ask him something about this weekend’s Game Show Explosion! event. When I finally do ask him to provide some details about the show, he says, “It’s really cool. It’s basically The Match Game—the great old show from the ’70s with Gene Rayburn—but without the legal and moral permission to use the name Match Game. So we call it Game Show Explosion! with an exclamation mark, but with me as host instead of Gene Rayburn. We’ve been doing it as part of Sketchfest every year for the last couple, and it’s always a huge hit with the audiences.”

Like the original Match Game, this one features a panel of celebrity comics and actors who secretly fill in the missing words, Mad Libs-style, on a series of suggestive sentences, while contestants from the audience try to match their own responses to those of the famous people. This year’s show will include actor Jon Hamm from Mad Men, Mary Lynn Rajskub from 24, Bob Odenkirk from Mr. Show, Andy Richter from Late Night with Conan O’Brien and others.

“So,” I ask Pardo, “if you could be on any game show as a contestant, past or present, what show do you think you’d do the best on? Millionaire? Survivor? Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me?”

“Oh man,” he laughs. “In the old days, and I’m talking about the classic shows, I’d really want to have been on Password or The Match Game or Family Feud, but what did contestants walk out of there with? Ten thousand bucks? Fifteen? Today, if you want to make any money at all, you’d have to choose Who Wants to Be a Millionaire or Deal or No Deal. But OK, if I could choose any show just for the fun of it, I’d really love to be on Survivor or The Greatest Race. Those would be fun to be on. I’ve got a lot of food issues and some people issues. I think it would be great to be on a show that would help me break through some of my phobias in life.

“If I were on Survivor, though,” he continues, “I can tell you I would either make it all the way to the top three people or else I’d be voted out the very first week. Pardo, off the island! On a show like Millionaire, I’d be lucky enough to get past the fastest finger round at the beginning. I’m really not a bright guy.”

“Doesn’t matter,” I say. “If there is anything to learn from Slumdog Millionaire, it’s that you don’t have to be particularly bright, or experienced or well-educated to win a million bucks.”

There is a long pause on the phone.

After a few seconds, Pardo says, exuberantly, “Right! Yeah! Well, if that’s the case, then give me all the money right now, ’cause I’m neither bright, experienced or well-educated. So let me change my answer. If I ever end up on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, hey, I’m goin’ all the way to the top!”

Jimmy Pardo’s Game Show Explosion! takes place Friday, Jan. 30, at 8pm, and Saturday, Jan. 31, at 8pm at Cobb’s Comedy Club, 915 Columbus Ave. in San Francisco. All seats $25. The live taping of his Never Not Funny podcast takes place Saturday, Jan. 31, at 2pm, also at Cobb’s Comedy Club. All seats $20. For tickets, call 415/928-4320. For info on Sketchfest events this weekend all over San Francisco, visit www.sfsketchfest.com.

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