Neil Patrick Harris, Funny Guy

From San Jose Mercury News

January 14, 2010
By Mark de la Vina

Neil Patrick Harris, the ultimate performance hyphenate, is about to add to his satchel of onstage specialties.

Harris will join the likes of Rachel Dratch (“Saturday Night Live”), Steve Schirripa (“The Sopranos”) and Fred Willard (“Best in Show”) in reading the most self-involved, catty or downright bizarre excerpts from VIP memoirs in Celebrity Autobiography. Part of SF Sketchfest, this dryly delivered, often screamingly funny take on the published words of the rich and famous is at Cobb’s Comedy Club on Jan. 30 and 31.

Though this is Harris’ second Sketchfest appearance — he was a monologuist with the Upright Citizens Brigade A.S.S.S.S.C.A.T. in 2009 — his inclusion in this year’s festivities eels a bit like a scheduling coup.

Along with starring as the skirt-chasing Barney Stinson in the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother,” Harris is the new go-to host of the Emmy and Tony awards shows. The same guy who built up his cred parodying himself in the “Harold & Kumar” movies has played a lovelorn supervillain in Joss Whedon’s Internet hit “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog” and tackled Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins” on Broadway.

Is it any wonder why Time and Entertainment Weekly have proclaimed that the former Doogie Howser has emerged from his child-star past as the epitome of cool?

Harris downplayed the newfound hype and underscored his love of all things comedic, including Sketchfest, in a phone interview from his home in Los Angeles.

Q How did you learn about San Francisco Sketchfest and how did you become involved?

A Janet Varney is a very close friend of mine. She’s one of the three founders (with Cole Stratton and David Owen) and I’m a wild fan of hers. So I do whatever she tells me to do. I think it’s an amazing feat that these three people take on so much.

Q How do you know Janet?

A Dave (Burtka), my better half, was in “On the Lot,” which was a competition reality show to find the next great director — a thing that Steven Spielberg produced. Janet and David were both actors on the show. They got to hang out and get to know each other, and we obviously all started hanging out. She and (boyfriend) Chris Hardwick — they’re hilarious together. I just like watching them perform around a dinner table.

Q Are there any performers at Sketchfest you’re especially excited about?

A John Hodgman. I just worked on a movie with him. And I got him to be the voice-over announcer on the Emmys. When they announce the winner, you have a voice-over person say, “This is Michael’s third nomination.” I thought it would be fun to have John Hodgman do made-up ones like, “This is Khan’s second win; he was raised by packs of wolves.” I kind of wanted it to be one of those TiVo moments, with John in a booth making stuff up.

Q You’re doing Celebrity Autobiography this year. How do you go about reading the words of Kenny Loggins or Susan Powter?

A Oh, I should be so lucky. I don’t know what I’m going to be reading. It seems like you don’t go in with any game plan. The calmer you are and the more sincere you are, the funnier it tends to be.

Q You’ve done such a huge range of stuff. Everybody thinks of “Dr. Horrible” or “Harold & Kumar,” but there’s also “Starship Troopers” or that episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street,” where you played a murderous drug dealer. How does comedy fit into the mix of what you perform.

A I find comedy much more subjective. It’s easier to know if you’re being funny in a live situation or a comedy club because you can hear people laughing. Dramatic work leaves it up to interpretation. You can say it very stone-faced, and one person might think you’re about to burst into tears. Another person might think you’re over it all. When you’re telling a joke, you have to hit a punch line straight away and hope people laugh.

Q Joss Whedon, who directed you in “Dr. Horrible,” called you “the Sinatra of TV.” Time magazine called you the “icon of cool masculinity.” You really seem to be having fun with the kind of buzz you’ve generated from how your career has most recently unfolded.

A I don’t take any of it to heart. Apparently, I’m in the running for gay man of the decade. Everyone’s looking for something to say about people and I’m flattered that what they say about me is generally positive. It’s been a lovely year. You try to represent yourself as best you can and execute as well as you can.

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