Made in Silicon Valley: Actor and Comedian Kevin Pollak

From San Jose Mercury News

February 2, 2011
By Paul Freeman

Impressions of such stars as William Shatner and Christopher Walken helped make Kevin Pollak a popular comedian. Now Pollak is making an impression using his own creative voice, in such areas as talk-show and game-show hosting, plus writing and directing original Web content, as well as continuing his high profile stand-up and acting careers.

Raised in San Jose, Pollak returns to the Bay Area for a stint at San Francisco’s Cobb’s Comedy Club. He is to perform stand-up tonight through Saturday night. On Saturday afternoon, as part of S.F. Sketchfest, he’ll present an edition of his hit podcast “Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show.” His guest will be Adam Savage of “Mythbusters” renown.

It’ll be the first time the show has had a live audience. Usually, it’s an intimate session, with conversation at a living room-like comfort level. With one guest each week, the in-depth interviews last as long as two hours. Guests have included Dana Carvey, Seth MacFarlane, Lisa Kudrow and Paul Rudd.

“I had done every single kind of talk show as a guest over the years,” Pollak told The Daily News. “And what seemed, to me, to be lost, was the long form, one-on-one conversation. I had YouTubed old episodes of Dick Cavett, where he would sit with Woody Allen, one guest, for the whole 90-minute show. That was the only time you were allowed to really find out what makes these people tick. That, ultimately, was my drive, my interest and curiosity.”

Pollak hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for stand-up. “There’s really nothing like it, in terms of creativity, immediacy, intimacy and a conversation with the audience. That’s a pretty rare opportunity to be able to take an audience on a ride of your choosing for an hour.”

Pollak’s ride began when he was born in San Francisco on Oct. 30, 1957. “The family moved to San Jose when I was very young, too young to have a say. San Jose, of course, was very young itself, compared to the small metropolis it is now … or thinks it is.

“When I grew up, there were literally orchards at the end of the street. A lot of farms. That it became a part of Silicon Valley and beyond is pretty great and has been a real sense of pride for me, having been raised there.”

Inspired by Bill Cosby, Pollak began doing stand-up while he was in junior high.

“By the time I was 17, I was opening for music acts in smaller venues, bars and clubs. It was incredibly tough at times. But what a great, survive-if-you-can education, in terms of learning a great deal very quickly — how to think on your feet, how to feel the energy of the audience, how to know when to make a turn and pick up the pace.”

He moved to San Francisco when he was 21. “San Jose still had a very small-town sense to it. The idea of going up to the big city was very intimidating. But boy, once I made that move, it was coming to Nirvana. In San Francisco, you’re coddled instantly by the most nurturing city of comedy I’ve ever experienced.”

Once he had established himself, he headed for Los Angeles. Pollak soon was performing in such films as “A Few Good Men,” “The Usual Suspects” and “Casino.”

His gift for impressions helped pave the way to success as an actor. “It really started with me walking out of a movie theater, when I was 6, 7 years old, almost possessed by a particular character. I would then walk around as that character for a couple of days, which, to one’s mother, is extremely charming … at least for the first 36 hours, and then (the charm) starts to wane and it becomes quite a nuisance. The impressions allowed me to become self-taught, to learn delivery, timing, cadence and the reality of a character in a scene. While I avoided acting school, I certainly was studying, as an audience member, sitting in the theater.”

Now Pollak is entertaining game-show audiences, as host of Fox’s “Million Dollar Money Drop.”

“I’ve loved games all of my life, competitiveness and trivia. … one of my favorite parts is that the contestants are couples. They bring all their couple baggage and it spills out onto the stage in about 14 seconds.”

Pollak has several movies coming out, including Kevin Smith’s controversial “Red State” and the comedy “The Big Year” with Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson and Rashida Jones. Directing a feature film appears to be in Pollak’s future. He made his directorial debut with the Web series “Vamped Out.”

“Getting offers is great, and it’s a goal line that every actor dreams of crossing. But once you cross it, one’s career becomes an ebb and flow of opportunities. And there are a great many months when you are literally waiting as an actor, with nothing else to do. So that’s when the writing picked up, that’s where the continuation of the stand-up made sense. Now I’m starting to diversify more and more.”

As Pollak works, he continues to learn. “Some of the greats that I’ve met and worked with have stressed to me that education shouldn’t actually end. There’s no graduating ceremony … other than death.”

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