“Famous People talking about S&%!” (I don’t know why they insist on spelling “stuff” like that) is perennially one of the most popular panels at the LA Comedy Shorts Film Festival. That’s probably because of the life changing profundities and insightful observations by the panelists; or, maybe because the panelists are famous. This year’s glitterati included comedian Paul Rodriguez (Beverly Hills Chihuahua), Wendi McLendon-Covey (Reno 911, Bridesmaids), John DiMaggio (Futurama, Adventure Time), Billy Gardell (Mike and Molly) and Cheri Oteri (Saturday Night Live).
Festival Artistic Director Gary Anthony Williams interrogated the panelists and fielded questions from the audience.
Williams asked them to talk about the job that let them know they “had made it”.
Cheri Oteri said that SNL was her first job. “I was at the Groundlings, and people from SNL hadn’t been there for years. They showed up one night and recruited me. Little did I know that for the rest of my life, drunk people would be asking me to do cheerleader yells.”
One of Oteri’s iconic SNL characters was a cheerleader. “Just drunk people?” Williams asked?
“Well, even at the gynecologist they asked me to do a cheer,” she recalled. “Pap smear, pap smear, goooo, pap smear!”
For Wendi McLendon-Covey Reno 911 was the breakout role. “With Reno people thought they were watching a reality show” she said. “So, they would hand me joints and say perverted things to me. Now, after Bridesmaids you wouldn’t want to know what they share with me.”
John DiMaggio said, “Futurama was my first biggie. I’d done a few things before that, but Futurama opened doors. Now, with Adventure Time, I really have fun. It’s this generation’s Yellow Submarine. You should see the kids’ faces when their parents have me sneak up from behind them at the mall and do an Adventure Time voice.”
Williams asked at what age they knew they wanted to make a living making people laugh.
For Billy Gardell it was age nine. “My family would sit around watching Johnny Carson and he would make them laugh so hard, I decided that I wanted to do that, too.”
John DiMaggio also had an early career goal: “I used to stay up late and watch SNL and would sneak off with friends and listen to George Carlin records. It made me want to do whatever it took to get in front of people to make them laugh.”
Oteri, too, started young. “My mom was a very unhappy person. The only time she laughed was when she was listening to comedy records. So, I memorized all the routines so I could repeat them and make her smile.”
For Paul Rodriguez the path was completely different. “Comedy wasn’t my dream. I got out of the Air Force and I was going to be an attorney. I was going to have my face on all the buses in Los Angeles. While I was at CalState I would crack up class with my excuses for not getting the work done.
“Finally, the teacher said that her husband was an accountant for the Comedy Store and he could get me a walk on. I did it and when I got off the stage it was an epiphany. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I never went back to school. I think that made the teacher happy. She got me out of her class.”
Questions from the audience mostly were requests for advice on how to make it in stand up and as an actor.
McLendon-Covey told an audience member to take chances. “If you don’t do something because you’re afraid you’ll suck, you’ll never do anything.”
Gardell shared this: “You have to suck for a long time before you get any good. I remember one time I was doing so bad there was complete silence. All you could hear were the ice cubes clinking against the glasses. Then it started to rain. Still silence. I remember asking God to hit me with lightening and end it all. But by surviving nights like that, you learn and get better.”
“And don’t be embarrassed about whatever is weird about you,” he added. “That’s what makes you unique.”
Williams closed by asking the panel about their dream projects.
Rodriguez said he wanted to do the Jose Feliciano story. “We’re friends, but I can’t wait for him to die. Every day I call him up and go ‘BOO!’.”
“Another one that’s successful after this one,” Gardell said. “Anything that keeps the gate going up at the studio.”
Oteri said that there wasn’t just one project. “I’m just still very hopeful about a lot of things.”
DiMaggio said he was living his dream. “I get to play every day. I just want to happily continue to work until the day I croak. That’s the end of a long dream project. That’s enough for me.”