Kevin Pollak, in town for Playboy Comedy Tour, digs into celebrity backgrounds with Internet chat show


Kevin Pollak co-starred in "The Usual Suspects" and 89 other movies and TV shows, plus he is known as the comedian who performs the world's best impression of Christopher Walken.

But he also shares something in common with me. For the past few years, he and I have both (independently) interviewed Jim Gaffigan, Bobby Slayton, Jon Hamm, Matthew Perry, Seth MacFarlane, Eddie Izzard and Craig Ferguson.

Pollak, 52, hosts an Internet TV show where he sits down in a Charlie Rose-esque studio of shadows, and he interviews fellow performers for 90 minutes to two hours each.

These are super, duper long interviews at KevinPollaksChat Show.com.

Like any interviewer worth his salt, he has two big goals: 1) to share an honest conversation with stars while discussing lives, artistic methodology and biographies and 2) to unearth revelations about them.

I ask Pollak -- who performs tonight and Saturday at the Palms' Playboy Comedy Lounge -- to debrief his interview techniques.

For one thing, he uses his skills as a comic and poker player to adjust -- tailoring his questioning style to each interviewee as the interview progresses.

"As you know, every interview is kind of dictated by the personality of the guest -- which takes me back to my stand-up, because every performance is dictated by the energy of the audience."

(This means he has the chameleon's trait, as many of us interviewers do. "I've always had that," he says, "and now it's actually serving me.")

Unlike me, Pollak has an assistant who gives him as many as 25 pages of research on each guest.

Then he attempts to get something newsworthy out of the interview.

"That's the goal of the 90 minutes to two-hour chat. If I can't uncover something in that time frame -- the longest interview this person has ever given -- then I have completely and utterly failed."

Pollak has no live audience, since he knows firsthand that crowds change entertainers' behavior.

"The whole reason I've never done it in front of an audience is because the first thing I want to do is remove the performer's ego, because it's always there. If there's anyone in the room to perform to, they will. We all will -- those of us who crave the attention of hey-look-at-me disease."

He takes as long as 10 minutes to try to relax an interviewee. The only person he couldn't get to relax was Adam Carolla -- which is funny, because Carolla himself hosts the No. 1 podcast/interview show online.

Carolla and Pollak are friends. But he admits of Carolla:

"I felt like I was being yelled at for an hour. I mean, that's his demeanor. That's his vocal decibel, anyways. But I couldn't get a grasp on whether he was comfortable enough to converse or not."

(I've had the same problem interviewing Carolla. He seemed uncomfortable being interviewed in a news manner, which may explain why his publicist turned down interview requests a few months ago.)

Bottom line, Pollak says his "big picture" goal is simply to chat with stars to feed his hunger for biographies.

"People's journeys fascinate the hell out of me."

Pollak got sucked into this Internet chat show more than a year ago, after he merely larked to a friend who owns Mahalo.com that he'd like to host a Charlie Rose-esque show but with a sense of humor.

Pollak's friend said, "How soon can you start?"

Pollak fretted, "Oh no. What have I just done?" But then he thought: Why not? He had been a guest on the major talk shows, dating back to Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson.

"There was no greater thrill than making Carson laugh. But the only conversations happened on Rose, Tom Snyder and Bob Costas.

"It was that conversation that I missed," he says. "And before I knew it, it had taken over my life. ... But we won a Streamy Award, so it's all worth it," he jokes.

The chat show is free to see. That may change soon.

"I think we're very close to the podcast not being free," Pollak says. "The bandwidth alone dictates somebody's gotta pay for this."

He also needs validation beyond 500,000 downloads a month.

"At some point, if you don't get paid, you lose self-worth, it doesn't feel important, it doesn't feel valid."

It's hard to monetize anything online, astonishingly, partly because big companies don't sponsor shows with "swearing" -- despite the fact that the most popular podcasts are full of swearing.

And online viewers expect to get everything for free after they've paid to have the Internet pumped into their homes.

"This generation had a choice between a cable bill and an Internet bill. They'd rather pay $29.95 (for Internet). That generation of 18- to 25-year-olds is expanding every day. It's amazing to see that evolution and be a part of it."

Pollak is considering letting iTunes (which uploads his show for free) post just 30 minutes or so for free. Then viewers would make a few clicks to pay 99 cents to get the rest of an interview, or $5 for a full month.

Pollak sounds cautious about this plan.

"For 90 minutes to two hours, 99 cents doesn't seem that bad?" he asks tentatively. "Does it?

"If it's $5 a month, I think that's the cheapest entertainment anyone's gonna get out there."

Maybe. But for a few dollars more, there's gobs and gobs of porn and eBay trash.

Competition on the Internet is an orgy of distractions. Can Pollak's intellectual funhouse break through that money pit?

Doug Elfman's column appears Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at delfman@ reviewjournal.com. He blogs at reviewjournal.com/elfman.

 

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