Steve Bannos [Interview]

Today’s interview subject is one of those guys that you are bound to have caught in some sort of capacity over the years, because he shows up in EVERYTHING! The range of roles that this cat can take on is astounding. His name is Steve Bannos, and I am going to say it now…he is god damned brilliant.

Most recently, fans of the Netflix Original Series Love will definitely recognize him. And if you are a young person, or have one of those young people running around your house, his work on Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide may be how you know his genius. I know that I personally just continued to see him pop up in such modern classic comedies like Superbad, Bridesmaids, Funny People, Ghostbusters, Why Him?, and just about every damn thing that is directly related to, or stems from the Apatow universe, going all the way back to the beloved cult classic series Freaks and Geeks. This man has been there the entire time, and he is been doing some amazing work in this world.

And with that, we are absolutely honored to have Steve Bannos as our featured guest with us today! It has been a real pleasure to digitally get to know Steve. Not only is he an amazing actor and brilliant writer, he is also just a downright sweet and hilarious person in general. Which is always a relief! So ladies and gentlemen, please welcome one of the funniest folks we have ever had the privilege of featuring at TWS, the great Steve Bannos!

When did you first realize that you were destined to join the world of entertainment, specifically the world of comedy? Where you always looking to get a laugh as a kid?

Destined? More like cursed. I never really had a choice, I don’t think. I was a funny kid. Fat and hammy and funny and always out of control. I drove my parents bonkers. Always making noises. And faces. Always. I never stopped. All day. Even when I was alone, I’d make faces in the mirror, thinking there was a camera aimed at me. f I was a kid today, I’m certain I would be on a fruit salad of psychotropic meds. But I wasn’t. I was allowed to wacktastically flourish and eventually find my footing. 

You betcha I was looking to get laughs as a kid, and in grade school, it was like shooting fish in a barrel. I got into heaps of trouble because of my pursuit of yucks. Just constantly in deep shit. I spent agonizing hours in the Principal’s office locked eye-to-eye with a mad man, getting lectured about this and that and blah and blah. He’d drone on endlessly, trying to instill some sort of righteous wisdom, and I’d be miles away, thinking about the Incredible Hulk or boobies or my next Kit Kat bar. I cannot remember a single moralistic syllable that came out of his gob because nothing ever stuck. And, in retrospect, he was a dick. 

However… there might have been an exact moment when I first realized I had comedy super powers. When I was ten or so, I was at my Aunt Frieda’s house in Berwyn, IL, for a Christmas party. There was a piano as the focal point in her living room, and there was always a cousin ready to play or sing something to an invariably attentive room. It was a great scene. I was taking piano lessons, so without introduction, I ambled up to the piano and started playing. I can’t remember the song but it was short, and when I got to the end, without missing a beat, I started the song again. I acted frustrated, and it got a laugh. Then I got to the end again, and I did it again. Bigger frustration. Bigger laugh. I repeated the gag several times, kind of like a Victor Borge routine, if Victor Borge was a fat pimply ten year old. By the fifth or sixth time, I was going berserk and the entire room was rolling on the floor. People even came in from other rooms to see the source of the laughter. I finally ended by falling off the chair. It was glorious. And it was absolutely my first performance high. I had that entire room in the palm of my hand. I owned them. I felt like a rock star. A fat pimply ten year old rock star.

In 1994, you appeared in the controversial made for TV movie Honor Thy Mother and Father: The True Story of the Menendez Murders as Detective Tim Linehan, the man who was known for bringing America’s Most Wanted on board. What sort of research did you get into to accurately portray this fascinating character? Did you meet with Tim himself?

What a great experience that was. I auditioned for Haim Saban (Power Rangers) sitting across from him at his desk. When I was done, he said, “You have a good face for a cop.” And I booked it. I was so blown away, I called everyone to tell them. Then drank a celebratory bottle of shitty wine from the 99 cent store, and wound up blowing chunks into a bucket next to my bed as I spun to sleep. A star is born. That was my very first time in front of the camera, so it was baptism by fire. I didn’t do a stitch of research on my character. All I cared about was knowing my lines and playing it small and honest. John Beck (TV’s Dallas) played my partner. He was such a great guy and took me under his wing like a real mensch. 

That was a surreal day, I had to cross a Teamster picket line to get on the location of the Menendez house because Saban had pissed them off on another job. They brutally cussed me up and down as I walked through them, middle fingers defiantly extended on both hands. I didn’t give a shit. No one was going to keep me from my first TV gig. No one. 

The inner child of the 90’s in me is itching to ask about your work as a writer on the legendary young adult oriented programs like Doug and Recess, which will both forever be legendary shows for kids like me in the 90’s. So, when you were writing for shows like these, what was the ultimate goal when writing for amazing shows like these geared towards younger audiences?

Doug and Recess were my very first professional writing jobs, and there were wildly different show. The Doug jobs came first. Doug was soft and cuddly, and always with a some kind of a moral. Blech. Who cares? One of my episodes, “Doug Gets a Roommate” actually became a kids’s paperback book. I think I own the last three copies left on the planet. 

Recess from Disney’s One Saturday Morning, was about sneaky kids pissing off idiotic teachers. It was a match made in Elementary School. When they just got rolling, I somehow heard about it and obtained the show bible. I came up with five story ideas to pitch, so all I had to do was get in the door. It was pre-9/11, and studios didn’t scrutinize people coming into the lots that closely. Having worked Art Department on a bunch of TV shows and commercials, I was pretty good at getting into lots. A baseball cap, stainless steel clipboard, and a confident wave to Security was all it took. So, I got into the Disney lot, found the right building. Found the right floor. Found the right receptionist, and told her I had an appointment to pitch to the creators, Paul Germain & Joe Ansolabahere. She looked in her book. No appointment for Bannos. I told her I could come back but she insisted I wait. In a couple of minutes Joe came out and led me to his office. It was my first pitch meeting. I pitched all five episodes, and they bought three of them. I really enjoyed writing for that genre; you eliminate all laws of physics, and the sky’s the limit with your creativity.


Steve Bannos appearing in Ghostbusters (2016) directed by Paul Feig.


You have been a player in the Apatow revolution of the last 20 years for a very long time. From Freaks and Geeks, to a plethora of of the related Will Ferrell/John Hamburg/Paul Feig films, all the way up to your reoccurring role in the Netflix series Love. So, as a guy who is well versed in this universe, what would you say is most appealing to this style of comedy? What makes you want to keep coming back?

Luckily, I keep getting invited back. Paul Feig told me decades ago, “All it takes is one person to ‘get you’ and your career can take off.” Little did he know, he’d be that one person for me. He, and Judd, and Hamburg are all wildly loyal guys, and they “get” what I do. I’m very fortunate in that way. So, I guess that’s what keeps me coming back; the offers and the subsequent pay. And, of course, it’s absolutely a labor of love. I love acting. There’s no better high for me than being on a set. It regenerates my psyche. It’s as invigorating as Tapatio® enema (I’ve heard).

I think that their comedy, for the most part, has heart. It’s the real deal. The characters are real. The friendships are real. And their lead characters are vulnerable and flawed. (i.e. Love, Superbad, Forty Year Old Virgin, Pineapple Express) The appeal of the comedy of Freaks and Geeks was its gut-wrenching realism. Comedy that cuts deep into your own life experiences can be pretty visceral. It’s sort of a “better them than me” comedy. 

After all of your years working in the business, whether it be acting or writing, what would consider to be the biggest change to the entertainment industry with the technological advancements that have occurred since you first got into the business? What are some of the ups, and what are the downs the advancements?

That’s easy. Promotion has become ridiculously easy. Back when I started in 1982, actors got black & white 8×10 photos, and that was it. What you did with them was up to you. It was close to impossible to market yourself when you first get started. Now, all the photos are online, in color thumbnails, and your agents can chose any of a dozen they pick to submit you for a part. Also demo tapes have gotten worlds easier to make. In 1982 no one had video cameras, and if they did, once you shot the footage, it was horrible, and you’d have to haul around giant tapes to drop off. The day the VHS tape died, I filled my dumpster with mountains of them that cost me 100s of dollars to make. Good riddance. Of course, now everyone has cameras, and it’s easy to make your own demo tapes and self-tape auditions that you email to casting directors. 

Also being on set, shooting digital is so much more chill than shooting film. It makes for less stressful producers, directors, and camera crews; and when they’re happy, everyone is happy. I see no “downs” in any of the technological advancements. Except for the inevitable: getting replaced by a computer generated chimp. 

Through a bit of research on this thing we know and adore called the Internet, I have discovered the name Steve Bannos to be synonymous with something called “Gargantua”. It’s a fascinating thing really, and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind telling our fine readers what about how “Gargantua” came to life?

Oh, you son of a gun. You found Gargantua, the 500 Pound Gorilla of Snapshots! Twenty years ago, in the dawning of eBay, I started buying old snapshots online, as well as at the flea markets that I frequented every weekend. Shortly after, I decided to sell them too. I picked the eBay name Gargantua (yes, it was so early in eBay that the name was available) and decided I’d brand myself as largest seller of snapshots with the persona of a giant goofy gorilla. I kept my alter ego a secret for many years, as I wanted to be viewed as an actor and writer, and not the hirsute huckster of photos, but those days of anonymity are over. I’m quite proud of what I’ve accomplished with my snapshot business and collection. I have a loyal international following and my found snapshots have been used in films, album art, and in museums all over the world. 

For those unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, it’s what the art world has dubbed, “Vernacular Photography.” It’s basically “found photos” that are other people’s old snapshots saved from obscurity and for whatever reason are elevated to art. Why in the world would anyone want other people’s photos, you ask? My stock answer is, if you look through a box of one thousand photos, if you’re lucky, one of those photos will take your breath away. Maybe a lover’s glance, a strange mysterious moment, a frozen kinetic abstract object, or a woman or man whose beauty transcends time. Some people call it, accidental magic. I’d love to share a couple of gems from my massive horde. Gargantua still sells his simiansational photos on eBay!

What does the future hold for you? 

Many, many more healthy years, I hope. I’m very fortunate to be a character actor. I was told ages ago by my mentor, William SE Coleman at Drake University, that I would find success as an actor later in life, and he was right. That is a rare opportunity. I mean, in what other field can a fat, bald, curmudgeon become more marketable the older and crustier he gets? I try to embrace that sentiment as each year zips by. 

What was the last thing that made you smile?

I just finished a phone conversation with two life-long friends, where I explained the most efficient ways for a Greek shepherd to make love to a lamb (which I will spare you details). We were laughing so hard that I my bonked my head on the kitchen counter, and now have a noggin knot. Does that count as a smile?

Check out this amazing collection of photos that Steve has been nice enough to share with us as examples of the beauty that he has described in this interview known as “Vernacular Photography”, I think you will definitely understand why it is such an amazing thing:

About rontrembathiii
write. write. write.

2 Responses to Steve Bannos [Interview]

  1. Mark Petrak says:

    Nice to read an interview with someone I know. It gives a different perspective. Sad there is not one mention of alice or the rum candy.

  2. Mike Zelvin says:

    Steve was my roommate at The National Theater Institute some 36 years ago. I’d have bet my small bank account over the years that of anyone I’d met in the business, Steve would be my bragging rights to fame. He’s that disturbingly talented. I await the future film where he gets to flaunt his full range in a major supporting role, as it’ll have to be fuller than a Jackie Gleason bus driver’s seat.

    I count myself as number one fan, and all I’ve ever asked of it is to buy him a cheap dinner.

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