Joey Sagal [Interview]

Today’s interview subject is with an extremely nice and talented cat. He is a guy who I will admit, I didn’t know I was following and enjoying for many years. A character actor to the core, he has literally shown up multiple times in completely different characters that I had no idea they were all the same person! He is also a brilliant writer, which is how I came across the man that is Joey Sagal himself. Last year I managed to check out a little flick called Elvis & Nixon, which was even more intriguing than you are already probably thinking. It was such damn fine flick. And of course, this is set me off the search for the creators of just a fine product, and get them up here on the site!

And through my research, I discovered that he did the spot on George Clooney impersonation in Not Another Celebrity Movie, the highlight of the film if you ask me. And even more important to me, he was the bad guy in the 1989 comedy horror film The Return of Swamp Thing, which was directed by our old “friend” Jim Wynorski (“friend” because he kind of hated us, check out that interview). Seeing his list of credits simply solidified the fact that I needed to have Joey on the site, and would be absolutely honored to have him. So here it is folks! Please enjoy some amazing words from a brilliant writer and performer, the great Joey Sagal!

I know you grew up around the world of film and television, so there was probably some influence there. But, what do you believe it was that drew YOU to the world of acting? What made you want to journey into this world? What were some of your own personal influences?

I enrolled in an acting class at Lee Strasberg in Hollywood. They taught me a technique of how to use my talent to be real and honest, how to show off my talent in the best way, to do the kind of acting I loved watching and wanted to do.  I was hooked.

You appeared in the brilliant 2016 film Elvis & Nixon, which you also executive produced and co-wrote with Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes, which was absolutely brilliant. So what was your inspiration in bringing this film to life? How did you come about bringing this story to life?

I got the idea for Elvis & Nixon to an independent film producer. He green lit it and wanted me to play Elvis and write it as a low budget film. When I sat down to write the movie, I felt nobody would be able to relate to Elvis at this point in his life…he was in his bizzaro period.  Elvis had taken the trip to meet Nixon with a friend, Jerry Schilling. Jerry was a real normal guy who everyone could relate to. So, I thought it would be fun to go on a ride with Elvis, through Jerry’s eyes. Jerry would be the Nick Carraway/everyman and Elvis would be Gatsby.   After I wrote the first draft, the producer decided it should be a bigger movie with big stars, so I ended up playing a smaller part, the Elvis impersonator and being Executive Producer/Co-writer.

Your performances as Elvis is a bit revolutionary in comparison to those who have done it before you. I really dug it. So what was your process like to create your own Elvis? What do you feel you did differently than others have in the past? What kind of research was involved?

I  played Elvis in a play Steve Martin wrote called Picasso at the Lapin Agile, it was the original Steppenwolf Theatre Production that played at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, it was a fantastic production with the young Tracy Letts in it also, it was a hit, I was playing Elvis on stage 8 shows a week for 10 months in a very funny cool part, it took me about 100 performances before I really got the voice, but because we ran  so long I was able to really work on my Elvis,  I ended up doing over 350 performances of that play. I went on to play Elvis in some movies,  a Stephen King mini-series, and of course Elvis & Nixon.  I also got to meet Elvis, when I was 7, because my dad was a director and directed Elvis in the movie Girl Happy. Elvis has been very good to my family.

This photo was taken in 1995, the 100th performance of Steve Martins play Picasso at the Lapin Agile the Los Angeles debut of Chicago’s great Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Steve Martins first and only play and the first time I played Elvis, Steve had cast me himself. I’m on Steve’s left to Steve’s right is Tracy Letts author of August Osage County which he won the Pulitzer and the Tony, Tracy and I shared the stage and a dressing room for 10 months during this run of 333 performances. Ten years after this photo was taken Tracy wrote a movie starring Michael Shannon called Bug, twenty years after this photo was taken I would co-write Elvis & Nixon starring Michael Shannon, Tracy is also in Elvis & Nixon, wild wacky stuff? This was also the last time this theatre would be called the Westwood Playhouse during our run the name was changed to The Geffen Playhouse after David Geffen gave them a lot of money.In 1989, you appeared in one of my favorite films as a child, The Return of Swamp Thing, directed by our past interview subject Jim Wynorski. What was it like working on a film as strange as this one? In comparison to the more serious work you have done, what was it like to work on a horror/comedy of sorts?

I loved working on Return of Swamp Thing we shot in Savanna, Georgia a beautiful city. It was like going to summer camp. I got to play the bad guy, sooooo fun.

When you look back on your career spanning over 30 years, what would you say you are most proud of? What would you like the world to remember you most for in 100 years?

As and actor I am most proud of my work as Elvis, it’s my ace in the hole role. Although I have played George Clooney in a movie that was a spoof of Oceans 11,  that was fun too.

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

Writing my next movie, I have a great idea for a film also for a Broadway musical if any producers are interested out there..

What was the last thing that made you smile?
My girlfriend and my dog.

Tom Thakkar [Interview]

I first came to know Tom Thakkar like I learn about a lot of young comedians. I heard him on random guest appearances on the wonderful podcast Doug Loves Movies, as is the same for a lot of the stand up comedians we have featured on this site. Actually, I should clarify and say that I first came to know a guy named Tom Brady. Actually the same person, but way better name choice for someone in his business. If somebody were to throw a damn football at me every day for a gag, somebody may be dead.

Anyway, Tom Thakkar is an amazing young comic who has been slaying it in the game lately. His Conan special was absolutely brilliant, and on par with some of my other favorites like Ian Karmel or Ron Funches or David Gborie or….you get it. He also has very original and very cool new podcast that he does with fellow brilliant comic Tommy McNamara called Stand By Your Band. Each week, comedians come on the show to defend a band that people generally like to shit on because it warms their weak and insecure hearts. Anyone from Justin Bieber to Chumbawamba. I highly recommend listening to our old friend and past interviewee on the sight, Sean Patton, doing his best to defend the band 311, specifically the band’s lead singer Nick Hexum, who is also an old friend and past guest on the site! Tom was always on my radar, but now I am a full on fan of this brilliant cat. So with that, I will stop rambling and let Tom speak for himself. So Ladies and Gentlemen, please enjoy some great words from the brilliant Tom Thakkar!

When did you first discover that you are a hilarious person and that it was possible for you to make a living standing in front of people and making them laugh?

I remember when I first started trying to be funny, it was in presentations in high school. I was a shy, weird kid, especially for a public school in southern Indiana, so those school presentations meant so much to me, and I started caring less and less about the grade, and more about seeing how I could be funny throughout. I had this great media teacher, Mr. Kennedy, who set up this thing where we got extra credit if we did stand up at the end of class, and he pulled me aside and said “Obviously you’re going to do it.” I was obsessed with stand up. I watched Comedy Central Presents every chance I got, and I loved Nick Swardson, Gaffigan, Todd Barry, Tony Woods, and Maria Bamford. I honestly loved every half hour I saw. I thought that what they did was impossible, and that to do it, you had to be like chosen by some kind of higher power in the entertainment industry or something. So the idea of doing it after class seemed odd…but I was so drawn to it, I had to try it. I did that like 3 times, and it was a huge rush to get any laughs, even though I’m sure whatever I did was garbage. I kind of thought that would be the end of it, because there wasn’t really anywhere in Bloomington to do it back then. We had Bear’s Place, which was like a one nighter for road dogs, and then IU’s campus, but there wasn’t a club at that point. I did improv for a couple years in college, and then towards the end of college, The Comedy Attic opened. That changed everything. It was a real comedy club, right in our town. I could go see the people I’d watched on Comedy Central in person. And they had a weekly open mic. I had tried stand up like 8 times between when I tried it at 14 and when the Attic opened. I went to their open mic, and I bombed hard. I was feeling good about improv then, so I was frustrated with how it went, but felt like stand up would be a side thing anyway, but it killed me that I didn’t do well. I had to try again. So I did about 6 weeks later. Sure enough, I bombed again. Bombing like that hurts. Especially when your friends do well. It’s soul crushing, especially in the very beginning because now if I bomb, I’m just like, damn, that was a weird set or weird situation or whatever, but I can brush it off. But in the beginning when you bomb, you have no point of reference…you’re just like, damn, everyone in this room hates me and my sense of what is funny is completely out of whack, when in reality, the problem can be your timing, your obvious discomfort on stage, leaving the mic stand between you and the audience…whatever. Anyway, I was destroyed. I vowed to NEVER do stand up again. But then I had an improv friend who wanted to try stand up, and he begged me to sign up with him. I tried it one more time, and by some miracle, I did well. I remember I was talking about the Sham Wow. And then the next couple times went well too. Then I was hooked. I didn’t commit to it fully until after I graduated college, but slowly my dream went from being a doctor who does comedy, to a nurse practitioner who does comedy, to a nurse who does comedy, to just doing comedy. As far as it being a living, it’s insane to me that anybody pays us for this, but I’m very happy they do. I’m still hoping that some day I feel like the higher powers of comedy are choosing me to be one of the comics I looked up to when I was a kid. I don’t know if any of this answered your question, I just didn’t feel like addressing the idea of “discovering that you are a hilarious person” and it seemed easier to write a million words on how I started than answer that.

In the comedy world, I hear a lot about the city of Bloomington, Indiana. I know nothing else about the place, other than I’m told it is a great city comedy. And learning that you are a native of this city, would you agree? Is there anything that sets apart Bloomington from other major cities, from a comedian’s perspective?

I absolutely agree that Bloomington is a great comedy city, and that is one thousand percent the fault of Jared Thompson, the owner of The Comedy Attic. I say fault because I just turned 30, and I’m finally getting a room with a door on it next week for the first time in 2 and a half years. For better or for worse, he cares so much about not only the club, but the people who are a part of it. The regulars, the staff, and every comic who puts time in there. The comics who come out of there are like family to me, and Jared is our comedy dad/uncle/brother. I really believe he’d do anything for any of us. He bought a plane ticket and flew to LA with less than 24 hours notice to come hang out with me when I did Conan. It’s just like any scene with a club that cares about it’s locals. Austin, TX has Cap City, Denver has Comedy Works, Madison Comedy on State, Cincy has Go Bananas, Portland has Helium. I think the clubs that truly care about comedy more than selling quesadillas, and that put their locals on and monitor their growth and foster it, those clubs and scenes flourish together. I also think that having comics with a centralized goal, like working at the local club when it’s a good club, it pushes everybody to get better. When you’re surrounded by good comics, it makes you want to be better, and especially when you’re doing the same shows every week, you want to have the newest, best stuff every week.

Also, just as far as Bloomington goes, it really is a great community. People always shit on Indiana, but Bloomington is incredible. With their population, they have no business having a comedy club in that town, but they support it so much that it makes all the difference. And they’re super appreciative of the comics who come out there. I think that’s the other reason comics who go through there love it. They can feel the atmosphere that Jared’s created, with people who know to be quiet and not use their phones or whatever during a show, but also they can feel how much the people of Bloomington appreciate comedy.

You have been pretty open about your fairly traumatic relationship with your stepdad. I read the story about Brad and Rex the Rat, as well as heard you mention him on our friend Amy Miller’s show Who’s Your God?. It seems as though a lot of really funny people, such as yourself, have something pretty dark in their past that lead them to the world of stand up. So, was that a part of it for you? Is being funny in front of people a way of coping with said trauma?

I don’t know. I think it’s kind of a stereotype of comedians that we all come from some trauma or something, and I don’t think that’s always true. I’ve loved comedy forever, but I also was born into this violent thing, so it’s hard to tell if I would’ve been drawn to comedy otherwise, but I know comics who, from their account, came from super happy homes and money and whatever, and they’re still really funny. For me, comedy always released tension when I was a kid. Like if I could watch The Simpsons or stand up, and if I could laugh, I felt safer somehow. The logic being, nothing bad happens when you’re laughing, which is definitely not true, but I needed that correlation, just like I thought that there couldn’t be a tornado while it was raining. It’s not true, but it calmed me down. Tornados scared the shit out of me, haha. There have been times in my life where I used comedy to get through something that bothered or upset me. When my engagement ended, that became most of my comedy, and it helped me get through that. But I think that’s the exception and not the rule. My favorite parts of comedy are when I can do the silliest thing that makes me laugh and connect an audience to it. I don’t think it’s trauma related anymore. But it’s possible I’ve been doing stand up long enough now that I don’t remember what it feels like not to do it, and if I stopped, all the feelings that I’ve repressed for the last 9 years would come back. Fuck, I guess I hadn’t considered that til just now.

I have managed to discover some damn fine comedians, such as yourself, on a little podcast called Doug Loves Movies. The show is so much fun to listen to, and whenever we get a regular guest from the show on here, I have to ask: what is it like to do DLM? Is it as fun to be part of as it is to listen?

It is so much fun. I was a fan of the show looooong before I got to do it. We used to play the Leonard Maltin game at bars in Bloomington all the time until they got rid of his app. The first couple of times it was nerve-racking, and now it’s just fun. I get stressed out sometimes about specific actors/directors that I’m not strong in, and I’m really competitive, but I try to just relax and enjoy the games. Throwing donuts at the crowd is super fun though, I wish everyone could do it. The only thing I hate about the show is reading what people have to say about me on Reddit after. It’s usually mostly nice, but people hate my laugh, and for whatever reason, that show’s comments are the only ones that bother me. I think because I’ve been a fan of it for so long.

Can you tell us a bit about your own podcast Stand By Your Band? What drew you to the concept of the show?

Stand By Your Band is me and Tommy McNamara’s podcast where we have comedians come on and defend guilty pleasure music! I got the idea when people were complaining so much about Coldplay doing the Super Bowl, as if they were the worst thing that anyone has ever heard. I understand the flaws in Coldplay, but get fucked. They’ve made some great music that I love, and it’s that hacky mindset of people jumping on a bandwagon of hate that annoyed me. Like, I know a lot of people truly hate them for legit reasons, but I think that a lot of people just pile on because it’s a joke other people have made. But me and Tommy live together, and at the end of long drives, we were finding ourselves listening to music that people make fun of, and I wanted to do a show where other people show us the music they love that people make fun of, and we give them a fair chance. I felt like it would give us a chance to learn about the comic, but also to learn about a band, make fun of them, etc. We have fun with it, and our listeners are so awesome. But if we get one more review complaining about how we talked about a band I’m quitting. jk

What does the future hold for you? Anything you would like to plug to our readers?

I’m really excited about the future! Flying cars…sex robots! Me and Nikki Glaser have a show starting on Comedy Central Radio on Sirius XM called You Up with Nikki Glaser! It starts Feb. 26th, and we’re crazy psyched for it! We just tested it, and I’m certain it’s going to be the best time. Also, me and Tommy McNamara have a monthly show at Caroline’s on Broadway that people should check out called Stand By Your Band Live! We’re also doing a live podcast at Limestone Comedy Festival in Bloomington, IN this summer! And I’m gonna have a real room with a door on it starting next week!

What was the last thing that made you smile?

Probably one of Tony Zaret’s memes. His Insta is brilliant. Also last night we were quoting Martin Urbano jokes in the green room, and everything he does makes me laugh. Watch his Kimmel set!