A Chat with Jamie Kaler, Jamie Kaler interview, "My Boys"

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In recent years, TBS has gradually become recognized as a place to go to catch new, first-run sitcoms, and one of the best of their current bunch is “My Boys.” Bullz-Eye had a chance to speak with Jamie Kaler, who plays the Matthew McConaughey-imitating Mike Callahan about his role on this show, as well as his work on “Robot Chicken” and his memorable one-off gig on “That ‘70s Show.”

Jamie Kaler: Hey, Will.

Bullz-Eye: Hey, Jamie. How’s it going?

JK: Good, man.

BE: Well, I’m a big fan of the show…

JK: Oh, that’s awesome!

BE: …although I’ve got to admit that I missed most of the first season when it was originally on. But once I got the DVD set…

JK: I was going to say, the DVD just came out!

BE: Yeah, absolutely. And I absorbed it in about two, three days.

JK: Oh, that’s hilarious. Yeah, everyone’s told me, “When I watch the show, it’s like I’m hanging with a bunch of my friends.” And I’m, like, “That’s exactly how it was when we’re shooting.”

BE: Yeah, it very much is. I mean there’s a lot of stuff that’s really familiar about the various plot developments in the show. Is there any particular plot line that really hit home for you?

JK: Well, this season is such a great arc for me. I end up losing my mojo because…the first episode I pull a McConaughey. I kind of do a Matthew McConaughey accent and go, “Alright, alright!” And so I end up sleeping with this girl under false pretenses, and it kind of wrecks my mojo, so all of a sudden everything goes south for me. And then towards the end of the season, I meet a very special person…named Mimi Rogers…who kind of helps me out a little bit.

BE: Wow, very nice.

JK: Yeah, pretty crazy.

BE: Now have you heard from McConaughey about your McConaughey?

JK: No, I wish. I wish I was that well known that McConaughey would call me and go, “Alright, man, that was good acting”.

BE: “That wasn’t bad.”

JK: “That wasn’t bad, man. Alright.”

BE: Have you heard anybody else reporting back about having discovered the show via the DVD set?

JK: Yeah, actually, it’s unbelievable the way people are coming in. We had such a rabid set of fans from the first season that I think most of them scoffed up the DVDs immediately. But it just started airing again, so it’s really been getting more recognized, and been a little crazy.

BE: Yeah, it’s earned a season pass on TiVo for me now, so…

JK: That’s awesome. I love it, man. Yeah, I go out and do the road doing standup all the time, and people come up and they just love the show, so it’s really rewarding.

BE: Actually I was going to ask if your audiences have started to get a little bit bigger now that people know you from the show.

JK: Yeah, I’m starting to headline clubs, and it’s really helped with the show, and it’s just been great. Especially…I did Chicago before, I did Zanies. And so I’m going back in September, and it’s crazy because our audience is mostly women. So I did a show in Chicago, and it was just all women and I was, like, “Oh, this is good. This is a good thing.”

BE: The stand up dream.

JK: Pretty much, yeah.

“It’s tough to jump on board the actors strike as much as you would jump on, like, the janitor strike that just happened out here. You’re, like, man, those guys deserve money, and everybody is fighting for them. But when you’re an actor on strike, people are, like, ‘Screw you, you get to act. Shut up.’”

BE: Have you got any idea how long you’re going to be staying unemployed on the show, or is it going to be a running joke for awhile?

JK: Well, I was unemployed for awhile. I just got a job. I work with Kenny.

BE: Oh, okay, I didn’t know if that would be permanent or not.

JK: Yeah, Kenny hired me, after some cajoling, to work for his memorabilia store. Which has a great episode coming up in the next couple, where the mob comes in to the memorabilia store and gets involved. So, yeah, that’s that. The unemployment thing was only a while where I was doing yoga and trying to pick up chicks.

BE: Now, the relationship between Mike and Kenny, I can’t decide if it’s more Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello.

JK: I think it’s Lenny and Sguiggy, but I don’t know what’s happening. Yeah, the one great thing about it is that at no one point…it’s not Laurel and Hardy, it’s Hardy and Laurel. It’s like one of us is the opposite one. This season especially, he gets the best of me. Last week’s episode he just crushed me. So it’s kind of cool because we go back and forth on who’s kind of crushing the other one.

 BE: How quickly did you and Michael come up with the chemistry as characters?

JK: At the audition for the final test deal, Mike and I were actually hanging out drinking coffee while everyone else was trying to read…actually, we were with Reid. The three of us were sitting in the middle, talking, goofing off and not looking at our scripts. The rest of the actors were all, like, in the corner, trying to read their scripts. It was weird. So when we booked it and then we all showed up was, like, “Dude, you got it! You got it! Oh, my God!” And it was crazy. It was really just kismet.

BE: Speaking of Reid, you’ll probably know the answer to this. Who comes up with his t-shirts? Is it him or the producers?

JK: There is a great wardrobe woman named Keri who does all the wardrobe stuff. Reid may have some input on it but it’s actually based on a real person. Our show runner Betsy Thomas’ best friend is Brendan Smith, the real Brendan, and he really everyday…he writes on the show, and still to this day he wears band shirts all the time. People think it’s just this gimmick that they hooked up for Reid’s character, Brendan, but in reality that is based on a real guy who just wears band shirts. It’s hilarious.

BE: Hey, I’m a full time work at home writer so I know what it’s about to wear t-shirts everyday.

JK: Yeah, the writer motif, when you wear a t-shirt with a sport coat over it.

BE: Oh, absolutely.

JK: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Or a flannel shirt? Come on, guys, I know you’re writers, but…

BE: I know there’s a certain amount of space allotted for adlibbing, but how close do ya’ll generally try to keep to the script?

JK: Oh, no, we do the script pretty much verbatim. You know, as we’re shooting it, if it’s your close up shot and you might have a pitch or they might feel it while they’re watching it, the writers…we always have writers who are watching as we’re shooting and you can tell if something’s not really working or clicking. We’ll try to cajole it and fit it into the way we want to, or if a punchline is not hitting, we’ll try some alternate takes and then they’ll figure out what they want to cut in. For the most part it’s written. I mean, we’ve had scenes, especially with Mike Bunin and I, where they’ll go, “Alright, you’ve got the lines, now just improvise one.” Especially if we’re in a two shot, where we’re both in the frame and you can improvise and it can cut together, you know?

BE: Yeah, I could see from the outtakes that ya’ll would occasionally crack each other up.

JK: Yeah, it’s crazy. We’ve had some scenes where nobody could get through without laughing.

BE: Is Gaffigan as surreal as he appears to be?

JK: Absolutely great word for Gaffigan. Totally surreal. No, he’s totally just a regular dude. He is a great comic, and he is the married guy. We are all kind of the single guys, and he is married with two kids and he’s that guy. He’s Andy, as much as I am Mike. So it’s kind of cool, and it’s just a great chemistry between the whole cast.

BE: What I really like about the show in particular is the fact that is plays out in a very non-sitcom way. I mean, like the fact that Andy is supposed to have a nag of a wife, but it later turns out that she’s not that much of a nag, and he just really just wants to go home at a decent hour.

JK: Yeah. You know what’s funny? It’s so funny because people say that it’s not your typical sitcom but in reality, it is exactly what a situation comedy is. The comedy is dictated from the situation more so than the punch line. But sitcoms have become so punch-oriented because they are in four cameras and you are only seeing everything from one side of the action. So it is kind of geared towards punchline after punchline after punchline. Which is great, but it’s a different format from what we do. Our humor totally comes from…a lot of times we’ll have pitches for jokes while we’re shooting that will be total punchlines, and everyone’s like “nah, the person wouldn’t really say that in real life.” So a lot of times, we’ll have jokes that will bomb, but that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes they’ll want to cut it and we’ll go, “No, no, you’ve got to keep that because in real life, people tell jokes that bomb and your friends make fun of you for doing it.” So we’ll end up doing stuff like that, and that’s the way it’s kind of taken. So for me, it’s so real life that it’s fantastic.

BE: I think the one thing that I have picked up saying, as a result of the show is, “Really?

“Everyone’s told me, ‘When I watch the show, it’s like I’m hanging with a bunch of my friends.’ And I’m, like, ‘That’s exactly how it was when we’re shooting.’”

JK: Really? Dude, I’ve got to stop saying that because I do it all the time. When I just see some stupid situation, I’m like, “Really?” That was going to be our t-shirt from season one: “Really?” With a big question mark. “Seriously? Honestly? Is this happening? Really? Alright. I guess.” That’s how our days go. That’s funny that you picked up on that; nobody has ever picked up on that before, but it makes us laugh so hard.

BE: Oh, God, I’m constantly…my wife and I are now both doing it. “Really? You’re gonna go with that? Alright.”

JK: “Really? That’s the way it’s gonna play out? Okay, I get it. I see what you’re doing. Very funny.” So for me, those are the things that make us laugh the most. Guys crack jokes and they go, “That joke’s terrible!” That’s real life.

BE: What is your favorite season one episode?

JK: Season one is probably “Douchebag in the City.”

BE: Actually that’s mine, too.

JK: That’s my favorite. The fact that we said “douchebag” maybe 75 times made me laugh so hard. Then I drew a picture at the douchebag intervention, and what they’d written…they gave me a little drawing, and they’re, like, “This is you with a douchebag” and they’re, like, “What’s that?” “That’s the giant lizard you’re fighting?” And I was…it just made me laugh so hard. Tonight’s episode is actually one of my favorites. It’s this t-shirt contest thing that we’re doing. We have this crazy “Project Runway” bet where we all bet that we can make the best shirt. So we take 20 bucks and go get material and then we have a runway-off to see who made the best shirt. When we shot it, we were all blown away at the shirts that the costume people came up with. My shirt is hilariously funny. Oh, my God, it made me laugh.

BE: How many episodes are in this second season?

JK: Nine episodes. So we’re on episode three tonight of the nine.

BE: I guess it’s just going to be wait and see to find out if there is going to be a third season?

JK: Yeah, we’re waiting to hear. I mean, the ratings have been great, and the response has been great, so we expect to be back. We’re kind of a summertime show, so I think when we do the next season…hopefully, if we do the next season…it would be for next summer. That’s the craziness of this job. How would you like to have a job where every time you’re, like, “Hey, you going back to work?” “I don’t know, they haven’t told me yet!”

BE: Well, I’m feeling a little of that right now, because I’m supposed to go out to the press tour, starting on July 8…or maybe I’m not, depending on how the actor’s strike goes.

JK: Oh, my God. Ed Asner called my house the other day.

BE: Really?

JK: Well, a taped message from Ed Asner called. Here’s the other thing about acting. We have two unions: AFTRA and SAG. Why don’t we just have one union? The two unions are fighting each other because AFTRA wants to sign a deal, and SAG doesn’t want AFTRA to sign that deal because it will loosen their position. The whole thing is crazy. I just feel lucky to be doing what we’re doing, and it’s this crazy world where we all of a sudden have to get caught up in this crazy strike stuff.

“A lot of times, we’ll have jokes that will bomb, but that’s the beauty of it. Sometimes they’ll want to cut it and we’ll go, ‘No, no, you’ve got to keep that because in real life, people tell jokes that bomb and your friends make fun of you for doing it.’”

BE: Yeah, I didn’t expect to find myself caught up in it as much as I am, but it’s directly affecting me now, too.

JK: Everybody is caught up in it. Does anybody learn anything from hockey? Like, the strike killed hockey. We’re in a position where we get to do these great jobs and it’s tough. It’s tough to jump on board the actors strike as much as you would jump on, like, the janitor strike just happened out here. You’re, like, man, those guys deserve money, and everybody is fighting for them. But when you’re an actor on strike, people are, like, “Screw you, you get to act. Shut up.” It’s kind of crazy because with the new technology on the Internet, who dictates how much somebody’s likeness is worth when it’s shown everywhere on the Internet? I have no idea how to resolve it, but it’s going to get ugly, I think.

BE: Yeah, it seems like it already has.

JK: Crazy times.

BE: I’ll just wrap with a couple of rapid fire questions about other stuff. What was the connection that brought you into the “Robot Chicken” fold?

JK: I shot a pilot, years ago. A George Clooney pilot for HBO with this girl who was the lead, and we became really good friends, and she was dating Seth Green at the time. She one day was, like, “Hey, Seth’s putting together this little crazy animated thing. Do you want to…would you come in and do some voices for us on a Saturday afternoon?” It was totally free, no money or anything, and I was, like, “Absolutely! I would love to! Are you kidding? It would be an honor to come and do some voices with him.” So I ended up doing some voices, and Seth was the nicest cat I ever met, and he was, like, “Hey, listen, if anything ever happens with this show, I’ll give you a call.” Three years later, my phone rings out of the clear blue. I haven’t even talked to that girl in years, but it’s Seth Green, and he goes, “Hey, man, I hunted you down. We’re going to production for this show, ‘Robot Chicken,’ and we want you to come in and do voices.” I was, like, wow! What a class act, and a man of his word. I was just blown away at the whole process. And it was one of the funniest things I have ever been involved in. If you’ve seen the show, it’s brilliantly, brilliantly funny.

BE: Aside from playing everyone’s favorite blooper host, do you have any other favorite voices that you provide for the show?

JK: I remember I was Pikachu in one. I was, like, “Pikachu, Pikachu!” It was great. It was just great to go in the booth. I was just sitting there and working with, like…I met Mark Hamill there. We did some stuff where I was, like, “Holy cow, man.” That was the beauty of working with Seth. He knows everybody in town, so, literally, if he needed someone to sound like Scarlett Johansson, he called Scarlett Johansson and she would show up. I was, like, “It’s Scarlett Johansson!” Yeah, it was pretty crazy. If you ever look at the credits of all the people who have been on that show, everybody does their own voice. He got George Lucas to agree to him to do the “Star wars” parody.

BE: Which is just crazy.

JK: Crazy! But, yeah, I’m really proud to even be associated with that show. I think Seth and Matt have just created such a great show over there.

BE: And speaking of geekdom, you played Stew Bailey on “That '70s Show.”

JK: I did. I still get calls every now and then, somebody’s, like, “Dude, were you on ‘That '70s Show’?” Because I have a big wig, a big, fake odd wig, and I play a comic book nerd. It was so much fun that week! That was the beauty of what I’ve got now with “My Boys,” because I get to go back. Like I did so many guest stars, whether it was “Friends” or “3rd Rock from the Sun” or “Will and Grace” or “That ‘70s Show,” you would go in, you’d audition, get a job, you’d show up Monday for the table read, and it was really nerve-wracking because people get fired; you never know. So you shoot all week and, finally, by Friday, you start to feel comfortable…but you shoot the show and then they go, “See you later!” It’s like you went to summer camp for a week; it was crazy. So being on “My Boys” has been such a blessing because there is no fear of having to be funny or I’m going to get fired. It’s, like, just go, have fun, and be creative, and try to make the best show you can. So it’s been pretty cool.

BE: And just to close…and I meant to ask this earlier…but what’s your standup like?

JK: My standup is really just true stories of my entire life. Literally, people come up and they’re, like, “You weren’t really in the Navy,” and I’m, like, “Yeah, why would I make up seven minutes of material about the Navy? I was in the Navy.” But it’s all just embarrassing moments. Like, one of my bits is about locking my keys in the car with the engine running. Just the stupid things we do where you’re, like, embarrassed, and you look around. I do those a lot. So instead of looking around and being embarrassed, I actually pull over and write them down.

BE: And it’s paid off handsomely for you.

JK: It’s actually turned out okay. Still to this day, I’m like I can’t believe I make a living out of this.

BE: Alright, well I’ll keep you on track, but it’s been a pleasure talking to you…

JK: Thank you. I really appreciate it.

BE: …and I’m looking forward to the rest of the episodes.

JK: Cool. Thanks a lot!

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