Powering the Smile Train: Jimmy Pardo on Pardcast-A-Thon 2014

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If there’s a specific comedy-based podcast you especially enjoy—say, WTF, or Comedy Bang Bang, or You Made it Weird—you might want to thank Jimmy Pardo. He’s the one who got the ball rolling, on the West Coast at least, years ago. Some of his comedy compatriots may have stolen the spotlight from his podcast (Adam Carolla has more listeners, WTF has a greater cultural impact), but Never Not Funny is still one of the funniest and most relevant shows around. And then there’s his regular gig with Conan O’Brien, and his successful touring and recording. Pardo’s not sweating it. And he’s busy helping others as well; this Friday will mark the sixth straight year he’s organized Pardcast-A-Thon, a 12-hour event with co-hosts Matt Belknap and Pat Francis that raises money for the charity organization Smile Train. This year’s edition will feature “Weird Al” Yankovic, Sarah Silverman, Scott Aukerman, Paul F. Tompkins, Doug Benson, and many others. Pardo joined us recently to discuss Pardcast-A-Thon, his childhood and beginnings in comedy, and, surprisingly enough, my hair.

Paste Magazine: First of all, I’m kind of mad at you. I’ve got my go-to podcasts, and I don’t even have time to listen to them. That’s basically Maron and Jay Mohr. And I listen a lot to Pete Holmes and Aisha Tyler. I had never heard your podcast before, and in doing research for this interview, I started listening, and I said, “Damn. This guy is good. Now I’m going to have to start listening to his podcast!” Now you’ve even further crowded my overcrowded podcast listening schedule.

Jimmy Pardo: Well… thank you? You have to know that didn’t come off as a compliment!

Paste: You’re an asshole for being so good.

Pardo: I started the damn movement! I started the West Coast podcast movement, and I’m the fifth guy you listen to? After Pete Holmes? After Pete goddamned Holmes? I gave them all their starts!

Paste: The godfather. The ur-podcaster.

Pardo: You know years ago, someone gave me the title of The Podfather. And then Adam Carolla kinda usurped that title. But he’s got more listeners.

Paste: So you’re a Chicago guy, grew up in Chicago, right?

Pardo: I did.

Paste: Tell me about what your parents did, siblings, that kind of thing.

Pardo: I’m as angry at you as you are at me. For your gorgeous head of hair.

Paste: Thank you very much!

Pardo: What a joy to look at. It’s beautiful. What do you use, a paste?

Paste: A pomade from Bumble and Bumble.

Pardo: Wow, that was my stomach.

Paste: My faux-hawk is making you hungry.

Pardo: But it’s not even a faux-hawk, right?

Paste: It’s faux-hawk-influenced. But anyway! Chicago.

Pardo: Chicago. Grew up on the South Side.

Paste: What part, specifically?

Pardo: We grew up at 79th and Cicero, just south of a mall called Ford City. I believe it was the first mall in the country—but don’t quote me—that did the guns-for-shoes exchange. It became a mall that you didn’t want to go to. But at the time it was THE mall. And then, like all Chicagoans, as the neighborhoods were changing, we would move further south. So I spent most of my grade school years in a place called Hometown, which was 87th and Cicero, and then eventually Oak Forest, which was 159th and Cicero. And then eventually Los Angeles.

Paste: I really hope that the little league team was called the Hometown Heroes, because that would be the greatest thing ever.

Pardo: You know what? If anyone in that town had had any sort of creativity, I would imagine yes. That would have required these jocks to think of anything beyond the obvious. But no, they were great. I grew up with great people.

Paste: Blue collar. Salt of the earth.

Pardo: Yep, probably lower middle class. I think our house was, like, 600 or 900 square feet. It was two bedrooms, but the second bedroom was… I went back and looked at it at my high school reunion, and the fact that my brother and I got two twin beds in there, I don’t know how we did it. The guy was nice enough to let me in; I came to the door and said “Do you mind if I show my wife the house where I grew up?” And he let us in. And then we murdered him. No, but I went to the room, and I kept on saying, “Look how small it is!” My wife had to tell me to quit saying it. She’s like, “Jackass, he lives her. Stop insulting the place where he calls home.”

Paste: But when you were little, it never felt small, right? It was just the house.

Pardo: It was just the house. And I didn’t even know we were poor. There was the rich part of town, and then us. We never saw ourselves as the other side of the tracks. I thought we were fine. And maybe we were, I don’t know. My mom worked, my dad worked, my step-dad worked, everybody worked to try to give my brother and me a great life, and I think they succeeded.

Paste: It was just how you and your friends grew up, just normal for you.

Pardo: And the weird thing is, we shared 87th street. North of 87th street was the city of Chicago, and south of 87th street was Hometown. But I didn’t think of myself as living in Chicago at all. It was literally a two-lane highway. But, like at Halloween, we’d say, “We’re going to go into Chicago to trick-or treat.”

Paste: Across the street.

Pardo: Across the street! But it seemed like, “We’re going to the city!”

Paste: And at what age does comedy sort of start to register with you? Were you doing something crazy like listening to Redd Foxx albums growing up?

Pardo: Yes, I was listening to party albums! No, it’s weird, my mom and my step-dad were both into comedy. So we’d watch SNL, when it premiered in 1975. I remember at one point I decided I was too cool for SNL, and I went to bed. And my mom woke me up and said “Hey, you gotta come and watch. There’s a new show called SCTV.” In Chicago, it came on after SNL. And that was a while new world of watching John Candy and Andrea Martin and Joe Flaherty and Harold Ramis…

Paste: Catherine O’Hara.

Pardo: Catherine O’Hara. Eventually Martin Short and Tony Rosario, Robin Duke. So my mom turned me on to that. She also told me about Steve Martin before anyone knew who he was, that there was a guy they loved on the Tonight Show. Same with my dad—he went to see Steve Martin in Alpine Valley. They were both into comedy. But to answer your question, I don’t really know how I got into comedy. I think I was just always around it. In fact, we had a grade school reunion, and I’m working at Conan, I’ve had a half-hour special, I’ve got the #1 album on iTunes, And I’m thinking I’m going to show up and everybody’s going to be like, “Hey, a celebrity’s here.” But people would say, “Jim, what are you doing these days.” And I’d say, “Well, I work over at Conan.” And they weren’t impressed! “Of course that’s what you do, you were the funniest guy we ever knew. Of course you work for Conan.” But there was part of me that wanted to say, “Be impressed with my job! I hang out with Conan O’Brien; give me something for that!”

So apparently it all goes back to that. I just loved comedy. I stole Steve Martin’s act and did it for the Cub Scout Variety Show. I reworked all of his jokes to fit a fourteen-year-old, and thereby drained all the comedy out of it. “And then my dad helped me with my homework.” As opposed to, I don’t know, a grandmother lifting weights or something. I reworked them all horribly.

Paste: Of all the comedians I’ve ever interviewed, I don’t think any of them have ever talked about the beginning being “My parents were both really into comedy.” That’s pretty cool.

Pardo: It is really cool. I know Robert Klein because of my mom. My mom would listen to Robert Klein records, or watch him on late night. And she would let me stay up if there was a comedian on Johnny Carson. It was neat to grow up in that environment. I don’t have an older brother, but my parents are only 20 years older than me, so I kinda did. They were kids when they had us. While there is that generation gap, it’s not that big of a gap. I mean, my mom took me to see KISS when I was 13, and people always think that’s crazy. But she was 33. That’s not that nuts.

Paste: Can we just end this interview here and go interview your mom instead? Because she seems pretty cool.

Pardo: Exactly. And my dad was great too; he was in rock bands, and loved comedy too, and was hip and great too.

Paste: Are your parents still around?

Pardo: Yep, my mom lives about a mile from me here in L.A., and my dad’s back in Chicago.

Paste: So it’s gotta be pretty cool for you to have carved out this career in a comedy; that’s kind of a gift back to them, you know?

Pardo: I guess so. I mean, I think it scared my dad for a long time, as a father. I quit a great job at MCA Records, and I think that scared the hell out of him. And I don’t know if they’re as into comedy now as they were. And who knows if I’ll be when I’m 68, 70. But yeah, I guess it is, in a way, a gift back to them for everything they exposed me too. I never really saw it that way, so thank you for opening my eyes to that.

Paste: Absolutely. Well, let’s talk about the sixth annual Smile Train Pardcast-A-Thon. It’s twelve hours, right?

Pardo: Right, noon to midnight Pacific. The first year, we went from 9am to 6pm. Then we went from 6pm to 6am the next two years. And then that novelty got old fast. I grew up loving the Jerry Lewis telethons. I watched it like it was legit entertainment—who’s going to come out at four in the morning? Watching them tired, loopy, possibly drunk, I loved it.

And that’s what we did. I don’t get drunk—I’m 15 years sober—but other guys would get a little tipsy, and we’re loopy and tired at four in the morning, and asking for money for Smile Train. And that was fun for a few years, but then it was like, okay, I bet if we did this from noon to midnight, we’d get a lot more of the East Coast. And sure enough, we go to the hours, and we start raising more money.

Paste: Tell us about Smile Train.

Pardo: Smile Train is a great organization. They go to Third World countries and fix cleft palates on children. The surgery takes 45 minutes and costs $250. You can change a child’s life for $250. And that went through even my dumb head when I saw it in a Sunday morning magazine. “Even I can do that.” To be able to help a kid from being ostracized for having a cleft palate. Even in my dumb comedian head, I could understand that. And then when it came time to consider doing a big marathon show, I thought, “Let’s raise money for Smile Train!” And we went from raising $6,000, to $13,000, to last year we raised $144,000.
I never was lucky enough to have the money to give a lot to charity, but back in 2009 when we did the first end-of-the-night total, I’ve never felt anything like it. I can’t even put it into words. I felt a warmth and a joy. This felt good. Now, every year, I look forward to doing it.

Paste: How can people help?

Pardo: It will stream at nevernotfunny.com, and there will be a link that will link to the Smile Train page to donate. I know it sounds funny, but if you can wait for those 12 hours (on Friday November 28), it will help make a big splash.

Paste: We’ll do it. Thanks!