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Event preview: Versatile Kevin Pollak gets into characters

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kevin Pollak got started doing impressions when he was just a kid, maybe only 5 or 6 years old.

"My mom would take me to a movie and I'd walk out of the theater impersonating someone in the film," he said.

The impressionist/comedian/actor/director, who performs Oct. 28 at the Keith-Albee Theater in Huntington as part of the Marshall Artists Series, started out humbly. In the beginning, he wasn't even impersonating actors, something he's more likely to do now with his onstage act.

"It was more like a little kid being possessed by a character from the film," he said, adding, "And it was adorable -- for the first couple of hours, but then over the next couple of days it became rather obnoxious."

The 55-year-old said it still happens, sort of.

"When I come out of a movie to this day, I bring one of the character's affectations or voice patterns or their cadence with me -- which makes my girlfriend pretty annoyed."

He mused, "I guess it's about annoying the women in my life, if we're to find a theme."

Pollak has been thinking about his comedy and the comedy of all comics a lot lately. Aside from his usual slate of stand-up shows, acting jobs and his Internet chat show, Pollak is working on a feature film documentary called "Misery Loves Comedy."

He explained, "Initially, it was about stand-up comedy and answering the question, Do you have to be miserable to be funny?"

From there, it just grew and expanded to include 67 famous funny people -- and not just stand-up comedians, but also comedy writers and directors like Stephen Merchant ("The Office"), Judd Apatow ("The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up") and Christopher Guest ("Best in Show" and "This is Spinal Tap").

Pollak said he contacted people directly. Over the past five years, with his talk show, he's booked his own guests.

"I've just refused to deal with agents and managers," he said.

Dealing directly, something other interviewers would typically be unable to do, cut through the usual layers of resistance put in place to insulate and to protect and control exposure of performers.

He found the whole process interesting.

"It's a documentary," he said. "Everybody signs a release and no one gets paid. If I'd paid people to appear, I'd have never been able to line up six people, let alone 67 of them."

Pollak said he learned a lot about how other people saw comedy, which in turn helped focus his opinion even more on what he did.

"I came from an unusually well-adjusted, middle-class family in the suburbs of San Francisco with no one in show business," he said.

His family has been very supportive of his career pretty much from the very beginning.

"Everyone acknowledged I was destined to be a performer," he said. "Whether I would be successful was anyone's guess, but there was no stopping me."

It just happened that he was successful, first in comedy and then as a character actor, appearing in such films as "Avalon" and "The Usual Suspects."

And "A Few Good Men" -- Pollak played Lt. Sam Weinberg in the critically acclaimed military drama that also starred Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and Jack Nicholson in one of his best-remembered performances.

"That film was basically my being brought up to the majors," Pollak said.

Until that film, Pollak had been building a solid reputation with small parts on TV and film.

"Everyone else was wildly famous," he said, and then recounted the names of the people who had even just small roles in "A Few Good Men." Some of them, like Cruise, were practically household names.

"And the part I was playing was the conscience of the piece," he said. It was a huge turning point in his career -- and Tom Cruise, he added, turned out to be a pretty nice guy.

"He was ridiculously welcoming and generous. He made me feel like an equal from minute one," Pollak said. "As a stand-up comedian, you make me feel welcome and I'm going to make you pay for it." Pollak said he was free to poke, prod and tease the superstar pretty much at will.

Since "A Few Good Men," Pollak's career has blossomed. He's appeared in more than 60 films (he'd appeared in eight before), branched out into directing and has even written a book based on his experiences in Hollywood titled, "How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen and Interwebs."

The book came as a kind of extension of his stage show, which began as impressions of famous people and gradually evolved to include actual encounters with some of the celebrities he met and worked with over the years.

Pollak said writing the book was a great experience for him.

"I found turning a real-life experience into a story with punch lines throughout it to be a new hobby, a new joy as a performer because I was speaking truth and speaking about my journey."

And that's a lot of what Pollak's comedy is about -- his journey and his wry observations on life, the universe and everything.

He still does the impressions too, but they've become kind of a parlor trick to him. Pollak said he even shows his audience how to do one.

The comedian keeps busy. Aside from finishing up editing and postproduction of his documentary, he has a couple of films he's supposed to appear in and a detective noir movie he's written that he plans to direct.

Want to go?

WHAT: Kevin Pollak

WHERE: Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center, Huntington

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28

TICKETS: $35 to $51

INFO: 800-745-3000 or www.ticketmaster.com

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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