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Jimmy Pardo has been a stand-up for over 20 years. He is the kind of comic whom nothing ever came easy to. He wasn’t handed out sitcoms or selling out stadiums. After you see him, or listen to him, you don’t understand why. Pardo is full of energy. He is funny. Not niche funny, but the kind of funny everyone-you-know will find funny. He has one of the most popular podcasts on iTunes, aptly titled: Never Not Funny, is the warm-up comedian for Conan, and just put on one of the most entertaining charity events in a long time: the second annual “Pardcast-A-Thon” which raised over $28,000 for The Smile Train. Seriously, do yourself and favor and go check out his podcast, it is well worth it, and has brought me to tears more than once, in a good way. Enjoy a fun interview with Jimmy below.

Photo by Mike Carano

Photo by Mike Carano

Serial Optimist: Hey Jimmy! Really excited to do a little back and forth, question and answer, interview, chat via email with you! Thanks for taking the time! I want to introduce you to our readers, for those who might not be familiar with the greatness that is Jimmy Pardo. I’ll ask it in the most non-Wikipedia way possible. Where did you grow up? What was the most dramatic thing that happened to you as a child? That was pretty Wikipedia-ish, my apologies.

Jimmy Pardo: I grew up in a small suburb just south of Chicago named Hometown. I guess the most dramatic, if not also traumatic thing that happened… I was the only kid in the history of Hometown Little League Baseball to be traded. Obviously, there had to be another kid going to the team in return, but he was only involved so the trade could happen.

SO: Scandal! Now all I want to do is talk about this trade. That is so great.

SO: I believe you started stand-up during the “club days” of the late 80’s and early 90’s, is that right? What kind of other comics were you running with at the time? What would you say your style or brand of comedy was then?

Jimmy: I did a few open-mics as soon as I turned 21… then bailed on it for a couple years. Started seriously doing open mics in October 1988, first paid gig was March of 1989, quit my day job in July 1989. I started with a guy named Tony Boswell, we were like comedy brothers, hit all the stages together as support. We ended up starting with Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Paul Gilmartin was a little ahead of us.

I was never afraid to do an open mic… I would try almost anything (as a stand-up, no character stuff or anything). I would improvise quite a bit, talk in circles, find the funny.
Once I started getting paid, I tightened up and tried too hard to be funny… worked that out of my system and got back to being true to myself around 1992.

SO: What went on from the late 90’s through the early 2000’s? Were you on the road? Trying to get TV shows? Writing for shows?

Jimmy: I spent a lot of time auditioning and getting a few small acting roles and a lot of jobs hosting pilots. I have never really written for any TV shows.

I was hired as a punch up guy for a comedy game show once, but that was just for the one-day shoot. I was on the road a great deal of the time. It wasn’t until 2003 that I really started getting on TV consistently.

SO: How did you and Conan O’Brien start working together? You’re currently the opening act for Conan. How do you think the show is going so far, are you having fun? Are you happier now then when he was at the tonight show? He has such a loyal fan base. Does that come across in the audience each day when you open for him?

Jimmy: I had never met Conan until the meeting to get the job opening for The Tonight Show. Andy Richter was nice enough to suggest me for the job. I really had no interest in being the warm-up act for a TV show… but I had a huge respect for Conan and thought it would be terrific to be involved with his version of The Tonight Show… which I think was great. I really think he was doing great shows.

I think the new show is also going great. I like the looseness that the new setting has allowed. I can’t say I’m necessarily “happier”… I enjoyed the hell out of going to work at The Tonight Show… but he seems happier, the setting seems happier… so by default, I guess I’m happier. Did I just contradict myself seven times in that sentence?

SO: I think you did, and that’s not easy to do.

SO: You are known for being big in crowd participation. How exactly do you use crowd participation in your stand-up, and when did that develop? Did that come along with your love of improve?

Jimmy: I do think it just came from my loving to improvise… it didn’t hurt that I was a good MC and clubs would use me in the rotation quite a bit, so I would improvise/work the crowd to fill the time.

SO: Your Wikipedia randomly states: “Jimmy Pardo is a big fan of musician and actor Mandy Patinkin.” I just found it funny that out of all the information it gives about you, it just throws that there like: “If you need to know one thing about Pardo, it’s that this guy loves Patinkin.” Are you that big of a fan that it needs to be stated? What makes you like the guy so much?

Jimmy: I don’t disagree…it seems weird that it would be pointed out. I admit I have a love of the over-the-top type of performer. Mandy fits that bill very well.

I do love his voice as well…I don’t know. I was obsessed with “Evita” when I was 14…maybe that’s what did it. I do think he’s great!

SO: I’m really excited to talk about your Never Not Funny podcast, which I love. You really laid the foundation, and in a way created a great platform for comedians to be heard, and have shows (podcasts). I know Ricky Gervais had a show at the time, but I can’t recall many others doing it before you. How did it all come about? Were you familiar with the podcast platform? When exactly did the show launch?

Jimmy: We launched in May 2006. I was doing a monthly talk show at the UCB Theatre called “Running Your Trap”. I would have comics on, talk with them, etc.

After a show, the gentleman who runs the website aspecialthing.com, Matt Belknap, approached me about doing the show as a podcast. I was familiar with podcast from listening to Ricky Gervais’ show. We attempted to just record my monthly show and then release that, but it didn’t really work in just an audio format… so we regrouped and thought of doing it as an audio blog. Matt would produce; I’d do 15 minutes about my day and then interview a guest for 15 minutes. I hated that format as well and we settled on doing a show where I hosted, Matt produced and was also on-air, and comedian Mike Schmidt was the third member of the team. We would have a comedian join us every fourth episode. That lasted for 59 episodes and then Mike left the show. We continued with just Matt and me and have been going strong ever since.

SO: I’ve always wondered this, and I know you just recently switched to a pay format, but how do you make money hosting a podcast? I know you have a sponsor, or advertisers, but does that pay the bills? If that’s too personal you don’t have to answer it, I’ve just always been curious about that.

Jimmy: I can’t speak for other podcasters as far as making a living goes, but we are different in that we don’t use sponsors for our main income… we use a subscription platform.

26 episodes for $19.99 for audio & $24.99 if you want both audio and video… and yes, it pays a lot of bills.

SO: Off the top of your head, do any episodes stand out as favorites? For people that have never listened to your podcast, what are some you would suggest they start out with?

Jimmy: It’s always easiest to start with the famous people: Conan, Ty Burrell from “Modern Family”, the latest Jon Hamm episode, but there are also great episodes that feature folks that may not be household names… Pat Francis, Rachel Quaintance, Paul F. Tompkins.

SO: Tell me about the second-annual “Pardcast-A-Thon” that happened over Thanksgiving weekend, and raised $28,000 for The Smile Train. This was 12 hours straight and featured some amazing people. Can you give us some info on what The Smile Train is, and why you have gotten involved? Who all appeared on the show?

Jimmy: Smile Train is an organization that goes to third world countries and performs surgeries to repair cleft palates.

I actually saw an ad for Smile Train one Sunday that showed a before and after photo of a child that had cleft palate surgery. It said the surgery only cost $250, and to change a child’s life for that little amount I thought, who doesn’t want to do that? I mean whoa, for 250 bucks I get to change someone’s life and I made a donation that very day. Two days later we were recording and one of our regular guests (Pat Francis) said he had an idea for a contest where whoever donates the most money to the charity Smile Train, that they can be a guest. The fact that we had this weird little connection with Smile Train made us want to make it Never Not Funny’s charity of choice.

SO: Who are some of your favorite current comedians? Who really makes you laugh?

Jimmy: Andy Kindler always makes me laugh, as does Paul F. Tompkins. I also enjoy Patton Oswalt, Louis CK, and Brian Regan.

I admit no one has ever made me laugh harder than a guy named Steve Iott has. He’s out of Michigan and is hysterical.

SO: If  Never Not Funny never came to fruition, what would you be doing right now? Was there ever a moment when you were like, “Shit, where is my career headed?”

Jimmy: I still do most of those things… try to get back on TV, etc… It’s really the job at Conan that has changed how I do things… less traveling, more particular about jobs here in town. I’m grateful for that gig as well as all the people that subscribe to Never Not Funny.

I have the “Shit, where is my career headed” moment every single God Damned day!

SO: What is your favorite moment of the day?

Jimmy: Hugging my son.

SO: Are you an optimist, a pessimist, or a realist, and why?

Jimmy: I try to be an optimist. Being a pessimist is funnier. But since I didn’t really answer your question, maybe a realist? That’s still not helping.

SO: Thanks Jimmy!

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SO Note: Go to iTunes and subscribe to the Never Not Funny podcast, it is hilarious and I cannot say enough good things about it, do it! Also follow Jimmy on Twitter @NeverNotFunny, and check out The Smile Train here for more info and to donate.

*Photo by Robyn Von Swank