BWW Interview: A Conversation with Bronson Pinchot at Dad's Garage Theatre
I'm at Dad's Garage Theatre for the latest installment of Scandal, the weekly improvised soap opera that tells the story of the proprietors, employees, and guests of a 5-star hotel called The Four Sleazins and Danglerzzzz, a seedy strip club that shares the building space. A man in front of me raises his beer high above his head during the show, offering accolades to the weekend's special guest, Bronson Pinchot, best known for his work as Balki Bartokomous on the long-running sitcom Perfect Strangers. Pinchot plays a character named Klemm, an uber-famous director who's come to The Four Sleazins to deliver important news: his lover, Ashley Andover, is also his (gasp) daughter. Pinchot, as one might expect, looks at home on the stage as he reclines in a not-for-reclining chair and suggestively strokes a bottle he's shoved into his pocket, begging a fellow cast member to "touch it." Oh, and he does all of this while pretending to be blind, a character trait of his cross-eyed Klemm.
After the show, I'm hurried into a backstage area. I enter from the left. Pinchot enters from the right. He moves fast, shoving a sandwich into his mouth with one hand and holding a drink in the other. It is impossible for us to shake hands, so he suggests that we bump elbows instead, and I comply. He drops into a chair and beckons me to pull up another. There is an openness about his body language and a warmth in his familiar eyes that sets me at ease. I feel like I'm sitting down with an old friend. And, in a way, I am. Because even though he doesn't know me, I know him. He's our cousin from Mypos. The one who's always involved in some misunderstanding. The one with the crazy accent. The one whose pictures I pulled out of Rolling Stone magazine to decorate the back of my bedroom door.
The show was great. You were so funny. Tell me a little bit about your history with improv.
There is none. This is my first time.
I'm shocked to hear that. You were so good. What made you decide to join this weekend of improv?
I've been asked several times to do this, and I've always chickened out, but the guys here are just so nice, so I decided to give it a try. No, actually, I texted Mark Linn-Baker [Larry Appleton, Perfect Strangers] to tell him I was doing this, and he said, "No! That's a young man's game." But it's great. I woke up this morning a little sore, but I'm fine now. It's great.
What were the challenges?
None really. It was just like doing a scripted play x 10. Except in theatre...there are all these fences and walls and partitions up, and this is the opposite. It's like...look, I don't know what's going to happen and neither do you, but we're definitely right here, so it's great. I could see getting addicted. Even some of the people...I met them one minute before we went on, but then you come off, and they'll always be friends now because you're really in the trenches together. I loved it.
Did you make the decision that your character was blind? Was that your character choice?
I made that.
So you went straight for a high level of difficulty.
Yeah. I had once done a character like him in a play, and the director came running back after we'd done about 2 ½ weeks of performances, and he said, "Bronson, 20 years ago there was a wonderful director who directed me, and he had a wandering eye, and he's in the audience tonight, so I beg you not to...you can't do the character, please. Tell me you won't do the character." So I said, "What am I going to do?" And he said, "Come up with something else." So I came up with another character, which taught me a big lesson, and then I retired Klemm, and I never saw him again, and then I was just resting today, and I thought, "Klemm wants to come back." And so there he was. And I remembered at the last second that he couldn't see anything, even right in front of his face. And if it had not worked, I probably would have said in the second half, "Oh, my God. I had emergency Lasik in the lobby." Because that's how improv works.
You did a great job of keeping that going. I thought, "Oh. He's going to have to drop that because it's so physically demanding." I really did.
He demonstrates. I laugh.
No, it was really fun. Partially what I liked about it was, like everything else in improv, if it doesn't work, I mean, either love it and hold on to it and go down with the ship or toss it away somehow and make some excuse. Of course, I'm talking as though I know improv, but... The other thing that was really interesting about it was that I couldn't really see so I just had to listen to everything. Between the lights and...
He crosses his eyes. I laugh.
Then I was like now you're doing the thing that we're supposed to do, whether it's improv, film, stage, is listen with every ounce of your being. So I got a big kick out of that.
You mentioned Mark Linn-Baker. I read a few weeks ago that you just had a public appearance with Mark Linn-Baker for the first time since Perfect Strangers ended. I have to ask you... with the new reboot craze... Might we look forward to a Perfect Strangers reboot?
No one has said anything to us, but you know what everything really is completely controlled by? Fate. Mark invited me to a big group supper about a month ago, and we had so much fun. We always have fun, but at that supper, a lot of people said, "Gosh. You guys are just better together than ever." And...you know...I was like, "Duh. We've always been like that." And then, when the promoter of [the recent public engagement] said, "Do you think Mark would come?" I said, "I don't know. He never has wanted to before." I sent him an email, and he said, "Yes." And I thought, "Hmmm." So he said to me at the end, "I knew it would be fun, but I didn't know it would be that fun." We buoyed each other up because it's exhausting psychically to have 600 or 700 people come and pose with you and chat, and you want to give them the best of yourself, but you're getting tired and your focus is wandering, and... Every once in a while, he would come and whisper a joke in my ear, or I would go say something absurd to him or send him a text...we were only separated by six feet...and I remembered when we were kids...I was 26 and he was 32...that was the basis of our personal friendship was that we buoyed each other up when we were weighed down by the responsibility of trying to make our show as good as we could. I remember him so well putting his arm around me and saying, "Come on, buddy. We'll get through this." We just have that innate "lean on me" thing. So you never know because one thing does always lead to another.
Pinchot pops the last bite of the sandwich into his mouth and apologetically explains that his next show begins in two minutes. I'm deciding whether to shake his hand or just bump elbows when he holds his arms wide and ushers me in for a hug.
Then he is gone, and he's back in the trenches to see what Klemm will do next.