An Interview with Actor/Comic Jack Zullo

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Jack Zullo is an actor, comedian and  writer who has appeared on Lipstick LA; here is a link to his website:

http://www.jackzullo.com

 

 

Q:  What the hell is Lipstick LA and how did you get on it?

A: Lipstick LA was a little talk show that a girl I met online was the host of. She asked me to come down to the studio and be a guest on it, a la Jimmy Kimmel or Conan. Had so much fun riffing it up to an albeit small studio audience and the show was streamed live. The studio was a mom and pop deal, which made it a bit shady. But the girl herself is a positive little pepper pot, and has since moved on from the location, taking her show/brand with her.

Q:  You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare; what do you think is the secret to making him accessible?

A: The secret to doing Shakespeare is directing the hard work in the correct place. Shakespeare (or whomever he/she was) wrote in such a manner so as to do all the acting work for the performer, i.e. the character, inflection, beats are all in the dialogue. Doing one’s homework, ie breaking down the script and working on the words is all the actor has to do. Understanding what is going on in the scene, who the character is, and relationships within that scene, will dictate everything. The iambic pentameter and grammar do the rest.

Q:  What made you want to be a performer?

A: Like everything else in my world. Girls. Whenever I saw a girl on stage I would develop an immediate crush on her. So I projected that if I was on stage, girls would then be crushing on me. I was very young, like elementary school young, but in some ways I was spot on. There I said it, I love attention, happy? Obviously as I’ve grown up, my motivations have evolved, but I’ve landed a few girlfriends from walking off a stage.

Q:  What personality characteristics does a good director have?

A: I’ve had the luxury of working with 3 or 4 brilliant directors so far in my career. Each of them was concise in their direction, offering only one or two notes with this caveat attached: Try this, then try this. If it doesn’t work, try something else. Additionally a director must be able to connect with each actor on the basis of individual need. Each actor has their own working style, strengths, weaknesses. A good director will quickly identify, then work with each in a specific manner. At the same time, the director cannot get pulled into the actor’s world. A director must toe the line of intimacy and distance all at the same time.

Q:  What is your strangest backstage story?

A: The first thing I ever booked was at a dive called the Impact Theater in Brooklyn, NY. Same old story of some guy volunteering to be the artistic director of a space and enjoying it WAY too much for what it was. Like he was going to put this wreck of a blackbox on the international theater map or something. Backstage was a thin strip of a walkway pressed up against the back wall of the space. The back wall had a door to a courtyard in back, but the door was broken/slash awkward in its hinges so the winter weather was always blowing through. We were freezing. Aware of our grumblings, the director acknowledged the crumminess of the theater, then dove into a diatribe about how he was involved in a reading workshop of a script. First day of his read he took in his surroundings, a filthy basement, and decided the play wasn’t going anywhere, had a freakout and quit then and there. The play he was cast to workshop but quit went on to be Jonathan Larsen’s “Rent”. Basically told us a story to not be a loser like him.

Q: You played John Belushi in Live From the Grave….Its John Belushi; what kind of experiences did you draw from for this role?

A: That’s a tough one. The project is an opus of mine, something I continue to work on in my spare time. It had a few incarnations, the first of which had me hosting the show as John, while other performers re-worked sketches he did from his time on SNL. The second incarnation was a somewhat linear narrative of a his rise to fame, including sketch improv scenes, about 5 original videos, and a live band. Man that was fun. So much work putting it together rehearsing the actors, shooting the videos, rehearsing with the band (who were sick musicians, btw). In many ways the actual putting together of the production was the real tribute to John, rather than showing moments from his young life. The man rocketed to stardom through his own guile, confidence, and willingness to go for it no matter what the cost. Slowly but surely that same moxie doubled back on him and in the end killed him. Working on him is a lesson in hubris.

Q:  What makes someone a good comedy writer?

A: Box. Get out of it. Clever. You’re not. Steal. Do it. My comedy writing is a conglomerate of everything I’ve seen and indentified with. Plus action action action. Make sure your comedy isn’t all dialogue. Not everyone is as smart as you. And don’t forget to get your brilliantly hilarious work in front of people. just recently had the most satisfying note from someone ever. They said, “I read your script 3 times, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. But when I saw it read live, I completely got it. Brilliant, man”. Man that was a complete payoff. I have a frenetic energy that comes through in my writing which can be intimidating if trapped in a person’s mind.

Q:  Who are some of your comedic influences and in what way do they inspire you?

A: John Ritter, Gene Wilder, Bill Cosby, Robin Williams, John Belushi, John Candy, Tom Hanks, Seth Macfarlane, Ricky Gervais, Lenny Bruce. There are more, obviously, but off the top of my head, John Ritter portrayed a sensitive guy who was funny, friends with girls, and yet still got em. He was very physical. He was a nice guy, who still knew how to get the girl. Gene Wilder could go from 0-60, Bill Cosby could sit in a chair for three hours and make you laugh with clean anecdotes and facial expressions. John Belsuhi, well see the tape, John Candy was so lovable, Tom Hanks was very physical, lanky, added a calmness to comedy with a simmer beneath it. Robin Williams is the frenetic I identify with. Lenny Bruce was so real, so in touch with the way things should be it killed him. I could go on with everyone else, but you get it I hope.

Q:  What trends in comedy annoy you?

A: I HATE prepared, word-perfect scripted bits. You see them alot on the open mike and amateur scene. It’s masturbatory and insecure. Its kinda of like showing the audience how smart and funny you are, which alienates people. The audience knows you’re smart and funny. That’s why you don’t have a 9-5 job, bud. Have a general concept and go with it. The more organic the material, the more the audience is able to connect.

Q:  What is your opinion of “The Boob Song” from The Oscars?

A: Hilarious. It’s satirical. Kind of poking fun at ourselves. I feel the awkwardness might have affected the reaction. But who cares. Humans are awkward. I’m a big picture kind of guy.

Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)

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