You may recognize Andy Kindler from Comedy Central, Everybody Loves Raymond, or his recurring correspondences on The David Letterman Show. Or maybe you've read the name in interviews with comedians, specifically the part where comedians talk about Andy.
In the AST Interview , you mentioned that there was a time when you were in door-to-door sales.
That's true. I wouldn't lie about that, or maybe I would. I'd exaggerate if I didn't lie. I sold door to door for a couple years. As the years recede from the event, I remember less about it, which is probably good for my mind. It was home improvement in Cerritos California, Buena Park, that area. It's a job I don't even think exists today because who would answer the door?
What sort of things did you sell?
I've sold a lot of different product. Very briefly, I sold Time Life Books on the phone. Remember that series? I'd call up and say, "Do you remember receiving a brochure from us?" If they said yes, I'd say, "Then you must have been very excited about our Gun Fighters of the Old West." If they said they didn't receive it, I'd go, "Oh, then you really missed out on our new series Gun Fighters of the Old West." I only did that for two months and then I sold home improvement door-to-door. Room additions, patio enclosures, and I sold stereos, videos, and guitars in retail outlets.
What sort of pitch did you have for room additions?
My pitch was unconvincing and I projected a lack of confidence that was real. I would mention, if someone was willing to open the door, that my company had built many room additions and patio enclosures in the area, and would they like a free estimate? If they said yes, I would try to schedule a meeting with the "closer." If they pressed me for a price, I would measure stuff as if I knew what I was doing, and still try to avoid providing any useful information. Once a dog bit me solidly on my ass.
How successful were you with door-to-door sales?
Horrible. I hated the job. I got one joke for stand up for it, which is, "I sold door-to-door for two years and I learned a valuable lesson: people don’t like to be disturbed at home." People always hated to open the door, so I always hated to go out and do it, so I'd do it at little as possible. Sometimes, I'd do it for an hour and a half to two hours and if looked like it would rain at all or was even somewhat cloudy, I wouldn't do it for the day. I was unsuccessful and miserable.
How similar, at the time, was your life to Glengarry Glen Ross?
Door-to-door wasn't, but Time Life Books was like a lighter version of Glengarry Glen Ross. They had a board up, people had nicknames, and if you sold subscriptions there'd be a lot of noise and fake cheering, but that's as close as it got.
Have you ever had an experience with Amway?
I feel like you've done a This is Your Life background search on me. I did not sell Amway, but I sold Shaklee, which was an Amway type product sold through multi-level marketing. They said all of their products were all natural. I used to do a joke about that too because everyone in my family wouldn't come to the phone during those two months. "No, Andy, your uncle doesn't want to hear about it." The whole idea of those products is, "Hey, do you normally buy detergent at a store. Well, you know what? You need a middleman. Let me get it. I'll ship the detergent to you." Shaklee was just all regular stuff you could buy at the store, except it was Shaklee brand.
How'd you get involved with Shaklee?
It works very much how Dane Cook works in that it's like a pyramid scheme. There are all of these different levels of it and his job is to get ten people interested, not in Dane Cook but in Shaklee. I went to his house, he lived in Orange County, and he showed me his place. "Hey, everything's going well for me. The product is great and people love it. You get to be friends with people." And then I was made a distributor. From that point on, I'd buy the Shaklee from him or from some central thing. It was just people selling the same crap at different levels.
Did he sell you a bunch of motivational literature and tapes?
No, I don't thing I was ever susceptible to, well, I won't say I was bright because if I was bright why would I be selling all of these different things? I will say that I wasn't susceptible to Tony Robbins like pitches, even as a younger man.
Through Shaklee, did you meet any people that were one hundred percent delusional?
No. The first guy wasn't one hundred percent delusional because he was just trying to make a living. I don't think I sold a thing to anyone. Luckily, in that period of my life, much like now, I would lose interest very quickly in something that was not happening and would just let it drop.
What summarizes how insane some people in Amway can get is a quote from this motivational tape where this guy is in front of, pretty much, an arena full of people and he says, "I was talking to this guy and he said, `My wife and I: we're poor, but we're happy.'" And the whole room erupts in laughter.
I was thinking would they go, "Boo!" but they just laughed at him. The other thing was that when I came out to California was that there were different fads. Aloe Vera, for example, got popular and everyone was selling and drinking that, so I always think of Shaklee as part of that movement. Herbalife. That was a big movement. On the way to LAX you could see that they paid enough to have their sign at the top of a building, which I used to think meant that the person whose name was on top owned that building, but I've been informed that that's not true.
Were you able to implement any of the skills you picked up in sales in your career as a comedian?
I would say yes, but not in the sense like in sales you always try to get a yes answer. When I was selling stereos, we had a tactic called a trade off. You'd trade off to the manager and he'd try to get a yes answer like, "Do you like the stereo?" Yes. "Would you like to have a stereo at home?" Yes. "If the price was so amazing that you'd drop dead from excitement would you buy it today?" Yes. You always try to get a yes answer. I don't do that as a stand up, but the part that was good was that it enables you survive embarrassing situations. Selling door-to-door was embarrassing and so was stand up when I started, and it still can be, occasionally.
Have you had any experiences where advertising executives hang around comedy shows to pick up on ideas?
Like Sierra Mist or something? At Aspen, I wrote ventriloquism for a motorized rabbit. Do you mean approach me about how they can use the Andy Kindler brand?
For example, Jim Gaffigan had a bit where he says that people who eat at Cinnabon might as well staple the bun directly to themselves and a while ago there was a commercial where people were stapling Cinnabons directly to themselves.
From Jim Gaffigan's joke?
That might be the case or it might not be.
I haven't had any product people come. I've always expected some Kosher people would approach me. I don't think people want to be associated with someone who doesn't seem to be one hundred percent confident in the world. They like confidence more. I can't even tell what they want anymore. I go for voiceovers now and I see the final commercial and I think, "Why do they even audition people? That's just horrible." I had to do the voice of a hand that someone coughs into and I go, "I told you to use Schmeckle decongestion and allergy relief. Then you wouldn't be sneezing on the elevator."
Do you think humor in commercials helps move product?
I have to say when I've seen funny stuff in commercials it's as funny as when I see other forms of comedy, like stand up or sitcoms. I do think it's legitimately hilarious sometimes. Like, Scott Adsit, from Mr. Show and 30 Rock, he did a commercial for Washington Mutual where he gets a loan and he doesn't care about all the horrible things that happen to him throughout his day. His dentist drills the wrong tooth and it ends with a thing of hot coffee falling on him and he says, "Guess I'm having tea."
With sales, much like stand up, if you're not confident with the product people aren't going to buy it.
You have to have confidence in your material, but I don't enjoy bravado. I didn't use much bravado in sales either. I thought I was a pretty good salesman when I worked in a video store, but there was a guy who was way better than me and I realized that I may get good reviews as a salesman of video, but that wasn't going to help in that particular job. You need to have confidence, but I also like it when comics realize that a joke didn't work or they're bailing. I'm a big fan of lack of confidence.
I've seen comedians who can be very funny, but then they'll undercut themselves and kill the energy in the room.
There's no question about that, but that's a different thing. That can even happen to me now, but when you start it's understandable. If you're not getting a good reaction you can feel like it's all going down hill. It's not always going to help if you go, "Here's one that I don't think is going to do well." Although I've used that exact line.
Do you think that a bad comedian knows that they're bad?
No, I don't think so. I don't think anybody that's performing wants to think that they're bad, but there are clearly comedians who are bad even if you take the judgmental factor away from it. Like if they're poisoning the well like Dane Cook or if they're bad because you worked with them on the road and they're still doing McRib jokes. I don't think anyone can get onstage and think they're bad and continue. I think they think, "I'm a crowd pleaser! The others are jealous of me because I know what the people want." Don't you think that if Robin Williams knew he was bad he would stop?
That's something I've wondered because there's people who go to open mics for five, eight years and they just keep going.
I've seen people at open mics who've been doing it for many years. That's more of how they approach the whole thing of being a comedian. If you're doing open mics for eight years and not getting to another level you're either happy doing it that way or you don't have the time to take it further.
When you were at the open mic stage, were there any crazies coming about?
There's crazies at every level. I'm sure if you're a multi-billionaire, you're chauffeur can be nuts.
What are some awful one nighters that you've done?
I started out here in LA, but I'm from New York and I used to back and do a lot of one nighters in New York. Most of the gigs outside of Manhattan were just awful. Long Island, terrible. They used to have a club that was a bowling alley out at Bayside. I've done horrible ones through out Canada. One time, I flew into Calgary, we rented a car, and drove through an area where there was an unpaved bumpy road for two hours, we got to the one nighter and the town was infested with some sort of flying insect. You had to run into the bar, trying not let the bugs fly into your mouth. Now you're in some place that was full of people who had been watching sports or having a Foosball tournament. Just a horrible crowd. Often, after comedy shows at bars they'd have dancing and, once, people were dancing and I looked over at this guy dancing near me and he just dropped dead.
I blocked out a little bit of it, but I do remember the EMT people and the ambulance showing up and it was not good. I continued working those one nighters and I couldn't take an omen that dramatic.
What'd you like to do with your free time on the road?
I was on the road for five years in a row with thirty to forty weeks a year and most of them were weeklong stays. During the comedy boom, I did a club once Monday through Sunday. When I was doing one nighters, it was mostly getting to the one nighter, going to a hotel, going to the gig, and coming home. If you're at a club situation, then you do the thing where you go to the mall and it just gets horribly boring. Unless it's a fun town like Austin. "Austin's a fun town!" says Andy Kindler. I hope that's the quote that comes out of this interview. Austin's got everything. Some of the best Mexican food on the planet, great music scene, record stores, the whole vibe there is good. Vibe. I'm bringing back the word "Vibe." I hope it gets popular again.
What do you like to do in New York?
My parents live in Queens, so that's a whole different situation. Then there's great local restaurants, your bagels and Italian food. Since I'm from Queens, born and raised, all the trips to the city are fantastic because someone pays for me to stay in a hotel. When I was a kid I'd have to take the bus to the subway and the subway would let me out in the city and within the hour I'd be collapsed somewhere or ready to go home. What do I like to do in the city? Eat is the main thing.
A lot of television shows are coming out on DVD and my friends and I have been playing a game where I try to guess which show has the smallest audience. Coach is in the lead.
Becker would be another one. Are people going to buy The King of Queens on DVD? I think that that market's going to die real fast. So many stations play these old shows. Wasn't Coach already syndicated twelve times? I don't even think Everybody Loves Raymond is going to sell. Maybe I'm wrong, but it is on every day, four times a day. Why do you need a DVD of it? Do you get a jones that bad? But they only put the first season of Larry Sanders, though. That show's brilliant. They should put the whole thing out. Can you make a call?
No, but the Industry reads my interviews, so we'll see what happens. What are some older shows you'd like to see on DVD that aren't out?
I think they're all out already. Freaks and Geeks, All in the Family, The Mary Tyler Moore show. I even have The Honeymooners DVDs, but I don't watch them that much because I can still see them on TV. I'm drawing a black. Can you think of anything?
I'm waiting for Cop Rock to come out on DVD. Are you a fan of movies that are so bad that they're good?
I used to love stand ups that were really bad, but that got boring during the boom years. The one that I did see that was fantastically horrible was Rock Star.
They just made pretty much the same movie except they replaced being in a rock band with being on a football team. It even had Mark Wahlberg in it.
The one where he's in a rock band I could see over and over again. Studio 60 is almost kind of that bad. It's so terrible, so wrong, and so out of anything that's remotely, and I've never worked on a sketch show but I'd go to court and testify that there's no way that what happens on that show happens anywhere in comedy. It only happens in the melodramatic and contrived mind of Aaron Sorkin. It makes it a complete pleasure to watch as you see him try to cram something clever into every three lines. There's nothing better than writing where the person's going, "People will think this is clever." Or maybe he says, "This is good."
Did you catch Who Wants to be a Superhero on the Sci-fi network?
Is this like a fake reality show, real reality, or a contrived reality show? What is it?
It's Stan Lee's reality show. One of the best parts of it was that whenever he was onscreen, he spoke at a desk and on that desk was a miniature bust of himself.
Like Trump. People who are obsessed with things named after them. It's like, "I must be curing diseases. If I wasn't, would they name a medical center after me?" I don't get that whole thing, although, if I were rich, I would want a Kindler wing somewhere.
Do you enjoy hanging out after a show with comics?
I do, but I don't get a chance to as much as I used to. I love the idea of grabbing some deli. I sound sarcastic, but I enjoy it. It sounds like a good evening out.
Some say that comics are inherently loners or outsider types.
That's a generalization that might have some truth to it, but everybody's different. Seinfeld used to go, "Comics never laugh at anything," but that's not true. "I've heard it all," or, "I don't want to hear about comedy when I'm off the clock."
Do you think that alienation and outsiderdom are essential components of being funny?
I feel like I'm living on another planet. What's Alienation? Is that like Generation X or something?
That's a movie where James Caan is a cop in LA and Mandy Patinkin is his alien partner.
Did you see that movie? When did it come out?
I haven't and 1988.
That can be more to the truth because I do think that part of comedy is the ability to detach from what's happening and to make a comment on it. That's why I think it was natural for SCTV to have come out of Canada because they were observing American television like they grew up with it but it was still something that was alien to them, so it was probably even funnier to them and they could see more of the comedy because they weren't as close to it as Americans. I don't know if that made sense, but I enjoyed saying it.
Tell me about your DVD.
My wife, Susan Maljan, is a still photographer and a director. We recorded at M-Bar and it's already to go, and we're finishing the artwork and the plan is to release it on AST Records. I'm very excited about it and I'm glad that there's an AST records. I have existed this long without releasing anything to sell ever and without a myspace page. Things always get put off, but hopefully in the next couple of months.
Have you given any thought to having your own podcast?
When it first started I talked to the people at Audible.com and they offered money, but I never heard from them again. Once the deal went away it was a matter of, "Is that where I want to dedicate my energy?" and so far the answer has been no. But I wouldn't rule it out. Is there any money in it?
I'm not sure, but Jimmy Pardo talks about how satisfying it is when someone comes out to one of his shows and goes, "Hey, I listen to your podcast and wanted to check out your show."
That is true, plus, he's very funny and any time somebody's funny it's fun to hear it. Whenever anything gets popular, I get a feeling of nervousness, whether it be Myspace or podcasts. I get this feeling that within six months there will be a million podcasts or maybe we won't speak to each other anymore. We'll only be available in the recent past. I know these things aren't that funny, but they're making myself laugh. That's my new thing: I'm trying to make others laugh by my own infectious love of what I'm saying.
What do you like to do after a performance?
I enjoy eating, coming home and watching TV, or, trivially, a lot of times after a gig I have the urge to go to the super market. That's the only time I get excited about shopping.
Andy Kindler will be appearing at Crash Test at UCB on Monday, November 22nd. Visit his website to sign up for his mailing list to keep up to date on all of Andy's happenings and to read Andy Kindler Comics.
Photo by Susan Maljan