By Ryan Meehan
Tom Clark is the boy next door…if you lived next door to an insane asylum. Whether it’s his off kilter observations, his knack for spontaneous crowd interaction, or his unusual physical comedy, Clark’s act has a little something for everyone. This has allowed Clark to perform coast to coast and around the world at both New Faces at the prestigious Montreal ‘Just For Laughs Comedy Festival’ and on The Main Stage at ‘The Capetown Comedy Festival’ in South Africa. Other appearances include: CBS’s ‘Late Late Show’, NBC’s Last Comic Standing, The Bob & Tom Radio Show, and Comedy Central’s ‘Premium Blend’. Clark has a strong background in improv and sketch having completed the Second City Conservatory in Chicago and being a Main Company member at ComedySportz LA. Clark has also landed several guest starring roles, including the Hallmark made for TV movie ‘The Wish List’, NBC’s ‘Outsourced’, and even a dramatic role on TNT’s ‘The Closer’ opposite Kyra Sedgwick…yes he was the murderer. After landing the role on ‘Outsourced’, director Ken Kwapis invited Clark to be in the Drew Barrymore movie ‘Everybody Loves Whales’. And he’s our guest today in 7 questions.
RM: When you were younger what was the first performance you saw that really inspired you to follow comedy?
TC: I remember watching Jake Johannsen on the Letterman show back when it was on NBC. It must’ve been the late 80s and he did a routine about locking his keys in the car. I just really loved that awkward, nervous approach he had. It was so original and different. I recorded that episode and would watch it over and over on my VCR.
RM: What were some of the mistakes that you made as a younger comedian that you were able to really learn from and turn into strengths? Which comedians in particular really helped you out when it came to developing your skills onstage?
TC: I remember going to LA in the mid 90s and I went to the Improv in Hollywood to watch a show. I was still living in Milwaukee and had just started doing comedy and I wanted to see how the “pros” did it in LA. It was all Michael Jackson, John Wayne Bobbitt, and O.J. jokes, so that’s what I thought I should do. I wrote a bunch of jokes in that vein and I hated them, but I learned how to write jokes that way.
Two years later I worked with Billy Gardell (Mike & Molly), this was before Billy was on TV or anything, and Ted Norkey, out of Detroit. They busted my balls all week…in a good way. I wore shorts on stage one night and they would not let it go. They took time out and told me the importance of how you looked on stage and at the end of the week Billy gave me a list of comics I should check out. Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, etc. and then off hand Ted Norkey told me to check out Steve Martin. That changed everything. I listened to “Let’s Get Small” over and over. I really liked that idea of making fun of stand up comedy and acting very cool, even though the audience could tell I wasn’t. I should also mention Dobie Maxwell, who taught a class in Milwaukee. If it wasn’t for that class I’m not sure I would’ve had the confidence to start.
I think the fact that early on I learned how to write jokes helped me to make fun of some of the conventions of stand up. Like early on I used to do a joke that I said was a street joke and I would tell it and screw up the whole thing (“he was German…no wait Irish”) and at the end I would blame the audience for not getting it. I learned that it helped to know the basics of stand up, in order for me to mess with it.
RM: I saw a quote on your website that read “I think I’ve become a better comedian over the past few years. Not because I’m funnier, I’ve just become less accepting of other people’s opinions”. All joking set aside, is there some truth to that? Do you think that in order to set yourself apart from all of the other comics fighting for stage time nowadays you almost have to come up with bits that are so much further away from the traditional comedy formula?
TC: I used to think that, about trying to be the “most original”, but I think that’s an exercise in futility. Everything’s been done. I think when you dismiss ideas because they’re “not original”, you lose your creativity. My take on a subject that’s been covered hundreds of times is going to be different because of my experience. If it’s in your brain, see the idea out to it’s conclusion. If you don’t feel it fits, you can always lose it.
RM: So I saw you on a late night program on a recent Saturday – I believe it was called Comedy.TV, hosted by Whitney Cummings – but as I was getting into it I couldn’t help but notice how late it was. So this is what I want to know: If most live comedy shows are usually 8PM and 10:30 PM, why do I have to stay up so late to see good stand up on television? Do you think that since we have 24 hour access to YouTube that the networks think it simply doesn’t matter anymore, so they just push a lot of the standup shows to the wee hours of the morning?
TC: I think stand up in prime time doesn’t work because it is so subjective and networks are worried about offending their viewership. The people watching at 3am are very non-judgmental. Those people are who we should all strive to be.
RM: Let’s get less serious here…Do you ever think that Los Angeles will get another professional football team? Or is it always going to be a USC town?
TC: I hope so. It’d be nice to see the Packers come to town once in a while. Probably would be easier to get tickets to the Packers in LA than in Green Bay.
RM: You ended up playing a killer on TNT’s hit series “The Closer”. How does one audition for a role as a murderer? What was that whole experience like for you and what did you learn from being on that show? What advice would you give to any actor who is seeking a part where the character they’ll be playing will either spend the rest of their life in prison or die via lethal injection?
TC: Uff! I hadn’t thought about what happened to Gifford (that was my character’s name) after he was arrested. I think he was probably placed in a mental health facility due to his cognitive impairments. This is also my pitch for a spinoff show called “OH THAT GIFFORD!”.
I remember getting the audition from my agent and just laughing thinking there’s no way I’m going to get this. So I guess step 1 is: Have no confidence in your abilities.
One thing I tried to do was find the truth for me. How can I relate to his character? He’s being rejected by a girl, so that’s something I latched on to and then things get a little out of hand…to say the least (I smothered the lady with a pillow).
From the show I learned how hard Kyra Sedgwick works. She was so nice to me and so complimentary to me on my acting. Plus, while she was shooting my episode she had to start working on the lines for the next episode. People were so incredibly nice to me. I think one of the best compliments I got was from this grizzled lighting guy, who at the end of the week said to me, “Thanks for remembering your lines.”
RM: Providing that you can’t answer this with “both”…Do you feel that standup comedy is more of an art or a science? And why do you feel that way about what you do for a living?
TC: Hmmm…that’s a tough one. I think at first it was a science for me. Figuring out how to formulate jokes and really listening to how I said certain jokes, so I could repeat it later on. Now it feels like more of an art in that I can focus more on my performance. I think it goes back and forth. When you’re developing material it’s a science, when you’ve developed the material you’re focusing more on the art. So I guess I cheated by saying “both.”
RM: What’s coming up for you in 2014? Anything that we should know about?
TC: I shot a web series about zombies. We’re in the midst of editing it. It’s called “Wasteland” and it’s about two dumb guys (played by myself and Ryan Smith) who have somehow survived the zombie apocalypse thanks to this bad ass bounty hunter played by Derek Mears. He played Jason in the last Friday the 13th movie and he’s an amazing actor. I hope people will get to see what he can do without the mask on.
Also, I have a small part in a movie called “Kitchen Sink” with Vanessa Hudgens, Bob Odenkirk and Patton Oswalt. It was supposed to come out in October of 2014, but now it looks like January 2015. It got bumped back because of “50 Shades of Gray”.
Hopefully I’ll have another stand up CD before the end of the year and I’ll also be teaching stand up around LA. People can check out my stand up teaching website at: http://www.standupteacher.com
Official Website: http://www.tomclark.com/
Tom on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/tomclarkcomedy
Tom on Twitter: https://twitter.com/tomclarkcomedy
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