Jerry Minor is one of the most talented and versatile comedic actors working today and has been ever since his television debut on HBO's Mr. Show with Bob and David. Whether it's on Saturday Night Live, Comedy Central's Crossballs, or HBO's Lucky Louie, Jerry stands out, even when surrounded by some of the biggest names in the industry. Currently, Minor portrays Aubrey on ABC's Carpoolers and will be appearing in the forthcoming Judd Apatow penned-John C.Reilly comedy Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and the Will Ferrell vehicle Semi-Pro. Starpulse spoke with Jerry about the development of his comedic sensibilities, playing pranks in the school yard, and why it is that he always wears brown on Carpoolers.
Has the writers' strike affected Carpoolers yet?
It will. We just happened to be shooting our last episode when this all happened. So we're almost done with our order anyway. We'll be done Thursday, and then we have nothing else to shoot.
Have you been doing any picketing?
Not yet, no. I've still been shooting. And I'm in the Writers Guild [East]. I just got a call today saying I should show up at Rockefeller Center. I was like "Well, I wish I could." But after we're done, unfortunately if we're still going that long, then I'll be out. But I'm still working as an actor. If it's still going on by Friday then I'll be out there.
At this point in your career, do you think you could still do a prank based show like Crossballs or Trigger Happy TV?
I think if you want to do something like that, it's still possible. Obviously we have costumes and stuff like that. I mean, it does make it harder, but I did a pilot presentation for HBO right before I was shooting Carpoolers and we did some prank bits in that and I didn't have any problem.
Is there a particular role you get recognized most often for?
Lucky Louie, a lot of people would recognize me for that. I don't know why, I think it was just the nature of the audience. The kind of people that watched it really paid attention. And maybe that's just the people who said something to me. And then from doing Mr. Show. Again, it's just the kind of people who watch the show, they're really loyal to the program. So when they see you it's like "I love that show, it's my favorite show." That's one that I get always, Mr. Show. They have a lot of fans.
Mr. Show was your first television job, which was quite an introduction because it was a landmark television show.
Definitely, yes. And it's been downhill from there. (laughs) It was the best thing- It really spoiled me to the way things are done and how you make television because it was just a creative process that I haven't seen since. You know, it's like at Saturday Night Live you're pretty much left on your own, but there are so many people involved in that process that it's quite different from the way things were at Mr. Show, which seemed like just guys who were friends who had similar sensibilities just putting on a show. The Mr. Show staff really tried hard and cared about what they were doing, but they really took a personal interest and were left alone to do whatever they wanted.
Of all the different project that you've been involved in, which would you say best reflects your comedic sensibility?
Well, I guess you're talking about things that people have actually seen. It's funny because my sensibility changes and goes here and there. I mean, Mr. Show kind of inspired me to get into television and sketch. And even though I was a fan of Saturday Night Live and other sketch shows, that was something that really inspired me. And I thought, "Wow, television can make these tremendous leaps in whatever form that you're doing."
I really liked doing Lucky Louie, but I don't think that show really got the chance to become what I think everybody envisioned for it. But that was something that I thought was so interesting and new, in the way people talked, and if they would have had the chance to let it grow, I thought it would have been a great show. The reason I'm saying those two shows is that my comic sensibility is all linked toward doing something new and interesting and different and that changes what people expect and I think that those two shows in my career did that.
When did you begin performing in general?
I started dabbling in it, doing stand-up at a young age like 21, but I really didn't put anything into it until I was almost 26, 27. A little later than a lot of the other people around me started. But a lot of the early part of our careers are like that, you know, stumbling around until we find the thing that we like about it. But I guess for the most part it was rooted in live performance onstage; I did a lot of that kind of stuff.
But you did your first open mic at 19?
Yeah, I did. I started in the Detroit area; I was in Flint. I grew up in Flint. And at that point it was during kind of the end of the stand-up boom, so all these little clubs were doing stand-up, you know, even around my town in Flint. I would go there, or go to Detroit, go to the clubs, and I started just going, watching comedians. I liked sketch, but I didn't know how you get into that. I didn't know how they picked the people who were on Saturday Night Live and SCTV. But I knew that there were these clubs doing stand-up, so I figured, "There's comedy, somehow I will meet those people," and I did. I met people who were taking classes at Second City and who wanted to do sketch. So I started doing sketch with those guys in local clubs around Detroit and we would go up on a regular stand-up night and do a sketch. And then we got to the point where we were doing our own show at the club. And I still do that today. I still will go to shows, more alternative shows, where the audience is comfortable seeing someone come up and do a sketch or some kind of character.
Was comedy something that you were interested in at a young age as well?
I was interested in it. I just didn't know how to get into it. And I was married at a young age, and at that point I thought some kind of career in entertainment was unattainable. I didn't know who that happens to, but it wasn't me, I had a family. And then a couple years after I was married I thought, "I wonder if there are other things I can do," and I started going to stand up clubs again and I started meeting people who wanted to do sketch, and I guess this is probably true in a lot of people who do that kind of work. It's meeting other people who have that same kind of sense of humor that you do. That really inspires you to go, "Hey, there are other people who want to do this kind of thing," and you figure it out.
That led to me getting involved in Second City just because I knew that they just decided to build a theater in Detroit. But if I didn't know Second City I never would have considered it. But I knew that was a place where people who were on Saturday Night Live came from. Then when I got into Second City in Detroit, that was the biggest shaping of my career because I was onstage every night for four years. Writing my own material, doing characters I created, and that was the biggest education in this business for me.
How would you describe the time you eventually spent on Saturday Night Live?
I wish I would have enjoyed it more. It was very stressful, but I think I put a lot of the stress on myself. It was a great opportunity and I loved doing it. It taught me a lot about production and performing. And I loved being able to perform in front of a live audience again. But everything else that went along with the job, the pressure, the schedule, the cast size, also trying to write and make sure you're on the show is a lot. I think that if I had worried about it less I would have enjoyed my time there a lot more. There are things I liked about it, but there were things that were stressful. I didn't know how people could take that, how they took that schedule, staying up all night, working, trying to write sketches and having your sketches not picked. And I had also come from another show, while for most people their introduction to network television is Saturday Night Live. I had worked on Mr. Show and that was a sketch show that was completely different. It was relaxed and everybody went for exactly what they wanted, and they debated about the comedy of it. Just a different creative atmosphere. But you know, SNL is what it is. There is something that's very challenging about it and enjoyable about it too. They have to make a show in a week; it's a tough job.
Is Saturday Night Live a program that you watched when you were growing up, say in high school and middle school as well?
Oh yeah, I watched the very first one. Just happened to see it when I was- I don't even know how old I was. It came on in '75 so I must have been eight. And I remember the first one, like, "What is this show?" I Just happened to be up late on a Saturday and watched it.
Were your parents bringing comedy into the household?
I think my mom was a big comedy fan. I had Bill Cosby albums and Richard Pryor. Richard Pryor was my biggest inspiration and got me interested in comedy as a young kid. I would do what every kid says they did. I would find a record that my parents had hidden and I would sneak and listen to them and memorize routines. Eddie Murphy was big for me, because I was in high school then and he was just huge. That was another part of it for me. This guy was also a comic actor. Richard Pryor wasn't necessarily that, but Eddie Murphy could act, and he was great at it. That was another part of what shaped me a lot growing up.
What were you like in school?
I was a smart kid who would get very distracted, and if I wasn't challenged in school then it was going to be a disaster for me. And that was from a really young age. So I was really socially active but I could lose my interest really quickly in schoolwork. At an early age they tried to put me ahead, skip a couple of grades, and that didn't work because kids resent that. I was in the fourth grade and they put me in the sixth grade and I immediately wanted to go back because everybody picked on me. I was smaller than everybody else, and kids just did not want me in their class. I also went to different schools, I went to accelerated school for a couple of years which didn't help me because I guess it wasn't enough structure for me as a kid. And then by the time I got into high school I would just do enough to get by. I was smart enough to be able to halfway pay attention and do whatever they needed me to do. In my senior year I got involved in a quiz bowl team and we ended up winning our state championship and going to these finals, and it was televised in Flint. And that actually brought me out of my shell a lot. I got to travel with the team and see the world, got to show off and be on television. So I guess that was a big part of my education.
You mentioned coming out of your shell. Were you not the class clown type?
I was a class clown. But we were on television and I got to be comfortable doing that and got to be comfortable with everybody in town knowing who I was. I liked that.
So what were some of the different ways you would get your laughs growing up?
Practical jokes (laughs). Any way that I could, really. I did impressions. I'll tell you this story; I told this story in a couple one-man shows that I've had. When I was growing up my mother and father were divorced, and my mother was a nurse and there was a day care center that was adjacent to the hospital that she worked at. So a lot of the nurses would bring their kids there, especially the single parents. She would bring me there in the morning and then I would go to school from the day care center and come back and she would pick me up. It was easier than having a babysitter.
I was the only black kid at the whole day care center. And the only black person except for one lady who was a maid who would come in once a week and clean the day care center. She also worked at the hospital. Most of the workers there were these young white girls who I would do impressions for, make them laugh, and I would do impressions of Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, stuff like that, and they loved it. And one day I was goofing around, clowning around for these day care workers, and the black maid saw me and took me aside and said "You can't do that. You can't clown in front of them like that. They're not laughing with you, they're laughing at you." So a couple of weeks later I was doing it again, and I saw her pass by and she just gave me this look of such disappointment in me. And the joke I tell onstage is that "I knew at that point it was my duty to please white women."
But it's weird that I always remembered that, and I think that also shaped a lot of what I try to do in my career. Because even though I can tell that story, it still affected me in a way. How sensitive she was to me being laughed at. And I think it did give me a different kind of sensitivity to what I was doing and what I was trying to say and if I was somehow being lost in a stereotype, what was I saying by that? It gave me an interest to try to play with that somehow in my career. That's something I've always been interested in. Obviously because I think as a black performer, there's something different. There's something about that, something to be explored. Every time you step on stage or step in front of a camera it's something that people obviously see in this country. So I was always interested in what I did with that, and just different perceptions that people have, and also very interested in how you can change people's perception.
And how did you try to change people's perceptions?
I'm always interested in doing something that is challenging a stereotype or challenging a perception. Either by embracing it, making it clear that it's not a stereotype of anything we see. But that's just generally how I want to work anyway, whether it has to do with race or not, I want to do something that is challenging, even just to challenge myself.
Is typecasting and stereotyping something you've had to deal with in show business?
I think so, and I think that it's to a lighter degree than people would think. I don't think it's as serious as people think. I just think that a lot of writers and creators and producers and directors and everybody else don't have a full perspective of what the black experience can be. Or what it's like for me. I don't think it's malicious at all, I just think that, you know, it's sometimes shortsighted, but it's just the way things are. How could you do that?
What interested me about Carpoolers the most was that it was a character that wasn't written for a black guy. You would think it was written for a white guy if you read it. And I thought it was interesting of them to think, "Maybe we should use someone else; we should use another race." But I didn't audition against anyone else that was black. It was interesting because I thought, "Here's something that has nothing to do with that" And that's kind of rare, I think, in a comedy like that. I don't know what we're doing with it, but I thought it was interesting to take a role like that.
I imagine that having to deal with being to act more like a stereotype rather than rejecting it can be very frustrating.
Yeah, but you know who got cast and you know what it looks like when it gets done. You know the choices you made when you read for it and you know the choice that was made when it got cast, so what can you say? That's what people want. So even without anybody asking you directly, it's obvious to you that that's what they want. And that's what I mean by breaking people's expectations because obviously there's shortsightedness there about the different ways things can be done and the different portrayals of people. I don't blame anybody, I just think it's one of things that has to be changed.
So, you mentioned that you were short and you had moved around quite a bit, do you think that's something that fostered your sense of humor?
Yeah, definitely. It was a way I could get along with people. And I felt like I was quick and observant, so it helped me to make friends. It helped me to have people not pick on me. It helped me be popular. People knew I was always joking around. And I lived for it. Instead of doing my homework I would think about bits I would want to do over the weekend, and I'd be excited that I was going to make somebody laugh on Monday. I loved it.
I don't know if you'd remember this, but are you able to pinpoint the first time you were consciously aware of your ability to make people laugh?
You know, the story I was telling about doing the impressions for the women, that was the earliest point I can remember like "Oh yeah, I was a clown then" where I have a conscious memory of being a clown. I'm sure I was like that before then, but that's the first solid memory that I have of clowning around. And it just got worse from there. A lot of it also was taking away my boredom. I would make cassette tapes, I would do sketch shows by myself and do all the voices of a sketch and make these cassettes and play them for people. And my friends loved them. But that's something that I would do with my time, to relieve boredom and being by myself.
What sort of sketches would you write as young Jerry Minor?
Probably whatever my frame of reference was then. Like maybe second or first grade I was probably writing sketches that looked a lot like something that would be on The Carol Burnett Show, like a guy walking into a store. Carol Burnett or Hee Haw.
Did you have any reoccurring characters?
There was one point that I did. I love doing impressions and I would do an impression of- there was a car dealership in Detroit that was owned by a former football player, a guy that used to play for the Detroit Lions. Name's Mel Farr. And I would do a reoccurring bit in the tapes I would make of him doing these commercials, a parody of him doing these commercials.
What was so funny about the way he did his commercials?
Just real stiff, and he called himself the Superdealer and he wore a cape, a suit with a cape on it. Oh and another thing I did, and this was before Weird Al Yankovic, I would make parody songs. My first parody song was a parody of Little Red Corvette called Big As A Chevette. And I am not kidding.
You mentioned that you liked doing pranks. Did your humor ever get you in trouble?
Yes. A lot. Yeah, I got in trouble a lot in school. From the typical shaving cream in a guy's hand while he was sleeping, bucket over the door. I loved doing classic bits I had seen in cartoons and seeing if they worked. And laughing, I would laugh my ass off. (laughs) If I ever could have given anyone the hotfoot, I would have loved it, but it was probably too dangerous. And than I would do more clever bits, childish but things like setting something up with a friend of mine and having him go over to someone and say, "Did you hear about Jerry's grandmother? She's taking ballet lessons and she's 85." And inevitably that kid would come up to me and say, "Haha, your grandmother's taking ballet lessons." And I would look at him as if I was about to cry and say, "My grandmother just got her legs cut off. She's got diabetes." And walk away and leave them the whole day thinking that my grandmother's legs were cut off. That was like the more sophisticated bits I would do. And that also made me laugh. Or taking food out of the trashcan and giving it to somebody and have them eat it; that would make me laugh too.
Did you participate in any talent shows or extracurricular activities like student government?
Yes. My senior year I was the host of the talent show. And I auditioned and they picked me. It was for the student government who threw the talent show. And I came out and did a couple of jokes, did a little stand-up routine and hosted the rest of the show. It was a lot of fun.
And when you did these jokes at the talent show, was that the first time you debuted them?
Yeah, I guess so. And I was pretty comfortable doing it. I know that I wrote some jokes when I auditioned for them. And probably like 20 people auditioned to do this. It was big deal. At that point, for some reason, Flint, Michigan high school talent shows became huge. Like all the other kids from different high schools would come to other high school's talent shows. But I also remember feeling really really comfortable, knowing that my jokes would work. And I was nervous beforehand but when I got up and actually auditioned for them I was like, "I should be doing this. This is fun."
And what was your involvement in student government?
This is one thing I did. In my senior year, you got a write-in for a student representative. I think we had two representatives per class. And somebody wasn't running, so I asked everybody to write my name in the ballot, everybody in the class I was in. And I got elected, which I thought was really funny.
Did you have any slogans to campaign with?
No, it was just something that happened that day, as I was saying, the day of the election I was like "Oh, nobody's running for this. Everybody, write my name in," and everybody wrote my name in and I got elected. I didn't campaign at all. I also don't remember doing much. I probably wouldn't have been interested in going to anything. Being that it was enough for me to say I was elected, it's probably safe for me to say that I didn't do anything.
So, you later started performing stand up, but then you stopped. Why?
I was just dabbling in it. I didn't really take it seriously. I'd book a few gigs, but nothing obviously to sustain me. Nothing to pay my bills. It was just extra money and it was fun to do. And then when I met my wife I thought "Well, I've got to be serious now. I can't hang out at a comedy club on the weekends. I have to go to work." I was working for GM, working for Buick and my wife worked in the same office and we both got laid off. And that night I went to comedy club again. I thought that the job I had at Buick was a job I could have for life. It was a good job and it was starting out at $10 an hour, which was great for me. And then we both got laid off and I'm like "You know what, I might as well figure out what I really, really want to do and what makes me happy because there is no guarantee on any job." And I went to a comedy club that night and I met a woman that was taking classes at Second City. And before then I had done, like I said, a lot of stand-up and she said "You should do a sketch show with me." And so I got in her sketch show and then that was it. Then I started working with other people and started doing sketch.
The whole time you were working at General Motors, was it tapping on your shoulder, wanting to do comedy?
Yeah, every once in a while I would get the bug. And it happens to me even to this day. If there's a certain amount of time where I'm not performing or I'm not doing something, I get itchy and I want to get out and go up at a club. And during the time I wasn't doing it, I would every once in a while go out to at least see some comedy or see if I could get onstage. Scribble out some stuff that day. So yeah, it was always there. It was always that feeling that I wanted to do it. Like I said, losing a job was just an excuse, like I should be out there whenever I can, every night.
What were some of the odd jobs that you worked while you were starting out to do comedy after getting laid off?
Oh, man. I worked at a security gate at a hospital. Parking lot gate attendant. I cleaned floors at a factory, at a brake factory. I worked in the factory, the DuPont automotive paint factory actually for most of the time I was really- even up to the time I started Second City I was still working for DuPont. I did that for a couple of years. And that was a job I could do because I'd work third shift, I would take a lot of night shifts and so I could do comedy and then go into work so I didn't have to miss a lot. But at that point I was really dedicated doing shows. I worked for Blue Cross for a while too.
You were in Detroit performing when Bob Odenkirk came to do the Recruiters video for Mr. Show?
Yeah. I had gone to Chicago, obviously the Second City in Detroit was affiliated with them, and we'd gone there. But I met Bob from our director who had come from Chicago, Tom Gianis, and he was directing a Second City show in Detroit and he was friends with Bob. He actually directed the Recruiters segment. And he introduced me to Bob and David, "We should shoot this recruiters thing in Detroit. Great location, I'm working here, just get us two cameras here and it would be great." So they came to Detroit and shot the recruiters sketch and that's how I met them.
And I guess the rest, as they say, is history.
Well, I didn't see them for almost a year and he sent me a rough cut of what they were doing, and I really didn't get it. At that point I hadn't seen anything like Mr. Show and I had no concept that anybody could do anything like that. And the first rough cut was weird and obviously they hadn't gotten to the place they got to when they actually did the show. I was like "Well, good luck." (laughs) And then I saw the show, the show started coming on. And actually the recruiters sketch didn't air until the second season. But I started watching the show and I thought it was amazing. It blew me away. But at that point, being in Second City, a lot of us were interested in changing the form. They were changing things that they were doing in Chicago. We just loved the interesting things they were doing with sketch. And then I happened to see Bob in Toronto. I worked in Chicago for a while, but the Chicago company was blowing me off for a while, and I worked in Toronto for a year and put a show up there, at Second City. And Bob was doing promotion for Mr. Show. So I'd seen the show and I was like "Hey I love the show" and he's like "Hey, you did that one thing, we're going to actually air it this next season. You should come out to LA and you should do the show" And I thought that's ridiculous. And I came back to Chicago and he asked me to audition. He said, "Hey, look, there's a couple of roles I'd really like you to do. If you'd like to do it you can come out to LA, do these roles and it'll probably take you half the season. You can go back if you want, but I really want you to do this." So I was going to do main stage in Chicago and then I got the call from Bob and I really wanted to take an opportunity to do something at that point. I didn't want stay in Second City any more, I wanted to see what was out here; so I came out. And we tried it out, I did half the season, it was great, and I ended up staying the whole season. That was it.
And when you moved to LA were you also performing at the alternative shows?
Yeah, I was doing stuff like that. I did a lot of one-man shows. There was something called the HBO Workspace. It was a theatre that HBO had and you could do free shows there. It was a really cool thing that they had here in LA for a while. And I did a few shows there. So I just wrote these sketch shows where I performed all the parts, I did a lot of those. And I did Largo, things like that. Alternative rooms.
Do you have plans to perform any one-man shows in the near future, or are you too busy with other projects?
I'm just very busy. But now with this strike happening, everything's going to be kind of shut down so there won't be a lot of other work to do. So this would be a good opportunity for me to actually start doing that stuff. I've been thinking about it a lot because I haven't had a lot of time to perform live. It was something I used to do a lot. So now, if this drags on, I'll be out there doing a lot more.
So what are some other projects that you're currently involved in or thinking about?
There's actually nothing else that I'm doing other than Carpoolers. I've had some small roles in some films. The last one I did was Semi-Pro with Will Ferrell. So hopefully now I'll get a chance to do some other stuff. I did, like I said, a pilot for HBO, which I'd love to figure out a way to get out there, whether it's something that can be used as web content or whatever. But it's something I was really proud of and I thought it was really funny. I wish that the show had been picked up as a series, but I'd like for it to somehow live on.
And what was this pilot that you shot?
It was sketch slash, I don't want to call it a hidden camera show, but we did things that were in the real world, like Ali G, like Crossballs, where I was in character interacting with real people. All the sketches featured me. And I think it was the sense of humor, it was exactly the things I wanted to talk about, to deal with. And like I said a lot of it had to do with stereotypes and race. It was the show that I really wanted to do.
So this was a vehicle to showcase you
Uh-huh. Yep. The Untitled Jerry Minor Sketch Show.
So do you have an interest in working with a site like SuperDeluxe?
Yeah, or any of the websites. I haven't done any of that, and that's why I was hoping that somehow I would be able to use what I've already shot as web content and continue that from there. Yeah, any of them. SuperDeluxe, Funny or Die, any of the websites. I don't know that much about them because I haven't had the chance to interact with them. But I'd love to be involved.
So do you prefer to work in the narrative format like Lucky Louie or Carpoolers, or something like sketch or Crossballs?
I did so much sketch that while I was doing it I felt like I was burnt out and I wanted to do more narrative stuff, but now that I'm doing that I want to go back to sketch. It's both of them. I always want to move around and do different things. I think my writing lends more towards sketch, but I like narrative stuff too. I love Lucky Louie. I love being one character and figuring out what happens to him. Stuff like that. I like both.
You worked on Cedric the Entertainer Presents and I was curious what was that experience like?
It was great; I really liked it. He was trying to do something- I don't know, I guess we've seen it before, but he was trying to bring that variety show feel back, which is a little bit different. I love some of the humor and some of the sketches that we did. Obviously Cedric and I don't have the same voice, but he's a really good performer. And like I said, I liked doing a lot of the things we did. It was fun.
A lot of people talk about ridiculous notes they've gotten from network executives. Have you had that sort of experience?
Not really because as an actor I don't really have to deal with that. As a writer, I didn't want to deal with it either, so I would stay out of note sessions. It wouldn't be productive if I was there. I'm trying to think of a crazy note that had to be addressed. (Pause) I don't know if it was a note, but somebody on Carpoolers said I looked better in earth tones or maybe it was the character, I don't know. But since then I've had nothing but brown. (laughs) I get to the point where I come in, I'm like "Huh. Brown suit again. Brown suit again?!" I don't know how it got to that, or why it's like that, or maybe it's a color scheme, I have no idea. But all I wear is brown.
Interview by Ben Kharakh
Starpulse.com contributing writer