Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Interview with Fritz Coleman

Popular KNBC meteorologist/funny man Fritz Coleman brings his new show An Evening with Fritz Coleman/On the Fritz to the El Portal Theatre in NoHo August 19-22 only. Coleman certainly needs no introduction to Angelenos as he has been reporting the weather three times daily in his own inimitable style for the past 27 years on Channel 4. In our talk, he discusses the new show, his roots, his favorite comics and even explains a little about the whys of the fantastic summer weather we've been experiencing.

You did a hilarious show about a wedding at the Victory Theatre Center. How long ago was that? Five years back?

FC: Yes, and thank you for your positive response to that. I took that around and then I had another show after that called Tonight at 11 which was about the news business that I do.

I wish I had seen that. Tell me about the new show that you are about to open.

FC: This is an evening with Fritz Coleman. Before I wrote the plays I was a standup for many years. When I would do a standup set - an hour or an hour and a half, an hour and fifteen minutes - I would open it up to questions and answers, which was a lot of fun. Not only am I a comedian, but people know me from the news business and everybody has a passionate opinion about the media these days, for better or worse. Opening up for questions and answers at the end was awesome, and it would go anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour depending on how long I could hold people's attention. Just asking about the nuts and bolts of the business, how it works and why we do things, and "Damnit, stop doing it that way!"... so it was a lot of fun. It was an organic birth. When I was invited to do these speaking engagements, a corporate event or a nonprofit event, the question would come "Do you mind taking questions and answers?" So it was born from that.

How did you develop the show?

FC: Tweaking this to where I've got it now happened at the Hermosa Beach Playhouse. I did two weeks down there a couple of months ago. I did two acts. The first act was the performance and the second, questions and answers. We may experiment with going straight through here so that I don't lose the momentum. No intermission, but we'll see.

Is the first act about your career?

FC: It's a monologue. It's everything: the news, about being a parent, about the new world that we live in, digital technology; there's stuff about religion, life in Southern California...(pensive) the odd nature of being a weatherman.

(laughing) You've been doing the weather for 27 years. How did that come about?

FC: I always enjoyed performing and being the center of attention as a child. In college I got involved in readers' theatre, learning how to use your voice in performance, not going off script with actors onstage reading off the music stand. I got an award for that...I went to a small college in West Virginia...after the navy and another round of college, I was in the radio business for 15 years as a dj (disc jockey) and talk show host. Part of the job of being a dj is you get invited to host events everywhere. I got this recurring job as an MC at a night club in Buffalo, New York.

You introduced the acts?

FC: Yeah, I was the concierge for the club. In jazz clubs, jazz bands are on their own time schedule. So even though the show was scheduled to start at 8 o'clock and you had paying customers in the seats, if the vibe was not right, the band would not go on until maybe 8:30. The club owner wanted to start at 8 o'clock, and so purely as a defense mechanism, I would write myself material to fill time. After a while, I developped a five, ten, fifteen minute block of material. At the Tralfamadore Cafe in Buffalo, a jazz club, the owner decided to give me my own night, a dark night, like a Monday night and we were packing the joint every week. I'd conquered Buffalo, New York, so I came out to LA in 1980 to pursue a career. I quickly had my self-esteem dashed by how ill-prepared I was. I did the open mic nights at the Comedy Store, and finally became a paid performer. One night my friends who worked at NBC brought their boss to see me perform, a director at NBC at the time, Steve Antonetti. Onstage I talked about doing radio and weather forecasting during vacation spots and made self-deprecating jokes about it. After the show he and his wife came up to me in the hall of the Comedy Store and said "This is a very weird question, but would you have any interest in vacation relief for me? I have a weatherman Kevin O'Connell who hasn't had a vacation in a year, and I need someone to fill in for him. Would you be interested?" And since I was making $45 a night at the Comedy Store, I said "When do I start?" I auditioned and did fill-ins for two years and then was bumped up to the main job. It's just a great stroke of show business luck. And that's how it happened.

And you've made thousands of fans who will now come and see you in this show at the El Portal.
(we laugh)
Who is your favorite comedian? Any mentor or someone from the old school that you love?

FC: No mentor. Comedians are deathly insecure and are not magnanimous enough to bring up this young comedian onstage "who hopefully one day will replace me". I have many friends and I have many heroes. (thinks) George Carlin and Robert Klein, who are heroes to 80% of the comedians out there. And of course, Richard Pryor. I love different guys for different reasons.

What stands out about George Carlin?

FC: His word play. His ability to maipulate the language. The first time I ever saw a standup comic perform live was George Carlin at the Valley Forge Music Fair in suburban Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I don't know if theaters do this anymore, this summer tent thing, quite high tech with a rotating stage. It was a transformative moment in my life. I was a freshman in college. Not only the humor, but a man's ability to walk out on stage, and for an hour and a half, talk to the audience with no notes and seemingly flawlessly and being able to manipulate the emotions of this crowd. This is the greatest amount of power you can have over a group of people. I was blown away and then became a student of it.
Robert Klein had this confidence and this charisma onstage. And Robin Williams, his speed and the ability to access parts of his mind in a split second. Richard Pryor for his bravery to talk about things that at first frightened and then convulsed people. And then of course there are my TV heroes: Carson (Johnny), and Hope (Bob) because of their charm and warmth and ability to make everyone like them.

Anything else you care to add about your show?

FC: I just want people to come out and have a good time. We'll share some common frustrations and you can beat up on the weatherman if something irritates you.

Speaking about the weather, why have we had such mild temperatures so far into August in Southern California? Does it mean we'll have a hot Christmas season? Does it have anything to do with environmental issues?

FC: We've had a cooler than normal first and middle part of summer. What comes later is not necessarily connected to what we have now. We're in what's called the La Nina syndrome. The eastern Pacific Ocean is cooler than it is supposed to be by five or eight degrees. And that changes the weather patterns over the water. When the ocean is cooler than it has to be, the air that sits over the top of the ocean is warm, and the contrast between the cool ocean air and the warm summer air causes this cloud cover called the marine layer. That marine layer hangs around in the morning... like the window shade keeps the summer sun away ... that keeps the temperatures five to ten degrees cooler. La Nina is the opposite of El Nino which causes wetter winters. It's weird.
Here's a problem too. Weather patterns can be a millenium long. And we have to look in hindsight to see if this is like part of a major change. I do believe in global warming because there's scientific evidence that the atmosphere is getting warmer. If you're asking me if it's manmade or not, I am not in a position to say that. This could be one of those cyclical things that we do over a period of time. But the beautiful thing about El Nino, La Nina and global warming is that it gives weathermen three good excuses when they blow the forecast. "It's La Nina, sorry it ruined the weekend for you." It's like pleading the fifth.

So there you have it folks, straight from the horse's mouth. Let's end with some more talk about comedy. Comedy styles have changed, don't you think? What do you think about the newer comedians?

FC: Well, I'm out of the clubs, but Chris Rock is obviously the Richard Pryor of this era. His bravery and his intelligence. I just love him; he's so good. You're right, humor is changing. I think the opening of the film Dinner For Schmucks is a great example of people's flavor. We're in a darker society now. The premise of that movie where you invite a man to dinner so you can beat him up and make fun of him, is a change. If you listen to monlogues on talk shows, we're much crueler than we used to be. Woody Allen once said "I'm OK, you're OK. This comedy is what we have in common." Now comedy has become "I'm OK. You're an asshole. And here's why you're an asshole." It's no longer what we have in common, but "You're different from me and I'm better than you."
Larry Miller and Jerry Seinfeld are pristine practitioners of the art that I appreciate so much.
Seinfeld is the perfect example of a comedy minimalist and we can all learn from him.

Happy to be performing at the El Portal again?

FC: I love working in theatres that have a wonderful history. It was a movie house and a vaudeville house. I love that ... and all the spirits that are flying around. I'm really looking forward to it. We'll have a good time.

With Fritz Coleman's intelligence, gentle nature and sharp delivery, the show will be guaranteed GREAT. Don't miss it! August 19 -22 only! Get tix now!
For Box Office and Ticket Sales, call: 818-508-4200.

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