No one will ever match Sid Caesar’s portrayal of hundreds of comedic characters that he created on his sketch-comedy show with Imogene Coca in the 1950s, but Lance Krall comes mighty close. And just as TV hailed Caesar with his own show, so it does for Krall, as Vh1 launches the second season of “Free Radio,” which will run eight consecutive Thursdays at 11 p.m. beginning April 2.
Although in “Free Radio” Krall sticks to one character--versus the hundreds of them that he easily slides into in a heartbeat when he performs with an improv troupe--no one, not even Krall himself, knows what his self-titled character, Lance, will do. Playing a moronic morning radio host who interviews A-list celebrities, such as Kiefer Sutherland, Tony Shalhoub and Ray Romano, Krall and his guest improvise the entire show.
Krall started his acting career in Atlanta at Whole World Theatre, an improvisation troupe he co-founded a year before graduating in 1995 with a B.A. in Film and Theater from Georgia State University. As a student at Whole World, I saw his versions of characters that seemed as real as anyone you’ve seen at home, at a mall or at a park. His ingenuity lies in mimicking a person’s voice, facial movements and postures, as well as in putting his wide variety of characters in uncanny situations, giving them certain ticks, and making them say and do things that are hilarious.
I wasn’t the only one gushing over his talent at Whole World. After a Hollywood talent agent spotted him there and suggested he move to L.A., he did in 2000, and landed his first acting job in an NBC sketch-comedy show produced by Steve Martin called “The Downer Channel.” It was a downer, and lasted only four episodes. From there, Krall portrayed “Kip the Gay Guy” on “The Joe Schmo Show,” a faux-reality show on Spike TV, and then created his own show, “The Lance Krall Show,” which also ran on Spike.
Krall has been acting and writing since he landed in Hollywood. If you want to laugh really hard, click on the YouTube links provided. On the first link you can see a trailer for the show. On the second link you'll see him on Conan O’Brien explaining why the CIA shut down three airports to look for him. It really is a true story. An interview with the actor follows.
Lance Krall on Conan O'Brien
Q&A With Lance
SA: Who conceived the idea of Free Radio?
LK: Vh1 approached me after “The Lance Krall Show” (which aired on Spike TV—in 2005 with many former members of Whole World Theatre) to do a show for them. My manager and I came up with some ideas, and he said, ‘Why don’t you do a show set in a radio station and interview celebrities and stuff?’ So we had a setting and what I would do. Then I had to figure out why anyone would want to watch me in a radio station. So I said, what if my character (an intern) is completely ignorant to what a radio DJ would be? I came up with this back story of a shock jock leaving the radio station to go to satellite radio. When David Lee Roth took over for Howard Stern he was completely abysmal at what he did, but he was also in a totally thankless position because to follow in Howard Stern’s footsteps, no one is going to succeed in those conditions. I thought if that happened again in the fictional world where our character Rick Rebel leaves to go to satellite radio, they would have an impossible task of finding a DJ because it’s such a thankless job. So I figured that would be a way the intern could sneak in there and take the reins until they could find someone.
SA: How did you go about getting celebrities like Kiefer Sutherland to come on the show?
LK: We were going to live or die based on whether we could get real celebrities to come on the show. It’s a tall order to get people who are not has-beens to be on Vh1 because that’s the brand Vh1 had created for a while, all B-list and rehab celebrities. We had to shoot a pilot for the show to prove to celebrities and to their PR people that the show’s actually really cool and it wasn’t like we were making fun of them. It was more like I was the idiot and they were along for the ride. We shot a pilot using a few friends we had who were well known, celebrities, to give us credibility. We had Angela Kinsey who plays Angela on “The Office,” and we had Jack Coleman who plays Horn-Rimmed Glasses on “Heroes.” And it really worked out and the PR people loved it, and we ended up getting people you would have never dreamed of seeing on Vh1 before our show. The first season we had Keifer Sutherland, Tony Shalhoub from “Monk,” and Zach Quinto from “Heroes,” Melora Hardin from “The Office,” Penn and Teller, Ray Romano. People you wouldn’t normally see on Vh1.
SA: Did you know any of those guests before you had them on?
LK: Aside from Tony Shalhoub, who I had worked with on "Made-Up" (a flim Shalhoub directed) and "Monk" (the TV show), no. I met all these people for the first time. Quite a few of them are people I really admire, and I’m really excited to meet them for the first time. We all take pictures with each other afterward. I’m in this ridiculous Members Only jacket and this horrible hair, so in all my pictures with all these celebrities I’m dressed like a complete idiot.
SA: You’re used to doing so many characters when you do improv. What are the challenges of being just one character on this show?
LK: When I did “The Lance Krall Show” I got to be all these different characters and it was fun, but it’s a whole other challenge to be one character and maintain him through two seasons. When you’re doing many characters you focus more on the highlights of the person and the loud moments, those that are bigger than life, and you’re done. With this (show), you have to find the levels and complexities of the character without betraying who he is. There are times when we have people come on, and my character is really, really bad at impersonations, so I have to pretend that I can’t do Christopher Walken and all these other people that I’m actually quite good at. But it’s fun. I enjoy seeing people through his eyes. The character has the ability to say whatever he wants to say and do whatever he wants to do. I’m more respectful and I wouldn’t dream of meeting Kiefer Sutherland and telling him he has a Jeffrey Dahmer face. But when I’m in this character, I get to do it.
SA: Was any of that scripted?
LK: No, the whole show is improvised. From the interviews, to the behind the scenes stuff, the entire show.
SA: What about the woman who came over and slapped you? Was that scripted?
LK: Her name was Mary Lynn Rajskub. She’s on the show “24.” She was a cast member of “The Downer Channel” with me. But I hadn’t seen her since then. When she agreed to come on the show, I told her: Do whatever you want to do, feel free to do it.
At one point in the interview it was getting so heated between my character and her that she just decided to get up and slap me. And it was so funny. We thought it was hilarious. And at the end (of the show) I got up and surprised her and slapped her. She chased after me and we play-fought. None of it was planned or scripted. That’s the beauty of the show. It feels very in-the-moment because it’s in the moment for the actors. We don’t know what’s going to happen. You watch these talk shows these days like David Letterman and stuff, you can tell half the time that the guest on there has a scripted or outlined interview, and it’s all going toward this punch line at the end. You feel gypped because you feel that whole thing was orchestrated. This show is by the seat of our pants. Once the celebrity gets in there, you never know what’s going to happen.
SA: Some actors aren’t great improvisers, they’re great actors but they need a script. Do you ever get actors in there who aren’t good at reacting to the spontaneous antics?
LK: There’s definitely people who come in that have a lot of fun with it, and then there are those who are completely lost and go what the hell is going on. But that’s fun to watch too, when they’re outside of their comfort zone, and they’re not in their element. Mine and Anna’s job to bring the funny.
SA: Anna, who plays the show’s co-host, you and she worked together at Whole World Theatre in Atlanta. Do you two take that experience of how the MC or audience threw suggestions out to you, and you became characters in situations. Do you and Anna do that together, throw out situations you could place yourselves in when you’re planning episodes?
LK: Me and Loren Tarquinio, (Anna’s husband who also worked with them at Whole World Theatre) he is my co-writer on the show. We brainstorm ideas and come up with the bulk of (scenario) outlines. Once we get into the recording booth and we do our scenes, all that stuff usually goes out the door and we find better stuff in the moment and just improvise. Once we get into production, we often still don’t know what celebrities are going to come on. Sometimes we don’t know what celebrity is coming on until the day before we tape. That’s the scary part of shooting the show.
SA: How will this season differ from your first season?
LK: All the actors have fallen into their characters, my character is now a successful DJ at a successful radio station, so it (the season) opens up with us being an award-winning radio station, although the award is a lame award, just an L.A. weekly reader’s choice award, but of course my character totally blows it out of proportion. We are now a successful radio show this season, so we had to show that. Lance no longer wonders if he’s going to remain there, and James (who plays the show's producer) no longer has the ability to fire him. Because I’m more cocky and into thinking that I’m all that, the aggression between me and the guests gets a little bit bigger. The first season was quiet but this season has a lot more things going on, like a boxing match between me and Anna.
SA: Can you tell us who the guests are?
LK: We have Dominic Monaghan from “Lord of the Rings” and "Lost;" David Cook, winner of last year’s American Idol; Ed Begley Jr., John Stamos, Henry Rollins, (actor and musician); Cheech and Chong, Sugar Ray Leonard. It’s a really exciting season.
SA: How many episodes will there be?
LK: There will be eight episodes this season starting on April 2 at 11 p.m. on eight consecutive Thursdays. It’s a bit of a short season. For me, to do more than eight would be really tiring, because I’m executive producing, I’m writing, I’m acting, I edit the show myself at my house. It’s an unbelievable amount of work.
SA: How long does it take to do eight episodes?
LK: We shoot them in about a month and a half, and then I edit it about a month and a half, we write for about a month before that, so it equals four or five months.
If we had a larger budget we could have more man power and more people speeding things along, but I’m such a control freak I probably wouldn’t let them do it anyway. I love doing it myself.
SA: What were you doing between “The Lance Krall Show” and this show?
LK: I got some development deals for writing pilots for Fox and ABC Family. We did a show called “The Other Mall.” It made it to pilot but (it) did not get picked up for a series. I’ve been fortunate enough to have employment in the industry since I’ve been out here.
SA: I saw the promo you did with Dr. Drew Pinsky. Is he going to be a guest on the show?
LK: After we met with Dr. Drew (who did a promo for the show after the season was filmed), he wanted to be on our show next season, and he invited us to be on “Love Line” (Dr. Drew’s radio show where he gives advice on love and sex). I’m going to be dishing out advice to young teens as Dr. Moron Lance.
SA: Are you already planning for season three?
LK: We have no idea if it will be picked up. We’ll see what the ratings are for this season, and we’ll probably know in a month or two if it gets picked up again. If not, I’ll just move on to the next thing. I don’t know what that next thing would be though.
SA: What would you do if you could do anything you wanted?
LK: I’m really doing what I love right now, which is creating my own projects. So if I had to create another project, I’d love to create a film. That’s a totally different world with different pressures, but that’s definitely a challenge I’d love to jump into. But for right now, I’m enjoying working in television because it’s challenging, it’s exciting. It’s hard but it’s fun. It’s good training and eventually I’d love to jump into doing some offbeat sort of films. I’d like to keep the scale low though, keep it small, find some fun, small stories that a handful of people like, and grow from there. I definitely wouldn’t want to jump into some big budget thing right away cause I don’t think my sensibilities are mainstream enough to warrant the kind of budget a big budget film would have.
SA: How does an aspiring performer get to be so successful?
LK: “The Downer Channel” ran only four episodes. It was the first thing I auditioned for and I booked it, and I was like: Oh my god, I’m on top of the world. I’m on a prime-time network sketch-comedy show produced by Steve Martin. The checks are gonna just keep rollin’ in. And it got canceled and I was like: Oh, OK, it’s not that easy. But if it wasn’t for that experience, I would not be doing what I’m doing right now. The reason is that when I was on that show I expected everyone there to know what they were doing. I expected to be blown away by the comedy and television knowledge of the people that were involved in it. And as I was on that show I kept thinking, I could do this. These people don’t know anything I don’t know. It brought me to a realization about Steve Martin, that he’s good at what he does, but there’s no instinct that he has that I found life enlightening to where I was like, oh my god, that’s why he’s Steve Martin. Steve Martin knows how to do Steve Martin, and that’s something that I learned quickly: Lance Krall needs to learn how to do Lance Krall. I need to learn what my thing is. And the only person who’s going to figure that out is myself. Once that show got canned, I was a little pissed, just upset that it wasn’t as good as I thought it could have been. It could have been better. There were talented people on it. It felt like a show done by committee because there were so many producers on the show, and so much money riding on it that they had to try to please everybody. So (afterward), I took it upon myself to shoot “The Lance Krall Show,” and we shot that on my home camera with the cast from Whole World Theatre just as an experiment to exercise my demons a little bit. Then we put together an awesome pilot, for like nothing (low cost), and Spike TV eventually picked it up as a series. It made me realize that no one out here knows what the hell they’re doing. You just have to do it (your projects) yourself. The people that make it out here are the ones who go: My instincts are better. My instincts might not be right for this person, but they’re always right for yourself. You just have to figure out who you are and what you do. I’ve gone through four different agencies out here. When you come out here and you think you’re going to get with an agency you go, 'Wow, this agency is going to solve all my problems. They’re an amazing agency. They’re the biggest agency in the world!' And then you get in there and you realize that they’re not creative people. They’re boardroom guys, and for the most part, they don’t know what the hell they are doing. It’s truly disappointing. As long as I can deal without having an agent, I will. I have a wonderful manager, Rory Rosegarten, and a fantastic lawyer. And that’s all I need, just one guy to open the door for me, and I go in and create my own projects, and have a great lawyer to watch my back. I’m definitely disillusioned with the Hollywood power structure. It might work for big celebrities who already have a career, but speaking for myself, I have found agents to be utterly worthless. And as a producer, when I have to deal with booking actors, I’ll deal with certain agents, and you’d be amazed at how the agent will make you hate the actor, and it has nothing to do with the actor, but the agent is trying to show how big their cock is, and they’re doing no service to anyone and they’re making me hate their client, who is a nice person, but the agent makes me hate their client. Not all agents are terrible, but the percentage of bad ones out here is discouraging. Agents love feeling like they have the keys to the castle, and the truth is, they don’t.