“I don’t want to see anything interesting and I don’t want to see anything creative.”

I hope you enjoy this wonderful conversation between the very talented (and very funny) Kevin Pollack and the very talented (and, yes, very funny) Alan Arkin. I’ve been a huge Arkin fan ever since seeing “Catch 22” and “The Heart is the Lonely Hunter” back in the 1970s as a kid. I’ve been an admirer of Pollack ever since seeing him in the very PC “The Aristocrats” movie (a must see for all jazz, as well as, comedy fans) and thinking, I’ve seen you before somewhere. I had. As well as being an impressionist of note and stand-up comedian, Kevin has performed in quite a number of big-budget films opposite the likes of Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson (Rob Reiner’s “A Few Good Men”), and Arkin (“Indian Summer”). He is also a dead-ringer for a cousin of mine (uncanny that they share many mannerisms  also, though Pollack’s are quite a few decibels quieter). His Peter Falk impersonation is sublime. It even baffled Falk himself.

Mentioned in this video are such gems as Arkin’s recollections regarding:

  • his “surreal” dinner with Marlon Brando and his dogs
  • befriending “fan” Groucho Marx
  • his time at Second City, and the importance of being able to fail
  • nearly directing Blazing Saddles (and the brilliant first script)
  • his approach to improvisation in his workshops
  • being an author
  • the humour in silence
  • and last, but not least….the greatest Academy Award winner speech in the world.

Regarding playframes and personae

Pollack and Arkin also discuss a number of issues that pertain to my work on “playframing.” The concept of playframes has its origins in Brian Sutton-Smith’s observations regarding the “performance” aspect of play. That is, the way in which participants in play reframe the world around them and their relationship to it – suspending the “givens” of the mundane world. For instance, Pollack mentions how when he impersonates a particular comedian he is able to think quicker and be funnier than if he were to just “be himself.” It is, as if, he were somehow possessed by the person he is channeling. I would suggest that it isn’t a person he is channeling so much as a personality. That is, Pollack’s connection to the personae he is temporarily adopting is no less authentic than that of the celebrity. After all, a personae is simply a mask: an invention. This is, perhaps, one reason why actors and musicians often adopt stage names. An admirer once confided to Cary Grant how wonderful it must be to live the life of Mr. Cary Grant. Grant answered something along the lines of that he often wondered it might be like too.

If you are reading this and you’re a parent, perhaps you’ll notice from time to time how children progressively write the narrative of their own identity in relation to their immediate and inherited environment, their parents, their friends, their culture….and (god forbid) the media. Gradually, over time, they play with various aspects of their self-image: trying on this, discarding that. Somehow, somewhere all this playful mixing and matching eventually becomes concretised and one ends up with an “I.” Then it’s game over. Just keep playing out the script, the algorithm, unwittingly enlisting all the necessary participants along the way to fill in the blanks of a largely predictable outcome: all the way to the grave. That is, unless you can find an occasional “out” in play or therapy or a midlife crisis 😉

Try this at home

Not included in the video, but similarly interesting is an impersonation game you can try at home. Pollack mentions in an interview (can’t remember where exactly) that Arkin and his son play an impersonation game where: You have to give an impersonation of a celebrity but you are only allowed one word. But it can’t be a word that the celebrity is famous for! He went on to give an example by doing Liam Neeson saying just the word “bananas.” Nuff said.