K-AH! Thirteen episodes (IMDB says eighteen-B)
B-The thing I remember most about that show--sadly--is all the negative publicity about it being just a clone of THE COSBY SHOW. I mean, did that have an effect? Was it a happy set?
K-Oh, it had a terrible effect. It was a terrible effect on Flip (Wilson). He was smoking a lot of hash on the show and just very unhappy. He'd sleep in his car. They did want him to be Cosby but...the stupid, stupid thing is trying to get him to fit into something he's not. They gave him a show...the thing he did well...you know this guy could be in his office whatever job he had and then dressing as Geraldine at home. I mean it is so STUPID! It just never worked. You know the group the Groundlings?
K-I was just gonna tell you something Phil Hartman said about me. I'm one of the original Groundlings, my son, Chris Kattan, is a second generation Groundling. In the beginning it was really hard for me to fit in. What happens is it just does not work to take somebody who does something in one and then put them into a group. I tried to fit, tried to do what they wanted me to do, and then we had a split in the group and a bunch of us left. The original director and myself in that bunch and then a bunch stayed. Now we're all amiable again. Phil Hartman when he was alive was a dear friend of mine, he said, "Y'know Kip, if you wanna fit in a group scene, it's like tryin' to put the wind in a box." I remember him saying that. It has to be that. Unless you find someone who lets you do what you do and enhances what you do... I teach, you know. I'm a teacher and that's what I teach.
B-As far as the Groundlings, how and when did you get involved with them during a successful TV career?
K-Well, I saw the show. I was getting divorced and had not worked so much in TV during the marriage. I did LOVE AMERICAN STYLE and Bill Cosby's old show, a couple of those. Everything was fine. I was working in marketing. I went on an interview with a friend of mine, Tracy Newman. She's now producing THE WORLD ACCORDING TO JIM, she did CHEERS, she won an Emmy for ELLEN. She said, "Hey, Kip!" 'cause she used to see me do stand-up at the Troubadour. She said, "Come on down, be my guest this weekend, they have this new group, the Groundlings that I'm in, come see the show. Maybe you'll wanna join the group." Well, my heart just burst when I saw the group. I've never seen anything like it in my life. People improvising. Taking an audience suggestion and doing something with it.
B-Who was in the group at that point?
K-Well, Larraine Newman, Tracy was her sister...maybe Jack Soo had just left. I know he was in it early, even before me. Anyway, I started going to classes and doing the show. You went to classes and did the show. It took awhile to apprentice and get through, to find my way onstage. I had a way of improvising where something would be fantastic and then I couldn't follow through. It's taken a long time and this is what I teach now! To get a handle on how to teach a technique of spontaneity is a most difficult thing. To understand what that is and understand how to teach people to do that is really an amazing thing to me. I invite your readers, anyone who's gonna be in L.A., I have an incredible class that I teach at the casting service in Santa Monica. It's currently running and I do privates as well. So anyway, I got involved with them and started doing shows at the old Oxford theater on Western. Then we moved and created the Groundling Theater literally on Melrose where it is now. As a matter of fact, I'm going back in a new show next week.
B-Very cool! IMDB says you were in PATTON around that same time. Where were you in...
K- I did looping. That and THE SAND PEBBLES. They sent me down to work for Robert Wise. All I remembered him from at the time was that he was editor on Orson Welles films and then I talked to him about Orson Welles and he wasn't interested. I said, "Did you do...MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS!!??" and he said, "Yes, I did but what we want from you now is play this lieutenant in the field." So I was this lieutenant in the field. I put it in my resume. It looks good.
B-How did you move into animation voice acting? What led you to that? Commercials?
K-Yes! On camera first, then I would do some voice-overs for the spot itself. Then what I was doing to get all the work from Hanna-Barbera and animation...I'd do spots for voice-overs here and there for one thing and another. What happened was, I was in an acting class...Actually, I had an improv class and in the improv class were some non-actors such as Gordon Hunt, who is Helen Hunt's father. Helen was in the class, too. I've known her since she was a kid.
B-Now that's new information to me! I know who Gordon Hunt is from Hanna Barbera but I had no idea he was Helen Hunt's dad.
K-Ah! Well, he was and is. I've known Helen since she was...as a matter of fact, she and I went to Disneyland once on NewYear's Eve, just as friends, and I remember at twelve we danced to, "Oh Mickey, you're so fine..." (laughter) Anyway, this class was amazing. Helen was in it and this girl Melanie Chartoff who was on a show called FRIDAYS and Chris was in it! I'd be taking care of him and he'd come with me to class when he was nine years old. Amazing class. Amazing! Sometimes there were 32 people in it, 40 people. You never knew what was gonna happen. One time, he had me get up. I do a character that's a combination of Jessel and Jolson. He's an old-time comic. "And he tawks like dis" So I taught Gordon Hunt how to tell a joke and it was so hysterical 'cause every time he'd come out and say, "Good evening ladies and gentlemen, " I'd find something wrong with that. Took him six minutes to get "ladies and gentlemen" right. And then the joke--the whole thing ran ten seconds but it took him about an hour to get it right! It was just beyond belief funny. So anyway, I get a call from my commercial agency, "You're gonna do a voice on CAPTAIN CAVEMAN." I never heard of CAPTAIN CAVEMAN so I go around to Hanna Barbera and there's Mel Blanc and I'm the guest villain. That's all. They put me in it and I started doing that. Then they put me in one thing or another and I started doing THE SMURFS. They never tell you if you've got something, you know? So I show up, they say, "Yeah, you're gonna play a smurf." So I go down and they like my character who (in character) "talked like THIS!" Originally, Tailor was the closest thing to a Jewish smurf they could have. They speed up the voice. It has to be higher so (in character) "instead of talking like this," he talked like THIS" and then they speed it up just a bit. "So he became a little precious." They said he was a little too Jewish, then a little too fey, so they toned it down and it became Tailor. By the way, they had a lot of smurfs be a smurf just for one show So I did that one show and from that show came nine years of work. So that's amazing. My son got me for my birthday an original cel of Tailor with all the original background, too.
B-Oh, really? Very cool!
K-Plus, I went to a party for (SMURFS creator) Peyo when I was doing THE SMURFS and he autographed one (sketch) of my character and he wrote, "For Kip, the voice of my Smurf."
B-Oh, that's great!
K-I was so honored.
B-When you did it, did you work with the other voice actors? I know June Foray said she was sometimes recorded separately.
K-June was a dear friend of mine. She's still alive, isn't she?
K-How old is she now?
B-92 next month.
K-She was a guest at my class so many times! When they came to sessions (for SMURFS), June was always prim and proper... Paul Winchell was always a hero of mine and I hung out with him alot.
B-He got a lot of bad press when he died.
B-A lot of people didn't like him. Bad personality, they said, bad temper.
K-He had a mental breakdown, too.
K-Back in the forties. He told me. He had a very big...did he have a radio show?
B-I think so but he was much bigger on television.
K-Well, anyway he was extremely hot at one point and he had a date with Hedy Lamarr and he told me he just forgot and started roaming the streets. Did you ever read his book about the Bible?
K-Said there's no such thing as God or something like that.
B-Definitely an eclectic, eccentric person.
K-Plus he created this artificial heart and how to feed starving people--he had a solution for feeding these nations that were starving and...
B-On top of all that, he was the best ventriloquist, too! I never could see his lips move.
K-I knew his wife, too. Well, he'd go back and forth, married, not married, living alone, living seperately...anyway, he was a great, great friend. You know, Stan Laurel again--he had four marriages, two of which were to the same person--he just was the sweetest man and he would say to me, "You know I'm watching these premieres, lad, and everyone's saying the movie they worked on was a lot of fun. I've been in this business eighty years and not one minute was FUN!" (laughter) "They're not FUN! None of this is FUN!" (laughter) But he wrote all the gags and directed the films, you know?
B-I've read that the reason that he and Ollie never had a falling out was that Ollie left all that to Stan while he just happily went to the races. Worked for both of 'em.
K-They also had overlapping contracts so they couldn't get out of contracts. Did you know that Stan Laurel had been Charlie Chaplin's understudy?
K-And that Chaplin dissed him? You know that story? When he was Chaplin's understudy with (Fred) Karno, before he left England he said, "Stan, come over and see me. I'll do it for you. I'll put you in the movies." So later he goes--Stan Laurel alone--and he finds where Chaplin is after a long search. He's having lunch with a young nymphet at a restaurant in downtown L. A., which was terrible now but it was great then. So anyway, he passes a note to the maître de. It says, "Hello, Charlie. Remember me? Stan." What happened was the maître de gives Chaplin the note, he looks at the note, looks at the girl, tears up the note and continues the conversation. That's it. That was it for Charlie. Then thirteen years later he sees Stan and he goes up and says, "I'm the greatest fan you ever had. Love your movies!"
K- I was very, very fortunate to meet these other people who gave me advice. Stan Laurel and I used to talk with each other on the phone and I'd tape him. He called me one day and I have it still--transferred it to CD--and he's talking about twenty minutes. He's giving me advice on my act and I'm contradicting him! I'm saying, "No, you don't understand. What I'm doing is I'm trying for a new type of comedy here." Stan says, "That's fine for a little theater but I wouldn't sit there on a little stool."--this was during Shelly Berman when everybody was sitting on a little stool. I said, "Yeah, but you don't know what I'm trying to convey." He says, "It doesn't matter what you're trying to convey." I played all this for my son before he got on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and he said, "How can you be talking to Stan Laurel like THAT?"
B-(laughter) That's certainly what I was thinking!
K-Well, I was 22. Chris said, "But you're talking to STAN LAUREL!" The other reason is I don't listen.
B-(laughter) You've done a lot of things in show biz and you obviously still are. What is your favorite thing that you've done?
K-Well, I liked the SMURFS because it was for kids and had a good moral. I don't know if it's my favorite thing I've ever done. When I got that part in PLAYHOUSE 90...a thirteen minute live scene on the top-rated dramatic show in television was unbelievable! That was an enormous coup. STUDIO ONE, too. Those were highly rated dramatic shows where they were like plays--you had to go in, never miss a cue, take your mark, say your lines, finish and leave. It just was astonishing and there's been nothing like it. The first major thing I did was called THE WALTER WINCHELL FILE (March 21, 1958). I was seventeen or eighteen and I had the starring role. I was in every shot. It was supposedly the story of a cub reporter who came to the big city to be like Walter Winchell. Every reporter wanted to be like Walter Winchell, of course. He saw a murder committed by...Dan Blocker was the murderer...and Dan Blocker started to chase him around the city. The kid would hide her and there...go to a party and some woman tried to make love to him and this guy gets tossed and turned and beaten up and the killer's still chasing him and he gets him cornered in a phone booth with Walter Winchell! This to me at such an early age--this was at Paramount--3 day shoot without a breath and that, where there wasn't a moment off, was oddly fitting. I did a lot better when I had starring roles than I did when I sat around and waited for my line.
B-I can imagine.
K-I'll leave you with this. I'll tell you something about this business. You wanna know what it is? It's selling water by the river. You know what that is? Here I am at a river and you're selling me water. "How much is that water?" "Well, I can give you a good deal. It's much better than the water right here." And he just got it from the river. You know what I'm saying? It's not BAD! NOT A BAD THING!! It's bullshit but that doesn't make it something better or worse than anything else. It's water by the river! I also came up with this phrase--"Nobody knows what they're doing and don't take it personally."
Some photos here in part 2 are from Kip's site and the Groundlings site as well as from his appearances on BARNEY MILLER and DICK DIETRICK'S NIGHT STAND. Kip King's website can be found at http://www.kipking.actorsite.com/ If you taped any episodes of CHARLIE AND CO. contact me through this site as Kip would really like to get copies. Below is the trailer for BOLLYWOOD HERO, a 3 night musical mini-series event debuting on IFC on August 6,7 and 8. Kip's son Chris stars and Kip himself also appears.