https://youtu.be/a6ezZ7CHKlw?feature=shared

Phil LaMarr is an actor known for being one of the original cast members of MadTV, Pulp Fiction, and his voice acting roles in Samurai Jack, Futurama, Beavis and Butthead, Family Guy, Teen Titans Go! and a host of other animated series.

Show Notes

Phil Lamarr on IMDBhttps://www.imdb.com/name/nm0482851/

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Phil Lamarr on TikTok –  https://www.tiktok.com/@phillamarr

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Autogenerated Transcript

Phil LaMarr:
I was developing an animated show based on a friend of mine’s web comic called Goblins. Okay. And my partner, Matt King and I, we are both performers, but we adapted the comic into a script. And I called a bunch of my voice actor friends, cuz we were, we were gonna make a trailer, you know, to bring these, you know, comic characters to life Yeah. In animation. And it was funny cuz Matt and I are actors. We had, you know, written the script and we’d acted out these scenes. And so in our heads, we, we thought we knew exactly how they’d sound. But then we brought in amazing Billy West, Maurice LaMarr. Mm-Hmm. , Jim Cummings. Mm-Hmm. Steve Bloom, Jennifer. And it was funny because when they performed the scenes we had written, they took it to a whole other level. Right. Beyond what existed in our, in our heads. Right. Like, oh my God, they made it so much better than I even imagined it could be.

Michael Jamin:
You’re listening to Screenwriters Need to Hear This with Michael Jamin.
Hey everyone, it’s Michael Jamin. Welcome back to Screenwriters. Need to hear this. I, another, another. Cool. I got another cool episode. I, I was so excited about this. I, I tri over my own words. I am here with actor writer Phil LaMarr and this guy. All right. So I’m on his IMDB page cuz he going through his credits. Phil, I’m not joking. It’s taking me too long to scroll through IMD,B to get through all your credits. It’s nuts how much you work. But, so I’m gonna give you real fast an introduction and then we’ll talk more about, what’re gonna talk about but okay. So this guy does a lot of, a ton of voiceovers. I guess I think we met on King of the Hill and I know we worked together on Glenn Glenn Martin DDS, but fu you know, him from Futurama.
From Beavis and Butthead family guy the Great North. All every single adult animated show, a ton of kids shows Star Bob’s Burgers. That’s adult, of course. Rick and Morty Bob Burgers, Bob’s Burger’s movie as well. I mean, I’m going through all your stuff here. It’s nuts. You were a writer performer on Mad TV for many years. Mm-Hmm. . And I think the pro, I’m sorry to say this, but the, the coolest role that everyone knows you, that you maybe you get recognized most from. Right. We, you know what it is, is you were, you were in Pulp Fiction and you had your head blown off in the back of the car. And I remember watching like, oh my God, they killed Phil

Phil LaMarr:
.

Michael Jamin:
I mean, how awesome was that role? Oh man. But so Phil, thank you for doing this. Welcome, welcome to this. I want to talk all about your amazing career. But now tell me, so how did you get into acting? When did you decide you wanted to be an actor?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, it’s funny because there are a couple of double steps in terms of how I started being an actor. And when I decided to be an actor and when I got into voiceover, both my first time performing was in eighth grade. My school was doing a production of a book that I loved. I didn’t consider myself a performer. Right. It was the phantom toll booth. Right. And there’s this little character towards the end of the Phantom toll booth. The senses taker who will take your sense of purpose. Your sense of duty, but he can’t take your sense of humor. Right. And I wanted that part. So that’s why I went and auditioned. But I wound up getting cast as one of the leads.

Michael Jamin:
Wow. Okay. And

Phil LaMarr:
Opened a show alone on stage under a spotlight doing a two minute monologue.

Michael Jamin:
Okay. And

Phil LaMarr:
It flipped a switch in my head. I’m like, oh, I love this. You were, that’s what, so I started, you know, being an actor because I liked to book

Michael Jamin:
. Right. But then, but okay. But it’s one thing to be acting in as a kid in eighth grade and then to commit your career to it. What, what, what happened next?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, and it’s funny because I didn’t consider that a career or what I was doing. It’s just, it’s fun. Yeah. I get to play well, and also I went to an all boys private school. Yeah. So the time you got to see girls was when you did a play

Michael Jamin:
. Okay. That makes, now you’re, makes sense. Now we know why you’re being an actor, .

Phil LaMarr:
And I wound up graduating and I applied to colleges that had, you know, drama programs, Northwestern nor Carnegie Mellon, Yale University. But I wound up deciding not to go to Carnegie Mellon and I went to Yale. I was like, no, no, I just want to go to college. And I did not decide to pursue acting as a career. I just majored in English. It was on the flight back home to LA I said, you know what, maybe I should pursue this acting thing. I mean, I enjoy it. And you know, some people say I’m pretty good at it. I mean, I either gotta do it now or wait till my mid forties when I have a midlife crisis. Yes.

Michael Jamin:
But this is Yale undergrad. Yes. Yale’s really not for the grad school of the school of drama. But you

Phil LaMarr:
Go back to thing. Cause when you were an actor and you say you went to Yale, people assume, oh, like Moral Streep and Henry Wiggler. It’s like, no, no. I didn’t know that

Michael Jamin:
. But so after you got outta college and you got outta, we went to Yale and there was some pressure on you to are they Princeton over there? We’re gonna continue, we’ll continue our, we’ll set aside our differences long enough to have this conversation. But so, but after college you’re like, okay, I got a big fancy Yale degree and I’m gonna become an actor.

Phil LaMarr:
Right. And, you know, had I decided to be a comedy writer with a Harvard degree, that would’ve been

Michael Jamin:
Yes. That would make sense.

Phil LaMarr:
A career path that made sense. Right. As a Yale, there were no famous Yales as writers or producers or anything. There were a handful of, you know, drama school actors. Right. But again, I didn’t go to that drama school. So I’m like, okay.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. There’s no connect. People talk about the connections. No, there’s no connection. Just because you, there’s no inroad. Just cuz you went to Yale, you know, to No,

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. No. The the only famous undergraduate actors at that time in the eighties were two women who were famous before they came to Yale, Jennifer Beals and Jodi Foster.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Exactly. Exactly. All right. So then you made this commitment to, or this, this leap. How long your parents must have been thrilled , how long before you started getting work and how did you start getting work, getting work?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, and, and this is another one of the double steps, Uhhuh I, when I made this decision, I already had my SAG card.

Michael Jamin:
How did you get that?

Phil LaMarr:
Because back in high school, a friend of my mother’s worked for NBC Uhhuh. And I think my mother had dragged her to see a couple of my plays. And so she said, Hey, we’re doing this cartoon and we’re gonna use real kids for the kids’ voices. Which back in the eighties was a rare thing. Yeah. And she asked me to, to come in and audition for it. And I got a job on the Mr. T cartoon in the mid eighties.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, wow. And

Phil LaMarr:
That got me my union card. Now I did not, again, did not consider this a career path. I it was just a cool summer job.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Now, the thing is, cause I hear this a lot. People say to me, yeah, I, I can do a million voices and you could do literally a million voices. I, how do I get into you know, voice acting? And it’s like, they don’t seem to put the connection that it’s not enough that you do voices. You have to know how to act. You have to be a trained, you have to, you know, know, be if you’re trained or even better. But you have to know how to perform and act. And so yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
That’s, that’s what I always tell people who ask me that question. I say, the first thing you need to know is voice acting the term is a misnomer because the acting comes before the voice.

Michael Jamin:
Yes. Yes.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, that’s why you have amazing people like Cree Summer, who has a really distinctive speaking voice, but she has the acting ability. Right. To make every character completely different and real. It’s the same thing like, you know, a a movie star, it’s the same face, but it’s always a different character.

Michael Jamin:
But there’s something else that you bring, and I say this because you are a consummate pro. You are truly a pro. It’s well for what you bring to that other actors, that non-voice actors, I guess, I don’t know what you would call ’em, but have, but what I’m directing a voiceover actor, sometimes if they haven’t done avo, a lot of voice acting, they don’t realize they’re using their face or their body . And, and you say, no, no, no. I, I see you’re acting the part I see you’re playing mad, but I have to hear it in my ear. And so I don’t look at them when I’m directing. I wanna hear it. And Right. And so to talk about that a little bit.

Phil LaMarr:
Yes, yes. I remember, cuz I started out, you know, even though I had that job in high school, I did not consider it a voice acting career. It was just a, a goofy summer job on a cartoon that nobody I knew watched. So I came home after college and pursued on camera acting and stage mm-hmm. . And so a few years later, actually it was after a several years of Mad TV where we did Claymation pieces and it got me doing multiple characters on mic as opposed to just multiple characters on camera, which I was also doing on Mad tv. And I remember I decided to actively pursue the voice acting thing. Cuz at this point, you know, in the post, you know, early nineties era when cable blew up, voice acting became a job. Right. You know, cuz when we were kids, it was just something that six guys that Mel Blanc and five other dudes Right.
Voiced every cartoon of our childhood. Right. You know, Mel Blanc, dos Butler, you know, that was it. But in the nineties, once Nickelodeon had 24 hours of children’s programming, there was a lot more cartoon voices. And so like, oh, this could be a path now. And I remember one of my early sessions, I fell into my on camera acting face, face acting mm-hmm. . And they said, okay, Phil, stop. Try it again. Do that line again. Angrier, I did it again. They said, hold on, we’re gonna play them both back. And they sounded exactly the same. And I realized what you just said. Right. Oh my God, I just made an angrier face.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And that’s one of the, you know, skills of voice acting the same way that you have singers, singers can, you know, put forth feeling or fun or whatever through their voice.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, dancers do it through their bodies.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know. But

Michael Jamin:
When you perform, let’s say you’re doing something on camera, how much thought do you give? Do you, is it, is it just second nature to go, okay, now I can use the rest of my body? Or how much thought do you have to go in between different, you know skill sets, I guess, you know?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, the, the good thing is, you know, you do have to, you know, get a switch in your head because when you’re on stage, it’s the exact same job bringing this script to life. But you have to do it with different tools. Right, right. And the same thing when you’re doing it on camera. And the same thing when you’re doing it on microphone. You have to, you have to gauge. Okay. Cuz you know, you read the script, you see the character, you embody it. Yeah. But then it’s how do you communicate it to the audience?

Michael Jamin:
Right,

Phil LaMarr:
Right. You know, and it’s funny because with voice acting, you know, we learned to run the character through our, our ears. You know, when you see in the old days, you see, you know, announcers doing this. Do you know what that is about? No.

Michael Jamin:
What what is that?

Phil LaMarr:
It’s because all of us, you know, regular people hear our voices from inside our heads. Right. We’re not hearing what other people hear. But when you do this, you are channeling your voice.

Michael Jamin:
That’s what

Phil LaMarr:
Mouth into your ear. So you hear what your voice sounds like outside your head.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, I see. I, that’s so funny. I thought they were stopping their ear, but they’re not. They’re just re redirecting the voice Yeah. Into their ear. Yes. Oh wow. I had no idea.

Phil LaMarr:
So you can hear the subtlety, you know, because if, if you don’t do something with your teeth, you don’t hear that inside your head. Yeah. It’s only what people hear. But that’s something you might want with a character. Right. You know, I always, when I teach workshops, I always try to tell people, like, there are things we hear. There’s, it’s the same thing with your face. Mm-Hmm. when you want to, you know, express anger. You don’t just do your face flat. You, you know. And it’s the same thing with if, if there’s something about a character, let’s say I’m doing this character, but then I see the drawing and the guy’s got a big beard. Oh, well let me make him sound, let me make him sound beier.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Which isn’t necessarily true, just growing a beard doesn’t change your voice

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh.

Phil LaMarr:
But there are things that when we hear something, we get the sense of it.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Do you have a preference now, Kami? Cuz do you have a preference? You work so much in voice acting, but do you have a, do you prefer that overlap? You know, like on camera?

Phil LaMarr:
No, it’s funny cuz you know, at Comic-Con, people will ask, what’s your, you walk in so many media, what’s your favorite? And the truth of the matter is, and this is what I tell them, it’s not about the media, it’s about the quality.

Michael Jamin:
Quality. The writing or, or what Yes.

Phil LaMarr:
Uhhuh Well, the, the, the quality of the writing, the quality of the directing, the quality of the experience. Because to me, the, the cartoon Samurai Jack, which is I consider a work of art that has more in common with pulp fiction. Right. Than it does with, you know, pound puppies or some like goofy little Saturday morning cartoon that’s more focused on selling toys than on actually putting out story.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right, right. But in terms of voice, a I mean, you don’t have to get into hair and makeup. You don’t have to memorize anything. And that’s a whole nother skill as well. Memorizing the, the, the text.

Phil LaMarr:
Well, but that, that’s actually harder because when you work on stage or on camera mm-hmm. , you get time to rehearse.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You get to practice with a director helping guide you, your people, someone watching you, and you build the character over time. And then you don’t have to make it work till the camera says, till they say action.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
But when you’re doing voiceover, you’re handed a sheet of paper, you’re reading words off a page, and you have to bring those to life instantly.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, that’s exactly. Now do you, cuz when we work together on, on Glen, well we did King Hill first, but on Glen Martin, just so people know you didn’t audition, we just, we call you up. Hey, we book you Theor agent, and you come in, you show up, you, you got the job, and you show up. And I remember approaching you saying, okay, Phyllis, the character, I remember the character’s name was Rasmus, and the only thing you knew about him was that he had a milky eye. He was like seventies. He had a milky eye. And I go, what voices did you bring ? And you, you, you gave me like three different voices. And I think I said that one a little more gravelly and boom, that was it. You jumped right into it. Exactly. That was it. You’re ready to go. . And that was the benefit of direction you got go .

Phil LaMarr:
Right. See, and we did that in a minute and a half.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
Had we been working on a movie, I would’ve had to go in for wardrobe, had them try on seven different outfits, had them send you the pictures, , you know, over two weeks. Right. While I was memorizing all the lines for us to come to that conclusion.

Michael Jamin:
But on most of the voiceover judo, is that how it is? It’s just basically they book you for the day and you know, unless you’re a regular, they just book you, you come on in and you spend an hour or two, and then that’s it. Is that how it works for you? Mostly?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, ho hopefully. I mean, most of the time you get the script ahead of time, so you get to read the story, know the context. Right. But that’s just one episode. You don’t have the entire, you know, arc of the story. You know, don’t know everything about the, you know, if you’re playing the villain about the, the hero. So you learn most of it when you come into the session,

Michael Jamin:
But then there’s another thing that you have to bring to the table, which is a whole, like, you okay, you’re an excellent actor, but you also have the, the, when you do these voices, they don’t sound like they’re coming from you. Like, they sound like they’re coming from 10 different people. And so the, how do you, like how do you approach that? How do you making voices that don’t sound anything like the, any, any other voice that you do.

Phil LaMarr:
Well, it varies. I mean, there are, it’s funny because now over the years, you know, people will bring up some old character. And I realize, okay, that sounds a little similar to that other one. But I realize it’s not about, I used to think when I was younger, starting in voice acting, I used to think it was about no, no. Every voice should not sound anything like the other one. Right. You know? But I realize it’s more about embodying the character. And the thing is, you know, these characters are all different. So I need them to, I want them to sound different.

Michael Jamin:
Right. I don’t mean like, like when I first got the King of the Hill, I was shocked when you hear the voices that you’ve been watching the show forever, and then you see the actress playing, you go, whoa, that voice is coming from that person. That, that doesn’t sound anything close to their, like, there’s a transformation that you’re able to do with your voice by, like, that’s a different skill. I mean, forget about even, yes, I know embodying the character, but you’re really playing with your vocal chords in a way that almost seems impossible to someone like me.

Phil LaMarr:
Oh, thank you. Well, I mean, in, it’s, it’s a, it’s a skill set that not everybody has. Like I said, some people just like when on Samurai Jack, I worked with Mako Iwatsu Uhhuh, you know, an older Japanese actor who was an icon. He had starred in movies, starred on Broadway, you know, his name was above the title on a Stephen Sondheim musical. Right. But he had a very distinctive, you know, heavy, very textured, heavily accented voice. And I figured, okay, he’s just doing his voice. And I remember there was one episode where they cast him as a secondary character mm-hmm. in the episode. And I remember thinking to myself, oh, Jesus, what are they doing? Uhhuh, his voice is so dis. I mean, that’s like casting the rock in two characters in a movie. Right. You know, like, nobody’s gonna get fooled. But he blew my mind and taught me a masterclass because what he did was, he did not completely transform his voice, but he acted the second character from a completely different perspective. You know, Lowe’s dead, you know, complete, he performed it completely differently than he performed Aku the villain, Uhhuh . And I, and when you watch the episode, you can’t tell it’s him.

Michael Jamin:
You can Right. You can’t tell.

Phil LaMarr:
Now, part of that has to do with the art, you know, because you’re change your changing your voice, but they’re also changing the drawing.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. That, that’s true. But I wonder how much work do you on your own at home? Like, how much do you think about other voice? Do you pra you go, do you hear a voice and you go, Hey, that’s an interesting thing. Maybe I should, you know, do you practice at all? Do you, I don’t know. Are you, are you constantly trying to invent new, new voices for yourself?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, I’m, I’m not a singer, but I’ve always had an ear. Right. For speech. It, I do a lot of impressions. Uhhuh, , you know, comedically and sometimes just job wise. Actually, weirdly, 10th grade, my second year of acting, I got the part in our, one of our high school plays. We did a production of Play It again, Sam.

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
And in 10th grade, I played Humphrey Bogart .

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
And I spent the entire production trying to do my best impression of Humphrey Bogart. If that plane leaves and you are not on it, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon. And for the rest of your life. And so I watched a lot of, you know, videotapes of Humphrey Bogart. And I, and I also had to learn how to do that impression and project

Michael Jamin:
It Right.

Phil LaMarr:
In a, in a theater cuz there was no microphone. But I think maybe that helped start me right on the, you know, aping People’s Voices thing. Which, when I started doing sketch comedy Right. I leaned into that too. Oh, I’m gonna do a Michael Jackson sketch. You know?

Michael Jamin:
Right. Cause you, so how is that you’re talking about, so that, that brings us to Mad tv. So there goes your, I dunno, how, how did you get that that audition? What did you bring, what did you bring to that audition, you know, for yourself?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, I, when I was in college I was part of a improv comedy group that started and I loved it, you know, having been taught that the, you know, the key to drama is conflict, but then being introduced in your late teens, early twenties to this concept of Yes.

Michael Jamin:
And, and yes. And yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, improv is collaborative theater, make your partner look good. Right. Work together, you know, all of this very positive energy. It’s like, huh, wow. This isn’t just about performance. This is a great life philosophy. Yeah. So after graduation, and I came home to LA and I started taking classes at the Groundlings Theater mm-hmm. , the sketch, comedy and improv group. And, and I did that not for the career, but because I wanted improv back in my life.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And doing improv that led me into sketch comedy and writing.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Because that’s what the ground wings do. It’s like, okay, that’s a great improv. Write it down.

Michael Jamin:
Right. .

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. Now do that character again. Come up with another scene for him.

Michael Jamin:
And so that’s what you, you brought to the audition, like what, three different characters or something?

Phil LaMarr:
Y well, by the time Mad TV came around, I had been doing sitcoms, you know, from the early nineties to the mid nineties. This was 95. Right. So I went to audition for mad TV and the people at Fox had seen me guest on a bunch of shows. Right. And in fact, I went to audition for Mad TV in what they call second place because I had done a pilot for Fox right before Mad. So it’s funny because I went in there thinking, no, this pilot is gonna, is amazing. We’re gonna be the new Barney Miller. Alright, fine agents, I’ll go for this sketch thing, whatever. I’ve been doing Sketch for six years, but whatever. And so I went in and they said, okay, bring in some, some of your characters.

Michael Jamin:
What Century is calling ah, . That’s your phone from 1970, right?

Phil LaMarr:
?

Michael Jamin:
Or is it an alarm clock?

Phil LaMarr:
Ah, no, it’s, I forgot to

Michael Jamin:
What’s your phone? It’s your iPhone.

Phil LaMarr:
It’s my agent calling. Oh, you, you don’t need to talk to them.

Michael Jamin:
That’s Hollywood.

Phil LaMarr:
Yes.

Michael Jamin:
I can’t believe your agent actually calls you. Mine doesn’t call .

Phil LaMarr:
Alright, let me, let me go back.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
We’re gonna put all this in. This is all funny. .

Phil LaMarr:
Well anyway, I went to audition for Mad TV having done several years at the Groundlings and having been voted into the main company of the Groundlings, alongside Jennifer Coolidge. So you

Michael Jamin:
Were perform Oh, so you were, that’s great. So you were performing regularly on stage. Yeah. Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
So, so sketch comedy was solidly in my back

Michael Jamin:
Pocket. Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
And, you know, I’d been, you know, I’d finally started making a living as an actor. I didn’t have to do my day job, you know, just doing guest spots and whatnot. And I went in there without any sense of desperation. I don’t need this.

Michael Jamin:
Right. I’ve

Phil LaMarr:
Already got this pilot. And they said, okay, bring us your characters and a couple of impressions and we’ll show you a couple of our sketches. You know, so there were three steps to each audition, Uhhuh. And it’s funny because later after I got the job, I talked to the showrunner and he said, oh man, you were so relaxed. We loved it.

Michael Jamin:
Oh wow.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, cuz I remember when we had a, a callback and there was somebody from the studio. This woman was sitting there like this. And I said, oh, I’m sorry. Did I wake you

Michael Jamin:
? And then wow. I mean, good for you. And then, but what became of that pilot, it didn’t go to series

Phil LaMarr:
The other. No.

Michael Jamin:
Boy, had you known that ? I

Phil LaMarr:
Know. Well, and when we, when we got the call back from Mad tv, I’m like, what the heck? And might have said, yeah. Yeah. somebody at Fox said, don’t worry about the second position.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Oh wow. Wow. . So, right. So you did that for a number of years. And then, and what, what along the way, when did pulp Fiction occur during this?

Phil LaMarr:
Actually I did Pulp Fiction before Mad tv.

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
It’s funny cuz the first episode of Mad TV had a Pulp fiction parody in it. And

Michael Jamin:
Did you play yourself?

Phil LaMarr:
Yes. They pitched me playing myself. Oh

Michael Jamin:
My God, it was so fun. I mean it’s such a classic role. I mean, do, do you, and does, do people want to talk to you about that all the time?

Phil LaMarr:
Not, not really. What I, I find that people only bring up Pulp Fiction around the time when a new Tarantino movie comes out.

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
But I mean, there are some people who, you know, are big fans of it. But the funniest thing is there will be a friend, somebody I’ve known for several years, but it’s the first time they’ve watched Pulp Fiction since we met.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Oh

Phil LaMarr:
My God, Phil. I didn’t realize that was you.

Michael Jamin:
That’s so great. I mean, so Right. Just to remind people again. So that was a scene was, it was Samuel Jackson and and John Travolta. They, yes. I guess the, the pla that plot line was a bunch of like straight-laced kind of college kids, kind of up, you know, they, you know, good kids who probably made one bad decision. Right. But they weren’t troublemakers. They were good kids. And then they owed money and then, and then I guess they, you know, so they shoot, I guess they come into the apartment Right. And they they wind up shooting up the place and they take you, I guess they, they’re gonna take you to the big guy, you’re hostage and then he, you’re in the back of the car and they got a gun trained on you and it hits a bump and they accidentally blow your head off . Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Well, well actually, the backstory that Quent and I talked about is that cuz my character is Marvin, he’s the kid who gets his brains blown out in the back of the car. Right. but we decided that the story was Jules Uhhuh knew somebody who knew Marvin and arranged for Marvin to, that’s why Marvin gets up and opens the door.

Michael Jamin:
Okay. And

Phil LaMarr:
Lets them in. He’s on their side.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, is that right? Is that, I should watch that again. I don’t, I didn’t pick that up at all.

Phil LaMarr:
And so he’s not, they’re not taking him as a hostage. Cause actually, Sam’s like, how many, because John asked him how many are in there? It’s like, well, there’s, oh,

Michael Jamin:
There’s

Phil LaMarr:
Five plus our guy.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, I gotta watch that again. I missed that. Okay. It’s been a while. Okay. So,

Phil LaMarr:
So the idea is that Jules knew somebody who knew one of the kids that took Marcellus briefcase. So he made a connection and was like, okay, we figured it out. He’s our man inside is gonna open the door for us at 7 45. We’re gonna come in, we’re gonna get the briefcase. But of course, in my head, the idea is that Marvin didn’t realize they were gonna kill everybody.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Right. He thought they

Phil LaMarr:
Were just gonna take the briefcase.

Michael Jamin:
Right. So he’s

Phil LaMarr:
Freaked out.

Michael Jamin:
And so how many days is, were you, how many days of a shoot is that for you? Is that a week or what?

Phil LaMarr:
I spent about two weeks. There was the car scene and the apartment scene. But the, the most ironic thing was I shot my scene after they had shot the Harvey Kittel cleaning up my body scene.

Michael Jamin:
Right. So when

Phil LaMarr:
I came onto set, everybody was looking at me like they recognized me because they had been see, looking at me dead for two months.

Michael Jamin:
. But how? Wait, but but when you say looking at you dead was, were there photos or something or what? No, no.

Phil LaMarr:
They built, they built a dummy. The dummy. Oh. Because there’s a se there’s a sequence where the Harvey guy tell character comes to clean up Yeah. And then carry the body out of the car into the Tarantino character’s apartment. You

Michael Jamin:
Know, that must been freaky. So

Phil LaMarr:
Everybody been looking at this body in the trunk body, you know, and then when I walked on, they were like, it’s, it’s the same thing of like, when you walk into a room and you forget you’re wearing a name tag.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Did you know how great that movie was gonna be at the time? Yes. I mean, you, you can tell. How can you tell? I

Phil LaMarr:
Couldn’t tell how successful it was gonna be because, you know, reservoir Dogs was really good. Right. But it wasn’t, you know, it was a big indie

Michael Jamin:
Movie. Yes.

Phil LaMarr:
Right. But when you read the script for Pulp Fiction

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh,

Phil LaMarr:
It leapt off the page.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
It’s funny because like, when I went to audition for it, after meeting Quentin Tarantino, we did a Groundlings improv show.

Michael Jamin:
Oh, is that right? Because

Phil LaMarr:
He’s, he was friends with Julia Sweeney, who was a Groundlings alum. Right. And she invited him to come do a show. I was in the cast. Right. And when he was casting pulp Fiction, he was thinking about Marvin. He told the casting lady, Hey, there’s this black guy at the Groundling, he’s go find him.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And I remember preparing for the audition, reading through the scene three times. It jumped into my, I w I had it, I was off book by the time I memorized. Because the way it’s written, even though it’s not everyday life, every line follows exactly what the one before it would say. And it feels natural, even though it is such a heightened world he’s created.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. He really is. I mean, you know, he’s a master with, with words. He doesn’t, does he, he doesn’t, I can’t imagine allow much improv. I mean, it seems like he knows what he wants, right?

Phil LaMarr:
Oh, yeah. No, no, no. Yeah. The, the script is like a Rosetta Stone. It is carved, yes. Actually, the, the only two things that changed in the script were one a line of Samuel Jackson’s character about pork

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh ,

Phil LaMarr:
Because originally they’re talking about a pig and he is like, oh, that’s the Kerry Grant of pigs. And Sam was like, no, Manam my guy. I don’t think this guy would ever think Kerry Grant was cool.

Michael Jamin:
Right. So they

Phil LaMarr:
Changed it to the, the reference to the the at Albert show

Michael Jamin:
Oh, oh green Acres. Green Acres, yeah. Yeah, yeah. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. It’s like the pig on Green Acres

Michael Jamin:
. And,

Phil LaMarr:
And the o and the other moment that changed from the script to what, what we shot was because of what a thought that John had.

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh Gun

Phil LaMarr:
Travolta. Yeah. Oh. Because, because this was a low budget indie movie. They made this movie with all those stars for only 8 million.

Michael Jamin:
Are you kidding me? Really?

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. And part of that saving money was we rehearsed the entire movie on stage before we started shooting. Right. And I remember going to a sound stage at, at cul in Culver City on Sony and meeting John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson for the first time in rehearsal.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And I remember walking in there and it’s like, Quinn’s like, oh, hey Phil, this John Sam, this is Phil. And John Tra goes, oh geez, this is a guy. I had to kill this guy. The eyes is gonna hate me.

Michael Jamin:
That’s a pretty good Travolta sound just like him. . Oh, thanks.

Phil LaMarr:
And he just, I thought he was just joking. But eventually he talked to Quintin. Cuz originally in the back of the car, the gun is supposed to go off accidentally. Yeah. And shoot Marvin in the throat.

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
And then he sits there g gurgling while they go back and forth bantering, oh, dad, what are we gonna do? Right. Well, we can’t take him to the hospital. Well, I don’t have nobody in the valley. Well, alright. Put him out of his misery. When I, on the count of three, I’ll hit the horn. And so John’s character was supposed to shoot me the second time on, and John said, no, no. Quentin Quinn. Quinn. If my character kills this kid on purpose, it’s gonna ha people won’t, won’t like him. And he was right. It would’ve negatively affected his sequence with Umma Thurman.

Michael Jamin:
That’s absolutely right. But do you think he was, Travolta was interested in protecting the character or protecting himself as an actor? You know, like how people saw him? What do you think?

Phil LaMarr:
I think it was, he had a connection to the audience, which I guess was mostly through him, but also through the character. Because I mean, I mean, I guess, you know, Quintin’s could have just said No, no, the character’s just, he’s a nasty, you know, junky. Yes. He does nasty stuff. But I think John was like, no, no, no. This whole sequence with the girl, he’s not nasty.

Michael Jamin:
Right. So, right. I see. And and

Phil LaMarr:
Quintin agreed with John Yeah. His take on the character.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. That’s so interesting.

Phil LaMarr:
Isn’t that

Michael Jamin:
Wild? Yeah, that is. See, it’s so funny listening to you, you can so hear like how thoughtful you are about acting, how mu how much, how it’s not, it’s a craft, it’s a, you know, you, I really hear that from you, how much you put how passionate you are about the craft of acne. Not just being on stage, not just you know, doing voices, but the craft of it. You know? Exactly. Yeah. How do, do you miss, or do you get a chance to perform on stage a lot? Because that was your original love

Phil LaMarr:
Mm-Hmm. . Yes. Thankfully. I’m still holding on to my performance foundation. My friend Jordan Black, who is another Groundlings alum Uhhuh about what, 12 years ago now, created a group. And we do a show monthly live on stage, an improv show at the Groundlings Okay. Called the Black Version

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh. It’s,

Phil LaMarr:
It’s an all black cast, and we take a suggestion from the audience of a classic or iconic motion picture, and then we improv the black version of it. But

Michael Jamin:
What if you’re not familiar with the, the classic?

Phil LaMarr:
Well that’s the tricky part is our director Karen Mariama mm-hmm. , who was one of my teachers at the Groundlings and is now one of my peers, has an encyclopedic knowledge mm-hmm. , she can take a movie from the black and white era and know the entire structure or something that dropped that dropped on Netflix last week. And she knows everything

Michael Jamin:
But you, but if you don’t know it

Phil LaMarr:
Well what we do, what she does is she, she, as the director, she guides the scenes Uhhuh . Okay. Alright. Phil, you are gonna play this, you know, like let’s say we’re doing the black version of Princess Bride. Phil, you’ll, you are this you know, swordsman who is incredibly skilled audience, what do you think his name? Okay. In Negro Montoya, that’s your name.

Michael Jamin:
That’s funny. And

Phil LaMarr:
Like she’ll assign the characters Right. And then guide us from scene to scene. But, you know, our choices, you know like when we did the black version of Princess Bride, it was called her Mama and them, and Prince Humperdink was Prince Humpty Hump. Right. You know, and sometimes the choices will change the, the, you know line, line of the story. But she tries to keep us, you know, take us through the iconic scenes.

Michael Jamin:
Right. And this is once a month you do this.

Phil LaMarr:
Yes.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. That’s a big commitment.

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. And for 12 years. Yeah.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. I mean, you must, you probably took a break during the pandemic for a little bit. Yes,

Phil LaMarr:
Yes, yes, we did.

Michael Jamin:
But Wow.

Phil LaMarr:
And recently we’ve you know, we’ve built an audience and a reputation and we’ve started booking on the road. We’ve we’ve played the Kennedy Center in Washington DC twice now.

Michael Jamin:
So you take it on the, and, and how were you able to sell tickets on the road? I mean, so easily.

Phil LaMarr:
It’s, I I think it’s, it’s the, the venues and also you know, somewhat just the, those of us in the group. I mean, Jordan was a writer on SNL and part of the guest cast on community Cedric Yarborough from Reno 9 1 1, and tons of other shows. So

Michael Jamin:
Just your name. Just your name. So it’s kind of just your names people like, Hey, we want, you know, we recognize these names, we wanna go see it. If you, you know this.

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. I, I mean, I’m, I’m not exactly sure how we managed to sell out, you

Michael Jamin:
Know? That’s amazing. All over

Phil LaMarr:
The

Michael Jamin:
Place. That sounds like a lot of fun.

Phil LaMarr:
It’s so much fun.

Michael Jamin:
Hey, it’s Michael Jamin. If you like my videos and you want me to email them to you for free, join my watch list. Every Friday I send out my top three videos. These are for writers, actors, creative types. You can unsubscribe whenever you want. I’m not gonna spam you and it’s absolutely free. Just go to michaeljamin.com/watchlist.
Wow. I mean, is there a limit to how much you can, I mean, just organizing that to get everyone to get the time off. I mean, that’s gotta be logistically

Phil LaMarr:
Gotta be hard. Yeah. The, the tours aren’t that we don’t do them that often because, you know, Gary Anthony Williams from, you know, Malcolm in the Middle and stuff, everybody in our cast works a lot. Yeah. So we can really only guarantee the show once a month. Right. but sometimes when we tour, not everybody goes

Michael Jamin:
Because Yeah, you have to, I mean, if someone books apart and you’re shooting that at night, what, what are you gonna do? That’s the way. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Or you or you have to fly to Vancouver for six months.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. Right. And that’s part of, that’s, I mean, that’s part of the, the plus of, of the do for you for doing a lot of voice acting is that, you know, you probably get to lead a pretty sane in life if for an actor it’s, it can be very hard, you know, being on

Phil LaMarr:
Their Well, and, and it’s also one of the wonderful things about the progress that has come since we started the show, because part of the reason Jordan created the show is because those of us in the improv world, you know, who are people of color, oftentimes spent the majority of our time being the one.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
But over the years, the, you know, the numbers, the diversity in the improv world, you know, expanded, it used to be a very suburban art form.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
But now, you know, I I I credit this mostly to Wayne Brady doing whose lives in anyway.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. Yeah. And so that really opens up more opportunities and more of what Yeah. That, that’s, that’s interesting that, you know, that really has changed a lot. How, how have you seen it change your opportunities in the past, I don’t know, whatever, 20 years, 30 years, you know, however long?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, it’s, it’s, it’s changed be in a lot of ways. One, when I got voted into the Groundlings in 1992, I was the first black person to get voted into the company in its 18 years of existence.

Michael Jamin:
You’re kidding me. Yeah. That’s crazy. That’s crazy.

Phil LaMarr:
And now the pool of, you know black people, you know, who are Groundlings has expanded. It’s not just one every 18 years.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. But, and in terms of more, you know, more opportunities for you even, you know, I mean, everything’s, everything’s really opened up for you. Right. I mean, I imagine Well,

Phil LaMarr:
Well, because we have, you know, the, those of us in entertainment have expanded. Yeah. You know, what we consider will work. You know, I was talking my son just graduated from NYU and one of his classmates is the son of the woman who directed the woman king. Okay. At Viola Davis, you know. Right. Action movie. Right. And I remember watching and thinking, oh my god, when I was 18, no studio in the world.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Would touch that. Right. Would’ve

Phil LaMarr:
Would’ve, you know, green lit Yeah. A action movie, you know, about black women.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And, and the fact that, you know, it’s out there now and is just another big movie. It’s, it’s not considered, you know you know, a once in a lifetime thing anymore. That’s the progress and the fact that we have, you know, middle-aged women mm-hmm. leads of s of TV series. Yeah. You know, back in the old days, the only lead of a TV series was one beautiful person or one famous, you know, hilarious person. Yeah. But now they’ve opened it up.

Michael Jamin:
I wonder, is your son planning to going through the arts now that he graduated from nyu?

Phil LaMarr:
Yes. Yes. He’s, he’s musician. He oh, writes and sings and dances and raps and produces, and he’s part of the Clive Davis recorded music program where they teach them music and the music business.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Wow.

Phil LaMarr:
One of his teachers was Clive Davis’s daughter. Wow. Who’s a lawyer.

Michael Jamin:
And do, I mean, it’s, but it’s, the music is different from what you do. I wonder, I wonder if you’re able to, does it all feel like, I don’t know how to help , you know? Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. There’s a lot of that uhhuh

Michael Jamin:
Like,

Phil LaMarr:
Dad dead. Because when your kid goes into, you know, show business, you think, well, I’ve been in show business for 40 years, like, you haven’t been in the music business. I’m like, you’re right.

Michael Jamin:
That’s true. So interesting. Wow. Wow. And, and, and so what about, I guess, you know what’s next for you? Is you just, is it more of the same? Is there more, well, actually I know you have a pilot that you, that you were, you’re working on, you know, you’re getting into the writing side of the business. Yes.

Phil LaMarr:
More so. Yes. And that actually over the last couple of years has been a, a slight shift you know, having been performing. Yeah. You know, for so long now, since the eighties. I’ve also, and I’ve also been writing since the nineties when I started at the Groundlings. Right. I was writing sketches and I wrote on Mad tv. But just recently, earlier in this year, I took a job as a professional writer on a television show for the first time.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And it was pretty wild to have 30 years of sitcoms under your belt and then suddenly see it from a completely different angle.

Michael Jamin:
And what, and what was your impression of that?

Phil LaMarr:
It, it was wild to cuz like you were talking about the way I look at acting and break it down. Yeah. And, you know, look at all the subtle distinctions. I had never looked at, you know, TV writing that way. Okay. But to suddenly be in a room with people who look at who see it that way for decades, you’re like, oh wow. How do I feel like a rookie at 56?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. And so there’s a lot of catching, a lot of catching up little Yeah. You know, that’s so, and, and are, are you enjoying it as much or as much as you thought? Or what do you think?

Phil LaMarr:
Well it, the challenge part was, was a little bit, you know, tough. Yeah. But it was great to be working on a really good show with great, talented people and to be learning something new. It’s like, yeah. Oh, like for me, like when we would write sketches at the Groundlings Uhhuh, you didn’t think about anything about like, well, beginning, middle, and end. Right. Three minutes.

Michael Jamin:
Right, right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, but now you have to think about, you know, character arcs and the, you know, okay, well if you introduce the character’s father, we have to think about their entire family. Is the mother still a alive? You’re like, oh, right. When you write a sketch, you don’t have to think about,

Michael Jamin:
You don’t think about any of that. Right. And when you, and when you’re acting the part you, you know. Yeah. Yeah. And so it’s, it’s so interesting cause I always say like, acting and writing are really, they’re two sides of the same coin. It really helps to study both whatever you want to do, study both. Exactly. it’s all, and so yeah, that, that finding that emotional arc and, you know, it’s all, it’s all new for you, but yeah. I wonder, you know, but you’re enjoying it.

Phil LaMarr:
Well and, and working alongside, I mean, cuz there were people who, you know, one guy at show run Will and Grace, another guy worked on Arrested Development. I mean like, you know, one guy was showrunner on five other shows to, to watch how they mm-hmm. . Cause for me, I would like, Hey, I would just pitch out a joke. I’m just gonna say something I think is funny. Right. But they had this like s you know, Superman MicroVision where they could take that joke and see Yeah. How it could affect the mm-hmm. the entire scene, the entire episode and the entire season.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. It’s like, where does that, but off

Phil LaMarr:
The top of their head.

Michael Jamin:
Right. And where does it go? Where does that moment go into the script, into the, you know, is it act one or is it Act three? And so that Yes.

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. That yes. I mean I’m sure you have that, that x-ray vision too. Yeah. Where you can look at a script and see the act structure Yeah. And you know, and or just even the structure of just the scene. Yeah. Like what does this character, where do they start and where do they finish?

Michael Jamin:
Yeah, that’s right. Well we were, we ran a show for Mark Maron for four years and you know, he was one of the writers in it and he would pitch an idea, cause I wanna say this, and then we’d put up Neck one and then I remember at one point , we were talking about it and we said, mark, I don’t think this can go in Act one. Is it okay if we put a neck three? And he’d say, oh, I don’t care where you put it is. Right. long as in the script,

Phil LaMarr:
I’m just thinking about what the character would say.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. That Right. I was like, was like, oh, that’s a relief. I thought you were gonna get mad for, you know, you didn’t care about that. So funny.

Phil LaMarr:
Right. Yeah. Just cuz as performers we are not looking at the app structure.

Michael Jamin:
Right, right. You know,

Phil LaMarr:
Most of us, I, I may imagine there are some people who do like, well I wanna build up from act two to act three, you know? Yeah. But most of us don’t. We’re just, what is the guy feeling in this scene right now?

Michael Jamin:
Right. And how to get to that, the truth of that, how difficult is it for you to make yourself vulnerable like that on stage to like, to go there, you know, whatever, maybe it’s crying or whatever it is. How difficult it is for you just to allow yourself to go there?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, it’s not necessarily easy. It’s definitely something that I had to, you know, a skill set to build Uhhuh . You know, I was not one of those people when I started acting who could make themselves cry on cue, Uhhuh

Michael Jamin:
,

Phil LaMarr:
You know. But I remember I had to do a scene on a, a Steven Boko show called Philly. And it’s like, okay, well this character is really, you know, emotionally, you know, I gotta figure out how to make sure I’m putting that out there. Right. So I thought about something sad and let it, you know, something different than what the character was thinking about mm-hmm. . But it’s again, like, you know, with the voice acting like what sounds bey you also have to think about your face, what looks Yeah. Sorrowful and how do you make yourself look sorrowful. Right. You know, although one of the things that helped me learn where to, to try to go was working on Pulp Fiction with Samuel L. Jackson.

Michael Jamin:
What he what? Go on. He gave you some great advice or what?

Phil LaMarr:
No, he just, what he showed because you would stand there offset talking to this cool old guy who was amazing, you know? Yeah. He’s just talking about golfing or his daughter. But then when the camera started rolling Yeah. The person you were just talking to disappeared. Right on set. I looked over and I was looking into the eyes of someone completely different than Samuel L. Jackson. Right. And I remember standing there in my twenties thinking, oh my God, he transformed himself internally. And so that it shows externally. Yeah. That’s like, I gotta learn how to do that.

Michael Jamin:
And then how did you learn how to do that?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, I, I’m still haven’t gotten to his level , but what I learned is you have to figure out one, how you look and how you get, it’s, it’s like a map. Mm-Hmm. , you know you know, if you figure out how to guide your internal self to a place where your external self does what’s on the page, that’s what acting is. You know, otherwise you would just be reading words to be or not to be. That is the question. You know, it’s not just about the words. It’s how do you express the feeling? And Sam taught me there is a way where you don’t have to do nine minutes of to get into character.

Michael Jamin:
Okay. If

Phil LaMarr:
You know the root within yourself, you can do it like that. Right. So I, I realized it was about learning your internal, you know, where do, where do you put your sadness? Where do you put your anger and where’s, what’s the difference between your anger and this character’s anger? Guide yourself there and then, you know, connect the two.

Michael Jamin:
And do you have moments where you feel like, I I didn’t do it. I didn’t get there. You know. Well,

Phil LaMarr:
I mean that’s the, the one good thing about on camera work and what we were talking about about the rehearsal Uhhuh is you can find, take the time to find it, but yes, no, there’s, there’s always, you know, not every job is a home run. Mm-Hmm. , you’re like, oh, I wish I had gone a little bit deeper with that. Right. You know and sometimes you feel it there. Yes. Other times you don’t realize it until after you see it. And maybe it’s, they picked a take that Right. You didn’t No. That wasn’t the best one. Why didn’t they, you know, not nothing is ever perfect.

Michael Jamin:
Right, right. You

Phil LaMarr:
Know,

Michael Jamin:
And, but do you, like sometimes I’ll watch, I’ll be on set and I’ll watch an actor do something. Usually it’s drama and or a dramatic moment. Right. And, and they let it all out. And after you, you’ll cut. I’m always like, I wonder if they need a moment alone. You know what I’m saying? It’s like Right. I mean, what are your, what’s your take on that?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, I mean, I’m not a, a method guy. I don’t put myself into, because Yeah. You, you hear a lot about that, about a guy’s like, yeah man, I had to play this character and my girlfriend hated me for a month because when I went home I was still part of that dude. Yeah. You know? And I don’t know if it’s my improv and sketch background where I take my character off like a hat,

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh . I

Phil LaMarr:
Don’t take them home and, you know, I, I try to embody it during the performance, but I don’t feel it’s, you know, required to have to be the character.

Michael Jamin:
Right. But if you spend a whole day as a character,

Phil LaMarr:
It can, it can be draining.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. It can be draining. Right. You have to wash yourself up that if, if you don’t like that, you know, if you don’t like that person, you have to wash yourself of that. Right. And how do you do that?

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. Well, I mean that’s, that’s about, you know, when you leave the set mm-hmm. , you leave those feelings behind, although some actors don’t, but you’ve

Michael Jamin:
Just experienced, you spent the whole day experiencing that mm-hmm. that whatever it is, and yes, I understand you left it, but you spent the whole day angry or, or mournful or bitter or whatever it is. Like how do you, you still have to wash yourself from that, don’t you? Well,

Phil LaMarr:
But I mean, the, for me, I’m not fooling myself. I’m not trying to convince myself that the script and the character is real and me. Cuz that’s the thing. Like, if you spend all day with your drunken uncle who’s nasty on Thanksgiving, that’s not fun.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, and then when you leave, you’re like, ugh. You can, you can still be right, you know, upset about it, but you’re, you’re con but because you’re connected to that person. For me, it’s about, that is fiction. Right. I only, you know, I’m connected to the fiction while performing. I don’t feel like I have to be, you know, like when I play Hermes on Futurama, I don’t have to speak in a Jamaican accent for the entire season.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know?

Michael Jamin:
But are there moments, and maybe this is less so for a voice acting, but when you’re, when you’re on, when you’re on camera, are there moments when you’re like, you’re cognizant that, oh, I’m acting now. Mm-Hmm. , you know, and then you, and you have to, oh, I gotta get back. You know, and you’re, you’re delivering your lines right in the middle of the line, you realize I’m acting.

Phil LaMarr:
Well, it, it’s interesting because I think part of this mental philosophy I have is, you know, comes from watching Sam Jackson Uhhuh because he wasn’t method, he wasn’t acting like Jules, you know, acting like a gangster, a man with a gun the whole time.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And he showed me that. And it’s funny because while he was doing that, Frank Whaley who had worked on the doors was telling anecdotes about how when Val Kilmer was playing Jim Morrison, he was the exact opposite. Right. He, before they started shooting, he sent out a memo. Everyone is to refer to me as Jim or Mr. Morrison.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, and he had a tent set where he would, you know, work to be in character and would only come on set as Jim Morrison. Right. He was ne They never s they never spoke to Val.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Right. So, you know, what about, yes. It’s definitely difficult for some people if that’s their approach. No, no. My approach is I have to live this character.

Michael Jamin:
Right. You know, so you’re, so you, okay, so that’s not your problem. You don’t have to worry. That’s not something you have to Yeah, no. Interesting. I, I’m so interested in the, the actor’s approach to the material, you know? Yeah. Because, you know, we write it, but how do you guys do, how do you guys do it? Because there’s a difference. There really is a difference. You know, we hear it one way we envision it, but we can’t do it. Do you know what I’m saying? Yeah. We can’t get it out of our heads onto, into reality, but you can. And so I’m always like, how did you do that

Phil LaMarr:
? Right. Well, it was, it was, it was interesting experience, you know, from the writing, acting, you know, crossover. Mm. I worked on a, I was developing an animated show based on a friend of mine’s web comic called Goblins.

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
And my partner, Matt King and I, we were both performers, but we adapted the comic into a script. And I called a bunch of my voice actor friends, cuz we were, we were gonna make a trailer, you know, to bring these, you know, comic characters to life Yeah. In animation. And it was funny cuz Matt and I are actors. We had, you know, written the script and we’d acted out these scenes. And so in our heads we, we thought we knew exactly how they’d sound. But then we brought in amazing Billy West, Maurice La Marsh. Mm-Hmm. , Jim Cummings. Mm-Hmm. Steve Bloom, Jennifer. And it was funny because when they performed the scenes we had written, they took it to a whole other level. Right. Beyond what existed in our, in our heads. Right. Like, oh my God, they made it so much better than I even imagined it could

Michael Jamin:
Be. Right, right.

Phil LaMarr:
And it was wild cuz I’d heard writers, you know, express a similar kind of thing. It’s like, oh my gosh, you guys did such, such amazing with, and, but to have it, you know, as someone who’d been a performer, to have someone take your and do that miracle with it was an eye-opening experience. Like, ah, but

Michael Jamin:
There’s something else that you do. Cause you know, there’s a handful ofri actors, voice of actors, they always work. You’re one of them. But pro you call ’em in and it’s, it’s knowing, especially in comedy, knowing where, how to hit the joke. I mean, we always say, can they hit a joke? And knowing where the laugh falls, not just somewhere, but which word makes it, makes it funny, you know? Mm-Hmm. , you know. And do you think that’s your instinct? Or is that just something you’ve gotten better at?

Phil LaMarr:
Yes, I think that’s something that has grown from performing, especially in the sense of, in the sense of comedy. Because I remember, you know, starting out on stage doing, you know, plays, then doing, doing improv, which is specific comedy cuz when you’re doing a play mm-hmm. , the writer has decided which moments are funny, which moments are dramatic, you know. But when you’re doing improv, you and the audience are deciding what’s funny. Right. And, and I remember coming, you know, back to LA and pursuing acting and then starting to get work on camera and doing comedy. And I realized, huh. Oh wow. I don’t have an audience.

Michael Jamin:
Yes. And you

Phil LaMarr:
Have, you have to create a gauge in your head for, is this funny? Because when you’re on stage and you’re doing a funny bit, you’re, you know, you can feel from the audience whether, oh, I need to push that up a little

Michael Jamin:
Bit. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
But when you’re working on camera, this, the crew is not allowed to laugh out

Michael Jamin:
Loud. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, so you have to create an audience inside you, an internal audience in your head to help, you know, is, is this the timing of this?

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And, and it’s funny because I’ve developed that and a couple of years into it, I remember I got a job working on N Y P D, blue

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh

Phil LaMarr:
Playing a guy who was being questioned, you know, interrogated in the police station and then gets roughed up by Ricky Schroeder

Michael Jamin:
Uhhuh.

Phil LaMarr:
But the, the lines, because this guy’s on drugs. And I remember like, oh wow, I gotta be careful. This could be funny . Cause he’s like, you know, like, you know, cause Ricky Schroeder, you know, sees blood on his, on his clothes, like, take your clothes off. It’s like, and the guy take my clothes. What you wanna do? What you ain’t gonna put no boom on my ass. Right. And I remembered I have to gauge the funny way to do this and not do

Michael Jamin:
That. Yes. Right, right. Because,

Phil LaMarr:
You know, there was, I, and I realize no, no. Pull back the tempo and lean into the anger, not the outrage.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Right. So, and

Phil LaMarr:
Then it’ll be, then it’ll be dramatic, not comedy.

Michael Jamin:
It’s, again, here you are approaching it really from the craft. It’s not Yeah. I just wish it’s, when I hear people, I want to be an actor. Okay. Take it serious. Are you gonna study? Are you just gonna, do you wanna be famous? Which, what is it you want? You know?

Phil LaMarr:
Right.

Michael Jamin:
And well, let’s talk about that for a second. What, what’s your relationship with, with fame? How do you, you know?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, that’s a very interesting thing because I feel like that has changed mm-hmm. from the generation, like when you’re our age, when we were growing up pre-internet mm-hmm.

Michael Jamin:

Phil LaMarr:
Fame only applied to stars.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Now, you know, I mean, nobody knew voice actors, only voice actor anybody knew was Mel Blank.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, people to this day still don’t know what Das Butler looks like. Right. But the now anybody who appears on anything, even a YouTuber

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Has some level of fame. Right. You know, and, and it’s wild because, because of the internet, the, you know, it now matters what you say. In the old days, if you were a television character actor, like if you were Richard Mulligan

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
It never, nobody was ever gonna post what you said about something.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
It was only if you were Joan Crawford. Right. Or you know, Marilyn Monroe. Like they would be, you know. But nowadays, people have access to everyone Yeah. That they can see anywhere. So to me, the level, what we call fame, has now expanded. Yeah. You know, in a much greater way. But it’s also changed the way people think about performance. You know, and in some ways that’s good because like, oh, well maybe I shouldn’t do that. You know, char that stereotypical character because, you know, but in the old days, back in the eighties and nineties, if I was playing a stereotype, you know, gang banger, which I did,

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
I didn’t think about the negative impact of this episode of W I O U on cbs. How that, the negative impact that would have on society. It’s like, no, I’m just on under five on the, on non top 20 show.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. So you,

Phil LaMarr:
But nowadays somebody could, it could go viral on Twitter

Michael Jamin:
. Yeah. So you just gotta be more, you’re just gotta be more careful about it, I guess. You be more thoughtful about what, you

Phil LaMarr:
Know, we’re just more conscious of it.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
Back then you just thought about, is this paycheck gonna clear?

Michael Jamin:
Yes. Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
You know, it’s, it’s funny because I, I spoke to a group of kids at a, at my daughter’s high school about identity and entertainment uhhuh. And I told them about some of the progress, what I perceived as progress. Yeah. Back in the eighties, you know, there were a bunch of us, you know, young black actors trying out to play gang members.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
Those were always the bad guys in the eighties and nineties in a show, you know, and for most of us, those were the only parts. Right. There weren’t leads available for us until a little later when U p n, the cw, you know, the wb you know, Fox, when those news new networks started, they realized, oh wow. If we can put on a black show, then all those black viewers will tune in and we’ll have, you know,

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. There’s, there’s a whole audience we can tap into. Right, right.

Phil LaMarr:
But back when there were just three networks Yeah. You, you know, you would have one. Right. You know, people of color show Okay, Sanford and Sun, because Red Fox is a big star.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
But then it expanded and that meant there were more options. Yeah. But now this is wild. Several years ago, in the early two thousands, I was working on a project that one of the Zucker brothers did in a web series which was a, a soap opera parody called Sams of Passion, which was set in a fundamentalist Islam world. You know, like, you know, there’s one scene where there’s a family sitting around a table, and then their son comes in and they’re very upset. It’s like, what are you doing? You’re supposed to be suicide bombing. Why are you home? You know,

Michael Jamin:
Okay.

Phil LaMarr:
And the, you know, the bulk of the, the cast Uhhuh was of Middle Eastern descent. Right. And it was wild to hear these young actors have the same discussion about playing terrorists

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
That we had had about playing gang members 20 years before.

Michael Jamin:
Right, right. And that was, that was a discussion that you was, was it a common discussion with you and, and whoever else was auditioning for these parts and or Yeah,

Phil LaMarr:
It’s, yeah. It’s like, Hey, yeah, you gotta go for it, but hey, I gotta pay my rent. Yeah. I do my best to try to ground the character in reality and not just make it some stereotype, but Right. Who knows.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
But now, you know, that was in the early two thousands, post nine 11, but now 20 years later, you have a much broader Right. You know level of opportunities for Middle Eastern actors. Yes. You have the series Rami. Right. You have the Miss Marvel series where there’s a Marvel superhero who is of Middle Eastern descent, and you see her whole family and friends and you know her religion. Yeah. You know, whereas 20 years ago,

Michael Jamin:
Forget it. Yeah. Yeah. Right.

Phil LaMarr:
So we’re moving forward

Michael Jamin:
For sure. What I always like to, I I’ve had you on, I, I always like to conclude with cuz I, you’ve been so gracious to gimme all your, all your, so much time and knowledge, but I like to conclude with what do you, what do you sh what do you like to share or encourage or that like the next generation, what advice do you have for, for those coming up next?

Phil LaMarr:
Ooh. Well, because I’m old

Michael Jamin:
,

Phil LaMarr:
I tend to focus on what I see as the negative impacts of this, these changes. Mm-Hmm. like I said, the positive impact is d growth of diversity and representation. Right. But there’s also, you know, some pushes against like, you know, this whole thing about authenticity. Every actor has to be exactly what the character is. Like what if that’s true, then we would never have anybody playing vampires.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Yeah. Because

Phil LaMarr:
I wouldn’t show up on camera. Right. So I I I try to, you know, get the younger people to focus on No, no. It’s about the storytelling. Right. It’s about the emotional authenticity, not just about, you know, you know, story authenticity. These are fictional stories. Right. It’s just gotta feel real. It doesn’t have to be real. But also the, like you said before, cuz with this internet thing and this change in the concept of fame mm-hmm. , there are so many people who get into performing now just for the attention.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
And I try to encourage people, it’s like, no, no, this is an art form. Right. The Picasso didn’t paint. It’s like, I want to get into the move. No. He was trying to express something

Michael Jamin:
That’s now you’ve really, but now I’m gonna take more of your time because now I want to hear what your thoughts are on this. Cuz AI is coming and to me, like you, what it’s exactly what you just said, which is art is creating something, something from the human experience and expressing it so that you can better understand yourself, the world and then so others can better understand the, you know, the world. Right. But the key word I just said is understand the human experience. Mm-Hmm. and AI is not human. At least not yet. It’s not sentient. Mm-Hmm. . And yet here it’s coming after our here it’s coming for our jobs. And I don’t know, what are your, what are your thoughts on this?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, the, the scariest thing about that to me is I believe that there will definitely be a gap uhhuh between what the computer creates uhhuh and what a real artist would create. Right.

Michael Jamin:
By by definition it can’t create art by, by my definition at least, it can’t create art cuz it is not human. But go on.

Phil LaMarr:
But the problem is, if the people who are financing it, if the CEOs of the tech company, the people who are making the decision about the content, don’t prioritize the feeling and the auth, the emotional authenticity.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
They’re just, you know, they’re just gonna go with the, what’s the algorithm responding to. Right. And I feel like if they start pushing this AI thing, you know, more and more it’s gonna be, it’s gonna turn creative, you know, writing and performance into the same mentality that they use about clickbait. Mm-Hmm. , you know, cuz in the old days

Michael Jamin:
Interesting. You put

Phil LaMarr:
Out a headline because you wanted to give the people information about the article. But when we moved into the world of infotainment mm-hmm. , no, no. This headline is just to make them click on it. Right. It doesn’t matter if it’s true, it doesn’t matter if it’s really what the article is about, we want to draw their attention.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
And that’s what the ai, you know, the algorithms are gonna do. They’re gonna, you know, you know, they’ll go through all the data of our art and say, which ones have gotten most attention, which have gotten the most clicks. And so that’s what they’re gonna pick. You know, so it won’t be about the best feeling cuz you know, when an executive reads your script, they can break it down according to other things they’ve read, but they can also have an internal feeling about it.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
But the machine, the machine will not

Michael Jamin:
See. That’s so interesting cuz I, I, that analogy I’d never heard before that click that clickbait analogy, which is very interesting. Mm-Hmm. , that’s actually giving me some thought. Yeah. Right. It’s going to be about until, until it becomes sentient. If that’s, and, and then it’ll actually have an experience. But I don’t know. I I, but I wonder if people will appreciate what you and I appreciate about art. I wonder if it doesn’t, if it doesn’t matter to them. I don’t know. Oh, interesting. You know? Well I

Phil LaMarr:
Feel like you know, that people will feel the difference that the machine cannot feel because, you know, this, this whole idea of it is some, when you tell a story that is specific and rooted in your feeling, it has a universal appeal. Exactly. It doesn’t just appeal to the exact same people who’ve experienced the same thing you have.

Michael Jamin:
Right, right. You know, it’s the specificity that makes it universal. Exactly. But can they, can AI, will they, will AI be able to do that? And will anybody care? People care as much as you and I do. That’s all I, that’s what worries me.

Phil LaMarr:
Well, what worries me is that the people making the decisions won’t, I

Michael Jamin:
I I think we, I think we already know that, you know, I think they’re gonna go for whatever’s cheaper, you know? Right, right. So Yeah. Well,

Phil LaMarr:
I mean, the whole mini room thing I think is an example of that. It’s like,

Michael Jamin:
Wait,

Phil LaMarr:
I mean, imagine you have an auto factory and I’m just gonna have four, you know, robot arms do the same thing that 700 human workers would do. It’s like, well you’re only gonna make four cars a day.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. Yeah, yeah,

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. But I’ll just, I’ll just sell ’em for more.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. Right. Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
Yeah. Cause all they care about is the money.

Michael Jamin:
Yeah. They don’t, it’s so, it’s so interesting because they had, I just wish they would had, I wish they’d take a writing class or an acting class. I wish they understood what goes into it and instead of treating it like, you know, the assembly line. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Phil Lamar, I, this has been such an interesting discussion. Really appreciate, I really appreciate, again, I’ll say it again cuz it needs to be said, the amount of attention that you bring to your craft and your dedication, I don’t know, you, you, to me, you approach it like a student. You’re, it seems like you’re constantly studying, you know, oh, what, what more can I learn about what I do? You know what I’m saying? Right. That’s, and, and, you know, but you do rather like, what more can you learn about what you do mm-hmm. so that you can become better at it. It’s just fascinating to me. I have so much admiration for you. Thank you so much. Oh, thank

Phil LaMarr:
You. Yeah. And, and I feel the same way about you and the things that you post about writing. I mean, I’m like, oh my God, anybody who clicks on your Instagram is getting a free masterclass.

Michael Jamin:
,

Phil LaMarr:
Thank you. Because you have the same focus on the craft and the, you know, and you, but you communicate the ideas about it, so Well,

Michael Jamin:
Thank you. Yeah. I, you know, we love it. That’s all. We love our jobs. We just wanna keep doing it. Is that, well,

Phil LaMarr:
But it’s, it’s rare for people to be as talented as you are at creating mm-hmm. and to be able to educate about the creativity that’s, that’s not the same skillset.

Michael Jamin:
Right. Right. Thank you. I I appreciate that. It’s yeah. Yeah. I didn’t, I didn’t know where this was gonna go, this journey of starting to post on social media. So I, I, you know, I I appreciate that kind of feedback. Yeah.

Phil LaMarr:
Well, no, I mean, that’s, that’s why you get the responses you get is because you are giving people, you know, it’s not just, here’s an idea, here’s a, here’s a, you know, you know, just a little tip.

Michael Jamin:
I always wonder if I’m gonna teach, am I wor, am I gonna run outta things to say that’s what I worry about. Am I gonna run? I mean, surely I ran out about eight months ago. . Right.

Phil LaMarr:
,

Michael Jamin:
What’s going on? You know, I don’t know. But I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. And thank you for joining me. I really, for sharing your knowledge. It’s fantastic. I appre should, is there anything people, where people should follow you or, or visit for you or find out what you’re doing next?

Phil LaMarr:
Well, yes. Yes. There’s a, there’s two , actually, it’s funny. Got two really fun series about space

Michael Jamin:
Okay. And

Phil LaMarr:
Earth.

Michael Jamin:
Right.

Phil LaMarr:
One is this new episode, this new series called Mulligan, produced by Tina Fey and the creators of 30 Rock. Right. an animated series on Netflix. Oh. About, you know, Amy and Invasion that almost destroys the planet, but this, you know, quirky Boston guy saves the, the world uhhuh, and then they have to rebuild the world.

Michael Jamin:
And you’re one of the, one of the regulars on it. Yeah. Yeah. Great. Great.

Phil LaMarr:
And we’ve got new episodes of Futurama.

Michael Jamin:
That’s amazing. They’re bringing that back. They’re

Phil LaMarr:
Dropping on, we’re we’re back from the dead for the fourth time.

Michael Jamin:
. Right. Exactly. They keep on bringing it back. That’s great. Good for good. Everyone go check out Phil. He’s such a talent. I’m not sure if they’ll able recognize you, your voice, because you have so many, but he’s, he’s in . He’s in him. I can tell you that. Phil, thank you so much for joining me. My pleasure, Michael. Thanks for having me. Oh, please. Yeah. All right everyone, thank you so much for, for listening. What a great talk. And until next week, keep keep writing and keep acting. Okay.

Phil Hudson:
This has been an episode of Screenwriters. Need to Hear This with Michael Jamin and Phil Hudson. If you’re interested in learning more about writing, make sure you register for Michael’s monthly webinar michaeljamin.com/webinar. If you found this podcast helpful, consider sharing it with a friend and leaving us a five-star review on iTunes. For free screenwriting tips, follow Michael Jamin on social media @MichaelJaminWriter. You can follow Phil Hudson on social media @PhilAHudson. This podcast was produced by Phil Hudson. It was edited by Dallas Crane. Music by Ken Joseph. Until next time, keep writing.

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Michael Jamin, Showrunner, TV Writer, Author

Michael Jamin

For the past 26 years, Michael Jamin has been a professional television writer/showrunner. His credits include King of the Hill, Beavis & Butthead, Wilfred, Maron, Just Shoot Me, Rules of Engagement, Brickleberry, Tacoma FD and many more.

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