Talking with actor, comedian and “that guy you know from that thing” Fred Stoller about growing up in Brooklyn and his new podcast The Mild Adventures of Fred Stoller.
Fred Stoller is a stand-up comedian and actor you’ll instantly recognize. He’s appeared on Late Night With David Letterman and The Tonight Show, and has guest starred on countless sitcoms, establishing himself as TV’s go-to nebbish: most notably as Ray’s mopey cousin Gerard on Everybody Loves Raymond, Elaine’s forgetful date on Seinfeld, and Monica’s bossy co-worker on Friends. He’s appeared in the films Dumb and Dumber, Rebound and Little Man, among others. Fred & Vinnie, the indie feature he wrote and starred in, won the Audience award at The Austin Film Festival.
AoBFF co-founder Anthony DeVito asked Fred about his Brooklyn roots, his two books and his new podcast, ‘The Mild Adventures of Fred Stoller.’
You’re a Brooklyn boy through and through. Where did you grow up?
In Sheepshead Bay, near Coney Island, Brighton, near the Belt Parkway from age 5 till moving out at 22. Wow, that long I lived there. I passed auditions at The Improv comedy club and would take the D Train after hanging out all night and my mother would freak out cause first of all it was so late, and I quit college (Kingsborough Community College) to do comedy.
Do you feel that the Brooklyn of your youth influenced what you find funny?
It’s hard to say. I was always a misfit. I knew I wasn’t like the people around me.
You lived near Sheepshead Bay icon Pip’s, which opened in 1962 and was known as America’s oldest comedy club. Pip’s helped launch the careers of Rodney Dangerfield, David Brenner and Andrew Dice Clay and Woody Allen, George Carlin and Andy Kaufman performed there often. Did that club play a part in inspiring you to do stand-up, and was it a goal to perform there, or was it all about “The City” as we called it?
It did because that’s where I got turned on to stand up. It wasn’t like years later where you’d be exposed to it on the internet or on cable. I went with my older sister and her fiends and saw Billy Crystal and Richard Lewis before they hit it big. It was a goal because it’s the place that turned me onto comedy, but in a way it was a pain because relatives would show up. My mother sent friends to see me as spies and I bombed that night.
Pips was actually one of the only paid gigs before the comedy boom exploded, so it was a goal in that regard, a paid gig!
I remember many years ago you told me how grueling it was to do comedy on the road, and that creating a “killer set” and doing it over and over took its toll on you. Is that what made you decide to start acting, or was it something you always thought about?
I only got into stand up because as I said, I saw it at Pip's and that’s how I was told you could get on a sitcom, you do a set, get on the Tonight Show, and then get a sitcom. I never dreamed of being a stand-up with albums, being on the road forever. I did dream of being a TV personality, being on game shows, stuff like that.
You have two books under your belt: the Kindle Single 'My Seinfeld Year' and the brutally honest ‘Maybe We'll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial TV Guest Star’ which recently came out in paperback. Writing for TV and acting on TV are such different worlds. Stand-ups usually choose one or the other, but you’ve done both. Do you have a preference, or is about going where the work is?
I’d say writing for TV is a full time career, and it didn’t seem I took that route. You don’t write in your own voice so much. It’s great money if you make it your career, but not so creative. Acting in TV isn’t so creative, but it enables me to not just do one thing.
You have one of the most distinctive voices in comedy. Both in terms of how you write jokes and your actual human voice. So a podcast would be a natural for you. Luckily, you have a new one ready to launch! Tell us about ‘The Mild Adventures of Fred Stoller’ and why you created it.
Pushing my books I’d go on podcasts and I enjoyed telling stories, being casual and conversational. I wasn’t going to do one at first because there are so many, so many of the same comics on them, but then Al Madrigal and Bill Burr have a podcasting network with a studio, and were nice enough to give me that opportunity. I wasn’t sure what I’d do at first, but then decided not to try too hard, but so much stress on myself to come up with some hook, or anguish about going to the top of the charts, just talk with people it’d be fun to talk to. So far it’s other character actors like me, and others with fun, quirky stories.
Listen to Episode 1 of The Mild Adventures of Fred Stoller:
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