From Kevin Smith to Seth MacFarlane, Ralph Garman is in demand
To L.A. radio listeners he’s been part of KROQ’s Kevin & Bean morning drive crew for 15 years, but he’s increasingly known for working with Kevin Smith in the director’s movies and their Hollywood Babble-On podcast. Garman took time out between the radio show and voiceovers for the new season of Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy to talk to Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen about the podcast’s Oct. 3 stop Vinyl at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino (Smith has a solo Q&A at Vinyl Oct. 2), his increasingly significant roles in Smith’s films and what it’s like for a Batman fan to grow up and become friends with Adam West.
What projects are you currently immersed in on this first day after Labor Day Weekend?
Well, I’m back to work at the radio show that I do here in Los Angeles Monday through Friday, so that’s most of my schedule, and then I have some Family Guy. I need to record some voices for that animated show later in the week, but other than that it’s a pretty light week.
Do you have to work everything else around those two main gigs?
For the most part. Obviously the radio show is my steady gig, so that’s the most regularly scheduled thing I have going on. And then Family Guy is almost every week while we’re recording the episodes. So those are the two main ones, yeah, and then I kind of fit in touring with Babble-On and working with Kevin around that, but Kevin and I do Hollywood Babble-On almost every week as well, so those are the three things that keep me busy.
Sometimes it’s hard to fathom how some prominent podcasters manage their schedules. I interviewed your ex-roommate Adam Carolla about two months ago, and he’s a maniac.
Yeah, he’s always on the move.
Is your schedule like his?
I think he travels more than I do just because of the nature of his show. He likes to take it on the road more and he doesn’t have the constraint of a regular gig like I do. But Smith is the same way. Kevin Smith, I don’t know how many podcasts he’s doing now. That’s the nice thing about most podcasts is you can sort of catch them on the run, and kind of work around your schedule. Kevin and I, we do ours in front of a live audience every week, so that is more sort of regimented. Every Friday night we do it here in Los Angeles at The Improv, or we’re on the road. We just got back from San Antonio, Texas, and of course we’ve got Vegas coming up and New York and Philadelphia, so the next month or so it’s going to be pretty busy.
How did your San Antonio podcast go? That received a lot of press.
It was outstanding. It was our 5th anniversary. We’re been doing this show for five years now, and we had done Texas once before. I think we had done Houston once before. So that first time in San Antonio we didn’t know what to expect, but it was an amazing crowd, and a sold-out house of about 700 people. It’s such a kick for us to have taken this thing for the past five years to a point now where so many people really seem to enjoy what we do. We always loved it. That’s how it started, just me and Kevin making each other laugh in front of 50 people. And now it’s become sort of this little cottage industry that we both get a kick out of.
How do you keep from running out of steam? Even on recent podcasts you show no signs of drawing a blank, and you’ve been doing it for so long now.
The first key to that is working with one of your best friends. Kevin just makes me laugh, and vice versa, and we always get a kick out of hanging out together and talking about stuff we’d probably be talking about anyway. And the other part is the show is topical. We always take a look at the week’s entertainment news, so we always know there’s material there. And the listeners provide us with so much material as well. We have so many recurring segments, where the listeners will send in photographs of toys that are inappropriate for kids that we get kick out of. Mistakes that we find in movies, or examples of overacting. It’s got this template that we’ve set up that so many listeners get a kick out of contributing material as well, so a lot of it is just the weekly turnover of things that get sent to us, and then the news, and things that happen in our own lives that we talk about. There’s no danger of us running out of material.
What’s on deck for your Hollywood Babble-On date at the Hard Rock? Is it what you would do regularly for your podcast at Vinyl, or do you have something special planned?
It’s going to be a special show for us because this is the longest break we’ve taken in a long time in between podcasts. Kevin is traveling to New Zealand and Australia this month to do some shows down there, both his Q&A show, his regular show, which is kind of how he started, standing on stage and answering questions about his film work and things like that. He’s doing that in Australia, and also his buddy Jason Mewes, they’re doing a show called Jay and Silent Bob Get Old. They’ll be doing those shows down under for a couple of weeks, so he’s going to be out of town. And I’ve done it in the past where we’ve brought in guests for Babble-On—Patton Oswalt, Jon Lovitz has done it a couple of time, Jay Mohr has done it. But at this point now, Kevin and I have it so finely honed—we really like working together on this project—that I figured I’d take a couple of weeks off, relax a little bit, then we’re going to hit it hard on our first show back, which will be that Vegas show. We’re going to be chomping at the bit. We can’t wait to get going, so I’m sure it’s going to be a blast.
That’s not even all that long of a break, is it?
We did a little home show at Kevin’s studio this week, just to touch base with the fans and give them something to listen to. We won’t have another show until Oct. 3, so it’s really about two or three weeks. We usually take a week off here and there, but it’s almost every week.
I just heard the studio show, and I think I heard a lot of Bic flicking. Were you guys smoking while you were doing the show?
Exactly, exactly. When you’re with Kevin Smith, who’s been known for lighting up the occasional cigarette—thought what’s inside the rolling papers, I don’t know—when you’re in his home it’s a very relaxed atmosphere, I’ll say that much.
I kept hearing it, then I heard it while he was talking, and I was like, “Something tells me that Ralph Garman doesn’t smoke, but I know what I just heard.”
I’ve been known when I’ve had a cocktail of two to light up a cigarette, so you have very good ears.
I just thought it was a rare opportunity where you were like, “We can both smoke if we feel like it!”
That’s one of the running jokes with Kevin, He gets very frustrated because when we do the live shows, invariably I’ll have a cocktail while we’re doing it. He goes, “How come you get to indulge in your vice and I can only do mine in the privacy of my own home?” I think he enjoys being able to imbibe while we work sometimes.
Forgive me if I ask an often-asked question, but how did you two meet? How did you two become friends?
Yeah, it’s funny. I do this morning radio show in Los Angeles at KROQ, and I’ve been doing this show for 15 years with these two guys named Kevin and Bean. They’ve been doing it for almost 25 years, I guess. Of course, doing a morning radio show often you have guests that come in to promote their upcoming projects or publicize whatever they have going on, and Kevin started to become a recurring guest on the show. Just from having him in the studio, he and I … the chemistry was immediate. We hit it off and we became fast friends just through that, and then we always knew we wanted to work together in some capacity, so when his podcasting thing [SModco, www.smodcast.com] started to take off, I think we were maybe the second podcast to start with Kevin, maybe the third. He had just gotten this space in Santa Monica, a little storefront theater that held about 50 seats. He was renting that space, and he wanted to start putting up podcasts or any kind of event really, in front of a live audience. We talked off and on about maybe doing our own radio show, or doing something in some capacity where we could talk about entertainment, make jokes and have a good time. And that was just the perfect opportunity for us to try something out, and that was five years ago, the first time we did it. So we’d been friend for years leading up to that, and then when we started working on it every week we became even closer.
And now you’re pretty much part of his ensemble for filmmaking. You’re one of the actors cast in the second film of Smith’s True North Trilogy who was the in the first one, 2014’s Tusk, but you play a different character, correct?
Yeah, it’s great because Kevin is a very loyal guy and he does like to use the same troupe of people, whether that’s in the crew, or the cast. It started with me in Red State. He put me in Red State and I play Caleb, sort of a sinister mute religious fanatic in that film, and we had a blast working together, and then I did get a a chance to work in Tusk, just as a little cameo in that film. Now in Yoga Hosers, which will be out next year, I’ve got a significantly larger role. I play the main villain in that piece, and it’s great. He’s got Mall Rats 2 coming up and I know he’s written something in that for me, and Clerks 3, I know he’s written something in that for me. I started in this business as an actor, so as a benefit to knowing him and working with him and having him trust me, for him to bring me in and let me work with these other amazing actors he likes to work with, like Justin Long, Haley Joel Osment and Genesis Rodriguez, we all get a chance to come back and play in the sandbox even though many of us from Tusk are in Yoga Hosers in different roles. And then we’ve got the third in his trilogy, Moose Jaws, coming up, and I know we’re all going to be in that one too. It’s such a pleasure to work with him, especially on a film set. To watch him be in his element and do what he does, and what he loves to do, and he makes the set so much fun for everybody. And everybody really wants to be there and is enjoying themselves. I’ve been on some sets where that wasn’t the case, so it’s just a pleasure.
I thought most of the actors from Tusk were playing the same roles again. Who is Old Man Arcane and what is his importance to the plot?
It’s a crazy film, so much fun. It’s about two young girls who work at a convenience story in Canada—Kevin’s come full circle and he’s working with convenience store clerks again.
Played by his and Johnny Depp’s daughters.
That’s right, Lily-Rose [Melody Depp] and Harley [Quinn Smith] play the two girls. They did have a small scene in Tusk as well, so it’s really those two characters being reprised, but everyone else is coming back. Justin Long is back in it as a completely different character, and Haley Joel is back as a different character. Genesis is back and I’m back. And it’s just basically … it’s like a Scooby-Doo episode. These two girls stumble across this plot of this mad Nazi German scientist who has been in frozen animation for years, who comes out of frozen animation and decides to take over Canada with a troop of genetically altered sausages that are created in the image of Adolf Hitler. So if that isn’t something you can wrap your head around. It’s crazy, and Kevin himself plays all the little Bratzis, as they’re known in the film. It’s funny and crazy and out there, and I think people are really going to like it when they get a chance to see it.
I did not know about the Bratzis.
There’s a photo online of Kevin in Bratzi makeup. It’s just him, and it looks like he’s in a giant sausage casing with a giant sausage head, a little moustache, The aesthetics that he went through, the makeup—it was hilarious to watch him in that suit.
Does your Old Man Arcane interact with Johnny Depp’s Guy LaPointe?
Oh yeah. All my stuff is with Johnny. It’s me and Johnny and Harley and Lily-Rose for almost the whole third act of the film. I’ll tell you something: Working with Johnny Depp, boy, it doesn’t get any better than that. You couldn’t ask for a nicer guy and a more prepared, dedicated actor who just has so much fun doing what he does. You can just tell he still loves acting, and it’s a crazy, silly role that he reprises from Tusk as well, where he plays this bumbling Canadian private detective. He’s done so many great dramatic pieces of work and so may great comedic pieces of work. To watch the guy work and to work with him was just a pure joy.
Yeah, I imagine there would be a brief period of awe when you got down to work with him. It was like a “Johnny Depp is in the room!” kind of situation, right?
Sure. That definitely crosses your mind when you work with a guy like that, but I’ve been lucky. I’ve worked with some amazing talents. The very first film I did was Two for the Money, which I did with Al Pacino, and all my scenes were with Al. Guys like Al Pacino and Depp, they recognize, I think, that the have that effect on people and they go out of their way to put everybody in the room at ease as quickly as possible. Very quickly you get past that and you recognize here’s a guy that’s just come to play, and he wants to work with everybody and we’re all on the same playing field. He wants you to be good, so that initial nervousness does dissipate very quickly. Pacino did that in the set with Two for the Money, and Johnny also on the set. I mean, my first scene was across the table from him, and the minute you get into it you realize there’s no reason to be intimidated by this guy. He’s there to help and to make you look good, and you start playing back and forth. It’s a little like Fantasy Camp, Actors’ Fantasy Camp, where you get to work with one of these guys. You start to quickly realize that whether they’re famous of they just won awards, everybody’s there to do the same job.
You have more screen time in this latest movie than any or your previous films, right?
Yoga Hosers is my biggest film role for sure, by far. I’ve done a bunch of TV work, but as in terms of feature films this is absolutely my biggest role. It kind of came about because Michael Parks, who played the main bad guy in Tusk, the guy who’s turning Justin Long into the creature, initially Kevin had come up with the idea of him playing the Nazi scientist and wrote it with that in mind, and then Michael was unavailable, so he came to me and said, “I’ve got a great idea. What if you were to step into a totally different character? I think you’d have a good time doing it and I think it’d be great.” So he went back and did another pass on the script and sort of rewrote it with me in mind. You can’t ask for better than having one of your best friends tailor-make a role for you to shine in. I was in good hands.
Prior to that, what was your favorite film role?
Well, I’ve just been so lucky because Seth MacFarlane also has been very loyal and a great guy to me, and he put me in Ted, where I got to play Mark Wahlberg’s father in flashback, when the bear first comes to life when John Bennett is a little boy. Alex Borstein and I play his parents. I lot of people vividly remember that scene when the bear comes to life, and Alex and I react to it. That was great, and Seth brought me back for A Million Ways to Die in the West, and he gave me another secret cameo in Ted 2. So it’s great to make friends with guys like this and work alongside them for years, and then to have them like your work and appreciate it enough that they bring you in on their other projects. I’ve been very lucky that way.
I have a mental image of Seth MacFarlane and Kevin Smith getting jealous over you.
(Laughs) Hardly. They have a lot of people they can choose from. I’m just lucky and glad that they consider me worthy of working with.
Do you have upcoming work with Seth MacFarlane beyond Family Guy?
Well, it’s not up to me to say. I know Seth has some TV work that he’s developing and there’s may be some stuff for me in there. I think he’s going to take a little break from the movies, because he was just going one after the other there for a couple of years. I know he’s pretty exhausted, but I know he’s got some TV ideas and I know we could work together in that capacity.
I just found the podcast of “An Evening with Adam West” from when you interviewed him before an audience at Universal CityWalk. Between that and being able to reimagine the TV episode featuring Batman and Green Hornet in the Batman ’66 comic series (Garman and Smith co-authored DC Comics’ Batman '66 meets The Green Hornet), did it hit you all of a sudden that you are literally living out an 8-year-old’s fantasy?
It happened long before that, because Adam and I were friends long before any of that happened, the podcast or the comic book. To become friends with your idol and not be disappointed, and have him be even better than you possibly could have imagined, for me has always been a real thrill. Adam has been a good friend for years, and I was instrumental, along with his daughter, in getting him a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, so it was nice to be able to pay back one of my idols by doing something nice for him. In fact, there’s a great documentary that you can probably find on Video on Demand or iTunes called Starring Adam West. It’s a documentary about his life but it also coincides with us trying to get his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He’s just been a great guy and I love his wife and kids. It’s one of the great pleasures in my life to be able to have a relationship with him, and of course we worked on Family Guy together as well. He’s just one of the great guys, and when I had a chance to write than comic book I was just so thrilled. That was another project that Kevin Smith brought me in on because initially they went to Kevin and asked if he’d be interested. He said “I can’t write anything about the ’60s Batman without my friend Ralph because he’s the expert.” So he brought me on board and I said, “Let me take a shot at the first draft of the first issue, then you can step in and we can work together on it. I wrote the first script in a couple of days and sent it to Kevin, and he said, “I wouldn’t change a thing. Keep going.” So it was just an affirmation that I was on the right path, and I’ll tell ya, one of my favorite projects to work on was writing that book.