Q&A: Jamie Kennedy
Jamie Kennedy went from a supporting role in Scream to going incognito in order to prank people for three seasons on television’s The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. He’s worked steadily in film and TV ever since, most recently in upcoming video-on-demand release Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell. Las Vegas Magazine’s Matt Kelemen recently spoke with Kennedy, who performs at Laugh Factory at Tropicana March 30-April 1.
I assumed your emphasis was on stand-up lately, but you’re consistently busy in television and film. How do you divide your time?
Well, our business is so fragmented now. It used to be you just did a movie for ten weeks and then you had some time off, and then you’d do a little stand-up and then get another movie, but now it’s just like maybe you do a part in a movie for two weeks, and then a TV show. … I’m a comedian, and actor and a producer. I just kind of go. I want to try and get a special, so I’ve been working on my stand-up a lot, and then acting jobs come in.
Do you get jobs due to demand and connections, or mainly hustle?
Some of them are offers, some of them I have to hustle for. Depends, you know? It’s a mix. The really good stuff you have to fight for.
Is it difficult to get back on the stage after being on a location set for a month?
There’s always a little bit of rough, but it’s ingrained in me. Once you get that first show under your belt it’s kind of like boom (snaps). Bicycle! It’s funny you say that because I came back from the Tremors shoot, and then I was on location for seven weeks in Africa, and then right away I went into a tour for stand-up, and I was like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe it.” And then I went right into it and started doing 45-minute shows. It was an army tour so we had to travel, travel, travel. I thought when I was doing Tremors I would just go on to another movie, but I got into stand-up more and then I came back to L.A. and everybody in stand-up was out, and the clubs were bustling. People were asking me to do shows, so then I started doing a lot of stand-up again. I think Netflix has just made it so popular. There’s just such a boom happening right now. It’s exciting.
So getting back into stand-up to this degree is a fairly recent thing for you.
No, I mean I always do it, but sometimes in a perfect world I’d rather put out a special and then do a tour, and then be done and do a movie, and then do it again. I don’t have that luxury. Sometimes I get some really great gigs, and sometimes I’ve got to fight for them. Right now specials are really hot, so I’m trying to get people to see me so I can do my one-hour special, and then hopefully that will make my touring go bigger. Obviously everything has to do with momentum.
It looks like the release of Tremors: A Cold Day in Hell will be a highlight for you this year.
I’m excited for it. The movie’s good. I saw it last week. I can’t tell you anything, but it’s really good.
How does it feel to be involved with a six-film franchise? You starred in Scream films but Tremors has a 30-year legacy. Does it give you a sense of security?
I don’t know. I did one and then the director, he’s really good. Don Michael Paul. He’s a really good writer and director. He made it better than I think people realize. I bring a totally different energy to it, and Michael is just this rock, stalwart. Everybody knows his character and loves him, so it was a good mix, you know? Like fresh, and with the legacy of it and a director who knows how to put action in comedy … I tell you if the movie came out (in theaters) on the weekend it would make noise. I know it’s coming out on VOD and Netflix, but it could really make noise. It’s a good movie. I’m really excited for it. I feel fortunate to be part of it.
This is the second Tremors sequel you’ve starred in. I understand South Africa was shot to look like Canada for Cold Day.
Yeah, this one was shot in Cape Town to make it look like the great northern … parts of the Canadian mountains. They made everything look very much like Canada. We had a great cast, a great crew. It’s almost like a family. We worked really hard and we worked more often. It was a contained set. It’s just so good. It moves well. I think it reinvigorates the franchise, and Universal was really high on it. They pushed the release date to May so people could really enjoy the summer fun.
It seemed like the director drew something out of you that was a little bit different than other things I’ve seen you in.
You’ve got three types. You’ve got this director who loves action-comedy. He moves it along. Don loves Die Hard, Predator. He was raised on those types of movies, so those are some of my favorite movies, you know? And then you’ve got Michael, who is very serious, and is very focused and committed to the story, the legacy, to the actor, to the script. And then you’ve got me, who kind of comes in and kind of plays things loosey-goosey. That’s how I am and I want to try things. Those things cause a lot of creative greatness and they cause a lot of friction within the movie, which is good. The three energies go off each other nice.
You’re also in director James Gray’s sci-fi film Ad Astra, which is in post-production. What was that filming experience like?
Yeah, that was incredible. I think that comes out Christmas. That was quite an experience, so I’m excited to see what that’s going to be.
Brad Pitt stars in that. Who else is in the film?
Loren Dean, Ruth Negga , Donald Sutherland, Tommy Lee Jones. It’s a great cast.
What was the filming experience like? I saw Gray’s The Immigrant, and it was a pretty immersive period piece. Now you’re in space.
I can’t really talk too much about it until the movie comes out. That’s an intense movie, though. All I can tell you is it was an amazing experience.
Can you tell me who you play and about your character’s significance?
Yeah, I can tell you a little about that. My character is a sergeant, and the movie is basically Brad is in outer space, and he goes to different places. One of the places he goes to is Mars, and I’m one of the people he discovers on Mars. That’s all I can say. I can’t really talk about it, bro. We had to sign all this stuff.
Lionsgate is set to release Spinning Man in April. You play Ross, the ethics professor.
Yeah, I can talk about that one. It’s a murder mystery with Pierce Brosnan, Guy Pearce and Minnie Driver, Odeya Rush. There is a death of a student, and a guy was having an affair with her. Or not. Then she dies, and it’s a murder mystery to find out what happened, who done it. It’s kind of relevant to today, obviously what’s going on in the world. Spin, fake news, what’s the truth, what isn’t.
Have you had a favorite recent acting experience? It must have been fun to play (N.W.A. manager) Jerry Heller in Surviving Compton.
That was a good one because I got to play a good character. He was older, it was a different look, I got to wear prosthetics. That was a good one. Ad Astra was a good one because I got to do what I wanted.
Do you get home to Philadelphia very much?
All the time. I was just there last week.
Did you watch the Super Bowl there?
I wanted to but I was in LA. That was beautiful. It’s so good for the city. They needed that.
Do you perform there? What are your audiences like?
Philly crowds are rougher than a lot of crowds. They pretty much don’t take any slack. They want you to be funny, but it’s good. They’ve got some great comedy clubs there. I’ve played different colleges and theaters there. It’s good. People come out and see me who know me. It’s hard because people know me though.
Have hecklers gotten worse in the past couple of years due to being empowered by social media?
In the last couple of years? Oh, it’s the worst. People are so angry. I don’t know what it is. Here’s my theory: They say that the Grammys were down 23 percent in viewership. Twenty-three percent. That’s crazy. And yet it was up 100 percent in creativity. They did so many creative performances, so many talented people, diverse. And I thought, why is that? And I think it’s basically entertainment used to dictate itself to you, right? You turn on the TV, you don’t know how they got there, but people are on it. You went to the movie theater and you saw those people, boom. Now entertainment is slowly drifting away to Snapchat, Instagram. Now it’s like, “I’m Audrey Hepburn. I’m Audrey Hepburn, goddammit!” There used to be a reverence for entertainers and now there’s … there’s still a lot of reverence, but now there’s a lot of combativeness with people who are like, “Why him?” Social media obviously is relevant, but there’s people who have numbers (of followers) and they don’t do anything, and there’s other people who use it and have numbers and are really talented. But yeah, the ability to do it yourself has disrupted entertainment.
They kind of look at themselves as your competition.
Yes! Yes! That’s weird! You’re right!
It’s happening in journalism, too. It’s just putting somebody down to elevate yourself. That’s kind of different than heckling, or even trolling from a few years ago.
Yes! Why is it like that? The competition. You’re right, that’s exactly what it is.
I just can’t see where this thing is going, where people pay money to see performers they have contempt for.
Patton Oswalt has a great line in (Kennedy’s 2007 documentary) Hecklers: People paid to see Marlon Brando act or Gayle Sayers run. Now people are just like, “Screw them. I can do that.” … People should feel empowered and inspired, but they shouldn’t survive in spite of you. If Tiger Woods inspires you to go hit a golf ball, go for it, but don’t be mad when he hits a perfect golf shot and you can’t. Don’t take Tiger out. That’s his gift.
I read part of your book Wannabe: My Hollywood Experiment, and the passage in which your mom kind of tricked you into wearing “the same perfume Bruce Jenner wore.” (Kennedy’s mother gave her son women’s perfume as a gift and told him it was cologne. When Kennedy got wise she told him Bruce Jenner, still an icon of masculinity several years after winning the 1976 Olympic decathalon, wore it too.)
Yeah. … Holy shit! That makes so much … holy shit!
I’m I the first person pointing this out to you?
Yes! Oh my God. My mom, we were ahead of the curve!
Yep, your mom knew. She was prescient. She was trying to tell you the future.
My mom was funny. She’s still funny. She’s a prankster. She had masks and always did jokes. She has a good sense of humor. … Dude, that so funny. That’s hilarious.
Work it into your act, man. You have to.
Wow. My mom always knew.