Kevin Pollak (b. 1957) has been a valued Hollywood character actor for so long that I managed to forget something I knew well 30 years ago — that he’s a hilarious stand-up comedian and old school celebrity impressionist.
It had completely gone out of my head until I was searching old variety and talk show clips (for an upcoming book) and stumbled on once-familiar TV spots with him doing his impersonations. He has an amazing repertoire. The most hysterical one is probably Peter Falk, because he is able to go cock-eyed when he does it (Falk had a glass eye). I also think his William Shatner was probably the interpretation that became the conventional one among actors, comedians and amateurs (much as back in the day there became “standard” impressions of Ed Sullivan, Cary Grant, James Cagney and the like). His Robin Williams is also impressive, because rare (Martin Short is the only other person I can think of who nails him). It’s a quirky little gallery he does, and many of them are people only HE does. He also does Albert Brooks, Alan Arkin, Dudley Moore, Paul Reiser, Woody Allen, Christopher Walken, and a bunch of others.
This WON’T be news to many of you, as he has done televised stand-up comedy shows and his own radio shows and podcasts right along, it’s just that I never caught any of that. I associate him more with movies like Avalon (1990), L.A. Story (1991), A Few Good Men (1992), Grumpy Old Men (1993), The Usual Suspects (1995), Casino (1995), That Thing You Do (1998), etc all the way up to The Marvelous Mrs Maisel.
Polak grew up in San Francisco and San Jose, and began performing in Frisco clubs as a teenager. His first break was a role on the sitcom National Lampoon’s Hot Flashes (1984), followed by another short-lived sitcom Coming of Age (1988-89) with Paul Dooley, Alan Young, Phyllis Newman, and Glynis Johns. Ron Howard’s Willow (1988) was his first movie. Another fun fact: he was married to the fetching Lucy Webb of Not Necessarily the News from 1995 to 2005.
For more on show business history, including TV variety, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous