Bill Kirchenbauer is a legend on the stand-up circuit. Starting in the 70’s, Bill has played to packed houses around the country. On television, he has performed his routines on the Tonight Show 18 times, on Late Night with David Letterman 9 times and has done countless HBO, Showtime and A&E specials. He has appeared on over 60 network sitcoms; Bill’s IMDB page reads like a Who’s Who of classic shows including, Fernwood Tonight (where he starred as his famous alter-ego, lounge singer Tony Rolletti), Mork and Mindy, Night Court, Growing Pains, and its spinoff, the Emmy award-winning Just The Ten of Us.
I was first introduced to Bill’s brand of stand-up comedy when I caught him on a Gallagher special. After one or two times watching watermelons explode, I moved on from Gallagher, but stuck with Bill; couldn’t get enough of him. Bill’s quick wit makes him a master of prop comedy, and his stand-up routines will have you rolling on the floor in fits of laughter. He’s the rare comedian who’s equally successful in many mediums, whether it’s film, television, or live on stage. Bill was kind enough to put up with my bullshit and sit for one of my ridiculous interviews. Thanks, Bill!
1. You’ve been doing stand-up a long time. How did you get your start? What was the atmosphere like for burgeoning comedians back then, as compared to now?
I started out as a kid doing puppets, graduated to ventriloquism then to impressions, then acting in community theatre, then mime, and then improv in LA. About 1973, I started going to the Comedy Store. After about 5 years of stand-up, I started doing TV and Film.
2. Johnny Carson was notorious for giving comedians one shot on the Tonight Show. If they didn’t cut it, they weren’t invite back. He brought you back 18 times. What was your relationship with Carson like?
Pretty non-existent; I talked to him in his makeup room once for a few minutes. No one got close to Johnny.
3. One of the strangest spin-offs in the history of television has to be Fernwood Tonight, where you played the recurring character, lounge singer Tony Rolletti. Andy Kaufman, Bill Murray, Richard Cheese have all done their take on lounge singers, but you were the first. How did you come up with Tony? Did you ever get whiplash from the amount of head-bobbing you did?
Yes, I was the first. I had heard they were looking for small-town characters so I made a video tape of several different ones. At the time, I sold Video equipment, so I had the equipment. Alan Thicke was the producer that hired me. There was no whiplash!
4. A lot of people don’t realize that your character of Coach Lubbock, from your hit show “The Ten of Us” was actually spun off from Growing Pains. How did that spin off come about?
They (the producers) called me up at home one day and asked me if I wanted my own show.
5. Tell us about the Legends of Comedy showcase that you run.
It’s a comedian Look-a-like production show, the only one of it’s kind in the world. [You can have Bill bring the show to your event by heading to legendsofcomedy.com]
6. What does TARDIS stand for?
I have no idea.
7. What do I have to do to get you to come to the Punch Line in Atlanta? I will literally beg, borrow or steal (I’m doing a lot of that anyway).
Have you and your friends call the club. I worked there a few times years ago. Typically, they want young comedians, who are also cheaper, too.
8. You recently took a trip to Bangkok. Do your shows get translated there? Run into any Thai fans? And how were those bugs you ate?
I live there part time. They do not show my show in Thailand, so no fans. The bugs were tasty, especially the grasshoppers.
9. Any advice for comedian wanna-be’s? What are your biggest keys to success?
WOW. Just get out there and do it. Write jokes. Don’t say LIKE all the fucking time, the way Amy Schumer does! There is no easy way (into the business). Try to think about more than just the local area where you live to get material from; imagine that you’ve been hired to perform on a cruise ship where there are people from all over the country watching. Find you OWN voice.
10. I’m all out of questions; give us your best plug.
I am producing a documentary called Taking Al Back Home. You can help take part in funding the film and make possible a son’s last journey with his father as I take the ashes of my deceased father, Alfred, on a road trip back home to Hesperia, Michigan to scatter them on the White River, as my Dad requested.