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Interview With Mo Mandel

Mo Mandel started his comedy career in San Francisco, before going on to fame and fortune in Hollywood. Mo starred in Comedy Central’s Reality Bites Back, and had his own highly-rated Comedy Central special. He has appeared on Modern Family, Conan, and Craig Ferguson, he’s a regular guest on Chelsea Lately, and starred in the recently-cancelled NBC sitcom Free Agents. Next month, his first CD, The M Word, will be released on Comedy Central Records. San Francisco based comedian Sean Keane (Iron Comic, Bridgetown Comedy Festival, SF Sketchfest) was kind of enough to interview Mo for the Rooftop Blog.

Sean Keane:  First of all, congratulations on Free Agents. Were you a fan of the British show before you started doing this one?

Mo Mandel: I actually never saw it, because I don’t live in England, and I get American television. They gave it to us before we shot the pilot, but I didn’t want it to affect how I viewed the show and how I approached my character. But since then I’ve seen it and I think it’s really good.

SK: Do you watch the show when it’s on?

MM: Definitely. I’m a huge narcissist. I Tivo it, and it plays on a constant loop. Also, my roommate is an actor, and I’m a comedian, so I like to have it on in the apartment to make him feel horrible about himself.

SK: Is it exciting to work with Hank Azaria, and is it difficult to not just ask him questions about The Simpsons all the time?

MM: It’s very hard not to talk about The Simpsons, and I’ve had to accept the fact that I’m just going to do that. I’ve actually got him to record different Simpsons voices as my voice message machine. Currently I have Comic Book Guy telling people that my real name is Mohahn and then saying “Worst name ever.”

You should probably ask Hank Azaria if it’s difficult working with an aggressive burly Jew who is obsessed with The Simpsons. For me, it’s really not that hard, because I figure I’m an obnoxious guy, so I’m going to do it, but it probably annoys the hell out of him.

SK: You’re also working with Al Madrigal. Did you know him at all from your San Francisco comedy days?

MM: When I started comedy in SF, Al Madrigal was a name thrown around by SF comics as an example of how you could come out of San Francisco and really make it in Hollywood. Because of where he was at when I moved down here, I hadn’t had a chance to perform with him much. So this has been a real treat to work with him, he’s such a funny guy, and the same thing is true for Natasha Leggero.

SK: What you and Al seem to have in common is a really strong work ethic. You write a lot, you produce a lot of stuff. Was that something you’ve always had, or did you develop that after you got into comedy?

MM: I had a terrible work ethic in many other aspects of my life. Every job I’ve ever had I’ve been a complete slacker at. Because I love what I get to do now – writing, acting, and standup – other people have hobbies, my hobbies happen to also be my job. I love doing it more than any other stuff. But I was probably the worst person to work at Peet’s Coffee in the history of San Francisco.

SK: That was your job when you got into stand-up?

MM: I used to work the 5:15 AM to 1 PM shift every day, six days a week, and then do open mics every night. I didn’t have a car, so I had to bus around, it was a nightmare. I remember one day when I was feeling really low, just bombing at the open mics, and then I had to walk to work at five in the morning. It had rained the night before, and I didn’t realize I had holes in the bottom of my shoes. I was like a Dickens character. I got to work and realized my socks and shoes were soaking wet, and I didn’t have time to go home and change. So I took off my shoes and socks, put plastic bags around my feet, and then stuck my feet back into my wet shoes, and worked a seven-and-a-half-hour shift, serving lattes to yuppies. I remember thinking, if I don’t make it in comedy, I’m gonna blow my fucking head off.

SK: When did you decide to make the move to Los Angeles?

MM: It was when I won “Open Mic Fight” for Comedy Central. I was bartending on a Saturday, working a brunch shift, and I got a call from Comedy Central at 10 AM. I told my boss I had to go to the bathroom, checked my voice mail in the bathroom, and a woman told me I’d won, which meant $10,000. And then I had to go back downstairs and make Bloody Marys for the next six hours, while thinking, I’m getting the fuck out of here as soon as possible. I moved three weeks later.

SK: Was Reality Bites Back part of the Open Mic Fight prize?

MM: That was completely different. The price for Open Mic Fight was you got to be on Live At Gotham and you won some money. But through that I got to do the Miami Comedy Festival, where Comedy Central executives got to see me do more stand-up, and when they were casting the show, my name came up. And now we’re going into SEASON NINE on Reality Bites Back!

SK: The residuals just keep pouring in.

MM: As I look around my giant mansion, it’s ALL Reality Bites Back money. It’s me and Theo Von, living together in a huge, huge mansion in the hills.

SK: That’s the American dream.

MM: Let me tell you one story about that show. This is when I really got the sense that you have to be on TV a lot for anyone to know who the hell you are. One time after we’d shot Reality Bites Back – and it was currently airing – I was hanging out at a bar with Theo Von and a friend of his who had won Big Brother the year before. A guy comes up to us and says, I’m a big fan of seeing you guys on TV, I love your work, you guys are awesome. Then he walked off, without saying anything to me. I turned to the other guys and said, I guess we know no one is watching me on TV. And then the guy immediately popped back in, as if he were in a multi-cam sitcom, and said to me, “Listen, I just realized I didn’t even acknowledge you. Just because you’re not on TV doesn’t mean you’re not a human being. That was really rude of me.” And then he left. It was fucking ridiculous. It was as if someone had written the scene in order to crush my ego at a bar.

SK: When did you begin to focus on acting as well as stand-up? Do you think it helped that you were filming sketches and man-on-the-street pieces before things started really happening?

MM: It’s funny because, you do these little videos, and you think they never matter. I remember, I shot this little piece when the iPhone came out. Not a lot of people saw it, but I always thought it was kind of funny. And then after Reality Bites Back, I booked a co-hosting gig on a VH-1 game show pilot that never went to air, but we shot it. The producer told me that one of the reasons he booked me was that he’d looked me up on YouTube, he’d seen that video I’d made, and he decided, OK, this guy’s fast on his feet. So you never fucking know. You’ve got this resume online, and it really doesn’t matter how many people have seen it, as long as the right people are looking at you. If you think you have talent, you should find a way to showcase that, because it’s the only thing under your control. Who watches it is not in your control.

SK: Speaking of showcasing yourself, how much do you focus on Twitter? (Twitter: @momandel)

MM: Somewhat? I definitely enjoy doing it. I don’t know if you know this. I was just picked as one of the Top Ten Sexiest Men of the new fall television lineup by Cosmo.

SK: Congratulations.

MM: They wrote, “According to the pilot, Mo’s as funny on the show as he is on Twitter.” I don’t have a lot of Twitter followers, so obviously someone looked me up on Twitter. The fact that I’m one of the sexiest men on TV should tell all the women in the world that these magazines are absolutely ridiculous and you should not take your information from that.

SK: You ARE very strong.

MM: I don’t know. I think when you make one of these lists you have to have a Jew on it.

SK: If nothing else, you are the sexiest new Jew on television.

MM: Even that seems like a stretch. But I’ll take it.

SK: What’s your favorite thing that you’ve written that’s never been produced?

MM: I wrote a pilot for NBC last year about two guys working in a think tank trying to come up with ways to stop a giant meteor from destroying the Earth in five years. There was no solution, so everyone in the think tank basically fucked around and got into mischief every week. I thought it was a real interesting funny idea. It got a lot of buzz from executives, but ultimately wasn’t enough to get made. But the response I got from people who read the pilot has been very very good. It may have been a good thing that they passed, since getting to know NBC executives probably got me Free Agents, so you never know what’s going to lead to what.

SK: You do Chelsea Lately a lot. Have you noticed a boost from those appearances?

MM: Absolutely. You can tell because a lot more women will come to the shows, and a lot more hot chicks. Especially if they plug the date on an episode of Chelsea, it’s quite a boost – in fact, way more than anything else. It’s not so much how many people watch the show as it is how many people love the show. And people who watch Chelsea Lately fucking love it, so they really embrace people who are on there.

SK: Add that to the Cosmo thing, your audiences are really going to change. What can fans expect from The M Word, your new album that comes out November 8th?

MM: They can expect a very uncensored, hopefully very funny high-energy comedy album, that is completely offensive – and also hilarious – to all. I recorded it at my favorite club, Comedy Works in Denver. I’m really proud of it, it’s an honor to have an album out on Comedy Central Records, and I think the cover’s pretty dope. Anyone who is doubting the top sexiest thing, they can look at the cover and shut the fuck up, because it speaks for itself.

Follow Mo on Twitter.

Follow Sean Keane on Twitter.