Jumping Off Cliffs and Building Wings With Jay Mohr

When you look at the nearly three-decade-long career of Jay Mohr, there's a word that comes to mind: entertainer. Comedian, author, actor, sports talk radio host, podcaster – Mohr has constantly reinvented the metaphorical wheel over the course of his award-winning career. He's literally been in the public eye since his first standup performance at the age of 16.

“Lets just jump off a cliff together and build our wings on the way down!”
That quote above? It's taken directly from his standup act. It is how he makes his connection with his audience and explains the journey they're about to go on. The master of all media, who can be heard here locally from 10 p.m. to midnight on KTKR Ticket 760AM, recently spoke to me from his home in California in advance of his standup performance at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre on April 16.

I wanted to kick things off by going back to the beginning, if you will. When did you know you were “funny?”

Well, I was never the “class clown,” that's always a question I'm asked. So, kudos for asking that in a different way.

[Laughing] No problem. That's just something I'm always curious about with comedians. That knowledge that “I'm actually a funny person.”

I went on stage for the first time when I was 16. It was noon, it was in a basement of a comedy club, and it was in front of other teenage comedians and they asked me if I wanted to go to another open mic night at another club. I sort of found this kind of “tribe,” and I thought to myself, well, I guess I'm kind of funny 'cuz these guys wanna hang out with me. And, they drive. [laughing] I think it was just being accepted into this brotherhood of comedy, where I thought “Yeah, I am funny. These guys think I'm funny, so I gotta be pretty funny.” Now, when I was certain I was funny was different.

When was that? When were you “certain” you were funny?

It was the Martin Short show. He had this character, Jiminy Glick. It was Martin Short with Michael McKean and his manager was the legendary Bernie Brillstein. I was going out to talk to Jiminy Glick, and as I walked out and sat down, I realized that there was no pre-interview. Nobody had prepared me or told me what to expect. And during the interview, I realized they trusted me. They think I'm all set with this and that was a huge moment of “Wow!” Martin Short, Bernie Brillstein and Michael McKean all thought, “Yeah, he'll be fine. He'll be great.” For me, that was the hugest moment.

That's awesome. When was this?

Umm … somewhere after Saturday Night Live and before Suicide Kings. Somewhere in the middle of my career.

So, did you not feel like you had “made it” up until that point? I mean, you had been on Saturday Night Live and you'd been on TV shows and in movies. Did it take that appearance to make you feel like a success?

Well, you always feel like you made it at each step. And each break is the biggest break. But yeah, after Saturday Night Live, I thought I'd made it. But then you compare that to Jerry Maguire or Gary Unmarried, or even getting married and having children. What's “made it?”

That's what's great about comedy. Each step, you see the next step and that's another way of making it. I'm doing radio right now. I never thought I'd be doing radio. I have 150 affiliates. That never crossed my mind 10 years ago. Or, I have written two books. It never crossed my mind I'd do that. This right here, where I'm at now, is great. I get to go to San Antonio again and talk to 1,000 people again. I get to do a meet and greet again. I get to stroll down the River Walk with my earbuds in again. This is life, it's heaven on Earth. This is making it.

So, when did you realize that you could make a career out of this, not necessarily as a standup comedian, but as an entertainer?

I was opening for a guy that was a guitar act and he was terrible and mean. He would yell at the audience. He would have freak outs and meltdowns. But he got paid. He would get $200 in cash and that was 1988. I thought to myself, “Wow, that's five nights a week, that's a $1,000.” I thought I could totally do that. Opening for that guy and seeing how he acted and how much he got paid was the perfect picture of money and how not to act. That was two years in and I realized there was a living to be made here.

At this point in your career, you've been involved with a lot of successful projects. When people come up to you now, what are you recognized from most often?

Let me tell you, Eric, it's really strange. The pie chart for Mohr has more slices in it than anybody else. The show Ghost Whisperer, suddenly there's a 40-year-old female demographic that never knew I was alive. The podcast opened up a Pandora's box of people and now there's the radio show. So, now when people see me, it's just “I know this guy. I like this guy.” Before it was like “Jerry Maguire!” or “Where do I know you from?” and I would have to guess. And I'd look and go OK, well you've got a nose ring and smell like weed. The movie Go maybe? I'd have to do this cataloging when I'd meet someone, but know it's “Hey, Jay!” It's really neat.

That's funny that you mention Go. That's one of my favorite movies you were in. It kind of encapsulates everything that the ’90s were all about.

It's a great movie. It's under a lot of people's radars in terms of movies that are really good, the way it tied the four simultaneous story lines together. When we were making it, it was so low-budget we didn't have [filming] permits or anything. That scene where Scott Wolf and I are at the liquor store and we find out we're cheating with the same person. We had no business being inside a liquor store filming a movie [laughing] and we had to do the scene super quick before the cops came by.

We kept getting notes from [director] Doug Liman and they didn't really make any sense. It was like, “Make believe you're a gorilla and you're a tiger, but you don't know he's a gorilla.” It was that nutty, but Scott Wolf kept asking questions. Finally, I pulled him aside and, this is a New Jersey thing, he's from West Orange and I'm from Verona, and I whisper to him if you ask him another question I'm going to head-butt you. Just tell him you got it and do the scene like we've been doing. So he does and Doug goes, “See, now you get it!” We were done and as we were walking up the cops pull up. [Laughing] We were walking out with giant stands and giant silk screens and the cops go “What are you guys doing in there?” and we were just “Oh, just shopping for booze.”

Changing the topic a bit, I remember in another interview that your wife, Nikki Cox, wrote your comedy special. What was the dynamic like?

My wife wrote Happy. And A Lot word for word. I had to learn it like a play and perform it the correct way. If any word was out of order, it didn't work … I remember I was doing it for about a year trying to get the timing down to 55 minutes. I would come home and my wife would say, “Tell me the run-on sentence in the Liberace Museum.” I would say, “And I open the door, and the air conditioning is set on 66 degrees and he's already the greatest musician of all time...” and she would go “No, entertainer. It has to be 'greatest entertainer of all time.'” So I'm like, OK crazy. She was right, though. It ended up being a whole different sentence, a whole different rhythm, a whole different meaning. I hope she and I can work more together. I'd love to act together one day.

Let's talk about sports a bit. You were a wrestler in high school, right?

I was the 135-pound District VIII champion in Verona, New Jersey.

Nice! Were sports always a big part of your life?

Always. When I was 12 years old, the kid down the street from me, he and I would crack open the box scores. In hindsight, we were doing SportsCenter in 1983 or 1984. We would literally open up the newspaper and just talk. We would watch baseball games with the sound off and do our own play-by-play and that's not normal. It served me well in the long run. So, yes, Wiffle ball every day in the driveway after school — you never wanted to get detention, ‘cause that meant you had to watch the guys play ball instead of being out there with them.

I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you about San Antonio. What does it mean for you to come back here again?

I'll tell you this about San Antonio. My Grandfather lived in Del Rio, Texas the last 10 years of his life in a motor home and I always would fly into San Antonio and then drive the 3 hours south to visit him. San Antonio is nostalgia for me. He was my hero, so I don't take it lightly to come there.

Last thing for you, Jay. I'm curious since you have a national sports platform, what are your thoughts on our five-time NBA champion Spurs? And, on that same note, what do your callers think about them?

Death, taxes, Spur win. What's amazing is that nobody thinks about San Antonio until playoff time and they give you fits. On my show, I beat the Spurs' drum. The fact that Popovich just rests guys, naw, don't even get on the plane, we're good. And that's a night that LaMarcus Aldridge gets 40. Ginobili, Duncan, Parker, you don't even play, we're good. Kawhi Leonard, Defensive Player of the Year.

They're just amazing. They're undefeated at home and nobody's talking about them. Here is what I said today on my radio show. The Golden State Warriors are on pace to beat the Bulls record 72-win season. Two weeks before that, they were only 2 1/2 games up. This is a record breaking season and the Spurs are right in their face. They have to play them twice at the back end of the schedule … Yikes! Don't think Popovich is gonna rest guys then. If he can kibosh a record, I think he's going for that.

Jay Mohr will be appearing at the Charline McCombs Empire Theatre on Saturday, April 16 at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets, the theatre box office or at majesticempire.com and are priced at $39.50.
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