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Interrogation: Neal Pollack

AlternadadIt seems as if Neal Pollack has turned a corner. Gone is his satirical larger-than-life, punk-rock-journalist persona of "Neal Pollack"; in its place an actual, non-quotation-marked Neal Pollack taking on a task that's even too punk rock for "America's Greatest Living Writer": Parenthood.

In his latest book Alternadad, he details the raising of his son Elijah, subsequently transforming Pollack from ordinary slacker dude to highly-sophisticated patriarch. Neal was good enough to field our questions over electrophonic-mail.

There's an inherent stand-up quality that you bring to your readings. Do you have any specific stand-ups or humorists that have influenced you throughout the years? Any current favorites?
I never really thought of myself as a standup comic. If anything, I'm an improvizer. I studied under Del Close when I lived in Chicago. Though I was at the very very bottom of a deep barrel of talent headed by the original Upright Citizens' Brigade, I still learned a lot. Improv encouraged me to display a sense of fearlessness in public. As for comedic influences, I owe a lot to the Jews: Woody Allen, Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, and so on...that's who I listened to when I was a kid. Plus Steve Martin. The only comedian I consistently listen to now is Mitch Hedberg. Wish he hadn't died so young.

Much of the negative reaction to your older work came from the fact that people took you too seriously, thinking you were a young punk instead of realizing that you were portraying a satirical character. Did you ever get into fights because of the reaction? If so, did you stay in character? Also, how do people react when they realize you're not such a dick?
With every book, I change my public persona a bit, kind of like Madonna, but fat, ugly, and poor. Anyone who can't see through my sham acting job isn't paying attention. Honestly, I don't even know what it means to be in character, because, like everyone else, I can be a dick sometimes. So sometimes people meet me and are surprised I'm so nice, most of time people ignore me completely, and occasionally I'm a dick to someone who didn't expect me to be a dick. As for fights, I've only been in one since grade school. That happened about three years ago when a former friend overreacted to a piece of political satire I'd written. He talked a lot of shit to me, and then I lost my temper and hit him in the face with a beer bottle. It was almost definitely the wrong thing to do, but I still found it satisfying at the time.

Alternadad is the first time you've published an actual biographical account of your life. Is this a special case, or do you think the future of Pollack Literature will head in this direction? What style (actual biography, or satirical bio) comes easier to you?
I do have at least one more dad-related autobiography in me. I feel like I've got some more stories to tell. Also, my style has improved since Alternadad, and I want to try some new tricks. But in the future, I think I'll continue to experiment with different voices. As long as I get paid, why not? I'm not interested in stagnating. I've been writing noir-ish crime stories, and I'd like to publish a short-story collection in that vein, and then some noir-ish novels. Also, I will write some other shit. And then, in a few decades, I will die.

Mike Judge's Idiocracy starts off with a montage of intelligent couples spending too much time building careers to have kids, whereas drunk rednecks without a care in the world spend all of their time having sex, ending up with dozens and dozens of kids. As the movie shows, if that pattern holds, down the line the country will be left with nothing but idiots in the gene pool. I s it the duty of intelligent folks to suck it up, put their career goals on hold for awhile, and have a baby or two for the good of future society? Or is that worry unfounded?
I don't know, dude. What about if the whole world went infertile? And what if Clive Owen weren't around to save the pregnant immigrant? Or if everyone were killed on their 30th birthday? Or if there were Western-themed robots that looked like Yul Brynner? Soylent Green is people.

Are there any happy medium TV shows for you and your son yet? When does adult swim become a viable possibility?
I tried showing him Justice League cartoons, and he liked them, but when he started having nightmares of getting eaten by giant animals, I told him that Justice League had been "cancelled." But we can watch Spongebob together sometimes (though a little bit goes a long way), and I've been showing him these Max Fleischer Superman cartoons from the 1940s. We're getting there. I don't know that he'd get a lot of the jokes on Adult Swim.

How about a quick preview for the Dodgers this season?
Balanced pitching, lots of stolen bases, no power, 85-90 wins, quick first-round playoff exit.

What else is planned for Neal Pollack in this, the Year of Alternadad?
I wouldn't say that I have "plans." More like "vague dreams."

Angelinos: See Neal perform some literary comedy at the Borders Westwood on Saturday, February 24th at 7pm as part of Romie Angelich's monthly series "Published, Produced, Or On Their Way".

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