Sitting in the row behind Don Rickles more than a decade ago while on a flight to Chicago, Jimmy Pardo tried hard not to be the guy who pesters the celebrity. But the urge to tap the comedy legend on the shoulder and say something burned inside him.
“Quite frankly, it ruined my flight,” Pardo said in a recent interview with Oklahoma Gazette. “All I thought about the entire time was, ‘I have to say hello to Don Rickles.’”
Pardo, known nationally for a lengthy tenure opening for Conan O’Brien on his nightly talk show and his long-lived Never Not Funny podcast, performs his standup comedy 8 p.m. April 27 at ACM@UCO Performance Lab, 329 E. Sheridan Ave.
Though Pardo found the composure to keep to himself, that did nothing to stop seemingly everyone else on the flight from approaching the boisterous (but warm) insult comic. It’s ironic that Pardo — who is compared to Rickles by many because of his improvised, crowd-working performance style — would be the one on the plane with the most respect for the funnyman’s privacy.
As fate would have it, Pardo eventually got his moment. Rickles exited the plane but waited outside alone while his associate was gathering their bags.
Pardo took the chance to quickly approach him, telling Rickles he was also a comedian and took a lot of influence from his act. Rickles thanked him for the kind words and wished him luck on the rest of his career. The exchange was over in less than 30 seconds.
“It was enough,” Pardo said. “It was exactly what it should have been. It was him saying hello and not getting into the nuts and bolts of comedy. It was perfect.”
His initial encounter with the crowd-working forerunner has taken on even more significance to Pardo since Rickles’ April 6 death.
Rickles often said he fell into an interactive comedic style early in his career while responding to hecklers. Similarly, Pardo said he got into crowd work early on because he always felt most comfortable while speaking with other people. His friends often told him he was funnier offstage than he was on. He began to rely more on his natural people skills to get laughs.
“You know it’s a really great crowd when I don’t hardly do any of my act,” he said. “The stiffer the crowd, the more of my prepared material you’re going to get.”
Pardo said crowd work is sometimes seen as a comedic crutch — something to rely upon if your regular material is failing. This is an error young comedians often make. The ability to get laughs while interacting with a crowd is distinct from prepared joke writing and delivery.
For some, like Pardo, it comes natural. For others, he said it can seem forced. Many comics confuse crowd work for insult comedy. Pardo does not describe himself as an insult comic. He said he uses comments from the audience to make a joke and relate with his own story.
“When I’m on stage, it’s like I turn into a different person where my brain literally rifles into my head everything I should be saying at the time,” he said. “A guys says something in the audience and — boom — my brain reacts faster than it does even in everyday life.”
Still, Pardo might be most on his game in the role of host. The Never Not Funny podcast, which began in 2006, is seen by many as a pioneering program that helped bring in the podcast revolution. Pardo was far from the first person to start a podcast, but he was among the first comedians with a name to get behind the medium.
“When we started, literally nobody knew what a podcast was,” he said.
Pardo said some of this favorite shows outside his own include The Phil Hendrie Show, Serial, S-Town, Comedy Bang! Bang! and Pat Francis’ Rock Solid. The comedian said he especially enjoys podcast hosts who have a strong and distinct point of view, though he admits his own show is much more loose.
Pardo is happy to see the medium getting some attention.
“It changed my life,” he said. “I’m lucky I got in early and was able to build an audience.”
8 p.m. April 27
ACM@UCO Performance Lab
329 E. Sheridan Ave.
Print headline: Crowd favorite, Jimmy Pardo talks comedy and podcasts ahead of an April 27 gig in OKC.