Steve Skrovan: stand-up comic; talk show host on MTV; game show host of “That’s My Dog”; writer on “Seinfeld” and “Everybody Loves Raymond”; writer, producer and director of “An Unreasonable Man,” a documentary about Ralph Nader; and a dedicated supporter of Public Citizen, a nonprofit organization, which advocates on behalf of Americans citizens before Congress, the executive branch and in the court of law—whether it be in regard to freedom of information, curbing the construction of a coke-fired power plant, accountability for corporations and the FDA, or child safety seats.
H-P: We know there’s a lot of substance to get to, but let’s start with some fluff. Is it true you played varsity football at Yale?
SK: Yes, in the late seventies. I was about twenty pounds lighter, always wearing a helmet, and had both of my natural hips. One of them is titanium now. I was a defensive back and punt returner. I got to stand about twelve yards off the line of scrimmage, watch other guys make the tackle, run up to the pile, pat everyone on the butt and say, “Good hit.” That was me, number 35, pre-high five era. It was the “Butt-Pat Era.” I believe I’m using the word “era” too much. I’ll stop now.
H-P: We’ve been doing some research and you’ve had quite a varied career. Any favorites? Was there a particular career that took you by surprise? That was better or worse, more fulfilling or more difficult than you expected?
SK: I like to say my career has been “eclectic.” Others might us the term “checkered.” The documentary director thing took me by surprise. I did this film about Ralph Nader entitled “An Unreasonable Man.” That started as a sitcom idea and morphed into a documentary, which if it didn’t change my life, it at the least changed my outlook on how the world works and got me involved in all of this Public Citizen business.
H-P: Did you graduate from Yale and step right into stand-up comedy?
SK: I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that I didn’t want to go to graduate school and I didn’t want to work for a living. I went home and sat around the house for a while. Looking back, I could see how that might have freaked out my parents. They spend all this money on an Ivy League education, and I’m down in the basement listening to Stevie Wonder.
A comedy club opened up in Cleveland (my hometown) and I started going down there as a customer. On Sundays, they’d have amateur night. I did it once and was terrible. But I was hooked. Six months later, I moved to NYC to pursue a career as a stand-up comedian at what turned out to be the embryonic stage of what became known as the Stand-up Comedy Boom of the eighties. (Notice I didn’t say “era” this time. Wait…damn.)
H-P: Were you involved with theater or comedy while attending Yale?
SK: I actually took a couple of theater classes at Yale my junior and senior year. I ended up in a play with Bronson Pinchot and David Hyde Pierce. It was Bernard Shaw’s “St. Joan.” Bronson and Pierce had lead roles. I played a couple of soldiers in the background, as a football player should. It was funny because on the football team, I was small. In the theater classes, I was considered huge. I also met my wife, Shelley, in those classes, so it was a good move.
H-P: Were you the kid in the neighborhood or classroom who was always funny?
SK: I guess so, but I wasn’t so much a class clown as I was a “wise ass.” My preparation for stand-up was watching my dad emcee church functions and our local town festival. I’d help by going through joke books with him, like “2001 Insults for All Occasions.” I was also a lector at Mass, although I knew enough to play that straight, especially the stations of the cross.
H-P: From game show host to directing the TV special “Earth to America” and the Ralph Nader documentary. Were you always environmentally and politically aware, or did this evolve over the years?
SK: I always tried to stay informed, but it wasn’t until I studied Nader that my views got a little more sophisticated. Doing that doc and interviewing all of those people was like my own graduate course in political science. A very expensive one. So see, I ended up going to graduate school after all.
Shelley is the real environmentalist in the family. Everything I know about that comes from her. We’ve got compost bins out the whazoo. And if you’ve ever had a compost bin out your whazoo, you know how much work it is to maintain.
H-P: Was there or is there a game plan, an ultimate goal to your career? Was there a path you took that you never imagined you would?
SK: My career has been a complete improvisation. Not goal oriented at all. At least, no long term goals. I actually spoke about this to the graduating class at my old high school a few years ago. I told them, just do what excites you, what makes your heart beat faster, and eventually it will lead you to where you are supposed to be. Not sure how the parents took that. Fortunately, I had parents who took that very well.
H-P: How did you get involved with Public Citizen and the upcoming “Stand Up for Main Street”? What about it attracted you, and what is your role?
SK: Public Citizen was founded by Ralph Nader a little over forty years ago, although he has had no formal association with it for the past thirty years. For the doc, I ended up interviewing Joan Claybrook and Sid Wolfe, co-founders with Ralph. Joan was president at the time and Sid still runs the Health Research program. I also interviewed Rob Weissman, who was not with Public Citizen at the time, but is now president. A while later they asked me to be on the board.
I’d never been on a board before, and it took me a few years to figure out that the best thing I could do to suppprt the very important work they do is to raise money and to increase our profile out here on the West Coast. So, I fell back on what I know: stand-up comedy. (See how it all fits together without a plan?) We did “Stand-up for Main Street” for the first time last June and, with the help of some old friends, booked a show that blew the roof off the theater. It went so well, we’re doing it again this April 29th.
Ray Romano, Marc Maron, Dana Gould, Wendy Liebman, Rick Overton, Erik Rivera, and Morgan Murphy are in the line-up this time around.
H-P: Are you a Pasadena resident?
SK: I live in La Crescenta. Only because I’m drawn to fires and mudslides.
H-P: What about Pasadena intrigues or draws you?
SK: A lot of my best friends are in Pasadena. I hope to be able to afford to live there one day. Our kids went to school in Pasadena. I like that Pasadena has heritage. Old trees. Good restaurants. Plenty of free parking…wait a minute, maybe not free parking.
H-P: Are there particular spots to which you like to go, things you like to do?
SK: Anywhere there is free parking.
Shelley and I love the Laemmle theater. We also take classes at Yoga House, although in every yoga class I feel like a piece of broken lawn furniture. You know, that chaise lounge with the bent leg that just won’t straighten out? That’s me in yoga class.
Public Citizen’s “Stand Up for Main Street”
Sunday, April 29th, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
The Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Dr., Beverly Hills
Tickets: $100 per person
For more info, to sponsor, or to purchase tickets, visit citizen.org
Editor’s Note: Steve Skrovan is a co-chair of this event.