By Katharine Allen and Laura Derickson
The candid, charming, and outrageously funny Fred Stoller paid a visit to La Jolla as part of his tour for his new acclaimed novel Maybe We’ll Have You Back, in which he recounts his life as a “perennial T.V. guest star.” Stoller has been described as the hardest working man in Hollywood, with a resume boasting over 100 guest appearances. Even so, he has maintained his sense of humor, his aura of humility and his genuine likeability.
|Katherine and Laura with Fred Stoller at Warwick's|
One of the first things one notices about Stoller is perhaps his most endearing quality: his art of self-deprecation. When speaking about casting calls he described casting directors telling him "not so pathetic,” and then responded to them by saying, “I was being myself.” He never reached the stage of instant stardom over night. Stoller recalled experiences of being booed off the stage, yelled at by crowds, and getting booed at in parking lots. He bounced back by thinking of those crowds as “drunk idiots.” “It’s helped,” he said. When he felt rejection, he would call friends who would listen to him, sometimes all night. "You're a doomed Jew from Brooklyn," Larry David once told him, but he persevered, partially because he couldn’t come up with an alternative career.
Stoller opened up about his rise to fame, his mother, his one-night stand with Kathy Griffin, and his surprisingly modest lifestyle. “Everyone always says; ‘You must live over there,’ pointing at the Hollywood mansions and I say ‘no’ and point them in the right direction,” he told us.
We asked Stoller when he first realized he was funny, and he explained, “I just knew I was a misfit and wasn’t made for the real world, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But then I saw quirky character actors on T.V. and I thought: ‘Oh I could do that,’ but I didn’t know how to pursue it.” Stoller then began to experience stand up comedy first-hand when he started to visit a comedy club with his older sister, where he “just started hanging out watching comedians,” and his future was set in motion. But not everyone was pleased with his decision. One chapter of his book is entitled “You’re too Depressed to Be a Comedian,” because when Stoller explained to his mother than he was going to pursue a career in stand up comedy she replied; "You are so depressed, how are you going to make people laugh.” Little by little he began to put an act together, even though he was shy at first. Stoller then realized that “being nervous become my act. I had my head down and I wouldn’t look at the audience and I would just say crazy things that had really happened to me,” he said. Stoller can be seen on almost any popular T.V. series as the “awkward guy, weird guy, scared guy, nervous guy, or guy who trips.”
Of all of Stoller’s accomplishments, or credits, he has had many fabulous T.V. experiences, Seinfield standing out from the rest. He knew at the time that being part of such a show allowed him to be a part of T.V. history. “To be part of it in any facet is a thrill,” he commented. Stoller has not only acted for Seinfeld, but has also spent time as a writer for the show. He admitted, though, that guest starring is far less glamorous then being a full-time actor. He recalled that when working on a Friends episode, his “bathroom had been torn down to make a gym for the stars.” With respect to his book, Maybe We’ll Have You Back, Stoller said that “there’s actually more rejection in writing a book than stand up comedy because it’s your life.” Although he writes less than flattering stories about many famous people in the book, the only person he has heard from directly is his mother. She, he said, is “less than thrilled,” with his newest endeavor. Of course, this led to a careful conversation about his mother and his childhood. His mother is the subject of many portions of the book. She is described as “always scared” and “very negative.” Stoller openly admitted that she lacked much support for his dreams. Once when Stoller considered getting a job at Burger King, he said that his mother told him, “yeah, they’re waiting for you.”
How do all of these things impact Stoller’s work? He notes that he is not a failure. He understands his “type.” He has embraced his shmuck-ness. Stoller, while fidgety and nervous, has a remarkably thick skin. Although Stoller names other celebrities in the book, in our interview he suggested that if either of us ever thought of writing a book we may want to consider changing all of the names. We asked if Kathy Griffin ever contacted him, and he laughed, shook his head, and said that she made a reference to the book on her television show basically stating that she had so much sex during the 90s that she really couldn’t remember him.
And with such a demanding career, we were tentative to ask about his love life. With a chuckle, a flustered Stoller said, “How do you get a girl to like you?” He asked. “Be funny?” we answered. He shakes his head, and smiles. “You can’t get a girl to like you; she just has to like you. You can’t work someone, it’s predetermined, like auditions,” he said, “don’t make the mistakes I’ve made. Don’t check your phone.” As if remembering a sudden tip, he also stated, “It’s a bad thing if a woman is on her phone looking for the next date on a dating site. When you see that, get out of there.” and he even admitted that that had in fact happened to him. And because he knows Tinsel Town, Stoller specifically addresses dating stars, “If you’re an actor, it’s a catch 22. You want someone not like you and not competitive with you, but other people might not get you.”
As we were leaving, Stoller gave his advice for both the aspiring actor and the average teenager. For the aspiring actors out there he stated, “Class is good, but don’t be a permanent student,” he said with a decisive note in his voice, “you can’t learn to be funny. Trust your feelings. Embrace who and what you are and don’t try too hard to figure out what they are looking for because it’s always going to change. People prey on vulnerable people. Stay away from experts and acting coaches. There are so many self-anointed experts out there; the insecurity is like Facebook times 1000. It’s always ‘me, me, my thing, come to my show’.” And, always the comedian, Stoller, smiled when asked if people in show business are generally narcissistic, then he laughed and responded with a sarcastic, “Oh please.” He recalled advice that Quentin Tarantino had given him on dealing with such people, “If you say there’s a they, you create a they.”
Stoller left us with some parting advice, when questioned on his “greatest regret.” “My greatest regret was giving in to desperation,” he explained, “trust your feeling. You wouldn’t ask someone ‘do I have a headache?’” We feel safe speaking for everyone at the book signing, when we say, Mr. Stoller, we would love to have you back.
Our Guest Bloggers, Laura and Katherine are high school students in La Jolla