Almost Famous

Three Years After Going Hollywood, Comics Howard Kremer and Chip Pope Still Aren't Celebs, But They're Agonizingly Close

Chip Pope
Chip Pope

Whenever a hot young actor or comic suddenly appears on the Hollywood scene and makes a big splash, he or she is often described as an overnight sensation, as if they took a bus to Los Angeles, got off at a stop where a casting director happened to be holding auditions, and had a limo whisk him or her off to the studio's Fame and Fortune Department. In reality, of course, with the rarest of exceptions, "overnight sensations" are the result of lots of laboring in obscurity in preparation for the auspicious moment when talent, timing, and luck coincide with opportunity.

Aside from a brief season on MTV's Austin Stories and a five-minute comedy set on NBC's Later, America doesn't know that Howard Kremer and Chip Pope exist. The two former Austin comics, however, have been working steadily since moving to Hollywood three years ago, and they've already had agonizingly close brushes with big breaks. Most recently, they wrote a pilot for HBO called The Near Future, which was directed by Bob Odenkirk (of Mr. Show fame) and actually produced. Unfortunately, the show never made it to the air, so it was back to the old drawing board.

Both Kremer and Pope, however, seem unfazed by the heartbreak. We caught up with them recently after an open mike show at the Velveeta Room, where the two comics started their careers (and which this writer currently manages). They are in town to play the Bad Dog Comedy Theater with comedy icon Barry Sobel, and they haven't been noticeably changed by their lives in the Dream Factory. One gets the sense from their easygoing demeanor that the two comics are quite happy with a life that allows them to write and perform for a living. As long as they enjoy what they're doing, it's only a matter of time before that big break actually arrives.

Austin Chronicle: So what happened to The Near Future?

Howard Kremer: We shot the pilot, but HBO didn't green-light the show. It may have a second life as a comic book.

Chip Pope: They chose to go with the uplifting and wacky funeral home drama Six Feet Under. Not instead of our show (officially), but you have to admit, our show isn't on. At the risk of sounding like a sore loser, our show is more interesting and funny but was not written by the Academy Award-winner for American Beauty, although Bob Odenkirk has won two Emmys.

AC: What have you been up to since then?

HK: We're working on another pilot for Comedy Central.

CP: Our characters will hunt down circus freaks who have gone into hiding and integrate them into society to fulfill their dreams of being first-class American citizens, not freaks to be mocked. It's like The Fall Guy meets Touched by an Angel in a convenient half-hour format.

I'll be in the fall release Simone with Al Pacino, and I have a scene with him. The film was directed by Andrew Niccol, who wrote The Truman Show and wrote and directed Gattaca. I'm also in the Nickelodeon movie Clockstoppers, directed by Star Trek's Jonathan Frakes. We're also working on a couple of feature scripts and peddling our show pitches to cable and the major networks like aluminum-siding salesmen hawking their wares.

AC: How frustrating is it to produce a pilot, get it shot, and then not see it on the air?

HK: The only time it really bothers me is when people bring it up in interviews. Actually, it bothered me more when they told us we couldn't be cast in the pilot than when they passed on it. I wanted to be seen on the Arli$$ channel!

CP: [Our] show should be on the air now. Sure, it had its flaws and some things should have been clearer plotwise -- it could have been funnier -- but these are things you use a season of a show to work out. But that's the luck of the draw in showbiz. There are so many different agendas and machinations that you aren't allowed to see; it's a tough business to be in, but no one is guaranteed success from the bottom all the way up to the top. You just have to keep trying and not get too discouraged and take away knowledge when a show doesn't go. We could have written for other people's shows a long time ago, but we want to do our own thing and that's a hard road to take, but we want to be on it, because it's so much more rewarding when something gets done as opposed to just fulfilling some other writer's vision.

AC: So how did you guys hook up with Barry Sobel, and how did this whole Bad Dog idea come about?

HK: We wanted the show to have a young, hip theme. All three of us want to be young and hip, so it was a no-brainer.

CP: We met Barry a long time ago through our mutual friend Sally Field. Barry knew her from the film Punchline, and we knew her because we played Darryl Hannah's boyfriend in Steel Magnolias -- our first shared role. We'd hang out at her place on the weekends playing half-court basketball and sniffing airplane glue out of a brown paper bag. To cut a long story short, we were up at the Field manse recently, and maybe it was the glue talking, but we all decided why not find an excuse to go to Austin and get free hotel rooms? It seemed like the Bad Dog was the place to turn.

Seriously, we love Barry. He totally foresaw this whole hip-hop explosion, and he's one of the artistic forebears of "alternative" comedy -- a true original.

AC: Kremer, your recent performances on NBC's Late Friday must have been seen by hundreds of people. How do you deal with the constant interruptions of your private lives for autographs, photos, etc.?

HK: Whenever I am approached for that stuff, I like to get the jump on the fan by screaming, "Look over there! It's Jimmy McNichol! The blue book value of his autograph is twice that of mine!"

CP: My episode airs July 27. I am looking forward to just as many people not recognizing me from Late Friday as don't [recognize me] from Austin Stories. It's very hard to go out every day and think someone might interrupt you because they've seen you somewhere, but they're just asking you for change, or for the time, or to street race against them ô la The Fast and the Furious. People actually do recognize us, but usually they're freaks at a transvestite disco, a guy outside the 7-Eleven, or a Hollywood executive who likes us a lot but won't hire us.

AC: What was it like to have your material worked over by network knuckleheads for the first time?

HK: Up to that point I'd only dealt with network hammerheads, so it was kind of refreshing. They rearrange your set. When I performed it, there was a nice build and a strong close, but they chopped off the ending so it looked like I was saying "Thanks, I'm done," right after a segue. It'd be nice if they wore T-shirts that said "Network Knucleheadz."

Local comic Howard Beecher and Howard Kremer
Local comic Howard Beecher and Howard Kremer

CP: Actually, we've only had one bad experience with a show getting tampered with. HBO was awesome, NBC was great, so it would be bad form to tell you who ruined a good idea that probably didn't get picked up because of network meddling. But a hint is that they constantly churn out wonderful programming like Temptation Island and World's Scariest Car Chases With Stacy Keach.

AC: Are there any telltale signs that you guys have "gone Hollywood"?

HK: I had a valet park my car a few weeks ago. I schmoozed yesterday. Some say bargaining with a streetwalker in front of the Guitar Center is not schmoozing. I say it positively reeks of schmooze.

CP: I wipe my ass with ahi tuna slices in lieu of toilet paper.

AC: What's your favorite trendy eatery in L.A.?

HK: My car.

CP: Taco Bell. The selections are always changing, and it's competitively priced. And you always see Charlize Theron hanging out there. She's usually ordering stuff without cheese or sour cream. I think she has an allergy to dairy. Not lactose intolerance. There's a difference! People, let's get educated here!

AC: What famous people have you schmoozed with recently?

HK: True story. I sat next to Jim Carrey at a bar for about two hours last week. He said he was going to sell his paintings for $20,000. He said he hadn't painted them yet, but that's what he would charge. I got to go to a party at Fred Willard's house the night of the American Comedy Awards.

CP: I shared an elevator with Bridget Fonda the other day. She seemed confused by the technology. When I pressed P1, she pressed P2, but somehow thought she had pressed P1. C'mon, she's been alive long enough to know how elevators work! True story! She then babbled about having to go to Nieman Marcus before it closes. I felt like Matt Dillon in the elevator with her at the end of Singles. If she'd sneezed, I'd have said "Bless you," and she'd be mine; we'd shop forever in paradise. We interviewed with Ben Stein for a job. I think we confused and scared him.

AC: How's the stand-up scene treating you out there? I know Kremer's a regular at the Improv; Chip, how about you?

HK: I'm doing Largo now too. I recently performed there with Emo Phillips.

CP: I'm a regular at the coffeehouses where the scruffy unwashed attend; I like the laid-back, alternative stuff more than the clubs. Howard's cool because his comedy transcends venues. He's funny everywhere, even at the laundromat comedy show -- really, it exists -- which is hard to do. Only he and Charlie Shannon seem to pull it off.

AC: What's your favorite thing to make fun of in pop culture at the moment?

HK: Cribs on MTV.

CP: Always the movies. I love how seriously Hollywood takes itself with each new back-patting piece of crap that comes out. And, for some reason, Amy Grant. I know she's not current or worthy of witty barbs, but for some reason, after all these years, she's still irking me.

AC: Kremer, written a letter to Paula Poundstone yet?

HK: Yes, it's a letter of support and good wishes and it's signed by Michael Jackson.

AC: What's the best thing about living in L.A.?

CP: Meeting cool people, being able to make a living writing, hanging out with Johnny Hardwick. He keeps the feeling of Austin alive at his Venice house. Oh, and the stars! They're all over!

HK: The Pacific Ocean.

AC: What's the one thing you make sure to do each time you come back to Austin?

CP: Amy's Ice Cream, Threadgill's, and most of the Dazed and Confused locations. I still get excited when I see that movie on cable, even though it was edited for free TV by a monkey. I used to love Dick Clark's rockin' Bandstand Grill (R.I.P.). It's now a Mexican restaurant. Damn! They had Alanis Morrisette's vest in a glass case!

HK: I always buy marijuana-themed jewelry at Fiesta. end story

Chip Pope and Howard Kremer perform with Barry Sobel through July 22 at the Bad Dog Comedy Theater, 110 E. Riverside. Call 804-BDOG or visit
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