By Jarrod Jones. Your favorite thing in the whole world, right now. Let’s talk about it. ’10 Things Concerning…’ is the latest DoomRocket interview series, where we discuss your absolute favorite comic book, film, television show, or video game. Think of it as the only stop for your geeky confessional.
This week, I’m talking with John Siuntres, the knowledgeable and downright friendly host of the seminal comic book interview podcast, Word Balloon. We discussed John’s favorite television show of all time, ‘The Larry Sanders Show’, knowing Gene Siskel, and his downright lethal Rip Torn impersonation.
1. Describe your first impression with this show.
Well, I had already been a Gary Shandling fan based on his stand-up and It’s The Gary Shandling Show that was on Showtime back in the Eighties. And he had already been a substitute host on Carson, and I really felt — knowing it was gonna be this behind-the-scenes parody of the Johnny Carson show, I was hooked. So already being a Shandling fan, they already had me the moment they aired the first promos for The Larry Sanders Show.
2. 6 seasons, 89 episodes — how many times have you binged through this show?
Oh, constant times. I had VHS tapes of this show when it was on, I did buy the original, twenty best episodes on DVD when it became available, and I did try to watch it when some of the basic cable stations tried to put it on. But I have to confess that when they tried to cut out a lot of the language in some of the scenes… it cut the heart out of the show. And I know it was against Shandling’s wishes, as well. That was disappointing. So it was in defiance that I always looked for the uncut episodes. But yeah. I’ve watched it countless times.
You’re a purist.
3. Favorite guest-star, please.
Jon Stewart. It was back during the Leno/Letterman wars, so you had this comedian who came in as a Conan to one day take away Larry’s job! We had Jon Stewart just hanging around, like “hey, man. I’m just here to have a good time — and maybe further my career.” The way the show went forward with that in the later seasons, how he could be a real, legitimate threat, was kind of a real interesting storyline. What was a fun weekly sitcom, with very little continuity to it — for lack of a better word — there was real consequences happening here. So yeah, when Larry was fighting with the network and Jon Stewart was their option to replace him, I found that really entertaining.
4. Let’s pretend you’re an unscrupulous advertising executive. What product would you pitch to Hank Kingsley?
Oh, god. Well, y’know, you had things like the Garden Weasel, things like that. I’m sure that some of those 800 number products would be so great for Hank. I’m trying to think — Shamwow, I could see him pitching Shamwow. Those frying pans with the copper finish… convection ovens… Hank is just a natural pitchman for the goofiest crap, just like Ed McMahon was for Alpo commercials on Johnny Carson.
5. Aside from Artie & Hank, who was the most essential supporting cast member?
That’s a really interesting question. Beverly, Penny Johnson’s character, I think was really good as Larry’s assistant, because I thought she was a really great nurse-maid for him. Janeane Garofalo, was an excellent, fun character… and I thought that Mary Lynn Rajskub, who later went on to 24 and had replaced Janeane Garofalo’s character, I thought she was really interesting. But really, it was the Larry, Hank, and Artie show. I loved Artie. And I actually got to meet and hang out with Rip Torn.
Yeah, he came to Chicago with The Young Man From Atlanta, this Horton Foote play, and it previewed in Chicago before it went to Broadway. We just reached out to him and were like “you wanna go to a Bulls game?” And this was back in ’96 — that great record-breaking season with the Bulls, back when they had Rodman — and he said, [In the best Rip Torn impression I’ve ever heard] “Aw, yeah! That’d be great! No problem!” [Laughs] So we took him to a steakhouse, and we’re asking him about Sweet Bird of Youth and The Cincinnati Kid, all these great Sixties movies. And Mike North [of WSCR’s The Score] would ask him about Summer Rental with John Candy, and Rip would be like, “This is great! Nobody ever asks me about those movies!”
This was in-between [Larry Sanders‘] fifth and sixth seasons, where there was this real long hiatus. So we asked, “What is going on with the show?” And he said, “We have to wait for Larry! It’s his prerogative, when he has the ideas, he calls Peter Tolan and they start writing. Believe me, we want it to go as soon as possible!” It was great to get that kind of inside information.
6. You have your own late-night talk show. Who is your sidekick?
I’d love that. That’s interesting. Who would be my sidekick? [Pauses] You would obviously fill the bill well, because you know this stuff, you can throw down with some of this stuff.
I’m trying to think, because seriously, some of these people who come on to Word Balloon, like [Brian Michael] Bendis? We have a great rapport. But I could never think of Bendis as my sidekick. [Laughs] You know? My buddy Scoot McMahon! It’s funny that he has a name like “McMahon”, but it’s true! [Laughs] He’s an artist, as you know, with Art [Baltazar] and Franco [Aureliani], he does a lot of work with Aw Yeah — but Scoot kills me. He’s that guy who has a real good, left-field sense of humor, much like an Andy Richter. So I’d have to say Scoot McMahon.
7. Use “Hey, now” in a sentence.
[Laughs] “Hey, now, the Unicef people promised me a helicopter for that benefit we’re doing Saturday night.” That’d be a Hank Kingsley line.
8. Gene Siskel vs. John Ritter — in the battle over film criticism — who was right?
[Laughs] I’m in the Siskel camp. Gene was awesome. He was actually a distant acquaintance that I got to hang out with because of The Score. We’d go to the Mud Bug Otb, and we’d bet horses and talk about old movies. He was a cool guy, and I knew him enough that I do miss him. He was an incredibly good guy, very down-to-earth, just one of the guys. And even though I was one of the lower-level guys on The Score, he was like, “Oh no, we’re talking.” He was great. I really miss him.
9. Best musical guest?
T-Bone Burnett! He’s become an amazing music supervisor on television. And Paul Westerberg when he did “You Ain’t Got Me”. That’s the thing, man, what a great music show! Beck? I loved it when Artie was like, “Who booked Beck on this show?” [Laughs] Even the ones that they’d mention but were never actually put on the show. “We can either have the Achy-Breaky sounds of Billy Ray Cyrus, or the recently rehabilitated Three Dog Night.” [Laughs]
I have to say, your Rip Torn is lethal.
Oh, we all at The Score would just constantly imitate Rip Torn.
10. Who in your mind is the undisputed King of Late Night?
It’s gotta be Johnny. It is Johnny. I am fascinated by the men who came before him — Steve Allen and Jack Parr in particular — and I really respect Jimmy Fallon. Jimmy Fallon has taken The Tonight Show to places it hasn’t been since Johnny… and that’s the thing. Johnny had that same sense of spontaneity that Jimmy Fallon has, and it’s hard, I think, for younger viewers to see that because all they get are reruns. People used to tune in because they never knew what was gonna happen on the show. Great bands, great comedians, great conversation… and you saw the building blocks, from Allen, to Parr, to Johnny. I really think Johnny is the best.
I really like where comedy went with Letterman and Conan. They went in really interesting directions with their comedy. And that’s why Jimmy brings back that variety show aspect that Johnny had, along with the comedy of Letterman and Conan. So a really-close second, I would say, is Jimmy Fallon.
That’s a really wide divide between Carson and Fallon. I mean, that’s huge.
I love it. I mean Colbert — I love what Colbert is doing. I think Colbert is excellent. With this entire crop of — I mean, back in the day, Johnny was the only game in town. They would try Merv, and they would try Joey Bishop — celebrities that were well-established comedians as late-night hosts who were very confident in what they did. But they could not match Johnny Carson. I mean, Cavett — Stephen Colbert is the Dick Cavett of the current era.
I would agree with that, hands down.
I mean, we’re in a pretty good — I dunno what you would call it, I mean the Eighties had it pretty good with Letterman, and I think the Letterman/Leno fight provided some decent friction. I always loved Jay Leno as one of Johnny’s guests, but I never warmed to him as a host.
Thank you so much, John, really.
It was my pleasure!
Make sure to listen to Word Balloon, as often as you can possibly manage!
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