There’s a joke that Richard Kind likes to tell about himself. It goes like this.
The executive in charge of actor contracts comes home one night and asks his wife, “You know that guy who you like so much? He was on Mad About You and then you liked him on Spin City, and then he was on Curb Your Enthusiasm?”
The man’s wife says, “Oh, I love him.”
“Yeah. I really fucked him over today,” the man responds.
Few character actors work harder or more consistently than Kind. He had major regular roles on the sitcoms Mad About You and Spin City. He’s delivered scene-stealing performances in films like the Coen brothers’ A Serious Man and as Rudy Giuliani in last year’s Bombshell. He has lent his unmistakable voice to Pixar’s Inside Out (as the sensitive imaginary friend Bing Bong) and Netflix’s Big Mouth (as a Jewish father who can’t stomach scallops).
And as he reveals on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Larry David originally thought he was “too famous” to play his cousin Andy on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Kind had to assure him that was not the case.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, like every other professional actor, he’s out of work and miserable.
“It’s horrible. It really is. It’s horrible,” he tells me. “I accept every Zoom script that wants to be read. I did a workshop of a musical. I’m reading plays that may be done someday. But I really, really miss working and anybody who knows me knows that I work for work’s sake and money comes second, which is why producers get me for cheap.”
When I ask him if he really wants to be saying that out loud, he jokes, “No, I guess not. But those bastards aren’t going to listen to this.”
Whereas Kind is mostly known for his comedy work on TV, the theater has given him room to show off other sides of his acting ability. He knows that people will say, “Oh, that guy from Curb Your Enthusiasm is doing a play, let’s go see it,” adding, “So maybe somebody will come in because of me and I can go out on a limb and do a drama.”
This summer, he lent his comedy chops to an indie mockumentary called The Social Ones, which is available on VOD and digital rental now. In the film, he plays the inventor of the internet, which is ironic, he explains, because his nickname for his kids is “tech support.”
“Everything I have to say in the movie is so foreign to me that I had to impose a dramatic intent because I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about!” Kind says. “So if you really, if you really want to see really good acting, I am better than you can possibly imagine. That thing is just word for word memorized. And I just had to make up what it all meant.”
Highlights from our conversation are below and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
On not being famous enough to play himself on ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’
“When they first started doing Curb Your Enthusiasm, if they got a famous person on the show that famous person always played himself. They needed somebody for Cousin Andy. Jeff [Garlin], who’s one of my dear friends, said, ‘How about Richard Kind?’ Larry [David] goes, he’s too famous. I told Jeff, assure him, I am not too famous. And finally they did relent and he did use me. But it was all because of Jeff who suggested me, and me assuring Larry that I just was not too famous. And I didn’t mind, my ego can take it.”
“It was probably days after the George Floyd murder when when they started telling their stories. And they changed my life.”
On being a ‘that guy’ character actor
“I’m ‘that guy.’ I love that. First of all, fame sucks, but that’s tough to really translate to somebody who’s going well, no it doesn’t. The only thing that it really gets you is better roles. That’s really what fame gets you. The money isn’t worth the suffering. It just isn’t. And you know, it gets you upgraded to first class and it will get you into a restaurant. But I always say, you go into a bank and everything you want at that bank is behind a metal door that locks. It’s all there. And you come in and the guy says, ‘Oh my God, I love you. I’ve watched you for years. You make me laugh. You make me happy. My life is enhanced by watching you.’ And you say, ‘Thank you very much. Listen, I know you have some stuff behind that door. Can I have some of it?’ ‘No, but we’ll give you a pen.’ That’s what fame gets you.”
Why he thought he was going to get fired from ‘Inside Out’
“Whenever you do a voiceover, and they don’t like you, you are so easily replaced. It takes two years to do the movie. So I must’ve recorded somewhere between six and nine times, but each time they laughed and they loved me and everything. I’m a Jew and I’m an actor. So I’m neurotic and I’m neurotic. So every time I thought I was going to get fired. Even though it went well, I thought I could get fired. And I’m always doing it alone. The last time, they call and they say, we want you to record with Amy Poehler, who I’ve met and we had dinner, but we never recorded together. And I go, ‘Oh no, they’re giving me one last chance to record.’”
On learning to be ‘anti-racist’ from his fellow character actors
“Because we can’t get together at a restaurant, we have Zoom chats. And I was educated to such a wonderful, wonderful, degree. I am so grateful, because two of the people on that chat are Laurence Fishburne and LeVar Burton. And to hear their stories and to understand that it is not enough to be liberal, it is not enough to ‘understand’ what they’ve been through. To see and hear their stories and to truly be educated and to finally realize in your gut that you can’t just be liberal, you must be anti-racist. You must take a proactive stand and do something about it. It was probably days after the George Floyd murder when when they started telling their stories. And they changed my life.”
Look out for a bonus episode The Last Laugh podcast with Brian Baumgartner (Kevin from The Office!) later this week.