Jay Mohr

The comedian on why hockey players rule, his dream TV gig and how there’s no ‘act’ in his act

Comedian Jay Mohr landed a gig on Saturday Night Live at age 23. In 1995, after just two seasons, he was already gone from the show—later writing the memoir Gasping for Airtime: Two Years in the Trenches of Saturday Night Life (Hyperion, 2004) about his struggles to get material on the show. His next venture in television—the critically lauded Action—was canceled after just one season, while his most recent show, Gary Unmarried, lasted from 2008 to 2010. While television has been an uncertain mistress, Mohr has successfully toured as a stand-up, drawing from a stable of eerily spot-on impressions that run from Christopher Walken (with whom he worked in the film Suicide Kings) to the semi-obscure Colin Quinn and Forest Whitaker.

Mohr has always dipped a toe into the sports pool—he played agent Bob Sugar in Jerry Maguire and he regularly fills in for nationally syndicated radio host Jim Rome. Last year, Mohr did his first turn hosting the NHL Awards at the Pearl, and he’s back again, emceeing the event on June 22, followed by a June 24-26 headlining run at the Improv at Harrah’s.

What was your experience like at last year’s NHL Awards?

I had so much fun. It seems that NHL audiences are the most straight-up stand-up comedy audience. Very receptive. It’s not as uncomfortable as other hosting jobs where people are like, “Oh, I don’t know, should we laugh at that? Is it cool? The guy’s in the room.” Everyone was ready to laugh at everyone else as well as themselves. Myself included.

I think hockey players are the most salt-of-the-earth out of all the major sports. They’re the least coddled and they have to work the hardest to get where they are. If you’re a pitcher in baseball, from the time you’re 13 years old, they raise you like veal. By the time you get out to the real world, you have no idea how to behave. Hockey players are the opposite. They grow up in suburbs and small towns. They have to work the hardest. They get into fistfights like the average guy in a bar. They really know what it’s like to earn a living.

Have you always been a big hockey fan?

Not really. I was 14 when hockey came to New Jersey. Since then I’ve always loved it. I don’t have a favorite team, because I didn’t grow up with one. … We wore the [Devils] hats and stuff. But when you’re a 40-year-old guy wearing a hockey jersey, you’re either Kevin Smith or you’re a season-ticket holder.

With your stint on Saturday Night Live and your shows Action and Gary Unmarried having short runs, what’s your feeling on television these days?

I love it. It’s the greatest job you could possibly have. You work the least for the most money. If Gary Unmarried made CBS a profit, it would still be on the air. The bottom line is the bottom line. It wasn’t making them enough money where they thought they should be keeping it on television. It’s not a bureaucrat in an office going, “You know, I just don’t like it.” No, they look at the numbers. There’s a reason they put up with so much from Charlie Sheen for so long. It rained cash all over the network. I can’t wait [to do TV again]. I’m begging. SVU maybe? Criminal Minds? Regis and Kelly and Jay? I’d replace Regis in two seconds.

You break-danced for Justin Bieber on The Tonight Show. Have his people been in touch to put you on the tour?

I picked up about 10,000 Twitter followers, but there’s been no love from the Bieber camp whatsoever. From now on I’m putting all my chips in the Selena Gomez basket.

Are the rest of your moves quite that dope?

There’s no parking on the dance floor. All my moves are the freshest. Fresher than fresh, when you call out of course it’s KRS. Everybody in the party sounds alike until I recite in black and white what’s right, don’t forget my style is tight I’m good. Tight and good, my style is tight and good. [KRS-One is] a fun show. It’s all hits you know from way back. I just don’t want him to tell me about the Temple of Hip-Hop.

With your gig at the Improv, are you working on a completely new set or will you do bits your audience is familiar with?

You’re never set. Buddy Hackett told me nothing in your act is finished, ever. You’ve got to keep peeling the onion, is what he used to say to me. The problem is I have about nine hours of material, and I have to fit it in one hour. It’s a great problem to have. The great news is the 10 o’clock audience gets a different show from the 8 o’clock audience, because I don’t want to repeat stuff. I want to keep it fresh.

My entire act is true. There’s not a shred of “bit.” There’s no “act.” It’s all stuff that actually happened to me that I share with the audience, even to embarrass to myself. … My wife said to me the other night, “Are you talking about when we tried on adult diapers onstage?” Oh my God, that’s another 10 minutes. So I have nine hours and 10 minutes. You’re obligated to tell those stories when they’re in your head.

Is there an obligation then to try to put yourself in situations?

No, because I’ve already put myself in so many situations; now it’s a matter of realizing what situations are worthy of being repeated. I don’t think things happen to me that don’t happen to other people. I just think comics, our radars are a little different, where you think this is something you can use instead of a story you just go home and tell somebody over dinner.

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He begins speaking to you before he has even come out his office door. “Hello, I heard you walk up,” he says. “Come in, come in.” There’s a genteel Southern accent. Virginia Beach, you will learn. And Emory University.