The beloved funnyman now rocks a powerful podcast.
By Ronald Sklar
Photography by Harley Hall.
One person not caught up in the Charlie Sheen hoopla is comedian/actor Jay Mohr. In fact, Sheen, sober, sane and coherent, chilled uncharacteristically with the put-it-there-pal Mohr, who has a gift of bringing out the best in people. The two shared the shit on the highly downloaded podcast Mohr Stories, which Jay Mohr hosts.
Mohr tells me, “I think Charlie opened up with me because for the first time in a decade, somebody was really asking him detailed questions about things that he had acted in. I needed to know about Platoon. I needed to know about Wall Street. I needed to know about his relationship with Jim Abrams on Hot Shots. We both wanted to talk about Apocalypse Now, and then the conversation took a turn toward great Oscar snubs [of which Sheen’s father, Martin, was one for Apocalypse Now].”
Amazingly, the conversation continued to take breathtaking screeches on tight corners, drawing us in deeper and deeper, as good podcasts are able to do. Podcasts are new, but they mark the return of the art of conversation, and Mohr knows how to hold one with the best of them. Sheen indulged in his passion for baseball trivia, at one point even showing Mohr his prized Babe Ruth autographed baseball. Sheen hadn’t seemed this animated in a long time, in a way that wouldn’t make headlines.
Mohr says, “I think sports and film are interrelated in the passion they inspire in others and when you get a good conversation going. So you go down this rabbit hole with sports and movies.”
The rabbit hole in which Mohr travels sports quite a ride. The New Jersey native began his long stand-up life while still baby-faced and in high school, back in the late Eighties. During those hungry years, he formed The Persona.
“The crutch was that I was so young and that I really looked young,” he says, “which bred a complete inferiority complex, I’m sure, which is why I probably have always been so aggressive.”
He ducked and rolled into the cutthroat world of standup just in time for the great migration to Hollywood, when every comedian was being considered as the next Seinfeld.
“I got in right under the curtain closing of the late Eighties comedy boom,” he says. “I was just tall enough to ride that ride. I rode to Buffalo for $50, and I knew it was costing me $150, but I had to go show people in Buffalo because maybe they will invite me back to headline another time.”
His shuffle off to Buffalo would have to wait. Before not very long at all, he was featured on Saturday Night Live (1993-1995) and he played the sitcom brother on season one of The Jeff Foxworthy Show. Then, if you can believe it hadn’t happened yet, came The Big Break.
Mohr explains, “Cameron Crowe called me on the set of The Jeff Foxworthy Show and said, ‘What are you doing for the next three months?’ I thought, ‘I’m going to be the biggest star in the world. This is it. I am on my way.’”
The classic role of sleazy agent Bob Sugar in Jerry Maguire drop-kicked Mohr higher into the beautiful sky. The film, released at the end of 1996, opened at #1 and eventually grossed over $273 million worldwide. Immediately following came the romantic comedy Picture Perfect, where Mohr played against 1997’s most recognizable woman, Jennifer Anniston.
Forget Anniston — what was it like to see yourself up there on the big screen?
“It’s almost seems entirely too short,” he says. “It always seems entirely too brief. I’m a showoff. I’m a comic. I like the parts with me in it the most.”
You’ve got to give him that, since he earned every second of screen time he’s clocked.
“I come from a family that worked their balls off,” he says. “I grew up in very middle-class, Italian-Catholic/Irish-Catholic New Jersey. Every pair of socks in that sock drawer you earned. Nothing you have was ever handed to you. You worked for ten years to put a six-foot deck in the back of your house. That was your reward.”
As the millennium turned, Fox offered him the groundbreaking series Action, in which he played an uber-aggressive Hollywood producer Peter Dragon. The series had “classic” written all over it, but many critics decreed “too inside!”
“It was ahead of its time,” Mohr says. “It may have behooved Fox to try it on another night instead of simply canceling it.”
Eventually, as the digital age took hold of audiences and sent them scattering and fractioning, Mohr went for what he does best.
“I have only one discernable skill,” he says, “and it’s talking. One thing I’ve always wished I could change about myself is my inability to just stop talking. They told me that since I was in first grade. I always got thrown out of class because I wouldn’t stop talking.”
If only those teachers could see him now, hosting one of the most downloaded podcasts on the planet. His Mohr Stories features his brand of banter-with-the-buddies, along with a heapin’ helpin’ of his brilliant mimicry (his impressions of Colin Quinn, Norm MacDonald, Woody Allen and Christopher Walken, among others, must not be missed). He also banters with the likes of Jay Leno, The Black Crowes, fellow podcast king Adam Carolla, and even former death-row inmate Damien Echols.
“I do pride myself on the positivity of the podcast,” he says. “I’m not really ball washing as much as you may think.”
The conversations are at the very least compelling, especially the can’t miss one-on-one with former boxer Ray Mancini, who discusses the accidental death of his challenger, South Korean boxer Duk Koo Kim, in 1982. The incident, which was one big sucker punch in the history of sports, spiraled Mancini into a deep depression, which he has battled ever since.
Mohr says, “What’s amazing to me about the Ray Mancini interview is when he cries. He cries at the memory of his mother icing his hand. It blew me away. People don’t realize that Ray Mancini retired at 24. That’s when guys start in boxing. They nurse you along until you go pro. He had a lot left. He left a lot on the table. But when your hands end someone’s life, it sort of takes that out of you. I’m talking to a man who has killed someone, and now this word has more import than it has ever had.”
For Mohr, the alpha and the omega is the late George Carlin (“He was pretty obsessive compulsive about his act being perfectly timed.”), and another comedy hero of his is unlikely: his beautiful wife, Nikki Cox, late of the series Las Vegas.
“She’s funnier than any writer that I had write things for me,” he says. “She’s much more dada than I am. My standup is at least half her writing. She’ll actually hand me pieces of paper on an airplane while I’m sleeping. She’ll write things that I never would have thought of.”
Long trip, and in many ways, just beginning. New man, making fresh with the old tricks. But a Mohr Stories podcasts promises big humor with a dash of reflection. You’re listening to a man who has been around the block and lived to tell the tale. And, he admits, he still learning when to keep his think-quick mouth shut
He says, “It takes a long time to stand there and simply be comfortable in the quiet.”
Listen to Mohr Stories for free!