Most stand-up comedians make their living on the weekends and don't do the typical Monday-through-Friday thing. Jimmy Pardo is an exception. He's a stand-up comic who definitely has some weird working hours.
"I literally show up at 3:45 p.m. and leave at 5 o'clock," Pardo says of his weekday schedule.
During that time, Pardo is doing his job getting laughs, or preparing to get laughs. But the crowd isn't in a comedy club. In fact, they're not even there to see him perform. They are the studio audience for Conan (11 p.m. Mon.-Thurs., TBS), and when the cameras roll and the audience is loose and ready to laugh at talk show host Conan O'Brien's shenanigans, that's partially because Pardo was off camera getting everyone warmed up.
It's just one chapter in Pardo's long comedy career, which has been both very traditional and wildly unconventional.
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The Chicago-born Pardo, 48, started in comedy on a path many have taken. He hit as many Windy City open mic nights as he could in the late 1980s and was able to make a decent living during the decade's stand-up comedy boom. He developed a good chunk of his style from his idols, combining the smart observational humor of Robert Klein with the nervous improvisational energy of Richard Lewis and his own animated delivery and physicality. Throughout a conversation or one of his routines, you may hear many Google-worthy references to Gladys Kravitz from Bewitched, Michael Bolton or the musical group Sha Na Na that may occasionally fly over the heads of a younger audience. "I would never consider myself heady. I'm just a clown who knows a lot of pop culture references from the '80s and the '70s," Pardo says. "As a comic, you have to be true to yourself and what you do."
As his popularity increased over the years, Pardo began making guest appearances on popular radio programs like The Bob and Tom Show. Those appearances and his admiration for Chicago-based radio personalities Steve Dahl and Garry Meier inspired Pardo to create a program that would serve as one of the game-changers for how we consume comedy.
He, along with producer/co-host Matt Belknap, created the Never Not Funny weekly podcast in 2006, where Pardo would conduct interviews with comedians and other celebrities. Comedy podcasts may litter the Internet in 2014, but Pardo's podcast was one of only a handful of comedy shows at a time when podcasts mainly featured tech nerd discussions and dry morning rants on various topics.
"When we did our podcast, we wanted to do a quality sounding show," Pardo said. "I said, 'If we're going to do it, let's do it right.'"
Based on the fact that it's won numerous awards, it's in its 15th season and it's consistently ranked as one of the iTunes top paid comedy podcasts, it's safe to say Pardo did something right. He continued to do his podcast and club work when he got a job offer from Conan O'Brien to be his warm-up when he took over hosting duties of The Tonight Show in 2009. Although O'Brien's run on the show was short, he made it a point to extend the same offer to Pardo when he went to TBS to host his eponymous talk show, getting Pardo some camera time with his own web series The Pardo Patrol and even letting him fill in for Andy Richter for a few episodes as co-host.
"The great thing about Conan is he is a decent human being, and that's a rare thing to find in Hollywood," Pardo said.
When Pardo isn't podcasting or warming up talk-show crowds, he'll hit the road once a month on weekends to keep his stand-up chops sharp, as he'll be doing in Lexington when he visits Comedy Off Broadway Friday and Saturday. If you've heard any of his comedy albums, whether it be Uno, Pompous Clown or his most recent album Sprezzatura (you may have to Google that title), you'll know what to expect. Pardo loves to work the crowd and improvise while keeping a loose "skeleton" of a routine in his head. But at this point in his career — being a "comic's comic" who gets many of his biggest laughs off-camera — he has aspirations of taking his career one step further.
"It's a very weird place to be at," Pardo says of his level of popularity. "In a year or two, I want to be at a place where everybody knows who I am."