Most people who pay the price of admission and abide by the two-drink minimum at a comedy club do so for one simple reason: To get some healthy laughs from the comedian onstage. But in the case of Kevin Pollak, many end up at his stand-up shows for another reason.
Sure, Pollak, 54, has been doing comedy since he was 10, but a lot of people don't know him for that. They do know that face — the mug that has appeared in dozens of films, including A Few Good Men, The Usual Suspects, The Santa Clause franchise and the recent comedy Cop Out.
Pollak said his stand-up act, which comes to Lexington's Comedy Off Broadway this weekend, allows him to interact with fans. Some are there for his comedy; others are there as fans of his film and TV work.
"I've had research teams work on this over the years," Pollak said jokingly. "There's definitely a divide."
Even before his movie career, he wasn't exactly struggling as a stand-up comic. He made a name for himself as an expert impressionist, which he considers a "very bizarre magic trick." He began imitating Humphrey Bogart, Johnny Carson and Peter Falk in the early part of his career and honed classic, spot-on imitations of Christopher Walken, Jack Nicholson and William Shatner that get laughs to this day.
For years, Pollak gained respect among fellow comics, and then he made the transition into film during the late 1980s.
The success of A Few Good Men, the 1992 legal drama directed by Rob Reiner and starring Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Demi Moore, was a "game-changer" for his career, Pollak said.
"The film was a juggernaut. Everybody in it was famous ... except for me," said Pollak, who played Navy Lt. Sam Weinberg, the third member of the defense team, alongside Cruise and Moore.
This big break led to subsequent roles, including work with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Eddie Murphy. It also overshadowed Pollak's stand-up career — seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Now when he takes the stage as a comic, those who showed up to see Kevin Pollak: The Movie Actor all tend to have one reaction.
"They say, 'I had no idea you were that funny,' which is the worst kind of backhanded compliment you can get," he said.
Pollak has put in plenty of effort over the years to make sure every facet of his career in showbiz continues to flourish. He acts, writes and directs for TV and film. He continues to add impressions to his arsenal, but his comedy has become more focused on storytelling and behind-the-scenes personal anecdotes about working with some of the Hollywood heroes whom he had started out imitating. Plus, he has found a following on the Web with Kevin Pollak's Chat Show (Kevinpollakschatshow.com), a Charlie Rose-style, in-depth celebrity interview show he started in 2009. He has about 85,000 people logging on for the live show at 9 p.m. most Sundays and more than 1 million weekly downloads on iTunes.
"It's a chance to find out in a long-form interview what really makes these people tick," Pollak said.
Even though he is most recognized from his acting, he said he will never lose the passion for or the thrill of stand-up.
"You live and die by your own wits in stand-up," Pollak said. "That high-wire act is impossible to beat."