-by Ken Plume
The big screen adventures of Reno’s “finest” opens this Friday, as Comedy Central’s Reno 911! makes its way from the small screen to the big in Reno 911!: Miami.
At the core of Reno’s amazing troupe of actors is a trio whose performing history goes back to the legendary MTV via NYU sketch group The State - Thomas Lennon, Ben Garant, and Kerri Kenney-Silver.
After The State came to a close, Lennon, Garant & Kenney-Silver wrote & starred in the Euro-variety spoof Viva Variety. Their greatest TV success, though, would come with their portrayal as deputies Dangle, Junior, and Wiegel on Reno 911!, which is currently filming its fifth season (in addition to the release of that aforementioned feature). The first 3 seasons of Reno are currently available on DVD, and a single-disc “best-of” collection - Reno 911!: Most Wanted - has just been released.
I recently got a chance to go in-depth with Kerri Kenney-Silver about Reno, The State, Viva Variety, and much more…
KEN PLUME: It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you.
KERRI KENNEY-SILVER: It’s a pleasure to be speaking with you. I just clicked on, last night, the interview you did with Tom and Ben for Balls of Fury. It was really funny.
PLUME: Did that work?
KENNEY-SILVER: It was great. It was really great.
PLUME: It’s kind of being put in the hot seat, to talk to both of them…
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh, please.
PLUME: Particularly when I’ve heard such horror stories about what they can be like.
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh, please…
PLUME: True enfant terribles.
PLUME: Which I guess, considering how old they’ve gotten, “enfant” really doesn’t apply anymore…
KENNEY-SILVER: It’s so true. We’re so old.
PLUME: No, no, nonsense. They are.
KENNEY-SILVER: We’re like the borscht belt now.
PLUME: You sound like you’re out there touring as The State…
KENNEY-SILVER: Yeah, exactly.
PLUME: In Vegas.
PLUME: When you open the new theater at The Mirage, “The State Theater…
KENNEY-SILVER: Right, exactly…
PLUME: Maybe that’s when you need to call it quits.
KENNEY-SILVER: No, that’s when we really get going I think.
PLUME: And, on Sundays, you do Viva Variety.
KENNEY-SILVER: Yep, for a brunch show.
PLUME: Yes, for the kids. Just to change things up a bit.
PLUME: And to give time for everyone else to go off and shoot some special for VH1.
KENNEY-SILVER: Yeah. We need some more Where Were They When.
PLUME: Why not go back to the 20s? I remember prohibition in the 30s…
KENNEY-SILVER: Of course. Those are the golden yeas.
PLUME: It’s only a matter of time before they go back.
KENNEY-SILVER: I remember you from then. That was a fun time.
PLUME: The whole flapper movement in the 20s.
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh, you looked great in those skirts.
PLUME: Well, I tried. I didn’t have the legs for it, though.
KENNEY-SILVER: What a figure…
PLUME: Did you real the interview we had done with Carlos (Alazraqui)?
KENNEY-SILVER: I did not. I just heard about it. It’s on your interview with Tom and Ben.
PLUME: In which he claimed credit for everything in the world…
KENNEY-SILVER: Of course he did.
PLUME: And he never corpses…
KENNEY-SILVER: Right, no.
PLUME: In fact he admonishes others when they break down in a scene.
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh Jesus. Did Tom and Ben tell you about the jar that we used to have? That you’d have to put money in every time you laughed?
PLUME: There’s a corpse jar?
KENNEY-SILVER: Yes. You had to put, our first season, five dollars in a jar if you cracked up and it ruined a take. You could crack up in a take, but if it ruined the take, you had to put five dollars in the jar. By the end of the season, Carlos had essentially bought us lunch. The whole crew.
PLUME: Did he even have a fee left by the end?
KENNEY-SILVER: No, exactly. He owed us money for being on the show by the end.
PLUME: So was he one of the chief proponents for getting rid of that for future seasons?
KENNEY-SILVER: We just, you know, it just got so silly because we all… you can’t help but laugh sometimes, and when Tom and Ben and I started laughing in the middle of the take it was like, “You know what? Never mind. Let’s forget about the jar.”
PLUME: So, really, the only ones who lost out were the crew.
KENNEY-SILVER: Exactly. No more free lunches. Now they have to pay for their lunch.
PLUME: You issue little lunch cards, like school, right?
KENNEY-SILVER: Yeah. It’s 20 dollars for a rubber veggie burger.
PLUME: It shows how much you care about them.
KENNEY-SILVER: It’s so true. And they deserve it.
PLUME: Sometimes, they even deserve less.
KENNEY-SILVER: That’s true. 25 dollars.
PLUME: Well that’ll be Season Five. They don’t know that yet, do they?
KENNEY-SILVER: Season Five is they cook us lunch.
PLUME: It’d be great if you actually set up little burners for them.
KENNEY-SILVER: Yeah, they each get to cook… and we judge them, and they get paid based on how good their lunch is.
PLUME: So, in other words, from now on it’s gonna turn into a county fair.
KENNEY-SILVER: Mm-hmm. Yeah. There’ll be someone making cream pies…
PLUME: There’ll be chili day.
KENNEY-SILVER: Yeah. I’m looking forward to the corn dog booth.
PLUME: And whoever’s in last place gets fired.
KENNEY-SILVER: Exactly. Well, that happens anyway.
PLUME: But hey, it’s worth it for the funnel cakes.
PLUME: Is this what you thought the interview would be like?
KENNEY-SILVER: Completely… Well, as I said, I saw your other interviews, so yes. I was completely prepared.
PLUME: If we were to go back a bit, you certainly do come from an entertainment dynasty, as it were…
KENNEY-SILVER: That’s an interesting word for it, certainly.
PLUME: Did you perceive that while you were growing up, that your father did something that was not run of the mill?
KENNEY-SILVER: Yeah. Certainly when you go to school for career day and you tell other kids at school, whose parents are doctors, that your father is a cartoon bird, it is definitely different. But I always wanted to do what he did. I always emulated him and I would go with him to auditions and watch him do his cartoons and things. Yeah, always emulated him. My father - I don’t know if you know this - he was also the host of Bowling for Dollars.
PLUME: That, I did not know.
KENNEY-SILVER: Yeah. And he also did soap operas and things. I knew that I wanted to perform like him, always.
PLUME: At what point did you actually perceive that that was something that was unique?
KENNEY-SILVER: I don’t think it ever felt unique growing up. I think it just felt like that’s what my dad does. But I think when I started to realize that other kids’ parents didn’t make cartoon bird voices for a living, maybe that was a little bit different.
PLUME: Did you ever encounter any jealousy from the other kids?
KENNEY-SILVER: You know, I went to a party one time in New York, when Tom and Ben and I were at NYU, and someone said to me, just making small talk, “So, what do your parents do?” And I said, “Well, my father is the voice of the Cocoa Puffs bird and Lion-O from Thundercats.” And they said, “No he’s not.” “Yes he is.” And they said, “I just met someone last week who claimed that their father was the voice of the Cocoa Puffs bird and the voice of Count Chocula and the voice of Lion-O from the Thundercats.” And I’m thinking, if you’re gonna make up a lie, wouldn’t you come up with something a little bit better than my dad’s the Cocoa Puffs bird? So someone was out there basically coveting my life.
PLUME: Or it was part of that period when you were just drifting in and out of different realities…
KENNEY-SILVER: When I was on crack, yeah, it could be that too. When I was drifting in and out of reality from my schizophrenia.
PLUME: Trying to trade the information about your father’s career for rocks.
KENNEY-SILVER: That still happens. I have a kid now; I gotta do what I gotta do.
PLUME: Well now the DVDs are out, the cache of being the son of Lion-O is back.
KENNEY-SILVER: It’s back. Are they on DVD?
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh really? I didn’t know that! Oh, I love it. That’s so great. I’m amazed at how many fans that… when we did Comic-Con, you were there…
KENNEY-SILVER: I’d never seen anything like that. I had no idea what a big deal that was, the cartoon world, the animation… I don’t know what you call it… That whole world. I had no idea how big a deal that was.
PLUME: You’ve done a good deal of voice work yourself. Do you find that sometimes there is a bit of a bubble that exists, just doing your work as a career, and not fully experiencing exactly what the impact is of, say, being a recurring character on Kim Possible?
KENNEY-SILVER: Like my dad, no one every knows who he is. People don’t come up to him and say, “Oh, you’re the voice on Imus in the Morning.” No one knows what he looks like. So yes, it’s certainly different. We get people coming up to us and saying, “Hey, you’re Trudy Wiegel!” “Hey Dangle!”
PLUME: It’s probably not the best way you want to be remembered.
KENNEY-SILVER: No, but it actually is pretty good, because in person, I can only do better. What I constantly hear from people is, “Wow, you’re not as retarded and ugly as you are on TV.” Which is, you know - that’s what you want to hear.
PLUME: It’s good to have your own kid growing up, and someone approach you and tell his mother that, “You’re not nearly as retarded or ugly as I thought you were going to be.”
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh, my poor son. He is now 14 months old, and when I was pregnant with him was when we shot the last seasons, three and four. And I was big and pregnant, obviously, for season four, and I did some things, like ribbon dances in purple unitard with my big pregnant belly, and wearing half-shirts and short shorts with my big belly and pregnant butt hanging out. And I just think, “Poor young man. This is the start that I’m giving him.”
PLUME: So, instead of a college fund, it should be a therapy fund.
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh yeah. We’ve already started that.
PLUME: You know, the first time he comes home and goes, “Mom, you’ll never guess what I downloaded.”
KENNEY-SILVER: Right. Yeah, “You in a unitard.” It couldn’t be much worse. I think he would probably be more proud if he found a porno with his mom then what he’s actually gonna find.
PLUME: What would you choose if you were to pick out one moment from The State or Viva Variety or Reno that you absolutely don’t want him to see until you can actually put it in context and try to alleviate the pain for him?
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh, that’s completely easy. Me butt naked, nine months pregnant, on Reno 911 this last season. Tom, Ben, Cedric, and Carlos come busting in and do a panty raid in the women’s locker room hoping to find Clemmy in her panties and bra, and what they find is me nine months pregnant, naked, with a shower cap on dancing with a towel. If my son ever sees that, he’s either gonna love me more or we’ll never hear from him again.
PLUME: What is the context that you would deliver on that?
KENNEY-SILVER: You mean to tell him?
PLUME: Yes. When he comes to you, sort of shivering…
KENNEY-SILVER: “You need to sit down. I think you need to sit down.” And then from there, I would just say, “You know what? You remember that nice house you grew up in and those great fancy shoes you always wore? Well, that’s how we paid for them.”
PLUME: Do you think they’ll ever erase the picture from his mind?
KENNEY-SILVER: No. Dear God no. To quote Ben in the actual piece, “There are some things you can’t un-see.”
PLUME: Of course, it’s even more awkward if he has a friend show it to him…
KENNEY-SILVER: It’s going to be ugly. I think we need to sit him down and show it to him before he can get the ugly truth in school.
PLUME: Sort of like when you temper an egg when cooking…
PLUME: That’s gonna be a moment. But at least you know it’s coming.
KENNEY-SILVER: It’s gonna be a moment that’s going to continue and reverberate probably into his brain for the rest of his life.
PLUME: Or he can be immensely proud.
KENNEY-SILVER: Or he’ll be immensely proud.
PLUME: And follow you in that course.
KENNEY-SILVER: Well, let’s hope not.
PLUME: How encouraging were your parents with what you wanted to do, once you decided on that similar path in the entertainment industry?
KENNEY-SILVER: Extremely. My father said “Look, I am a very wealthy voice of a cartoon bird who never went to college. What can I say, ‘Don’t go into comedy?’” So they were very encouraging. They thought it was terrific. Will I be encouraging for my son when he wants to go into entertainment? No way. I pray that he wants to be a plumber and be happy and settle down with kids in a trailer in Van Nuys. I just see it… I watch it in other people, and it’s horrifying to me.
PLUME: Do you sometimes fear even unintentionally being that sort of stage motherish type?
KENNEY-SILVER: Of course. The instant you become a parent, you can’t help but go, “Look at him. He’s picking his nose. Everyone, gather around.”
PLUME: “Get the camera.”
KENNEY-SILVER: “Isn’t that the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen?” With your first child it just is that way. I think it is certainly for us. So yeah, there’s certainly that aspect, but then we went and got his picture taken recently at one of those silly little picture places, and the woman said afterward, “You know, these are quite good. We could enter him in the worldwide contest.” And I’m thinking, “What? No. I’m not interested in you giving my son a score.”
PLUME: I love the fact that they’re actually on the lookout.
KENNEY-SILVER: Oh, they’re on the lookout.
PLUME: You wonder what the commission is for them.
KENNEY-SILVER: Yes, exactly. “We found him! The perfect baby!” It’s the Dalai Lama of faces.
PLUME: Imagine if there was actually some kind of cult recruiting that went on in these baby centers…
KENNEY-SILVER: If they came to me and said, “We think your son’s the Dalai Lama,” that’s another story. They can have him, because I think that’s terrific. I’d be very proud. But to be the face of the picture place of kids? No, I’m not interested.
PLUME: It’s good to know that they automatically grade. You gotta wonder about the person waiting behind you.
KENNEY-SILVER: That’s what I’m thinking, with the ugly kid with the zits.
PLUME: Yeah, who’s going, “What about mine?”
PLUME: That’s a way to lose business.
KENNEY-SILVER: Didn’t make the grade.
PLUME: Time to go to Olan Mills.
KENNEY-SILVER: Exactly. They’ll take anyone there.
PLUME: “Yeah, I have the photos…”
KENNEY-SILVER: Sitting on one of those fake logs.
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