Martin Mull Interview: Actor, Comedian, Singer, Artist and, Finally, a "Cool Kid"
Image attributed to Martin Mull
Actor and comedian Martin Mull has appeared in many television and film roles. He is also a painter and a recording artist. As an actor, he first became known in the satirical soap opera Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in 1976 and its spinoff Fernwood 2 Night. Among his other notable roles are Leon Carp on Roseanne, Willard Kraft on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Gene Parmesan on Arrested Development.
Film appearances include Mr. Mom, Clue, Cutting Class, Mrs. Doubtfire, How the West Was Fun, Jingle All the Way and A Futile and Stupid Gesture. Along with Vicki Lawrence, David Alan Grier and Leslie Jordan, Mull stars in The Cool Kids, which premieres on September 28, 2018, on Fox. The Cool Kids is about a rowdy, rag-tag group of friends living in a retirement community who are willing to break every rule in order to have fun because at their age, what do they really have to lose?
“We’re the troublemakers that used to be in high school, only we’re in a rest home. If you could think about troublemakers in high school and put them in a rest home, that’s what you got.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Martin, tell me about The Cool Kids.
Martin Mull: Well, it’s multi-cam. I’m with three of the best actors I’ve ever worked with, and we’re having a ball! What can I say? It’s about old people, uh, older people who just don’t want to be old. We’re in a retirement home, so we’re still very agile and very able and up to a lot of shenanigans.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s your character (Charlie) like?
Martin Mull: Charlie is the oldest of the lot at 75. He’s at that point in life where there’s kind of a frayed boundary between imagination and memory. You never know if he’s telling the truth. He claims to have been and done everything. He’s best friends with the other three, and he’s kind of a lifer at the place.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What interested you most about the project?
Martin Mull: Well, for one thing, it was the cast and to work with David. I’d never worked with him, but I’d known him for 50 years. The script was great. It was just wow to be able to work with these people in a format that I know, which is multi-cam. It just seemed like a blessing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Vicki Lawrence says The Cool Kids is “much sassier” than The Golden Girls (laughs).
Martin Mull: Absolutely (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you guys really get rowdy?
Martin Mull: Yeah. We’re the troublemakers that used to be in high school, only we’re in a rest home. If you could think about troublemakers in high school and put them in a rest home, that’s what you got. Yes. Much more edgy than The Golden Girls. The Golden Girls also seems to concentrate more on the fact that they were older. What we are is that we are older but we act younger.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What topics are discussed between the four of you?
Martin Mull: Oh, it’s sex, drugs and rock and roll, the same things you discussed in high school.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you guys tackle the #MeToo movement or the current administration?
Martin Mull: No. That’s something I’m really happy about. So far, we haven’t addressed, I don’t think, one issue, and I think that’s good. If you’re watching the news 24/7, boy, you want a break from that. You need a half hour when you can just be silly and not have to deal with issues. The fact of the matter is we’ve got the potential for every issue in the world – the straight, white male ex-hippie, which is me, you’ve got a woman, you’ve got a black man, and you’ve got a gay man. You could have all the issues you wanted, but we have none. There are no issues between the four of us. I think it’s great.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And no talk about politics?
Martin Mull: Nope. Nope. Not a word. I think it’s great.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you have guest stars each episode?
Martin Mull: We had Max Gail from Barney Miller and Jamie Farr from M*A*S*H. They both came on and did some guest shots. We have plans for more people. The beauty of this is that people might say, “Oh, you can’t cast them. They’re too old.” On our show, you can’t be too old. So we can get people that have been around the block many, many times.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Max Gail is very talented. He’s currently on General Hospital with an Alzheimer’s storyline.
Martin Mull: Yeah. He’s terrific. He told me he was doing an Alzheimer’s story. And Jamie Farr is 84, and he just loves coming to work (laughs). It’s fantastic.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You were interested in both acting and painting in college, but it started with music?
Martin Mull: That’s right. I got into the acting through music. I was on the road for about 15 years or a little longer actually. I made albums and so forth and so on. I did all that and got nominated for one Grammy until I just got to where the road giveth and the road taketh away, you know?
My wife and I decided to have a family, and she was a keyboard player. So the band broke up, but the band stayed together because the band was me and my wife. We’ve been together for almost 40 years, and we have a daughter, Maggie, who is now a writer on The Family Guy. So she stayed in the business. I don’t know. The painting has always been number one for me. It’s been the most important thing I do because it’s personal, you know.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Your first television role was Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.
Martin Mull: It was. I had written my act that I was doing on the road, so I thought, “Well, I know a little about writing comedy.” So I had a chance to meet with Norman Lear, and I wanted to be a writer on the show. He and I had a lovely meeting of about an hour, and at the end, he said, “We don’t need any writers. It’s been nice meeting you.” So I thought, “Well, that’s that.” Six months later, I got a call to come in and read for a part in Mary Hartman. I had never acted in anything, and lo and behold, I got it. That was almost 50 years ago. Amazing.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And it was actually a very dramatic part.
Martin Mull: Yes. That was when I basically had to learn to act because I thought that because it was a comedy I could do it, and then found out I was playing a wife abuser. There’s nothing funny about that. Nothing. So I had to actually be an actor not a comedian. But cast members like Dabney Coleman, Greg Mullavey and Louise (Lasser) helped me a lot. Dabney gave me a crash course in acting. He was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t even have time to take acting lessons because I was too busy working. I’d have to say that Dabney was instrumental in whatever craft I have managed.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman led to Fernwood 2 Night.
Martin Mull: Right. I was only under contract for Mary Hartman for four months because I had a development deal for NBC. So in four months, I had to be killed off because that was all they gave me. On the same day they killed me off, NBC decided they weren’t going to go forward. So I said to Norman, “Uh-oh. Has anybody ever asked to come back as their twin brother?” He said, “When someone dies on one of my shows, they all ask to come back as their twin brother. But in your case, I’m going to do it.” And Norman had this idea for Fernwood 2 Night. I hadn’t met Fred Willard until the first day we shot.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You and Fred Willard had such great chemistry together.
Martin Mull: We still do. But Fred just recently lost his wife, so it’s kind of tough for him right now.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes. Very sad.
Martin Mull: Very.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were you interested in doing the Roseanne reboot?
Martin Mull: I think they sent some feelers out to see if I was available, but I wasn’t because I’m doing The Cool Kids. If you’re doing one series, you certainly can’t do another.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How did you feel about Roseanne’s tweet and the cancellation of the reboot?
Martin Mull: Well, I felt bad for all the cast and crew. They lost their jobs, and that’s a shame. I’ve never seen Roseanne do anything like what she did. Personally, I have no experience with her on that level, so if she did it, she did it, but I’ve never seen it before. There’s never been a history of it, at least not one I could see.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): It appeared that you and Fred were having so much fun playing a gay couple.
Martin Mull: Oh, it was fun. I think it was the first gay marriage ever on television.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think it was, And that was definitely groundbreaking in the 1970s. Kudos for that.
Martin Mull: You bet. You bet.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Were comedians funnier back then or is comedy a generational thing?
Martin Mull: I think what’s considered tasteful and what’s considered proper changes with every generation. Lenny Bruce would probably be thrown in jail for things he would do on the news now, you know what I mean? There are things you could say back then that you can’t say now. So it changes all the time.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What are some of the sitcoms on today that you enjoy?
Martin Mull: I’m not going to single anybody out because it would hurt the feelings of the other people (laughs). But I can probably watch anything and enjoy it. Now, what I’m addicted to is baseball and football. So if there’s a baseball game or a football game on, I’ll watch that first.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s been the highlight of your acting career thus far?
Martin Mull: I think the highlight was when I was doing a show called Dads. At the beginning of every week, we would have a table read where you sit around and read the script for the producers and writers. I looked out on day one, and there was my daughter (as one of the writers) sitting there with a yellow legal paid and a pencil taking her notes. She was one of the writers on her papa’s show. I don’t think I’ve ever felt higher than that. That was it for me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Any other projects going on?
Martin Mull: I’m working on a documentary. Kevin Bright, who was the producer on Friends, and Bob Saget got together, and they decided that because I’m a painter and an actor and have had successful careers in both, they would make a documentary. So that’s the only other project other than The Cool Kids. I don’t have a lot of time. No one realizes how much effort goes into putting a half hour together every week on television.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You are constantly selling and showing your paintings?
Martin Mull: Oh, yeah. I’m in several museums. My works are in galleries in Switzerland , Hong Kong and other countries and all over the United States.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What do you do “off canvas,” so to speak?
Martin Mull: Sleep (laughs). Sleep and hang out with my wife.
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