BY KEELY MCAVENEY Actor, comedian and native Philadelphian — straight outta Upper Darby! — Jamie Kennedy takes his cheesesteaks wiz wit and his comedy full force. Since he made the move to L.A. in his late teens, he’s done whatever it took to bring his comedy to the forefront, everything from living out of his car, to overcoming kidney failure, to inventing a fake screen agent persona to sell himself. If you were alive and not residing under a boulder in the late 90s, you will absolutely recognize him as Randy Meeks from the cult-classic Scream. After that, he went on to have his own show on the WB called The Jamie Kennedy Experiment and various stand up stints. You can catch him Thursday through Saturday at Punch Line Philly.
PHAWKER: So, you’re from around Philly? Is there anything you really miss or have to do every time you come home?
JAMIE KENNEDY: Well, usually I visit my mom, but don’t really stay there. I head into the city. I like Fishtown a lot. I’ll head around there, and I’ll always have to go to Jim’s also. Wiz Wit. Wiiiiz Wit. That’s how I take it.
PHAWKER: The right way.
JAMIE KENNEDY: Exactly.
PHAWKER: Were you around for the Eagles win, or what’d you think of it?
JAMIE KENNEDY: Like if they lost it would’ve been too devastating to be around people. So I like watched it in my house on my big screen and I was like, “Yeah!” But I think people from Philly will get that. It was such a monkey off the back. And the celebrations looked pretty great, except I saw this one guy.
PHAWKER: The horse shit guy?
JAMIE KENNEDY: Eating horse poop. Yeah, and people were like, “I don’t know. Why would they do that?” I’m like I don’t know. You’ve gotta be from Philly I guess to understand why they would do that. But I mean I even go, “Why did they do that?”
PHAWKER: I’m still unsure what would possess someone to do it. I have pride in Philly, but not enough to consume horse shit.
JAMIE KENNEDY: Yeah, like what would he have done if we lost?
PHAWKER: Maybe eat less celebratory shit, like dog?
JAMIE KENNEDY: I don’t know. I didn’t know any of it was celebratory. I don’t get it. That was a big story.
PHAWKER: Is there anything you don’t particularly miss about Philly, besides people eating horse shit?
JAMIE KENNEDY: Well, Philly is a hard town in the sense where, you know, when I was growing up in Philly it was always a “no” before it was a “yes.” You can’t do this. That’ll never work. No way. Stupid. And it was just, you know, it was a punch-in-the-face town. I didn’t realize it when I was there, but it was just like there was this energy of… It was a very stress and strive town, and it was like “Fuck you.” Everybody was worried that somebody was trying to get over on them. It was always like that type of place, and then when I moved to the west coast, it was so much more like “Hey, welcome. Hello, friend.” And it was like Venice Beach and like sure you wanna sleep here, and it was such a beautiful juxtaposition, and this was the thing, it was, you know, Philly is a city with a lot of immigrants, and we were all fighting, and it was cold, and you know there was not a lot of resources I think. Anyway LA kind of mellowed me out, and now when I go to Philly, that’s still in me, but there’s something going on in Philly where it is a completely different place. And it’s incredible. I love it more now than I ever had. It’s thriving. When I was growing up, it was just doctors and lawyers that had the money. Now it’s sports, real estate, food, fashion. It’s so beautiful. I’m so appreciative when I go there. I’ll bring my nephew there, and we’ll spend two days just downtown. We’ll stay in a hotel, and it’s the best. And the Eagles winning is a huge part of it because it’s just like, hey man, we are good. We do matter. And that’s a Philly thing. Philly always being kicked in the face.
PHAWKER: Did you find that even when you first moved to LA and were an extra in a lot of films that it was still welcoming even then, or was there still a period of hardship or a transition period?
JAMIE KENNEDY: LA is welcoming, even though people think it’s a hard city, a lonely city. It is a city of transient people, although maybe not as much as Vegas. But it’s a city where people transplant. They come to LA as a destination to try to do something. Besides music and acting or yanno whatever, a lot of people come for the weather or I wanna go see something different. It was welcoming in the sense that I’ll never forget this. I went to some restaurant in Orange County, and Orange County is not LA. I was nineteen years old, and I just remember I went to some like German restaurant to eat. The waitress and the other waitress… At the time I had a pimply face and, you know, I was a goofy kid. I’ll never forget this. It was one of my first impressions of LA. The girl that took my order she was so sweet and beautiful. These two beautiful, kind girls that were just bright and cheery and bubbly just like listened to me talk about German food and do a dumb German accent. And what I remember is just when I left, they each gave me a hug, and I don’t remember waitresses ever giving me a hug before. I just left, and I thought, this place… There was just an air of “Hey, there’s enough to go around.” And then when I went to Ralph’s, which is a supermarket, like pre-Whole Foods, I remember it was like as big as a football field, and I just remember it was open all night, and I was buying food. I was buying stuff at three AM. I thought it was the greatest thing of all time. Just little things like that, they really changed my perception.
PHAWKER: Yeah, just a sense of community, or this weird comfort of being alone that late at night but still a part of something. You wrote about in “Wannabe: A Hollywood Experiment” that also during that initial time, when you were trying to break into Hollywood, that you were mostly living in your car and also had medical issues? What happened during that period? How’d you sort of rise above it?
JAMIE KENNEDY: Yeah, I was really sick. It’s crazy to think about what you can go through, and just like move on from it. I was basically I had just realized I had these back pains, and then I found out that I had a messed up kidney. At the time, I was sleeping in my car, and I had a girlfriend, sometimes in the car. Pretty smooth move. Gimme a little credit. And then I went to the doctor and the doctor said, “Yeah, you’ve got a messed up kidney. We’re gonna have to remove it.” I had no money. This doctor was like meeting an angel. He was doing this new type of surgery, called laparoscopic at the time. At the time, they weren’t really yet doing it for organs and stuff. He went in and used me as a test patient. He did it at a county hospital, like East LA General or something, and all the fees were waived. I was able to pay it off little by little over the years. I didn’t drink for the longest time, and when I started getting successful in movies, I’d go to wrap parties, and I’d have a little drink or whatever, and I’d call him. He’s like, “Yeah, you can drink! People drink all the time.” I get it checked every year or two now, and it’s fine. I was beyond fortunate. At that time, I left my car, and I was getting acting jobs right after it. I was twenty four years old. I had nothing, and then 1995 came and then I got… Somehow, I did a comedy show, and then the agent said, you know, if you wanna meet me, and then from there I went on and got a commercial, one little commercial, a tiny little local commercial, which led to a bigger commercial. It was for Vans Sneakers on MTV. And then MTV saw it, and they gave me a deal to hold me, and that gave me enough money to get a little apartment. It was crazy. Things started snowballing. I was struggling for years, then these things just started happening.
PHAWKER: Was that around the time you employed the use of Marty Powers screen agent, like you pretended to be him to get yourself more auditions?
JAMIE KENNEDY: That was all around this time. I was telemarketing. That’s when I was like living in my car. And when you’re living in your car, it’s not like you’re always living in the car. It’s like one night maybe you’re at the Y and the next night at a friend’s house then the car. I was getting really good at telemarketing, though. I was doing anything I could, like using accents and things to sell. Why couldn’t I just sell myself like I could sell this stupid office supply stuff. I bought a book, and I started reading about how to sell, and then I started making phone calls to agencies, and I was able to get through, and I was like, I’m gonna just lie. This whole character, this whole story. No one else is gonna do it for you, and it wasn’t the way it is with social media now. I never talked about myself as myself. I never said if I was good or not. My character did. You couldn’t go out in 1994 and tell people, “Hey, I’m great! I’m funny!” People’d be like “Shut up You’re an idiot. Oh my god, you’re delusional.” It was always about somebody else talking about you. The world we live in now is so nuts. The humble brag. “So blessed! So blessed to do this, to be on a private plane!” Shut up. I hate their guts.
PHAWKER: It’s just kind of useless shouting into the internet void.
JAMIE KENNEDY: But, they’re from all walks of life. Now all I do when I post on social media is just try to be entertaining. I don’t need to let you know who my friends are or where I’m going. “Look how cool I am! Look how cool you’re not. You’re not cool. I’m cool! I’m validated. Look at me.” Somebody said this quote, remember this quote, “Mark Zuckerberg’s genius made us all narcissists. No, Mark Zuckerberg’s genius was knowing we’re all narcissists.” We were already narcissists. He just gave us the tools. I thought MySpace was interesting. I thought when YouTube came, okay that’s what it’s gonna be. The fact that Instagram now is bigger than anything. I knew that everyone wanted to be famous, but I’m flabbergasted at how everyone’s given over. It can be great though. Like Twitter, you put a good joke out. It can go viral. I’m just saying the constant of like, if I’m in a depressed mood, I’ve gotta see a “Me! Me! Me!” post of someone eating sushi in a Bentley, I just don’t need that.