One-On-One with Fritz Coleman (Part II)

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TONY How were you earning your living all this time you were doing open mikes?

FRITZ When I first came out here I lived on my savings, which was less than $10,000. The first night I went to The Comedy Store, I saw Garry Shandling, Jimmie Walker, Billy Crystal, and a wonderful Robin Williams-esque type of performer named Charles Fleisher. I was so devastated by how talented these guys were my first inclination was “I have come out here too early. I don’t have the chops to be in this town. Oh my God; what have I done! These guys are unbelievable!”

But I thought that I would give myself a chance to spend what’s left of my savings and then if I have to go home, I’ll go home with my tail between my legs and say at least I tried. However, awhile after I got out here my old boss from my Buffalo radio job was made the VP in charge of radio for Capital Cities Radio. They used to own KZLA here, which was an adult contemporary station that went to country. It was an automated country station, meaning that they play three songs automatically and then the announcer would announce the records and play more. He asked me if I wanted to come work for him and do mornings doing voice overs. Of course I bowed down and kissed his feet and said, “Absolutely!”

So I was doing morning radio at KZLA at 5-10 in the morning, go home and sleep, and then go out and do the open mikes at the comedy clubs from 8 to midnight, so I was sleeping at 2-4 hour chunks every night. It was just awful. I could never do that again.

TONY Where were you living?

FRITZ West LA.

TONY By yourself?

FRITZ Yes, then my girlfriend moved out and we got engaged and got married, which lasted for six years.

TONY You’ve been at KNBC for 27 years? You must enjoy it.

FRITZ I love my job. Employment is a wonderful thing. I love it because it’s one of the news positions that allow you to have a little personality. You’re not threatening. I consider my job to be the pallet-cleanser between the tragedy and the sports. A weatherman at a station is bigger than the job of being a weather reporter. You’re sort of a community participant. A lot of what I do is community outreach. I go out in the community. You become like someone’s favorite next door neighbor after awhile. That’s what I like about it.

TONY Were you here when Dr. George was on KABC?

FRITZ Absolutely. A friend and I love him to death. I spoke to him about six months ago.

TONY Why was he such a big draw on Channel 7?

FRITZ He was different. Any kind of success you have in any form of show business, and regardless of what people say about TV news; people who work in the business often consider themselves journalists, and get prickly when you analyze TV news as show business, but it is. We use all of the same tricks in our presentation that regular TV uses, like energetic people that people like to watch with some personality and a smile and something that makes them different from the rest of the product. That’s what we do.

Dr. George was this huge character. He was this wonderful, friendly, quirky uncle that people have. Sometimes he would launch off into some beautiful warm thing and never get to the weather until the last 30 seconds of the presentation. But he had a great way of breaking the fourth wall and appealing to people and drawing them in. He was the loveliest man. He’s been off the air for 15 years and people still ask me how’s Dr. George?

TONY What’s the fourth wall?

FRITZ In show business if you perform and are not conscious of the audience viewing you and don’t make direct eye contact with the camera, that’s not breaking the fourth wall. When you break the fourth wall you address the fact that there are people watching you from somewhere else. For instance, in a play if you break the fourth wall you turn and talk to the audience. In a drama you never address the audience and aren’t cognizant of them being present. But in TV we break the fourth wall. We make eye contact with the camera.

TONY Tell me about your new show.

FRITZ This is An Evening with Fritz Coleman. In the past, people have come to see one of my plays, which are one person presentations, that is, they are a monologue in three acts where I’m telling a story. This is just an evening where for an hour and 15 minutes I’m doing humor and I engage the audience and then I have a question and answer period at the end and it’s a lot of fun. I talk about the news business, new technology. We get into everything. Then we turn the lights up and I go out in the audience. People love to ask me questions about the news business. We don’t get political because I don’t want to turn it into a Tea Party rally. So we just talk about people’s questions about the news. They have a great curiosity about how it’s produced and who’s where and how’s this person. It’s a lot of fun.

TONY Where is it?

FRITZ It’s at the El Portal Theater for four nights, Thursday, August 19 through Sunday, August 22. The Sunday show is at 2 p.m. matinee. The other shows start at 8 o’clock. For Toluca Lake residents, if you buy the tickets online or on the phone and use the code word “Toluca Lake” you get two-for-one tickets, so that’s a pretty good deal.

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