There are two types of anecdotes in Kevin Pollak’s memoir, How I Slept My Way To The Middle: Secrets And Stories From Stage, Screen, And Interwebs. In one, the actor/impressionist/webcaster provokes big laughs from the higher-pay-grade people he’s worked with. In the other, he simply relays a story about celebrities, whether witnessed firsthand or as credible overheard scuttlebutt. There are virtually no important self-disclosures or attempts to persuade readers that Pollak is artistically notable or important. He’s solely relaying entertaining information about people he’s worked with.
By his own admission, Pollak is “always seeking the clever thing to say, especially when I first meet someone.” The book’s opening recounts his early days as a self-taught teen impressionist, lip-syncing to Bill Cosby’s debut album, Bill Cosby Is A Very Funny Fellow… Right! This is nearly the last story centering on Pollak and non-famous people from his past. Eschewing stories about personal struggles, making mild jokes only in passing, Pollak launches into a disconnected series of stories, beginning with his youthful, unsuccessful attempts to get the autographs of British Invasion almost-weres The Dave Clark Five, and his early interaction with impressionist Rich Little.
Cannily skipping over the last decade-plus’s work of punchline-level movies like The Santa Clause 3 and Dr. Dolittle 2, Pollak mostly covers his ’80s and ’90s interactions with prominent actors, and occasionally legends. He includes detailed jabs at actors like Rip Torn and the late Michael Clarke Duncan—amusingly uncensored recaps of bad behavior from eccentrics. The last 40 pages cover, in the loosest possible way, a handful of one-off stage criss-crosses with the likes of Jerry Lewis and Steve Martin. They’re never revelatory, but they’re credible, with tiny flashes of insight about enigmatic artistic figures.
Pollak’s juiciest tidbits are simply as-told-to tales: Walter Matthau recapping a profanity-laden tape Fred Astaire sent him, a detailed explanation of Johnny Carson’s stand-up booking process, long transcriptions of jokes he heard his collaborators tell. (Interested in unpublished Barry Levinson monologues? Search no further.) A lightweight, admittedly egotistical enterprise, How I Slept My Way To The Middle is enjoyably inconsequential, packed with plenty of good trivia and minor factoids. It’s a decent trade-off for a volume that takes no more than two hours to read.