Ralph Garman and Kevin Smith are bringing ‘Hollywood Babble-On’ to Iowa City

Hollywood Babble-On

Englert Theatre — Sunday, April 29 at 7 p.m.

Ralph Garman — illustration adapted from still via “The Ralph Report”

Ralph Garman contains multitudes, at least in the vocal department. Along with nearly two decades of celebrity impersonations on KROQ-FM’s Kevin and Bean show, he’s voiced dozens of characters on Family Guy, starting with Dustin Hoffman back in 2003 (he’s now in nearly every episode). He’s lent his voice to Agent Carter, Maron, The Lego Batman Movie, and played a heavily made-up purple alien last year on The Orville.

And in more than 300 episodes of the beloved Hollywood Babble-On podcast, hosted by Garman and filmmaker and actor Kevin Smith, Garman demonstrates his bread and butter: impressions. Smith often jokes that Garman is the man of eight impressions, but a listener on a recent Babble episode estimated Garman had wheeled out at least 60 different voices during the podcast’s eight-year history.

“It’s a ‘talent,’ in quotes,” Garman said. “It’s kind of like a party trick. I always relate it back to a friend of mine when I was growing up in Philadelphia: For whatever reason, God had blessed him with a ridiculously long tongue, and he was able to put an M&M on the end of his tongue and lift his tongue up and stick it in one of his nostrils. I remember every party we would be at as teens, someone would make him do that. And that’s sort of how I started off doing voices. For some reason I just had a knack for imitation, even as a kid in school, so I would just do it to make my friends laugh.”

Garman’s trick came in handy when he got into radio — specifically, when he moved to Los Angeles and was brought onto Kevin and Bean — and had to fill hours of air time.

“It became one of those things where it’s an arrow in your quiver,” he said. “If people want to hear you do Arnold Schwarzenegger, you do Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

His Schwarzenegger emerges frequently on Hollywood Babble-On — usually by audience request, and usually singing ’80s pop songs or reading children’s books. Audiences have a lot of power on Babble, one of the few podcasts consistently recorded in front of a live audience, and featuring plenty of audience interaction.

“Kevin jokes, ‘it’s not stand-up comedy, it’s sit-down comedy,’” Garman said. “We’re sitting in chairs and talking about stuff and hopefully making folks laugh. But it’s always been that, and what we did as sort of an afterthought was record it and put it up as a podcast.”

In each roughly two-hour episode, the Babble hosts discuss entertainment news through recurring segments (preceded by catchy jingles), from “No Thanks — We’ve Already Got One,” condemning the latest movie reboots, remakes and unnecessary sequels; to the usual closing segment, “How Big is Liam Neeson’s Cock?”, in which the hosts share witticisms revolving around the actor’s mythical assets.

“This is going to sound ghoulish, but I like the ‘Tinseltown Stiffs’ segment [best],” Garman said, referring the part of the show where the hosts discuss recently deceased entertainers; this past year, this included actor Adam West, Garman’s personal hero and with whom he became friends before West’s death on June 9. “It’s a real chance to give those unsung heroes of show business a nice tribute.”

The Hollywood Improv in L.A. is Babble’s home, but they record at theaters around the country while on tour — including, for the first time, Iowa City’s Englert Theatre on April 29. They will also perform two shows at Wooly’s in Des Moines on April 27.

“You can, through the magic of computers, look at the metrics of who listens to Hollywood Babble-On and where and when,” Garman said, “and Iowa is one of our most popular areas in terms of audience, so we can’t wait to play both venues.”

The shows recorded in Iowa, and throughout the tour, will eventually be released as episodes.

It’s rare that the hosts stray too far from L.A., given their many film, TV, radio and familial obligations. But in the aftermath of Smith’s recent heart attack, Garman said they plan to be more active.

On Feb. 25, a fan of reached out to Garman via Twitter, asking why Smith had been taken away by an ambulance in Glendale, California. Garman rushed to the hospital, where he learned Smith had suffered a heart attack caused by a total blockage of his left anterior descending artery.

“Besides my family, he’s the guy I spend the most time with in my life,” Garman said. “It was terrifying, but we’re all on the other side of it. It was one of those situations where you just dodged a bullet, you just got lucky. And so he’s taken such great care of himself now, he’s lost a ton of weight. I think he’s going to be in better shape now than he was beforehand.”

Garman has had his fair share of stress in the past six months. After 18 years on Kevin and Bean, he was abruptly let go in November. While KROQ-FM was vague in announcing the departure, Garman has been upfront about his firing — as was Smith.

Garman has channeled his sadness and frustration into a new project: a podcast of his own, funded though Patreon subscriptions of $3/month, called The Ralph Report. The first episode was released on March 26, featuring an interview with Jimmy Kimmel.

“My life was completely turned upside down and this is the end result, coming out the other side of it,” Garman said of the podcast. “It is a ton of work but it’s been so much fun at the same time.”

“When I lost my job in radio I was thinking of a way to sort of reinvent what I do and at the same time make a living. So I decided to go with the Patreon model … I’m lucky because I have a pretty loyal fanbase who say, ‘Yeah, we think your show is worth 15 cents a day.’”

Garman is willing to walk the uphill battle of crowd-funded content creation, if only to stay ahead of the curve.

“Traditional radio is slowly dying. The advertising money isn’t there anymore, people are being let go, salaries are being slashed. The profit margin for radio is shrinking rapidly so I think something’s got to change, for sure.”

Ralph Garman and Alex Borstein in “Ted.” — film still

As much as he loves podcasting, Garman’s favorite professional pursuit is voice acting. He will make on-screen appearances — in friend Seth MacFarlane’s projects Ted and A Million Ways to Die in the West; as Andronicus Arcane in Smith’s film Yoga Hosers, the smarmy host on the Joe Schmo Show and Captain Jack in the SyFy original movie Sharktopus, among other gigs — but he prefers the freedom of animation.

“In voice acting, there are no limitations. I can play an old man, a kid, a superhero, a nerd,” Garman said. “In real life, when you’re acting in television and film, you get typed so quickly and you sort of stay inside this box. But when you do voice acting, literally you can do anything. All the downsides of acting get stripped away and it’s just about the performance.”

On a personal level, though, nothing compares to being face-to-face with fans — listening to them sing along to jingles, “boo the villains and cheer the heroes.” One of Garman’s favorite memories is from Hollywood Babble-On’s biggest show on July 1, 2014 at the Hammersmith Apollo theater in London.

“Thirty-six hundred seats and we sold it out,” Garman recalled. “Stepping out on that stage, hearing that crowd, is the closest thing I’ll have to being a rock star.”

Emma McClatchey would like to hear Garman’s Adam West impression at the April 29 Englert show. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 241.

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