In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.
Chris Parnell gets around. On television, the Saturday Night Live alum has popped up on everything from 30 Rock to Rick And Morty. He’s also appeared in over 20 films, including Jingle All The Way, Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, and 21 Jump Street. His latest project, the tennis movie Break Point, is currently in theaters and on VOD. He’ll also assume a canine form to appear as the voice of Mr. Peabody in The Mr. Peabody & Sherman Show, debuting on Netflix October 9.
Chris Parnell: I worked at a—I don’t know what you’d call it—sort of a wholesale-factory-direct buying club. This was right after college. I’d just come back to Memphis and was looking for a job and somehow ended up at this place. Mid-South Sales, maybe. The people there were very nice. But they had a whole room in the back where people would be on the phone cold calling people and saying, “You’ve won something,” or sending something in the mail saying, “You’ve won a free vacation.” That or a VCR or this or that and people would come in and they’d always win the vacation, which was basically a trip to be sold a timeshare. And so then I would try to sell them on a membership in a buying club, which had pretty good prices for the time; this was pre-internet. But it was hard, this was a sales job and the memberships were $800 or something, and you could come in on a payment plan and this and that.
I’m just not cut out for hard sales.
The A.V. Club: You were also a really young guy, and that doesn’t necessarily make people think you’re inherently trustworthy.
CP: I was 22 or something. Exactly. So that was my least favorite.
I would look forward to lunch every day because I’d usually go get Captain D’s, which was a fried-fish place and [I would] have that with fries. I ate very healthy.
AVC: Well, it was fish.
CP: It was fish, but it was deep fried.
CP: I guess SNL, mostly because it was the first time I was consistently making money as an actor and didn’t have to have a day job anymore. So I was successful in that way, but I was also very insecure there just not knowing how long I’d be on the show. Then, sure enough, I was fired after three seasons, only to be rehired. So I think that was kind of the first time I felt like, “On some level and I don’t know for how long, but I’ve made it for now anyway.”
AVC: It doesn’t sound like you ever felt particularly successful.
CP: It’s hard to say; I never really felt settled or I never felt as secure as I did after I got rehired and came back for maybe my fifth or sixth season. I felt like I was on more solid ground after that point. Plus, I was making better money and I had bought a condo in New York, so maybe it wasn’t until then in some ways.
CP: Well, let me think for a moment. I mean, it’s hard because I’m such a good person, it’s hard to think of these evil things. I’m kidding, kind of.
AVC: Do you want to pass for now?
CP: I’ll skip this one for now, then we’ll see.
CP: When I was very young, I feel like I was very confident in a lot of ways, especially through kindergarten. I think I was kind of a badass in kindergarten in a way. I was just confident. I had a girlfriend I kissed on the cheek during nap period. I had a few different girls that I liked. I don’t know, it was a good time for me and its been downhill ever since, but not really.
As I got older, I got a bit more insecure, but I guess those first few years—through second grade—I was kind of the class clown, and then I went to a new school where I really didn’t know anybody, and that shut me up. As I made more friends there and I got to seventh grade, I was starting to get into trouble a little more and acting up in class or being silly or whatever, but I didn’t really figure things out until I found the theater department and I started doing plays at that second school. Shortly thereafter we moved, and I went to a public school that had an amazing public theater program, Germantown High School. So once I got there, I was like, “Oh, this is the outlet I’ve been looking for, without knowing it, all along.”
AVC: It’s nice that you found that confidence again, because a lot of people say it’s been all downhill since they turned 11.
CP: It goes up and down, but I definitely wasn’t a super confident kid outside of the theater and television department—we had a whole television studio—so I wasn’t a very popular kid per se. I was very nervous with girls, but I felt good about my place in the theater and television department.
CP: That’s easy. That was Farrah Fawcett.
AVC: Oh, really? Because of the famous poster?
CP: You know, I had the other poster. There were two—one in the red or orange one-piece bathing suit that’s super sexy, and the other one of her, I think, in a light-blue tank top holding a flower—that’s the one I think that I had. She was more naturally beautiful in that one. She wasn’t so contorted and her face wasn’t smiling so hugely.
I remember seeing a picture of her, I think it was the Memphis Press-Scimitar or maybe the Commercial Appeal at the time, and it was an article about Charlie’s Angels before it came on the air. There was a photo of her and I fell completely in love. Then I watched all of Charlie’s Angels and I made a Charlie’s Angels scrapbook and when she left, I liked Cheryl Ladd quite a bit, but not as much as Farrah.
AVC: How old were you?
CP: I mean, 7, 8, 6? Something in there, I guess. I have no idea.
AVC: Did your mom help? That’s an ambitious undertaking for a 6-year-old.
CP: No she didn’t help me; I did it all on my own.
CP: “Also Sprach Zarathustra” is the first one that comes to mind, from 2001, I guess, which was Elvis’ music, maybe? But also “Rhapsody In Blue” would be pretty great.
AVC: Either choice is cinematic and dramatic.
CP: Well, that’s sort of where my mind goes. But I’m trying to think of a rock ’n’ roll song.
AVC: With “Also Sprach” or “Rhapsody,” every entrance you made would be dramatic.
CP: I’d sweep in and disappoint. Build up everyone’s expectations and then they’d be like, “Oh, it’s just him.”
CP: I’ve been doing press all day for Break Point. I went to Sirius Satellite Studios out in Beverly Hills and did a few interviews there live, then did The Rich Eisen Show live and did an interview there with David Walton—one of the stars of the movie—and now I’m sitting in the parking lot of a restaurant called The Habit Burger Grill. We’re in Glendale sitting here in this SUV and I just got off the phone talking to a lovely woman from Rotten Tomatoes.
CP: Not really so much anymore, but people used to confuse me and Chris Kattan a little bit. I think people have mistaken me a little bit with Jason Sudeikis. Sometimes people are like, “Aren’t you that guy from that sketch?” and I’m like, “No, that’s Kattan or Darrell Hammond or that was Jason.” It’s usually SNL related if they mix us up a little bit.
AVC: I can kind of see Sudeikis, but Chris Kattan seems like a weird one. Is it because he has brown hair and was a white guy at SNL?
CP: We’re very different looking, but we’re both named Chris, so sometimes people call me Chris Kattan. I don’t know if it’s a visual mistake or just not knowing my name.
CP: I might try to do radio or news because I’ve done a little bit of that, and it’s related. I like photography a lot even though I don’t have any legitimate credits to put on there in the world of photography. I can type decently.
AVC: You could sell memberships to buying clubs.
CP: Oh, God no. Please no. Please don’t make me do that.
I used to want to be a computer programmer when I was younger. We got an Apple II Plus when I was, like, 11 and I wrote programs and BASIC on that, like I think a lot of people did, but I have no idea how to program in the current languages at all. That held some appeal for me in my youth before I decided to pursue acting for real.
CP: I collect art on a very modest scale. Most of what I have is photography because I just love it and it makes me happy and it looks good in my home. I also have a pretty big collection of art books mainly, again, on photography. A lot of photography monographs, which is great because with photography, the art itself can be reproduced quite well in book form. It’s a little harder to find great reproductions of paintings in books. You just can’t quite get a sense of the texture and the impact of the color like you can in person.
AVC: Are there specific photographers you like?
CP: I just bought a piece by this photographer named Elger Esser, a German photographer. I like this whole group of photographers that came out of Düsseldorf Academy [Kunstakademie Düsseldorf], and they were students of Bernd and Hilla Becher and like Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Tomas Struth, Elger Essert—I like that whole swath of German photographers. And I love Michael Kenna, I love William Eggleston, Stephen Shore. I have a lot of people that I love.
CP: I had an amazing meal at Joel Robuchon at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. It’s a three-Michelin-star restaurant and I was just there by myself for a bachelor party and I decided to stay an extra day because I needed to leave from Vegas to go somewhere else rather than back to L.A., so I took myself out to a fancy dinner and that was amazing.
AVC: And whatever he wants to make you, you’re good with that?
CP: Pretty much. Yeah.
CP: Okay. Oh, I know Lake!
AVC: She didn’t know who she was asking, but this worked out well.
CP: The best advice I never got. I don’t know if it would have done any good, but to be more confident with girls in school. I actually had a couple of girlfriends, but I was still pretty timid and it was hard to ask girls out. So I guess somebody telling me to believe in myself and own that and be proud of that and be ballsy and be confident—don’t be a dick, but have a little bit more confidence and roll with that. You know, rather than approaching from insecurity.
AVC: That’s good advice. Why didn’t we all go on more dates? Who cared?
CP: Exactly. Now that I’m older, I care a lot less about what people think so I have a lot more confidence, but a lot of it comes from apathy—like, “I don’t care what my hair looks like.”
AVC: What do you want to ask the next person?
CP: If you could travel to any place or period in time, where and when would it be and why?
AVC: What’s your answer?
CP: This is so narcissistic, but I think it would be amazing to go back to the early ’70s when I was a kid and see myself and see where I lived and see all of that time from my life in my current eyes, because I’ve forgotten so much of it. I think that’d be pretty cool.