February 16, 1987
series flips upside down for 'Perfect' pair of comics
By Kathryn Baker
When Bronson Pinchot was in
town to do "Saturday Night Live," it was a visit to another comedy
Strangers," his series on Channel 7, is not of the hip, smart-mouth "SNL"
Pinchot plays Balki
Bartokomous, a humble sheep herder from a generic Mediterranean country called
Mypos who moves to Chicago to live with his American cousin, Larry Appleton,
played by Mark Linn-Baker.
It is one of ABC's few
successes this season. The network has ordered 22 more episodes.
He said in an interview the
day after arriving in New York for "SNL" that the show is a throwback
to an old-style, more visual, almost vaudeville-type comedy.
"Mark and I, our idols
are, like, two generations removed from us," Pinchot said. "Most
people my age that are doing what I'm doing idolize Robin Williams and Billy
Crystal, and I think those guys are great, but I really idolize Lucy and Bert
Lahr and people like that. And Mark feels the same way.
"We're more interested
in that tradition of kind of almost coming out of a vaudeville tradition instead
of this other kind of rock 'n' roll tradition -- that I love. I love Bill
Murray and Dan Ackroyd, but I don't want to be like them. I want to be
like 'I Love Lucy' and 'The Honeymooners.'"
Pinchot could almost have had
his pick of roles after his wildly successful bit part as Serge, the officious
art gallery clerk with the funny accent in "Beverly Hills Cop."
He played a homosexual lawyer in the short-lived comedy series "Sara"
and took a small, easily overlooked part in the movie "After Hours"
just for the opportunity to work with director Martin Scorcese.
was sold with Pinchot in the lead because of "Beverly Hills
Cop." Originally, Pinchot was cast with another actor and the series
was grounded more on dialogue.
The physical comedy began to
happen "as soon as Mark walked into the room," Pinchot said.
Typical was a scene in a
recent episode when Balki was having a disagreement with Larry. Pinchot,
not an especially large man, picked up Linn-Baker, turned him upside down and
held him that way through many seconds of dialogue in which Linn-Baker remained
resolute, arms held stiffly at his sides.
It's not easy stuff, and it
takes a lot of practice. Pinchot said he and Linn-Baker ignore coffee
breaks and instead use the opportunity to hone their timing. The constant
work has produced a short-hand language that only they comprehend, Pinchot said.
"We were doing a thing
once where I thought he was dead and I had to creep up on him and look at him
and see if he was breathing and pull his eyes open," he said.
"We kept trying to figure out the best way to do it, and we finally said,
'No, it's stare, lean, eye-pull.'
"Later, we were sitting
down with producers, and they said, 'Now, what are you doing? It's a
little blurry.' I said, 'I'll have it perfect by tomorrow. Mark and
I were trying to get 'stare, lean, eye-pull' and what I did was 'lean, stare,
eye-pull.' They said, 'What?' I forgot that I was talking in our
Not surprisingly, this type
of comedy cracks up the actors, too. Pinchot recalled a scene in an
episode in which the heat in the boys' apartment is turned off and Balki tries
to inspire Larry with tales of Mama pulling the family through the hard times
back in Mypos. Larry runs around with a blanket over his head
panicking. He drops the blanket.
"I put it back on, and
when I wrapped it back around his head, for a minute he looked like an Eastern
European woman," Pinchot said. "I looked at his little round
face sticking out of this blanket and I said, 'Mama? Uh, Cousin?' He
looked at me for a second and then sprayed me with spit because he laughed so