San Gabriel Valley Tribune
February 18, 1988

 Foreign Crazies Are His Specialty

by Gary Deeb

He plays TV's most lovable immigrant since Andy Kaufman's Latka character on the old "Taxi" series.  Bronson Pinchot, who portrays Balki on the ABC comedy series "Perfect Strangers," can thank his natural penchant for European accents for making him perhaps the most popular new comic face to hit television in the last two years.

"Sometimes I feel like I've got peanut butter in my mouth when we're rehearsing," he said, "because I just can't get the words out; I sound like I'm all gummed up.  But once we've got the scene down and ready to go, I manage to slip right into it with no trouble."

It was his small but memorable role in Eddie Murphy's original "Beverly Hills Cop" three years ago that transformed Pinchot into a TV star.  He played a surly, rather prissy employee of an art museum -- and the creators of "Perfect Strangers" walked out of a sneak-preview of that movie with his name scribbled down on a slip of paper.  In "Beverly Hills Cop," his character seemed to be a recent Iranian immigrant, but in "Perfect Strangers" his Balki is of indeterminable origin.

"I'd just come back from a vacation in Greece when I got hired for 'Perfect Strangers,'" Pinchot told me, "and I thought Balki ought to be Greek.  But the producers wanted to make him a native of a fictional southern European country.  That turned out to be a good idea because as the show developed, it's obvious that Balki's homeland has so many silly customs that it could prove insulting to a real country.

"I mean, just a few weeks ago, we said that the national anthem of Mipos (sic) is 'How Will I Know?' by Whitney Houston.  Well, you could never be that playful if you were dealing with a real country.  I mean, everyone would be horrified."

Unlike his pseudo-elegant character in "Beverly Hills Cop," Pinchot's Balki creation is a sweet, thoroughly ingratiating puppydog with a happy disposition.  He loves American pop-culture, continually recites commercial slogans as if they were "thoughts for the day" and utters such U.S. vernacular as "Get a new plan, Stan" in a delightful sing-song voice that automatically cracks viewers up.

Ironically, Balki's obsession with American commercialism is the precise opposite of Pinchot's personal taste.

"I really hate mass-culture, especially pop music," Pinchot said.  "To me, it's nauseating.  All my old friends keep asking me how I'm able to handle all those pop-culture references on 'Perfect Strangers,' and I tell them I just get somebody to play me the record in question -- or I have somebody describe the commercial in full detail -- and then I just play along with it and it works out fine.  Because most of the time, I watch virtually no TV and the music I listen to is usually classical."

Indeed, Pinchot finds it curious that he's now considered an actor who specializes in knockabout comedy, whereas for years he toiled in obscurity with heavy dramatic roles for various theater companies.

"If people in this business want to typecast me as a comic performer, that's their business," he said.  "I personally see no great distinction between playing funny and playing straight, and I sure don't have any intention of suddenly stepping out in a TV movie and playing a heavy dramatic role just to prove myself.  I always find it to be like a glass of cold water in the face when actors do that just to demonstrate their versatility.  I don't see the point.  I don't know if I'm ready to see Jane Alexander do the life story of Harpo Marx."

"As far as I'm concerned, acting is acting -- and just because you're in a comedy series, it doesn't mean that the program doesn't contain moments of genuine drama.  Look at any film with Charlie Chaplin: Even his funniest movies had significant moments of great humanity where he moves you to tears.

"Not to sound totally disgusting, but we do that -- to a certain extent -- a lot of the time on 'Perfect Strangers.'  As for my talent in the comedy area, it's not all that difficult for me.  I think you take your own human experience, multiply it by 10 -- and than it's funny."

His distaste for American pop-culture notwithstanding, Pinchot earns nice bucks as a performer in commercials.

"I've done a lot of Pepsi commercials and I did a pretty good one for coffee last year," he said.  "I guess that puts me in the caffeine sector pretty strongly.  I make no bones about it; I love to do commercials.  It's great money and you can sometimes make them little works of art.  I mean, the only time I've ever rejected a commercial is when the money wasn't enough."