Gabriel Valley Tribune
February 18, 1988
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
"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.
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
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
"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