Fred Stoller is the archetypical “where have I seen that guy before?” actor. A former standup comedian, the Brooklyn native has been in lots of TV stuff you’ve watched, from Scrubs to Everybody Loves Raymond to Wizards of Waverly Place.
He was in movies like Dumb and Dumber, Little Man, Goldmember and Joe Dirt.
Stoller’s also a writer – during his staff time on Seinfeld, he came up with the 6th–season episode “The Soup” (hack comic Kenny Bania hustles Jerry for a nice meal at Mendy’s) and co–wrote “The Face Painter.” He played Elaine's date in another episode.
His distinctive voice can be heard in all sorts of animated comedies, including the Open Season movies and the PBS series WordGirl.
The feature film Fred and Vinnie, screening this week as part of the Psychotronic Film Festival, stars the laconic Stoller as himself.
He wrote the script, too, based on real events in his life. An agoraphobic from back east, Vinnie D’Angelo, comes to L.A. to “temporarily” stay with his phone–buddy Fred.
Despite the fact that he is grossly overweight, snores, smokes and eats nothing but candy from the Dollar Store, Vinnie – played by comedian Angelo Tsarouchas – is an endearing character. Fred and Vinnie chronicles the rocky relationship between two men who have nothing in common but neuroses. It’s funny, it’s sad and it’s sweetly poignant.
It was named Best Feature Film at the Beverly Hills Film, TV & New Media Fest, and Best of Festival at the Alexandria Film Fest.
We spoke with Stoller from Los Angeles.
“Almost 90 percent of it happened. Some scenes were embellished. It was kinda eerie, ‘cause when we were filming it, Angelo almost became more Vinnie to me than the real Vinnie. We’d be doing a scene, and I was like re–living when it happened in real life. As we had cameras around us. Like the scene in front of the Egyptian Theatre, Vinnie and I saw the movie Made and Vince Vaughn, Jon Favreau and Faizon Love came out – and obviously we couldn’t get those guys, so we made up another movie. And it was kind of surreal re–living it. With the other Vinnie.”
“When we had auditions, we had a lot of people come in that were really good actors, great chops, but they didn’t seem with the chemistry that they’d be my friend. Or they just seemed like talented actors. And with Angelo, I really felt like I was hanging out with him. He has that thing where he seems not like an actor.”
“When it was happening, like in the movie, I was like ‘What’s wrong with me that I need this nut’s validation in my life?’ and I was trapped, and stressed and annoyed. And not sure, is he a con man? Is he just a loveable lug who can’t help himself? I didn’t see the poignancy at the time. That’s the good thing about writing it – I first did it as a short story and then Steve Skrovan, the producer and director, suggested I adapt it into a screenplay. So years later, I could see the poignancy and all that in it.”
“Part of me thinks he would have stayed on my couch for as long as I let him. But I think he wasn’t manipulative; I think he just was who he was. He didn’t have an agenda. But it’s still a mystery, even to me. I think he loved me, and it was genuine – but he couldn’t quite function.”
Seinfeld: ‘The Soup’
“It’s based on a real story. There was a guy that really did that – he gave me an Armani suit and wanted a meal for it, and we kept going out. He was an annoying guy, and I had to keep taking him out because he kept ordering soup. And the real guy auditioned, but he wasn’t as good as the guy that got it. Because sometimes when you’re auditioning, you’re doing like a bad version of yourself. And part of being on staff is that Larry David changes things. I had his (Bania's) name as Rory Feldman.”
Seinfeld: ‘The Face Painter’
“I wrote the part about Kramer and the monkey. Because when I was a kid, we went to Florida, to a place called Monkey Jungle. And these grown men were throwing rocks at monkeys. And the guy goes ‘They started it!’”
As a character actor
“Things could be worse in life. All the time, people come up to me and they go ‘Can you help me? Who are you? I can’t figure it out.’ And I have to list my credits till I come up with one they like. Usually, with black people it’s Rebound or Little Man – that’s just the way it is – and most times it’s Seinfeld or Raymond or Dumb and Dumber.”
Fred and Vinnie
Where: Muse Arts Warehouse, 703D Louisville Rd.
Screening: At 9 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 24
Tickets: $9 at the door