Actor, playwright, director, producer [big inhale], voice artist and comic book writer, is there anything the mind-bending Emmy winning creative, Kevin Shinick can’t do? Whether it’s producing cartoons, writing stage plays, or guest starring on David E. Kelly’s new medical drama, I consider it a privilege I was able to pin Shinick down for this interview.
One of the things I love about you is how multi-talented you are. The fact that you are a playwright, as well as an actor, and a comic book writer and an Emmy winner — I mean, it’s incredible. How important is it today as an artist to be able to write and produce and act and wear so many hats?
That’s nice of you to say. Thanks. And it’s funny, because when I was first starting out I would tell agents that I was an actor and a writer and they would say, “Well, you can’t do both! You have to pick one.” And now it seems you almost have to do both, because the culture has shifted. I mean one of my biggest influences has always been Woody Allen, and in his prime, he was one of only a few people who did it all. But now with TV shows like 30 Rock or the Office or dozens of other things where the actors are also writing and directing, it seems like it’s becoming the norm. So the answer is, it’s helpful, but you also just need to follow what interests you. One of the reasons I have such a varied resume is that I’ve always pursued what I like to do. And if the opportunity arose to do something I hadn’t done before, I gave it a shot anyway and hoped for the best. But they say the key to success is finding the one thing you can do and do it well, so obviously I got that one wrong right out of the gate.
What goes into creating an animated character? What’s your process like?
For me, what’s first and foremost, and this goes for live action or animation, is to find a connection to the character. Whether it’s Spider-Man or Alfred E. Neuman or somebody new, I always try and think of what makes them make the choices they make. And since most of what I do is in the comedy world, I also know that the jokes will come fast and furious when I’m ready, but first I have to know who this character is. Lastly, my producer or director hat comes on and I approach it from a “can we do this, or will it be as funny once it’s animated?” mindset. On MAD, we use so many styles of animation. Once a sketch is written, I may choose to use stop motion or flash or photo heads over caricatures to make sure the humor gets across the best it can.
Who would you love to work with that you haven’t already?
I was truly fortunate to not only work with but also to befriend one of my all time idols, and that was Tony Randall. They don’t make them like that very often and I (along with the world) considered him a comic genius. So, if I got to expand my world to include someone of that stature, I would say Gene Wilder or Woody Allen are two people I’d love to work with.
Now, you will also be doing a guest-starring arc in a David E. Kelly medical drama. How did that come about and how closely did you work with David?
Well, like you said earlier I do many things, and acting is just something that has always been a passion of mine and always will be. To that end, I audition just like everybody else in the business. Some you get, some you don’t. And in this case it worked out in my favor. Not only did I get the part in the pilot, but I got a call that they were going to bring my character back a few episodes later to continue my story arc. I actually didn’t get to meet David, but I did get to work with some amazing people. And although we didn’t have any scenes together, Alfred Molina and I had both just voiced characters on the Robot Chicken: DC Comics special so we had that to talk about over lunch.
Being a husband and father, how do you juggle it all and still have time for your family?
It certainly was a struggle at first, because I don’t think anything truly prepares you for parenthood, but it just boils down to prioritizing. You make time for the things that matter and the rest will fall into place. In fact, just the other day my wife said that I needed to take up a non-working hobby like model building or something. I said, “With what free time!?” But she’s right, because it’s the moments in your life when you’re not working that you call upon when you’re writing or acting later on.
What advice do you wish that you could have given yourself when you were first starting out?
I would say to try and demystify the business without becoming jaded. You should always be excited about projects and in awe of those you admire, but you need to realize it’s not some mythical world you don’t belong in or can’t get into. It’s a job, and if you’re lucky, it’s a career. And once you realize you’re just as deserving (especially if you’re training and perfecting your craft), the sooner you can get down in there and start making your mark. One of the greatest gifts I ever received was the support and the confidence that Tony Randall gave to me through his mentoring. And while I’m aware that was a unique situation, the end result is the same. Believe in yourself.
What projects do you have coming up in the horizon?
Well, MAD is heading into its fourth season, my character returns on “Monday Mornings” in two weeks, we’re in talks for another Robot Chicken special and I have a great five-issue story arc for Marvel hitting comic book stores this summer. And when all that’s done I might even build a model or two.