Joshing with Jack

By Fred Topel


This article originally appeared in the July/August 2008 issue of JVibe, the magazine for Jewish teens. Reprinted by permission.

Our people are known for their humor, though it’s usually more in the intellectual vein of Woody Allen or Jerry Seinfeld than the crazy shenanigans of Jack Black. Jack is indeed a member of the Tribe and one of our favorites for films like School of Rock, King Kong and Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny. In his latest film out now, Kung Fu Panda, he provides the voice for a slacker panda named Po. Jack tells us what it was like to voice a cartoon, plus the bar mitzvah scene he remembers most and what it’s like to be a new dad.

Big Daddy

You’re a father now. What kind of father is Jack Black?

Jack Black
Jack Black is the sexiest man alive. Reuters/Patrick Riviere.

So far, no screw-ups! [My son] is super cute. He’s a dance machine. He does scream if he doesn’t get what he wants. I think that’s normal, but I’ve learned some new techniques. Someone told me you have to explain to them why they’re not getting what they want. Even if he doesn’t speak language yet, he can tell I’m trying to communicate, and he respects me. He still cries, but he cries with less urgency and less protest.

Have you seen the milestones like first steps and first words?

Yep. They say the first steps are so incredible to see, but they came and I was like, “Was that a step? It was more like a fall!” But there were some steps on the way to the fall. He’s really good at that stuff, and he’s been talking for a while, but not really. He doesn’t grasp language yet. There are some words in there, but no sentences. There’s a lot of gibberish. It looks like he’s really talking. I can’t tell though. It’s like, “Do you think you’re saying something or are you just pretending to talk?”

What’s surprised you the most about fatherhood?

The size of my heart. I didn’t know I could feel so much for someone.

Do you want him to follow in your footsteps?

I do hope he’s an artist of some kind. He doesn’t have to be an actor. I hope he does more than just act, because that’s a little easy.

Pure Bred

Will you raise your son Jewish?

There is still time. I might at the last minute go, “You’re Jewish!”

Since you have interfaith parents, did you have a bar mitzvah?

I did, and by the way, my mother is Jewish, so I’m a full Jew. There’s no halfway about it. That’s what the Jews say, anyway.

What was your bar mitzvah like?

I read from the story of Noah in the Torah, I remember. All my friends–I could see them in the back of the synagogue–got bored because it was an extra-long ceremony. It was like two hours long. I saw them sneaking out the back door of the temple.

How about the party?

The presents were not nearly as abundant as I had imagined. I thought there were supposed to be cars and airplanes! I got one good thing. It was a cartridge for my Intellivision video-game system. It was like B-17 Bomber or something like that. It was pretty disappointing, but I was 13 years old and officially a man in the eyes of God.

Panda Practice

Tropic Thunder publicity photo
A poster from Jack Black’s new film, Tropic Thunder.

How much fun did you have being a cartoon panda in Kung Fu Panda?

The cartoon panda was fun! I mean, it’s an easy gig in terms of not having to wake up at the crack [of dawn], not having to get into costumes or makeup. You just go straight to the recording session at noon. Have some Koo Koo Roo chicken. Do a few hours of vocal work, and then come back in a month. So you work like once a month for a few years.

Did you act out any of the kung fu?

Yeah, I get really physical because they have cameras there, but they just use it as reference, not as motion capture.

So how do you think you look as a panda?

Strong. Solid. Well built.The reaction to the film has been good so far.

That’s good! I remember when they were like, “Will you do this?” I was like, “I don’t like the idea. I don’t think it’s going to be good, but alright, let’s do it.” And then I did it and was like, “That was good. That was funny!”

What’s next for your band, Tenacious D?

I love The D and the music, but acting is the main thing. We’re writing new songs for themassive-comeback-masterpiece album. It should be powerful. I really love the first two albums, even though the second album didn’t make as much as the first one. I don’t want the quality to go down for number three. So look for that around, I don’t know, 2012. We need a little more time.

About Fred Topel

Fred Topel is an entertainment journalist in Los Angeles. His bar mitzvah was in December of 1990.