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A Conversation With Fred Stoller

Fred Stoller is one of TV’s most recognizable guest stars. You may remember him as Ray’s mopey cousin on Everybody Loves Raymond, Monica’s bossy coworker on Friends, or even Rusty on the kid’s show Handy Manny. The standup comedian, actor, author, writer, and voice artist has spent his career guest-starring on numerous TV shows before landing the job as a staff writer for Seinfeld from 1994-1995. Now, Stoller focuses on writing for himself with his two published memoirs, My Seinfeld Year (2012) and Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial Guest Star (2013). We sat down with him to talk about his experience during his long-standing career and his new projects.  

Fred Stoller is one of TV’s most known guest stars.

Q: You guest-starred on many shows, ranging from kid shows to adult comedies. Do you have to perform differently for those different audiences? Do you like one audience better than the other?

Stoller: When I would do shows on Nickelodeon for teens like Hannah Montana or The Haunted Hathaways, it’s very broad. Even when I would play a teacher, I would talk slower than normal. It’s a little sillier, and to be honest, at first, I didn’t love doing the kids’ shows but, it’s very sweet. When I go on TikTok live, there are kids that say they grew up with me. I only did one episode of Drake and Josh, but people remember me as this foam finger guy. It’s very sweet to be part of someone’s childhood.

Q: From your experience with acting and voice acting, were there any new skills you had to acquire specifically for your transition to voice acting?

Stoller: In one-way voice acting is easier in that you don’t have to memorize anything. You do have to be a little bit broader sometimes because they can’t see facial expressions. It’s a bit more cartoony. Some voice jobs are subtle and low-key, but every syllable counts, so you have to be a little bit more specific. 

Q: When you’re on a show, and you’re doing so many takes with the same joke over and over, do you still feel the comedy?

Stoller: When I would work on a sitcom, it’s very nerve-racking because it’s like you’re auditioning five times. You audition, then you have what’s called a table read the first day where you all read the script. If you’re the guest guy, many times, your lines are cut if you don’t get laughs or you’re replaced. It didn’t really happen to me too much, but it happens. Then they have rehearsals and run-throughs with the producers where you’re doing the same joke, and maybe you’re not getting laughs with them because they’re hearing it over and over. You lose the sense of the joke doing it over and over, and then you’re worried because they might rewrite it, and you’re thinking, “Are they rewriting it cause they’ve heard it so much?” It’s just part of the process. 

Q: I know you’ve dabbled in many different things throughout your career, like voice acting, standup, writing for Seinfeld. Is there one area, in particular, you want to focus on more?

Stoller: I wrote a book called Maybe We’ll Have You Back: The Life of a Perennial Guest Star, and I also wrote a Kindle single called My Seinfeld Year. I really like getting a book published because I was talking about my own story as opposed to auditioning or fitting into other peoples’ puzzles. I didn’t love standup comedy because you gotta hang out, do the same jokes over and over, they’re drunk, you gotta kill, hang out with annoying comedians. I really like writing a memoir, but I couldn’t have written the memoir if I didn’t have the acting and other stories to tell. I want to write another memoir of my own stories because it felt liberating to tell my story. I felt I didn’t have a boss. I wouldn’t be happy being a staff writer cause you’re writing in someone else’s voice. I like finally talking in my own voice, my quirky worldview.

Fred Stoller wrote My Seinfeld Year about his experience writing for the hit TV show for a year
Credit: Louise Palanker/Flickr

 Q: Talking about writing your own story, you made your own semi-autobiographical film Fred and Vinnie. Is it harder to play a character that’s based on yourself than playing characters that are completely different from you?

Stoller: In one way, it’s weird cause it’s a true story, and we were acting things that really happened in my life. It was surreal reliving them. It was more dimensional. It wasn’t as cartoony. It was kinda fun being me, but you know, not as a cartoon version. Playing yourself is weird.

Q: Now, among the projects you’ve been working on recently, what have you been up to?

Stoller: Well, because of the pandemic, things are slower. I did do a Rick and Morty, a little thing, which was really exciting. That was the only job I’ve done with COVID. I am trying to put together a book of more stories, not all about show biz, just about being a misfit, about holidays having no meaning to me, the weird upbringing I had. I’m writing from my own point of view as opposed to trying to fit into what they’re looking for. There’s an app called Cameo where celebrities set their own price, and you do a shout-out. That’s why I’m at my Cameo table with my props. That keeps me busy, connecting, and just trying to write some stories.         

This interview was edited for content and clarity.

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