John Moschitta, Jr., has been an actor and performer since he was 12 years old. If you grew up in the early 80s, you might know him from his appearance on That’s Incredible or his award-winning FedEx commercial. If you grew up in the mid- to late 80s, you might know him as the Micro Machine Man, the voice of Blurr from Transformers (both the movie and the television show), or as “Terrible” Testaverde from Saved by the Bell. Through the 90s and 2000s, he’s performed on Pinky and the Brain, Garfield and Friends, Robot Chicken, and Family Guy. Over the span of his career, he’s been in hundreds of commercials that have run in 37 countries (like this commercial for JetBlue), he’s been in movies, appeared on over 1,000 talk shows, performed for U.S. presidents and other world leaders, and he’s raised over $20 million dollars conducting charity auctions. His YouTube videos have amassed over 100 million views.
We had a chance to sit down with John and talk about how his career and his fast-talking got started, where they’ve taken him, what he thinks of conventions, and what he’s doing to keep busy during the pandemic. He was nice enough to speak at a normal speed for the interview!
Scott (GNN): Here’s the first question I’m going to ask right off the bat: What is the question that you’re asked the most, so I don’t ask it?
John Moschitta, Jr. (JM): Right. Well, they always ask me, “How did you ever learn how to talk so fast?” I mean that’s a logical question, and I’m used to answering that. I have a pretty standard answer that I just kind of spew out. I just kind of flip a switch. I don’t even think about what I’m saying. I’ll try to go a little slower if you’re sending this out for transcription because I don’t want the transcriber…I was once actually voted, “public enemy number one,” by the Court Stenographers Association of America, and they said, “If you see this man enter your court, run!”
GNN: Yeah. I was wondering, “Should I ask him to just talk fast the whole time?” I would just love to flip out a transcriber. The computer would explode!
JM: I had to give a deposition a couple of years ago, and the poor girl on the machine just kept going like this, “Slower. Slower.” And I wasn’t even talking that fast. But back to the question. When I was 12 years old, growing up on Long Island, there was a cerebral palsy therapy group a few blocks away from my house. And they announced that they donate money for cerebral palsy for anyone that broke a record in the Guinness Book of World Records. So first, I wanted to ride the roller coaster at Coney Island, but they said, “Hey, kid take a hike. You’re 12 years old. We’re not going to let you strap yourself into the Cyclone for two weeks straight.” So I went home and I started flipping through the book and decided that I wasn’t going to eat a car or swallow a pipe, so the next best thing was to lock myself in a room and teach myself how to do the fast-talking. I also had five sisters, so to get a word in edgewise was a little bit of self-defense.
GNN: I watched an interview where you did that for the interviewer. So, I’ve got to ask a follow-up…were you naturally a fast talker? How easy was it to learn?
JM: Well, I came from a family with five sisters. I’m Italian, on Long Island, New York. Everybody screams. Everybody talks fast, so I had quite a bit of a head start. Every winter, there used to be the Cerebral Palsy Telethon. And it was Dennis James and this woman, Jane Pickens, who walked around going, “Look at us. We’re walking. Look at us we’re talking.” And I used to go out and collect money, door-to-door, in the freezing weather. I’d collect $12 or whatever, and then you called in and they’d say, “John Moschitta phoned in today,” and I’d collected $12, and I would get such a kick out of hearing my name on TV.
So, when I saw this thing in the paper, that they were going to donate $2,000 to cerebral palsy for anyone that broke a Guinness record. I figured, “Well, I gotta’ get in on that.” It was in the summer. It was at a fair. “I don’t have to freeze my ass off.” I wanted to ride the roller coaster at Coney Island, but the record was two weeks straight, and I was only 12 years old, so they weren’t going to let me do that. And then, I looked through the book, and the most things are like eating cars or swallowing mud pie…that kind of crap. The only thing I could really do was…they said, “Hold your breath.” So, we had a pool in the backyard, and I practiced holding my breath underwater. I didn’t come anywhere near the record and really gave myself a headache. So, the only thing that didn’t really cost any money was to try to do the fast-talking. And at that time, it was done with the, “To Be or Not to Be,” soliloquy. So, when you’re 12 years old and you put your mind to something, you get pretty obnoxious about it. So, I just kind of locked myself up in my room and did, “To Be or Not to Be,” over and over again for a month and got up to record speed. Unfortunately, when I showed up at the event, there was only someone there to verify physical records like the most eggs eaten, the most plates spinning, the most whatever. And they didn’t have any technology there to verify the fast talking, so I didn’t get to verify it at that time.
GNN: Oh, man. What was the record at the time? Do you even remember what the record was?
JM: I want to say 20 seconds or 24 seconds. And it’s like 300 and something words. When I finally did break the record for real, I did it with Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man.
GNN: Absolutely. “Ya got trouble, right here in River City…”.
JM: Exactly, “Friend, either you’re closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge or you are not aware of the caliber of disaster indicated by the presence of a pool table in your community.” And that’s 534 words, and I did that in 58 seconds. I think it’s 58. It worked out to be 586 words a minute when they reviewed it.
GNN: Wow. My only similar claim to fame is that in third grade they made us sing a song about the presidents. I learned how to do it quickly and I can say all of them in about 13 seconds. I can’t even imagine doing an entire song…
JM: That’s pretty good.
GNN: I know, right? That was my party trick! At parties, my parents would always trot me out and say, “Hey, Scott, do your presidents!” So as a kid, as a kid, based on your bio and some other things I read, at 18 you moved to Manhattan to do some, “off-Broadway stuff”. Was entertaining something you wanted to do from an early age?
JM: I was always an actor. I was always in all the school plays. In college, I majored in theater, and I was much more interested in just doing the plays than actually going to classes. That’s always what I wanted to do, be in showbusiness somehow. And when I moved to New York, I had a lot of odd jobs and not too much acting stuff. But I was a contestant on the $25,000 Pyramid, and I won $10,500. That, basically, gave me the opportunity to get an apartment, move out of the house, do whatever to get my life started. And I guess I made an impression on Bob Stewart, the creator of the show and the executive producer. Because a couple of years later, he was doing another show, and they called me and asked me if I wanted to work on the show. So, I started doing TV production. And that was fun, working on the game show. And then that led to a job working for Warner Brothers in Columbus, Ohio on the world’s first two-way interactive cable system. It was called QUBE, and it was a major, major thing. I mean, we went on the air December the first 1977 with 11 hours of live programming a day in Columbus, Ohio. And you could ask people questions, and they had a box, a cube in their house and they could answer the question by pushing buttons. And that system went out and checked with everybody, and they can either give you the overall, like 20% of you said this and 40 said this or they could say, “Well, Scott said this.”
GNN: That sounds pretty cool.
JM: So, it was great training ground. I got to produce several shows. I hosted several shows. I filled in as the host of shows. Like I was Mugsy the Clown or Flippo the Clown, who had a show called Flippo’s Magic Circus, and the analogy I always use is Bob Hope is to America as Flippo was to Columbus (laughs). He had a chain of fast food restaurants. He was a very funny guy. His name was Bob Marvin and he was– have a conversation with you and when he had enough he would just say, “Okay. Well, I got to call my wife up. Oh, Up!” And he’d pick up and walk away.
JM: Also, Nickelodeon was starting at the time. They used the studios we used. So, I had my own show called Nickel Flicks, which was on seven days a week, three times a day. And I played like a Sydney Greenstreet character in a big rattan chair doing wraparounds for old movie serials.
So, I stayed in Ohio for two years, and it was great because it gave me lots of experience, but after that it was time to kind of move on. So that’s when I came out to LA. I’ve been here since ’79. So, it’s been 41 years.
GNN: Was the move work-related? Did they send you out there or did you decide you’d done all you could do in Ohio and you just went?
JM: It’s the latter. I really had had kind of enough. The novelty of the whole thing had certainly worn off. In the beginning…I mean, people were coming literally from all over the world and, back then, people still had to go out on press tours. Every major star came and did our shows. So, it was really something. But after two years nobody cared anymore, and it hadn’t blossomed into this massive thing where the whole country was going to be on the QUBE. I had had it, so it was time to move on. They continued. They did go to a couple other cities. They went to Pittsburgh and Cincinnati and someplace else. But then it just kind of fizzled. But I had already left at that point.
GNN: Gotcha. So, again, you’d done some producing and writing and performing and so you had a body of work and then you headed out to California. And I looked at your IMDB page and, I mean, you were on The A-Team, you’re on Trapper John M.D., you’re on The Tonight Show. What was the first thing you did when you got out there? Did that come pretty quickly, or was it a long, kind of slow roll?
JM: Well, okay…I was a 25-year overnight success (laughs). You were mentioning your party trick doing the presidents; well, I happened to be at a party one night not long after I had arrived here. I came here at the end of July 1979, and this would have been a year later…and not even a year but several months later…so it was the beginning of 1980 and I was at a party and a friend of mine was trying to pick up a valley girl and he was from New York. He was speaking very quickly, as New Yorkers do, and she looked at him and said, “Oh my God, you must be the world’s fastest talker.” And he said, “No. As a matter of fact, this person is.” And they called me over and I did my little party trick and this guy walked up to me and said, “That’s incredible. My name is Alex Palmisano. I want to put you on That’s Incredible.” At the time I was working on a PBS show and I thought, “Well, I love your show. It’s great, but I don’t think it’s going to advance my career for me to appear on a show where I follow a man who swallows a 30-foot python.” He said, “Okay,” but he took my information and they kept calling and calling and calling. Finally, the acting strike came and nobody was working, and they called and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. So, I went on the show. They had three incredible talkers. They had a guy who talked backwards. He would say something unintelligible and they would play the tape backwards and he would actually say “Happy Thanksgiving.” It was the Thanksgiving show. It aired on Thanksgiving 1980. Then they had a guy who was called a simultaneous talker who says what you’re saying as you’re saying it. And it’s very weird, very weird. And then they had me and I did actually follow a 30-foot python and it had shit all over the place.
GNN: Oh my God. Seriously?
JM: Yes. He had shit all over the stadium and then just kind of squirmed in it and got it all over everything. The man wasn’t swallowing it, but there was a python involved in the show.
And at the time I did that, I was in a production of The Madwoman of Chaillot, so I sent out fliers to advertising agencies and casting people and whatever that basically was, “What would you say to a man who speaks over 500 words a minute?” And then you open it up and it says, “That’s incredible! Hear for yourself! Thanksgiving blah blah blah blah…or see him in person in The Madwoman of Chaillot!”And part of the thing I did was I sent a proposal for a commercial for MCI, the long-distance phone company. Well, the guy who worked on MCI’s account also worked on Federal Express’s account and they said, “We’ll check this guy out.” And the show aired on Thanksgiving 1980 and they watched it and they came up with the idea for the Federal Express commercial. On the Monday after Thanksgiving my phone did not stop ringing. I booked The Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Mike Douglas Show, and I started negotiating the Federal Express contract, and started negotiating a talent contract with ABC in one day. I went from nobody wanting to know I was on the planet to craziness. People magazine coming to my house…
GNN: That’s incredible! Ugh, that was a terrible pun…
JM: Yep, and that’s incredible! You would think, “Who’s going to watch this? Who’s going to see it?” But I guess because it was Thanksgiving, it was the timing. It was whatever. And I sent out the flyers and did all that. So, I don’t know how much of that was they just happened to watch it because That’s Incredible was a big hit when it was on.
GNN: Yeah absolutely.
JM: So, even if they just happened to watch it, or if it was good Thanksgiving viewing, or if the flyer prompted them to do it, or whatever. It didn’t matter to me. All I knew is all of a sudden, everybody wanted me to be on their shows. Of course, they would never let me talk about being an actor. I could only come on as the fast talker, which pissed me off.
GNN: Yeah. I was about to ask about that. Again, I watched some of your interviews and some of your convention appearances, and I was wondering if at that point, how were you billing yourself and how did you want to be billed? Were you an actor that talked fast or were you a fast talker who could act?
JM: Well, I always considered myself an actor first, and the fast talking was just one of the tools in my box. People like to put you in other kinds of boxes, and they don’t let you be what you want to be. Now for me, the only letting me be a fast talker thing only lasted for about the first year, until the Federal Express commercial aired. Once that started airing, all of a sudden, I was an actor and I was talking fast. Now, that didn’t mean they considered me for other stuff as an actor. It just means if they needed a fast-talking actor, they called me. So, I did still get put in a box, but it just was a different box, and I was considered an actor and not just a freak.
GNN: Right. I know one of the biggest things you’ve done, among other things, was the Micro Machine commercials. How many of those did you do?
JM: Well, we did 125 that aired…
GNN: That’s amazing.
JM: We used to do…we would film the beginning of January every year because Toy Fair is the beginning of February in New York. So, we would shoot like 25 or more commercials, and then they’d take them to Toy Fair, but not all the products would get bought. So, I think it was 125 that aired. It might’ve been only 100 that aired, but it was over 100.
GNN: So when you were saying that the fast talking was something on the résumé as a line item there, when the Micro Machine company calls you, do you even have to audition? How did it work?
JM: Once I was on the Federal Express commercial, which aired in 1981, once that commercial aired, I never auditioned for a commercial again. And I did 600 of them. I think…now, I could be wrong on this. I don’t know who keeps these records, but at the time, and for at least 20 years after, that Federal Express commercial was the most award-winning commercial in the history of advertising. It was picked by many organizations as the commercial of the century. And we were coming up on Y2K.
GNN: Right. That’s awesome.
JM: So, as far as commercials, they either wanted me or they didn’t. And the Micro Machine commercial started out as one commercial as a test commercial. But it was created for me.
GNN: Okay. I mean I couldn’t even imagine it any other way. You’re synonymous with that. And then the Minute Rice– anything that needs to be done fast, I imagine.
JM: Exactly. I’ve worked for a million corporations, over 350 of the Fortune 500 companies as well as many other companies.
GNN: I always remember you in the commercials and I couldn’t help but do anything but smile. I mean, they’re just funny. I still remember the catchphrase…, “The most miniature motorcade of Micro Machines!”
JM: “The most miniature motorcade of Micro Machines ever. All smaller than a nut. Not this one, this one!”
GNN: Then they had the odd commercials, like the one where they put you through a car wash…
JM: Yes. For Car Wash City. We used to film in January, as I mentioned, the first week of January. And filmed over at Raleigh Studios and they had no heat in the soundstage. And it was freezing in January. It was a cold, drizzly morning. It was freezing, and that was the first shot of the day, was me being pulled through this car wash where they were squirting me with soap and soap suds and water. It was freezing. I’m trying to read the teleprompter. I’m being pulled, literally, by two people pulling me on two-by-fours. I’m on a platform and they’re pulling the two-by-fours so that it looks like I’m going through the carwash. I was freezing. I kept getting the soap in my eyes. I couldn’t see the prompter. It took a million takes. But it got done.
GNN: Was there ever anything they asked you to do on those commercials like, “Hey, we’re coming out with a new Micro Machines helicopter and we want you to get in a helicopter and parachute out of it,” anything that crazy?
JM: They were mostly pretty tame. I mean, I got to be a Dracula Micro Machine Man and they got me to fly around. They only used me coming up at the end. They didn’t use me flying, but I got to do it. So that was fun. When you fly like that, it doesn’t feel very good; they put you in all these harnesses, and it hurts. They were hauling me up and I’m being basically held up by my body on two wires. But it was good. I also had to do a cast of my hand because they did so much stop-action with the cars in my hand. So, they made a replica of my hand. It used to be very weird for me to come in and see my hand in a C-stand (laughter) with them just moving the car one frame at a time. It was just really weird.
GNN: Mr. Moschitta, so as a nerd, every nerd of the 80s and 90s worth their salt owns…and since this is a written interview, I am holding up my DVD copy of Transformers: The Movie, which you were in. This was a huge part of my childhood…every morning, G.I. Joe, He-Man, Transformers. Those were the three shows every morning. So, again, was that another case of, “We’ve created this transformer. He talks fast. Get John.” Or, I mean, was there an audition for that?
JM: Nope. That was the same thing. One of the writers said, “You know, we should have John Moschitta come in and do one of the characters.” So, I actually did the TV show that was actually done before the movie came out even though it was reversed in real life; it was actually the other way. And some of the sessions I got to do with the whole cast, which was great. Because the cast was phenomenal on that show, and they were so much fun. And to be grown-up men sitting in a room talking about your struts melting was pretty fun. But a lot of times I would just record by myself because I was traveling all over and doing whatever. But they did create that for me. And then, when they were going to do the movie, I was actually in New York. And they said, “Well, you’re one of the only people we’re using from the cast in the movie, and we really want you to be here.” And I was like, “Well, I’m in New York. I don’t want to shoot…,” and they said, “Believe me, you’re going to want to be here.” And then I showed up in the studio and it’s, like, all the stars of the movie. I’m like, “Oh, my God. Yes, I want to be here.”
GNN: Yeah, there were some firepower in that movie. Eric Idle was in it…
JM: Orson Welles. It was Orson Welles’s last movie. He played Unicron. Judd Nelson, Robert Stack. Robert Stack and I were sent out on the press tour for it. And he was such a nice man. He was really nice. Mostly, they would send us to different cities. But when you went to New York, there were so many shows that they would send two of you, and then you’d do half the shows, he’d do half the shows. I remember, we were shocked. We had not seen the finished product of the movie and people…they were concerned it was going to be too violent. And they kept assuring us. Sunbow Pictures kept assuring us, “Oh, no. It’s not violent, it’s whatever, it’s a family movie.” So, we’re going on all these shows, telling, “Oh, take the whole family. Do whatever.” And then, of course, we go to the premiere which was in Times Square, and it’s all heavy rock music and just everything exploding all the time. It didn’t affect me too much, but Robert Stack got pretty…he felt kind of used by it.
GNN: Yeah. As a little kid it was pretty violent how they were actually killing off characters. When I got older, I realized it was like, “Oh, we’re killing off all the old Transformers so guys like this new Blur character could come in.” The new set of toys could come in. It stinks. But at the time, on the show, they never killed any of the Transformers. They got hit by lasers, but they’d just get up. But man, the one chunk of the movie where the good guys were getting killed, I mean, it was pretty violent. It was a really good movie, but it was more for early or mid-teens. So, you talked about doing a lot of press for the movie and you had earlier fame from the fast-talking and the acting. What was the best time you had on a talk show?
JM: Oh, God. Actually, it was just fun because you go on, and everybody asks you the same questions. And they all think they’re being just clever as can be, and it’s all the same questions. And I’d done a million of them, and I was doing AM Los Angeles here. And the hosts were Regis Philbin…he hadn’t started doing the Regis Show…and Cristina Ferrare. And they did a champagne tasting segment before me, and she got drunk. And a part of the thing they wanted me to do is to get them to do tongue twisters. So, I was giving them tongue twisters, and there is a tongue twister, “once a smart man, he felt smart. Two smart men, they felt smart,” and you end up saying, “smell farts,” if you do it fast. So, she’s sitting there in this chair, and we’re in these high stools, and she’s going, “Do the smelly fart one. Do the smelly fart.” And it was a live show. Regis is trying to shut her up. “No! I want to do the smelly fart one.” So, that was fun for me.
Also, my first time on The Merv Griffin Show was kind of fun. When I was on The Tonight Show, I got bumped the first couple of times. And I finally got on, I walk out, and you’re watching the show the whole time. It looks like the studio’s gigantic. So, they open the curtain, I walk out, and it’s literally one step and you’re at Johnny’s desk. And I thought I had several steps to go, so I sort of walked past him because I went bounding. I mean, it didn’t look so bad when you’re watching the show, but when you’re doing it there, it’s like, “Oh, my God. I walked right past the guy.” So, it was fun. It was great, and I loved doing the interview. You’re sitting there, you’re talking, your mouth is moving, you’re answering questions, and your brain is going, “That’s Johnny Carson. Johnny Carson is sitting right there,” because he just was the guy.
So, when I went to go on with Merv Griffin, I explained to the stage manager, “This is what happened. So, would you mind? Will you take me out to the studio before you let the audience in, so I can see the physical setup?” He said, “Oh, sure, no problem.” Now, backstage there was kind of shaped like a B. So, you came out kind of facing the audience one direction, and you kind of walked around the B to get to where the sitting area was. Now, having explained to the stage manager why I wanted to do this, you think he might have informed me that Merv comes over to the curtain to meet the guest. Well, the curtain opens; I come out take my little bow for the audience, and once again, now I know I’ve got six good steps to bound around, and as I go around the B, Merv is coming the other way. We crash into each other and I scared the shit out of him. He was, I mean, his heart was pounding, and he was short of breath. We went, sat down, and he was just so discombobulated. But, on the show, it was David Brenner, me, and Rosa Parks. We were…
GNN: Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, wait, wait. The Rosa Parks?
JM: The Rosa Parks.
GNN: Oh, my gosh. That’s amazing.
JM: She was sitting down and David Brenner and I told her to sit at the back off the couch, as a joke.
GNN: Oh, are you kidding me? Was she a good sport?
JM: She was. We had met her in the green room beforehand and talked about it.
GNN: I thought it was incredible to go to The Henry Ford Museum in Michigan and sit on the bus she sat on. You actually got to meet her. That is really great.
JM: I actually have managed to meet a lot of very interesting and different people, and people you would never think, like Rosa Parks, that I would have ever met Rosa Parks.
GNN: You’ve also met presidents, right?
JM: I performed for eight presidents, and many world leaders, the Chancellor of Germany, President of France, Prime Minister of Italy. So yeah, I know it’s been pretty interesting.
GNN: So, what are the top three things that you’ve gotten to do as a result of your talents?
JM: Well, definitely, being on the Academy Awards, reading the rules, being the last person to read the rules of the Academy Awards was pretty cool.
GNN: I saw that in your bio. That is cool.
JM: Hosting the 25th anniversary of the Clio Awards at Radio City Music Hall, and coming up out of the floor, and floating across the stage to an audience of 5,000 people was pretty cool.
GNN: You weren’t dressed as Dracula that time, were you?
JM: No, no, no, no, no. And third thing I did…Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple, used to do a music concert called the US Music Festival, out here in San Bernardino. They hired me one year to do a commercial for it, and then I actually went to the event to…I was supposed to introduce David Bowie, but they were so far behind schedule, I ended up introducing The Pretenders instead because I had to leave. I had a job someplace else, but it was really cool. They sent you out there. They send a limo for you. They put you in a motel. When it’s time to go, they send a helicopter for you because, of course, the traffic was all backed up. And I had a nice little area backstage. Backstage was great. It was all this like little trailers and things and like a little village. And then, out front was 220,000 people just packed in like sardines. It was like 100 degrees. They had water cannons. They were watering people down (laughs). And people would pass out, but they wouldn’t fall down because they were so pressed between people. You would just look out then you could see these people that were passed out but still standing up. And if they noticed they were passed out, they were just passing them overhead up to the front, and then the security guards would haul them off.
And when it was finally time when they decided, okay, we would introduce The Pretenders because David Bowie’s not going on for another seven hours, they sent me out and they said, “Could you just make some announcements first?” They wanted me to say where the bathrooms were, where the food was, that kind of stuff. So, I started doing it, and one guy right in the middle of this…I mean, it’s 220,000 people like as far as you can see, just people, and some guy in the middle yells, “Bullshit.” So then, all of a sudden, you’ve got 220,000 people yelling, “Bullshit,” at you (laughs). I was like, “Oh, my God,” I’ve never seen anything like it. So, I just said, “F*** it,” and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, The Pretenders,” then I just went off the stage. That was a pretty amazing experience. But really, that’s so many, but those are three of them.
GNN: Right. It’s funny, because I interview a lot of people who’ve done amazing things and you’ve done so many amazing things, and one of my mottos is that I like to live my life so 10-year-old me would think I’m cool. If you could go back and tell 10-year-old you how things would turn out, what do you think he’d say?
JM: Well, I could tell you, as 10-year-old me, I always thought I was going to be an actor or be famous or do something that I wasn’t going to stop until I was. However, that being said, I had zero intuition that the talking fast was ever going to be something that was going to do anything for me. And when it finally caught on, I don’t think there was anyone more surprised than me. I was pretty much told to shut up for 15 years! All of a sudden, people started paying me money for it! I was like, “What, are you kidding me?”
GNN: (Laughs) Now, I looked at your IMDb page, and early on, you had roles in shows like Trapper John, MD and The A-Team. Those weren’t fast-talking roles, were they?
JM: No. On The A-Team, I played a fashion designer, Jason Burnette (laughs), and Markie Post was my big model find. And my competitor kidnapped her son so he could blackmail her into giving him my designs and that’s why the A-Team came in to save the day…to get Markie’s son. So, that was a regular one.
JM: Yeah. What’s his name, Stephen J. Cannell, put me on a lot of his shows. He liked me. On Trapper John, I played the head of the hospital and that was a great gig because I only showed up at the studio one day and I played this character called Danvers and I was a real asshole, so when people would see me coming, they would just go scattering everywhere.
GNN: All right.
JM: So, in the first episode, the only episode I actually filmed, I had lines and you could tell I was an asshole and that was fine; I wasn’t fast-talking or anything, but then in subsequent episodes, they would use the stock footage of me walking down the hall and they’d go, “Here comes Danvers,” but he would go and I’d have to get paid for the show because it was like I was in it but I never refilled anything. I think the only place it runs these days is in Papua New Guinea and I get checks for nine cents.
GNN: (Laughs) Woo. Man, that’s a lot! So, it’s safe to say that you’re a pop culture icon. I remember you from the FedEx commercial. I remember you from the Micro Machines commercials. You were in Saved By The Bell. You were in the Transformers movie and in the show, and you were also on a show that some people remember…I watched it in elementary school. It was on PBS and it was called Square One Television.
JM: Oh my God, I love that show.
GNN: It was fantastic. And I saw that you were in that as a couple different characters.
JM: One of the great things about working for Warner Brothers in Ohio was I got to work with some really, really incredible people who went on to do all sorts of stuff, and one of the guys was this guy, Jim Thurman, who went on to become one of the head writers of Children’s Television Workshop, and he would come up with stuff for me all the time. I did stuff on Sesame Street and it was always the fast-talking stuff. And then he wrote this movie for Mathnet Adventures and it was called “The Case of the Purloined Policies” and I played Johnny Dollar, an insurance broker, a car insurance salesman, and his mother, Mrs. Dollar (laughs) and the whole premise was I was taking insurance policies on these expensive cars and then stealing the cars and cashing in the insurance policies, and then I faked my own death so I could take all this money and leave and that’s when I became Mrs. Dollar and it was so much fun and so funny.
GNN: So, in the ’80s, when you’re in all these commercials, and shows, and movies, how popular were you? Were you noticed when you travelled?
JM: Oh well, I still am. But back then, it was crazy because people of a certain age knew me as the Federal Express guy. Housewives, well, men too, but mostly housewives. I don’t want to seem sexist about it, but mostly housewives that were home during the day knew me from Minute Rice because that’s when the commercials ran, during soap operas and game shows and they weren’t on during primetime. And then the kids knew me as the Micro Machine Man or “Terrible” Testaverde from Saved by the Bell or as Blur from Transformers. So, I was kind of reaching across the broad spectrum of people. Men, women, and children in the peak there. So, I pretty much got recognized every place I went. I was sitting in the Cairo airport and someone came up and started going, “funny mouth, funny mouth.” I didn’t know what it was. And a friend of mine that it was traveling with us happened to be Egyptian and talked to them. And that’s incredible. I had just run in Egypt. And the translation of what I did was, “funny mouth.” So, I’m getting recognized in the Cairo airport.
GNN: That’s nuts, man. That’s amazing. Well, on one hand, it’s amazing. It’s amazing that anybody gets that famous, but I mean you were a steady presence on television. You have these people that hit in one big thing and then you never see them again. A lot of times it’s with one-hit-wonder singers they have their one song and they pop up for a little while and then you never see them again.
JM: Well, you see it with a lot of sitcom actors who get on one sitcom and they’re lucky it runs five years, six years and then you never see them again.
GNN: Right. Good point.
JM: I was very busy for certainly all the ’80s and about half of the ’90s and then I was flying 250,000 miles a year and I just didn’t want to do it anymore. And I thought is the only reason to do this money because I’m not getting any more personal fulfillment out of it. I’ve gotten enough smoke blown up my ass in the last 15 years that I could float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I don’t need to have people tell me I’m wonderful or do whatever. I mean, that need, if it ever was there, which it probably is with every actor, had long dissipated because I just had it for 15 years. So, I decided to kind of slow it down and, unfortunately, it slowed down a little more than I would have liked. I mean, I still continue to work, and I still do different cartoon voices and occasional TV shows or a movie here or there…sometimes with the fast-talking, sometimes not.
People will ask me, “Don’t you wish you were working more?” I’m like, “No, not really.” I mean, my dream job would be…the only thing I haven’t done on my bucket list is be in a Broadway show. So, I really want to do that before I kick it. But I would also love to get an old fashioned five camera sitcom. Play the cranky grandpa or some other character. Let it stay on for six or seven years. I love sitcoms. I love the five camera sitcoms. It’s like a 9:00 to 5:00 job. It’s perfect. You go in and the only day that runs a little long is the day you actually tape in front of the audience. Other than that, it’s a regular job. And I don’t think I would want to be on an hour-long television show anymore or even a single camera comedy show because you work for 13 hours a day and out of that time you’re really only working four minutes and the rest of the time you’re sitting around; it’s boring. You’re all over the place; you’re dealing with weather and whatever. So, I don’t think…well, I’d probably take it, don’t get me wrong, but it wouldn’t be my first choice. I would rather just be on a nice five camera sitcom.
I live in Burbank now, so all the studios are here someplace that’s 10 minutes from my house. Drive to work. Have fun and come home. I think that would be great. Other than that, I don’t have a burning urge to do more commercials or more movies or travel around to make speeches to conventions. I’ve done all that so it’s not– I still do it occasionally like I did a job for the Chicago Cubs at the end of last year and went to Chicago and did it, it was nice. We filmed at Wrigley Field, so it was fun. I do some stuff, but I’m a little pickier and I don’t just jump at every opportunity.
GNN: I was about to ask, you just mentioned cons and when I typed your name on YouTube, there are a bunch of videos of you answering questions at cons. I hate to ask a question like I’m setting you up to say, “They sucked,” but were the cons fun? You were usually part of a group. Were the cons enjoyable?
JM: I have a big problem with them. I’ve only done it I think three times. I get asked a lot. I only like to go to the ones where they charge an admission charge and then anybody can come up and get your autograph. They don’t have to pay another $20 or $25 or $50. I mean, some of these guys sell their autographs for 50 bucks, 100 bucks. I don’t want that. I don’t want to see some little kid standing three feet from the table saying to his mother, “Oh I want his autograph.” And the mother’s telling them, “Well you can’t get his autograph because you got somebody else’s autograph and we don’t have any more money.” When I hear that I was like, “Give me that, I’ll give you an autograph,” and then [the convention gets] pissed off at you because you’re giving away your autographs. I would try to keep all the cards that I did. Down to the ones that were admission price only, of course, they had the silver, platinum, gold membership where people pay through the nose and they’ve got private parties and stuff like that. That to me was different. That was okay. And you know then you could just really meet the fans and have fun and not have to have somebody there, counting money like Scrooge sitting there. And people, you want an autograph it’s just money, you want a picture it’s just money you want this, it’s just money you want me to sign your Transformer [or Micro Machine], just money. Just ching ching ching, that makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t like doing it, so…
GNN: That’s good on you. I attend them before I covered them for the website, and now when I go, I get a press pass, but that just gets me in the door; from there I’m on my own. I want a picture with Christopher Lloyd, that’s like $100. They had a Back to the Future package one year that was over $1,000. I wasn’t down for that.
JM: Yeah, I did a Transformers convention where it was…I think $5,000 to…I don’t even remember who it was…who the big person was. It was someone that never does them. And so that you can have a private meet and greet for two seconds with them. No, it’s fine. You got that kind of money. But I just get very uncomfortable when it’s got to be the money thing and then also you have like an ego deflation when you’re sitting at a table where they’re charging by the thing and people are walking by saying, “I don’t want to spend my 20 bucks here.”
GNN: I learned that at the first convention I attended. I’m walking around and no one’s in line for Peter Mayhew, who plays Chewbacca, and I can’t understand why he has no line. Some people standing next to me said he comes to so many conventions and sometimes he’s not particularly friendly. I have to imagine, even if you’re not thrilled to be there that it’s got to be a bit of a ding to the ego…
JM: Yeah. So, the couple that I did, the first one I ever did was in Indianapolis. And I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. And they sat me down at a table. I did a session first before we did the panel. And they walked me into this, where the table is, and there’s a line snaking back and forth going outside the convention center around the convention center. I was like, “Oh my God. What are all these people? Why are they lining up for me for this?” I was a little shocked. And then of course, the people that go there are very, very serious about the show. So, we go to the panel, and they start asking you questions like, “In episode 47, when your struts melted, what was that like?” And you’re like, “I don’t know. I don’t have struts.” I’m not a robot. Look at me. I’m not a robot that turns into a car. I’m a guy who turns into nothing.
And then you do have…there’s a certain portion of the con audience that is absolutely out of their mind. And I was stalked at the convention. There was a guy who stood two feet from the table, who just stared at me the whole time and kind of followed me to the elevator. When I got up in the morning, he was in the hallway. It just a little weird.
JM: And then you have other people that…I had one couple; they were very nice. They stood in line and waited for my autographs at a different one of the cons several times. And that was their honeymoon. The honeymoon was coming to BotCon. So, I was like, “All right.” But people take it very seriously.
GNN: It’s amazing. But you’re right, it has become a big business and it is…and I write an article every year prepping people for MegaCon in Orlando, I don’t want to disappoint them, but I mean, people think they’re gonna get these photo ops and talk to these people, and I’m like, if you buy a photo op, it’s just a cattle call. “You have five seconds, stand there,” picture, done.
JM: Yeah, bye-bye, next.
GNN: Yeah, and even the meet and greets at the table, some celebrities are really cool about it, but some celebrities are kind of lukewarm about it.
JM: For me personally, I really appreciate the fans, and I try to give them as much time as I can when they come up and I’m signing stuff, and I listen to their stories and talk to them, and the same thing with any of the kind of meet and greets that we do. But I have seen several people who are major d***heads and you’re like, “What, are you crazy? Someone’s waiting on line for three hours, at least be cordial to them.” They grunt at them like they don’t want to be there, and then other ones, especially the pay per view ones, pay for this and pay for that and pay for that, they’d come, they’d set up booths with all these millions of different things…I’m like, “Oh, my God.” But, for a lot of these people, I mean, luckily, I still work, so I don’t have to make a living at conventions. But a lot of the people, especially from things in the 80s, are not doing a lot of stuff right now. And that’s how they make their living. And they can make a good living out of it. You go do a convention somewhere, and if you’re a popular character that fits into the theme of that convention, and you’ve got all your different 9,000 things people can plop money for, they make a ton of money. I don’t want to do it, so.
GNN: All right. The one question I have especially for actors who– I mean, you’re well known for doing a few things. And there seem to be three spots on the spectrum. There are some people like George Wendt or Jimmy Walker or the most famous case is Max Baer, Jr. God forbid you call him Jethro. He talked about he got typecast and he could never get work. Then you have the other end of the spectrum, people like Jon Heder, who plays Napoleon Dynamite, or Michael Winslow. I mean you can’t even do an interview with Michael Winslow without him doing all the crazy sounds. You want him to stop. He’s so into his character. Then you have middle of the road people like Alfonso Ribeiro who seems like he gets that he’s famous for Carlton and, at least to me, he doesn’t seem like he minds when people call him Carlton. I mean it seems like an a-hole move as a fan to go, “Hey, Carlton.”, instead of saying, Hey, Alfonso,” but where do you say you fall on the spectrum? Do you realize that talking fast got you to the dance, so you don’t mind it? Or would you rather people take you more seriously?
JM: Well, I would rather the industry take me more seriously, but I’m extremely amazed at the reaction people have to me. And some of the things that people have said to me about what I meant to them in their childhood and all this, “You were my whole childhood,” and they name this and that, and they saw you here, they saw you there, and whatever. It makes you feel good. That you could be something to somebody and have…you don’t think about it. When you’re in a room saying “Decepticons, decepticons, depticons!” You don’t think that’s gonna’ mean anything to anybody.
GNN: You’re right.
JM: So, when you find out it does and that you have some kind of effect, it’s great. Now, do some people come up and they’re total turds? Yes. But when most people come up…I don’t care what they call me. And so many people see you from so many different things, you don’t even know what it is. It’s always something to do with the fast talking. Nobody recognizes me for being Jason Burnett, the fashion designer on The A-Team. Nobody else that is not a stalker. Which is fine. You know me as Terrible Testaverde from Saved by the Bell, or the Micro Machine Man, or the FedEx guy, or the whatever they’ve seen me do. And because I’ve done so many commercials and I’ve done them so many places in the world, there are lots of people that come up and recognize me for things that I don’t even remember doing. So, you never know what you’re going to get recognized for. But the fact that people take the time…most people are really nice. But some people are jerks. I don’t want the “Do it, do it, do it!” Or like “tell me a joke.” I did have twice in restaurants where people just come with their plates and pull up a chair and sit down to join you with dinner.
GNN: Are you serious?
JM: You’re in the middle of having dinner with friends and someone comes and sits down. I say, “Excuse me we’re having dinner here.” They say, ” I’m just such a big fan. I just thought it be nice if I could join you for dinner” I say, “Well, I’m sorry but I need to be with my friends, you should be with your friends.” “I could be with them anytime.” I’m like, “Yeah. Like right now would be a good time to start.” So, I mean you do have that. I don’t really drink anymore. I don’t go to bars, but I used to be quite a heavy drinker. Not like an alcoholic or anything, but I enjoyed my cocktails in my younger days. And you would get people in bars coming up like gunslingers, like “Speak!” “Do it!” “You’re not so fast!” “I could do that.” So that would get a little tiresome, and it’s also surprising when people will come up and say things like, “I can’t believe you have five sisters.” It just freaks me out that someone that I don’t know who they are, I don’t know anything about them, and they know I grew up with five sisters. Because you say things in interviews…like I’m talking to you today…and I’m thinking, “no one’s gonna’ hear this; no one’s going to read this.” Not because of you, but because it’s just something you’re doing, and you don’t really expect there’s any repercussions of that. So, I’m amazed when people know things. And I’m amazed when people tell me there’s something I said or did that caused them to do something nice for somebody or made them feel better or something like that. It’s a great feeling. So, I never care if people come up to me as long as they’re kind of on the decent side and not total…you know.
GNN: No, sure. You’ve got this image stuck in my head now of you sitting in a bar and a guy walking in and he’s like, “All right, you ready? Trouble in River City. Draw.” And then trying to challenge you to a talk off.
JM: Oh, God, I had a guy. I was in Detroit doing a job for a radio station. And the hotel I was staying at was the Black Funeral Directors Association Convention. I think was the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Detroit. I was like the only white person in the entire hotel. I went down to the hotel bar to get a cocktail. And some guy just would not stop. “Look at this guy. Get a load of this guy over here.” And I was just, “Oh, my God.” And then you got like twenty black funeral directors around you who don’t know what this guy’s talking about (laughs). It was the strangest occurrence.
GNN: There’s another thing I read that I’m super interested in asking about. You’ve been named…you won an award like the most effective spokesman in the history of advertising. You’ve won Cleo Awards. Do you watch commercials now and kind of give your thumbs up, thumbs down as you watch them? Nowadays, when you can skip over commercials, it seems as if there’s a need to make them more interesting and funnier. Are there any commercials that you enjoy?
JM: Well, I don’t really think there is…I think because people get bombarded with so much media that to stand out you really have to go that extra mile. I do fast-forward through most things. I would say 98% of my television viewing is done in the DVR.
GNN: Sure. Yeah, absolutely.
JM: So, I just fast-forward through a lot of stuff. If a commercial looks interesting or sometimes it just comes on and it’s good, I mean, I watch it and I can appreciate when it’s good. And some of the stuff is…some of the commercials are really good and even in fast-forward something in the commercial can catch your eye that you’ll stop and go back and I do that. And then, of course, when you watch the on-demand stuff, you can’t get away from it. You have to watch the commercials.
But, I mean, I think it’s great with people who…there doesn’t seem to me to be as many…maybe there are. I mean, besides like Flo and then the two guys that do the Sonic hamburger commercials, there aren’t that many people that are doing regular commercials; it’s mostly kind of like one and outs. And so much of the stuff now for commercials are for drugs.
GNN: Oh yeah! I mean, honestly, you will until the day you die have a job as being the guy who flies through all the side effects of drugs!
JM: Well, in the 80s I was the go-to guy for disclaimers because nobody else would do it.
GNN: So that was you a lot of times?
JM: A lot of the times. But then what happened was they invented the time compressor that could not only speed people up. It’s also good at altering it…at changing the pace and the pitch so they sounded like a regular person. You still can hear when it’s…they speed up people all the time on TV and that’s annoying to me because I know. I’m like probably one of four people on the planet that can say, “Well, that’s sped up.” But because just all they do is they take all the air out, so. But whatever. But I used to be the go-to guy before they had electronics that did that, but now they have electronics so anybody can do it. They tell them, “Talk as fast as you can,” and then they just speed them up.
Luckily, they haven’t figured out how to speed it up without screwing the picture up so if you’re on camera, they can’t speed somebody up. There was a commercial that they wanted me to do, and we couldn’t come to terms and I didn’t do it. So, they hired someone who looked like me, and they filmed the commercial with them, and then they sped them up but the problem was they had plants in the background so to the naked eye the plants were not moving but when they sped the guy up, the plants were like strobing away and shaking and moving, and they couldn’t use the commercial. I had a friend of mine that worked in the advertising agency, and they said, “Well, they couldn’t do it.” So, I’m like, “Well, at least there’s that. They want to see me, which also…because, I mean, I’m old now. I’m 66. So, I don’t look like I looked when I was in my 30s, so I’m always surprised when people recognize me because I think I look pretty different. But, also, people want you to look like what you used to look like. So, it’s a little weird when you show up to do something, and they’re like, “You’re that guy.” I mean, once you start talking, you’re doing your thing, but it’s strange to them because they don’t…when you have a picture of someone in your mind, that’s how they’re supposed to look forever. But it’s not how nature works, so.
GNN: Right. I mean, you sound exactly like you did. There’s no real change in your voice…maybe a little lower pitch, but then, again, I’m hearing it on these headphones.
JM: Yeah. I mean, I can still do the fast-talking; I can still do the characters. As a matter of fact, I’m going to do a little thing with Blurr coming up. We’re going to shoot it in the next couple of weeks or record it in the next couple of weeks. I’m not exactly sure what it’s for yet. They haven’t sent me all the paperwork, but it’s for something with Hasbro and whatever. So, it’s just an Internet thing, just a short little piece.
GNN: Gotcha. That’s pretty cool. Any other projects you’ve got coming up?
JM: There’s nothing going on at all now, right? Everything that was kind of maybe happening had the air let out of it. Nobody knows what’s going on with anything. So, I don’t know. I don’t really have anybody clamoring for me. I did do a pilot last year called The Auctioneer, and that didn’t go anywhere. They ended up making it into a short and running it at the film festivals, but that was really fun because that was like a dramatic part. And we shot it in Nashville. And I mean, I did a little bit of the auctioneering, but it really wasn’t fast-talking. It was the old-fashioned auctioneering kind of stuff.
GNN: Oh man, that would be another thing you’d be pretty good at, an auctioneer!
JM: Well, I could be…I’ve raised over 20 million for charities at their benefits. I volunteer my time to be the live auctioneer. And the LA Times once said that no one can suck money out of a room like John Moschitta (laughs).
GNN: Any charities in particular you work with?
JM: I mostly like to work with charities for kids. I’ve run pretty much the gamut with kids, from sick kids to maybe underprivileged kids. I work a lot with the charity formerly known as Shane’s Inspiration. Now they just changed it to Inclusion Matters that builds universally accessible playgrounds for children of all abilities. And that’s a pretty great organization because a typically able kid who sees a kid in a wheelchair doesn’t know how to react to that. So, what they do is they take these kids and they give them education in the school, and then they pair them up at playdates at a playground where they can actually participate. They can both go on the swing. They can both go on the slide even if it’s a wheelchair or whatever. And it really breaks have all these barriers and these biases and it’s a really wonderful organization. So, I like working with them.
I also have a soft spot for animals and anything that has to do with people getting a fair shake in life and rights. I mean, all the crap that’s going on these days…it’s just so infuriating.
GNN: So, I have two last very quick questions. Is there anywhere anyone can find you online?
JM: Well, I want to do a John Moschitta channel on YouTube because I have tons of the commercials that nobody’s ever seen unless you happen to live in St. Louis, or you lived in Pittsburgh, or you lived in Detroit, or you lived in Amsterdam or whatever. So, I would like to do that. I currently don’t have any of that. When I was in my 20s and 30s, and I was coming up with projects and creating board games and creating pre-recorded audio material and doing all that kind of stuff, keep doing whatever. And I’m so not on Facebook…I’m not even on Twitter. They yell at me at The Tonight Show because all those shows are just about the Internet now. How many hits are they getting? Who’s watching it? Who’s streaming it? Who’s doing whatever? And I remember the last time I did The Tonight Show, I’d come walking out of the studio, and it was already online already because it was a bit, and they said, “Look. Already up.” And I’m like, “How could it already be up? I didn’t it 30 seconds ago.” They said, “Well, we just, we’re up there.”
GNN: That’s incredible.
JM: So, I don’t do that much stuff. There is a John Moschitta page on Facebook. And then one of my nephews did a John Moschitta fan page, but I never check; I don’t really check any of that stuff. I very rarely go on Facebook. I get the things when people have birthdays, and if it’s a friend of mine, I’ll sign on, wish them happy birthday, and sign off. I can’t read the stupid comments that people say.
GNN: Yeah. I get you. Okay. And now I have to ask because this is for Geek News Network. This is especially important because it’s a pandemic and you got to stay inside. What is John Moschitta, Jr. geeking out on right now? What TV, movies, music? What are you doing to pass the time?
JM: I am watching a lot of TV, a lot of mindless TV, a lot of news, and then I have to watch game shows, reruns of the Match Game from 1977 so that I don’t want to just shoot myself. And I do help a little 94-year-old lady; there were a couple weeks where I didn’t see her at all and it was really bad, but now I see her pretty much six days a week for at least an hour, a couple of hours. So that gives me some diversion. And other than that, I love me some naps.
GNN: You’re geeking out on naps! That could be a first. I got to say, I’m not going to hold that against you because while I’m 44, I do not mind a nap. That’s for sure. But old game shows and naps.
JM: I also watch a lot of documentaries. I just started watching the one about the Bay Area rapist. That’s a six-part one that Patton Oswald’s wife did before she died called I’ll Be Gone In the Dark. I’m also watching The Alienist. I haven’t watched the second season. I liked the first season, so I got the whole thing on DVR. And I haven’t watched Perry Mason yet, which I really want to watch because I love him. He’s great. He’s great in everything he does. And, well, I think that’s it. I’ve got a couple other series that I’m going to try when I get around to it, a couple that I’ve already watched two or three episodes and taken out.
GNN: Well, that’s about it. Thanks for taking the time! I really appreciate it.
JM: Thank you!