John C. Reilly on Hecklers, Tax Day, and Unrequited Love

John C. Reilly

Photo courtesy of John C. Reilly.

When we got on Zoom with John C. Reilly earlier this month, the actor’s camera was stationed in front of a joyful and formally impressive painting of a clown, one of many in his personal collection. “This is one of my favorites in my clown painting collection,” he announced. “I was a clown when I was a young man. And in some ways, I still am a clown.” Reilly is referring to his vaudeville show Mister Romantic, which returns to the Largo in Los Angeles this spring after several sold-out shows at the Pasadena Playhouse. Part-clown show, part-cabaret, the routine finds Reilly, playing somewhat against type as the titular Mr. Romantic, seeking to fall in love with one member of the audience each show. “One of the big things I say with the show is that every human being deserves love and respect and dignity, with no exceptions,” Reilly explained. “For some reason, that’s kind of a radical thing to say right now, so I think people really just respond to it.” More than anything, Reilly wants us all to think a little bit harder about love and empathy, so we asked him to take part in this week’s Rorschach Test, in which he sounded off on crowd work, imposter syndrome, and what he calls the “bogus commodification of clowning.”



“I think they’ve gotten a bad rap. This whole scary clown thing is a real bogus commodification of clowning in general, which is a sacred art that’s been around for thousands of years.”



“I’ve done it a lot over the years, and I’ve developed a kind of fearlessness with it. At first I couldn’t believe my batting average with people in the crowd. But I come at people with a totally open heart, as vulnerable as I can be, and people offer beautiful things about themselves.



“I think maybe the biggest unrequited love for each of us is with ourselves”



“I’m a big supporter of Letterboxd. In general, I think there should be a law that says all art must be presented in the way the artist intended. I want to see the full expanse of what Stanley Kubrick intended. So I learned early on from Paul Thomas Anderson that Letterboxd is pretty important.”



“I would love to make a Brock Landers movie. That was one of the greatest summers of my entire life.”



“I still have PTSD about the words tax day. I have anxiety about little pieces of paper. I can’t hold onto receipts. I don’t like bookkeeping. I just don’t like paper in general. Anyway.”



“I just remember sitting on a bed and trying to come down from the space travel trip I was on. Whenever someone hands me a pot brownie, I’m like, ‘this is delicious.’”



“I feel that all the time. I grew up in a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago where the ethos there was, who the fuck do you think you are? In Australia, they call it the tall poppy syndrome. It’s something I’ve had to fight through my whole life to feel like I was a valid presence in any given room.”



“Art is not sports. It shouldn’t be a competition.”



“One of my closest friends. I’m grateful to Paul for the rest of my life, for seeing me, for seeing what I could do, for seeing the whole picture.”



“There’s better ways to get attention than that. That said, if you see someone being sexist or homophobic or a politician being a dick, then heckle, man.”



“We’re all obsessed with the negative possibilities for AI, but the truth is, there are a lot of positive things that could help us get out of our little reptile brains and start to think more broadly.”