When Wizard World stops in Madison Oct. 25-27, “Freaks and Geeks” and “Inglourious Basterds” star Samm Levine will be not only one of the special guests, but also a panelist and interviewer for the three day show at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
But what’s the most common question he gets when people come to his table, other than, “Who are you again?”
“People, you know, they come up to my table and they usually know who I am and some of my work,” Levine said with a laugh during a recent interview. “So, you know, the last thing, what’s it like working with Quentin Tarantino or is there going to be a ‘Freaks and Geeks’ reunion? The answers to those two questions are, it’s amazing [because] he’s a genius and no.”
Wizard World events bring together thousands of fans of all ages to celebrate the best in pop culture: movies, television, gaming, live entertainment, comics, sci-fi, graphic novels, toys, original art, collectibles, contests and more.
The 12th event scheduled on the 2019 Wizard World calendar, Madison show hours are Friday, Oct. 25, 4-9 p.m.; Saturday, Oct. 26, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 27, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Kids 10 and under are admitted free with a paid adult.
Speaking of “Freaks and Geeks,” has Levine conversed with the show’s creator, Judd Apatow, about any upcoming projects because Apatow had him in both the casts for “Freaks and Geeks” and another Apatow series, “Undeclared”?
“Oh, they had a few common denominators on ‘Undeclared’ — Seth Rogen was a regular on it and then, you know, Jason Siegel and Martin Starr and Busy Phillips were all on it as well. So there was a lot of crossover between ‘Freaks and Geeks’ and ‘Undeclared.’ You know, I talk to Judd quite a bit and he’s always busy. He’s always working. There hasn’t really been much for me in, you know, the last several things he’s done. But, you never know man.”
Those unfamiliar with Levine’s work after “Undeclared” might be interested to know he made his feature debut in the teen spoof, Not Another Teen Movie. Since then, he has appeared in over 100 films and television series including Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother (with Siegel), Drunk History, Netflix’s “Wet Hot American Summer,” and the Academy Award-winning Quentin Tarantino epic, Inglourious Basterds.
In addition to his ever-growing catalog of television and film appearances, Levine served as co-host and producer to Kevin Pollak’s renowned celebrity interview show, Kevin Pollak’s Chat Show, for its entire 10-year run. He is also a regular panelist on Doug Benson’s popular comedy podcast, Doug Loves Movies, and host of DC Universe’s news and talk program, DC Daily.
Like Pollak, Levine does an impression of William Shatner, a special guest at last year’s Wizard World Madison. Has Levine ever met Shatner, does he do any other impressions and has he ever done any of them while any of them were watching or sneaking up behind him?
“Uh, no. I wish I had a fun story like that. No, I mean I do other impressions but not of anyone that’s terribly well known, — not like that,” Levine said.
“Have I met William Shatner? I tried, but he refused to acknowledge my existence. So, it was not an ideal meeting. You know, I’ve told that story before and people are like, ‘Oh, I don’t tell that story — it makes him look bad.’ I’m like, ‘well yeah, that’s why you don’t treat people you don’t know bad, because you don’t know if one of them is going to tell that in an interview once.’ So, uh, no, but I hope to actually meet him someday,” Levine said.
“But, you know, I’m good friends with Kevin Pollak and Kevin basically invented the Shatner impression. He’s known Shatner for a long time now and and he’s done the impression in front of Shatner. And I always get a kick out of when he tells the story and Shatner goes, ‘I don’t talk . . . like . . . that!’” Levine said.
Pollak began his career in stand-up comedy, and Levine also tried his hand at it — for 10 years.
“I did stand-up comedy for 10 years — from age 12 to 22 — professionally. And, I’ve dipped my toe back into the water on it, every now and then the last several years. But you can’t really do stand-up that way if you’re only doing it, you know, a couple times a year here and there when appropriate. It’s either something that demands pretty much all of your time and attention or you can’t do it properly,” Levine said.
“As I’ve gotten older and I have been lucky enough to find success elsewhere — and I enjoy having an evening social life with my girlfriend — it just makes it harder to convince myself, ‘Oh no, sorry honey, I’ve got to eat dinner with you at six because I’m going to do four clubs tonight to work out this eight minute set that I’m trying to get on a talk show’,” Levine said with a laugh.
“So it’s just — it’s a huge commitment of one’s life and I was certainly willing to offer that much up when I was younger,” Levine said. “But as I’ve gotten older and like I said, I don’t yearn to be out five nights a week at comedy clubs anymore, that’s not as appealing to me as it once was,” Levine said.
“And also — I was never that good. Let me just put that out there as well,” Levine said. “I was an OK comic.”
Did someone tell him that?
“No — I mean, nobody said it to my face, but you know, I can hear audiences,” Levine said, laughing. “I mean, look, I’m not saying I didn’t go out there and kill from time to time and I certainly did, but I also bombed and then I had a lot of middling sets.
“And it’s just the amount of work and effort and talent needed to be a great comic — it’s a lot. So yeah, I mean maybe some day,” Levine said.
As an example, he referred to Apatow.
“Judd didn’t get back into stand-up until he was in his late 40s,” Levine said. “You know, after he hadn’t done it for 15, 20 years. So never say never. Things could change for me the same way they changed for Judd. But as for right now, I’m pretty, I’m pretty okay with where I am.”
Where he is now is to be a judge for this year’s costume contest. Wizard World Madison has plenty of cosplay, with fans young and old showing off their best costumes throughout the event. Fans dressed as every imaginable character – and some never before dreamed – will roam the convention floor at the Alliant Center and participate in the famed Wizard World Costume Contest on Saturday evening. The contest will offer at $10,000 prize for Best of Show with other contest categories being awarded $500 each: Best Hero; Best Villain; Best Anime Character; Best Video Game Character; Best Group or Duo.
Is it a lot of pressure being a costume contest judge?
“We really want to honor them and show them that their efforts did not go unnoticed. So, I’m very excited. I’m one of the judges on the costume contest, which is why I wanted to mention it,” Levine said.
“You know, it is a lot of pressure, but I’m up to the challenge — Lord knows, I’ve done enough conventions that I can tell the difference between a costume somebody put time and effort and you know, blood, sweat and tears into versus something they bought at Walmart the evening before,” Levine added.
“I’m definitely excited to see the creativity that some of these fans have and that they bring to the cons,” Levine said, using the ‘con’ slang for conventions. “Also, I get to a moderate a whole bunch of panels at the cons. And that’s super fun for me because I did a podcast with the aforementioned Kevin Pollak for 10 years where we interviewed people.
“So I love getting to sit on the stage and get to interview some of the cool celebs who are also at the con,” Levine said. “I don’t know who I’ll be interviewing in Madison, but I’m sure it will be someone fun.”
His role as host of DC Daily, a daily news show on the DC Universe streaming platform for DC Comics fans, has prepared him for his Wizard World appearance.
“If you are a DC fan, even in the slightest, you really owe it to yourself to check out DC Universe. And specifically DC Daily, which is in front of the paywall. You do not need a subscription to watch it,” Levine said.
“But hopefully if you do, you’ll see all the cool stuff that is behind the paywall and it’ll be worth the few dollars a month to access it all. I think it’s totally worth it as a DC Comics fan. I mean, there’s 20,000 comic books. There’s like 4,000 episodes of different shows, you know, 100-plus, animated features, all DC related that are all really, really, really good. Not to mention all the original programming like Titans, Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing, and the new Harley Quinn animated series coming the end of next month,” Levine said.
“So yeah, I love my job over there,” Levine added. “And, I think everyone, especially those who are active in the con community, this is something that I think is right up their alley.”
Also scheduled to appear at Wizard World Madison are “Smallville” stars Tom Welling (“Clark Kent”), Michael Rosenbaum (“Lex Luthor”), Erica Durance (“Lois Lane”), Laura Vandervoort (“Kara”) and John Glover (“Lionel Luthor”), The Princess Bride standouts Cary Elwes (“Westley) and Chris Sarandon (“Prince Humperdinck”), Jewel Staite (“Firefly,” “Stargate Atlantis”), Dichen Lachman (“Altered Carbon,” “Animal Kingdom”), professional wrestler Kevin Nash and Lou Ferrigno (“The Incredible Hulk,” “The King of Queens”) at Wizard World Madison Oct. 25-27 at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
Others announced to date include Kelly Hu (“Arrow,” The Scorpion King), Claudia Wells (Back to the Future), and Teddy Sears (“Chicago Fire,” “American Horror Story”). Additional stars are expected to be added closer to the event.
The fifth annual Wizard World Madison will feature many of the world’s top comics creators, an outstanding array of programming, live entertainment, gaming and more.
Kato Kaelin serves as entertainment host on the main show stage.
The 2019 Wizard World convention schedule is available at: http://www.wizardworld.com/comiccon.