Hi Tony! Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I appreciate it. I understand that you’re in the midst of a few exciting projects. Your show at The Arcada Theatre being one of them. Did you want to talk a bit about Standards & Stories?
I would love to, I would love to. I always wanted to be a song and dance man. And, about 20 years ago, I was gonna try it, and I’ve been working on it ever since. And what you do is you go out and sing at places. Sometimes you sing at a beautiful theater and other times you’re singing a ballad as the roller coaster goes by. You get a lot of experience. And then you’re always writing new shows, and I’m better at both. Both performing and writing. And this show that I’m bringing is called Standards & Stories, and it’s self-explanatory, of course. But, it is a bunch of songs that are a little bit off the beaten path that mean a lot to me in the American songbook, and they’re wrapped around some personal and professional stories that hopefully will get some laughs. And, at the end of the night, we’ll feel that we made some kind of connection.
That’s really cool! I understand it’s a cabaret style?
Yeah, I have four guys in the band, a rhythm section and great guitars. And we’re like a variety show where we’re like the hosts and all of the guests.
Was this all your idea? Or did someone say, “hey, Tony, this is something you should think about doing?”
You know what happened is I had a very bad accident about 25 years ago. I hit a tree skiing and I almost killed myself. And, I do a bad joke of, “When you wake up on the respirator and you look up and everybody’s crying, including the priest, you say, ‘Man, I need a second opinion’”. So, I was in a bad place and it took me about almost two years to recover, but I did. And I had a conversation with myself about what I wanted to do that I hadn’t done and since I was getting this second chance to try it [stage show]. I had already been a tap dancer by then, so the tap dancing gave me another license. So, now I’ve got a new secret weapon. [Tony may or may not have shared his secret, but you’ll have to go see Standards & Stories to find out what it is!]
You’re obviously a known actor and performer. You’ve been a boxer, an author, a talk show host, a teacher. What has it been like to go down so many different and exciting avenues?
It’s a product of just being around so long. Like, Taxi…this is the 40th anniversary of Taxi. So, you’re around a long time and in order to stay around you have to reinvent yourself somewhat. And I also, I hate to stay it but I also have a little dilettante in me. You know, a Jack-of-all-Trades and a Master of None.
That’s what I said to myself as I was reading about you. I was like, “he’s a Tony-of-all-Trades!”
And, I cook, too, oh boy!
[laughs] You made it look like it was nothing on Who’s the Boss? so I could tell you knew how to cook.
Now you know when a guy throws the towel over his shoulder. When the guy has a towel over his shoulder, you know he’s gonna be in the kitchen for a while. But, you know what else, too? I’m curious! I want to learn, I want to try different things. Right now I’m really excited, I’m studying with a tap teacher, his name is Hal Shane. He was with The Rhythm Kings, and I met him on Columbus Avenue and we started talking. So now I’m talking classes with him and it’s a lot of fun. It’s the kind of thing I tell kids all the time when I speak to them about ‘Never stop being a student, never stop learning, be curious’. Because, even when you graduate, it’s called commencement, that’s where you start, not end. I try to live by that myself.
And, you’ve still got your acting going on. You’ll be streaming on Netflix this fall. Can you tell us a bit about The Good Cop?
Well, it’s an attempt to do a show that we can all watch together – number one. That’s an interesting thought. It’s sort of in the model of the old Columbo or Mannix or those old detective shows where you had a mystery, a murder mystery, and you had to figure out how the crime was committed. And you have those characters, and comedy. It’s written by the great Andy Breckman, who is a very serious talent. He wrote all of Monk, and he’s written for Letterman and Saturday Night Live. He’s a terrific performer himself; he’s the real deal. He’s written some incredibly crazy and fun scripts. I haven’t had as much acting since Who’s the Boss? And, on Who’s the Boss? we laughed all day, every day, five days a week. Basically, we shot this [The Good Cop] in New York City and it’s great to be able to use New York as your canvas. And, we used it. We shot big. [Netflix] gave us incredible support. We got to be all over the city. Josh [Groban] and I really hit it off and loved working with each other. The second week, I wrote him and said, “I wanted to let you know how impressed I am with you, your work, and your work ethic. I don’t presume to be the greatest judge, but I’m having a helluva time working with you.” It was just a joy, it was a really fun time to go to work.
You mention Josh Groban, and he’s obviously a performer as well. Can we expect any sort of musical collaborations on the show, or are you keeping that separate?
You know what’s funny about this, I do a lot of singing on the show. I sing the theme song for the show. What’s funny is, I’m on a show with Josh Groban – I’m singing, and he’s fighting. So, I love it! It’s really been fun.
As far as the singing goes, your fans who know you as an actor, are they ever surprised to find out that you’re a singer and dancer?
I think a lot of people know I’m a singer. Some people don’t, but I think a lot of people do. But, they’re gonna get a chance to see me! We did an episode about a late night TV host who kills his assistant. My son [Groban] wants to catch him, and all I want to do is be on his show! [laughs] So I get to sing and dance and everything else. I’m excited about it. I really enjoyed working on it and I do think it’s a bit different than everybody else’s shows. Don’t get me wrong, I like the dark shows as much as the next guy. But, there’s a lot of rough and dark stuff, so they need [to air] something a little more comfortable and you get a laugh or two. You can think a little bit and enjoy the banter. You know what I mean? Maybe it harkens back to another time, but, I don’t know. It feels pretty good.
Well, I’m excited to watch that! Netflix never disappoints.
Yeah, I know. Oh my God, Netflix…we’re all gonna be working for them soon. It’ll be called NEXON. [laughs]
You were once honored by USA Today’s National Make A Difference Day Awards, and I was wondering what specific charities are near and dear to your heart.
I’ve got one big charity. And, the reason I’ve got one big charity is because I think it’s so much harder to be a kid in America than it was when I was a kid. And, it aggravates me. It makes me crazy, it really does. There’s an incredible book out right now called “Winners Take All” about how all the people who are running everything, the big philanthropists who are going to fix the world – and they’re paying people less. You know, I read something today that said that the people in the bottom half of our country – the median income was $16,000 a year. It’s now $16,200 a year. So, this is what we’re up against. And the kids are suffering for this.
I’m on the Board of Directors for the Police Athletic League here in New York City. I was a PAL kid when I was a youngster. And I started a program called “PAL Acting”, cause “When you teach a kid how to act, you teach a kid how to act!” That’s the slogan. We started with 12 kids, now we have over 200 kids in the classes. We just put on a big benefit in June where we raised money for the program. The kids put on a show, it was unbelievable. Cops and kids singing together! Because that was the nexus of one of the most attractable problems we have. Young people and the police force. We gotta put them together before there’s trouble. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do. That’s my charity. I’m determined. I’m going to have a PAL after school acting program at every precinct in the city. Then Jimmy O’Neill, the commissioner, said he would set a benchmark at the precinct level where the cops will have to spend a certain amount of time with the program. The kids meet the cops, and the cops meet the kids before there’s trouble. Because, now all we talk about is neighborhood policing – which is supposed to be community policing on steroids. This is the perfect tool for it. And, it will work in every city. You could not believe what happens to kids. It’s called “Youth Development Troop Performance”. It’s unbelievable. It changes kids, it’s mind-boggling. They’re not all going to be active [in the program], but they’re gonna learn. With acting, you’ve gotta listen, you’ve gotta be present, look people in the eye, speak clearly. You have to let your guard down and be part of something bigger than yourself. Everything you have to do in life, you have to do on stage.
This is probably a question you get asked quite often – you probably already know what I’m gonna ask you – who do you think is the “Boss” and has this perception evolved since the show premiered in ’84?
I’d like to say Marty Cohan, who was the executive producer. You know what? I will give up the title, and I know Judith [Light] would, and I know the kids [Alyssa Milano and Danny Pintauro] would, to the great Katherine Helmond. She’s 89 now, by the way. That’s who I think [is the “Boss”]. She’s my soulmate, she really is.
Thank you for your time! I really appreciate it.
It’s my pleasure! Come see the show. We’ll shock and amaze you!
The Good Cop will premiere September 21 on Netflix, and Standards & Stories will be coming to The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles, IL on September 16. Tickets for that show, and future shows in other cities, can be found here.