Would someone care to explain to me what Brian "Kato" Kaelin did to become a walking punch line? Was it the teased-out faux-mullet? The goofy name? 10 years after his reluctant introduction to America, people still treat Kato like an ironic D-lister on par with Pauly Shore and the "Where's the Beef" Lady.
Kato, of course, penetrated America's consciousness in 1995 during the O.J. Simpson murder trial. Because he was living in the Juice's guesthouse at the time of the murder, Kato was called to the witness stand by the prosecution. Kato's glib persona and seemingly evasive testimony led many people to believe he was protecting Simpson. In any case, when he walked out of the courtroom that afternoon, he was an instant celebrity—instant joke fodder for late-night talk-show hosts and the mini-empire of trial junkies that spent most of '95 glued to the TV.
After the trial was over, Kato dropped out of the public eye for several years. By this point, his name was synonymous with the dopey, lazy hanger-on that the media had portrayed him to be. He acknowledged his moment in the sun with a brief tour of college campuses called The Sixteenth Minute, and shot a reality TV show called House Guest, which was never picked up. (The premise was that Kato would knock on a stranger's door every week, introduce himself as "TV's Kato Kaelin," and ask if he could crash there.)
Currently he's the new face of Schick razors, lampooning himself in a hilarious mock-testimonial spot, and the host of Eye for an Eye, a new daytime show that crosses the crudeness of Jerry Springer with Judge Judy. Judge "Extreme" Akim hears cases, and then instead of awarding cash settlements, doles out sweet revenge. In one episode, Akim decreed that the plaintiff and defendant settle their feud in a pillowfight—after they were drenched in maple syrup.
Now that Kato's career is back on track, crueler members of the public continue to treat him as a goof. Well, I have a message for these bullies: Stop it! I'm here to tell you that not only is Kato friendlier than all of you, but that he has feelings, too. Feelings that can be hurt! Luckily, Kato knows how to laugh at himself, but as he confesses in this soul-stirring interview, "Yeah. It hurts."
MERCURY: Do you feel like Hollywood and the press are starting to take you more seriously these days?
KATO KAELIN: It's incredible. It's just changed completely—almost overnight. Now I'm not being made fun of. It's more like "Kato: The guy who's working." But I'm the same guy today that I was 10, 20 years ago.
You were really brutalized in the press.
Why do you think everybody gave you such a bad time during the O.J. trial?
I think I was just the guy with the long hair, and Kato was the one guy to make fun of. And I think it was the name "Kato." Everybody just made fun of it. But I just did the Donny Deutsch Show on CNBC, and he told me that whenever people hear my name, they smile and laugh. I said, "That's a good thing, right?" and he said, "It's a great thing. When they hear your name, they think of something happy." It's better than people hearing "Kato" and thinking, "Fuck Kato."
When I Google you, the first thing that appears is a law school from Missouri that has a big thing about the O.J. case, and they call you a "professional freeloader." This is a law school saying this. So disrespectful.
Yeah, that hurts. All these freeloader jokes. I don't get it. Just because I lived at this guy's house.
So you're here today to say that you're not a professional freeloader?
I'm not a professional freeloader. It's just that when things start going against you, the media can make you or break you. They can make people not like you.
It seems like there's a cycle in the entertainment industry where the press builds you up, trashes you, and then 10 years later sort of ironically resurrect you.
I agree with that 100 percent.
But you never got built up. Your trajectory was more "instant spotlight" then savagery. And now, 10 years later, people are more forgiving.
I never asked for the press. It just happened.
During it all, you seemed to have a really good sense of humor about yourself. I don't know if I could do it.
Life's short. The big picture is, "If you can't have fun now, forget it." And you've got to have humility and be humble. If you don't, you're setting yourself up for the biggest disappointment. And you know, I've been interviewed by Larry King and Barbara Walters, had dinner with Clinton— I've had everything, and I haven't changed. I've never believed the hype. I've got the same friends I've always had. I was not just a dude that hung out with O.J. I had my own friends. I used to have my own bungalow in the back. I was only there six months!
I think you're pretty much going to have to live with that association, though.
Yeah, but the more success I get, the lower that association goes. You have no idea what it's like to go to the airport and have someone say, "I love Eye for an Eye" instead of "Where's O.J.?" It's a phenomenal feeling.
Are you into God?
Yeah. I do my own little church thing. I believe in God completely. The whole life I have is for God, and that's where I hope I belong after this life. I get it, the whole thing of why I'm here.
What about the war in Iraq? What do you think about all that?
Last Christmas my sister's son, my good buddy, was killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber, so yeah, I'm very concerned with what's going on over there.
Do you think your life would be different if you went by your birth name, Brian?
That's a good question. I've been called Kato for about 30 years or so, so that's me. Brian is the name I'd hear from my mom or dad when I was in trouble. Or if someone asks for Brian on the phone, I know it's a bill collector, so I hang up. "There is no Brian. Bye-bye."
Do you have aspirations to be a dramatic actor?
I went to academy—that's what I did. Dramatic acting.
Would you like to have played Truman Capote in the new film?
Well, I haven't seen that yet, but [Philip Seymour] Hoffman's terrific. But you know what? I believe anybody can act. The more you work with talented people, the better you get.
So you think now that people are beginning to take you more seriously, you can work up to a big role like that one?
If it happens, it happens. But I'm on television every day now, and I know everyone in Hollywood. I think it has to happen at some point. Hopefully someone spots [what I do], and it'll lead to bigger and bigger things.
So were there some dark years after the trial?
I'm an extrovert, but I became an introvert for a while. But I always talked to my family and my best buddies. I'm always cracking up, man. I have so much fun.
I read that one of your least favorite jokes is when people ask you to sign a glove?
Oh yeah. That's not funny at all.
Not even a little funny?
I do a lot of celebrity golf tournaments, and I'll get that at least three times at every one. I don't think people remember that it was a double homicide. It's a lot of stupidity. At every event I go to, people ask me if O.J. did it at least 10 times.
So you're in like every issue of Playboy, hanging out at the mansion. What's up with that?
I'm in the last two issues. I have an invitation to go whenever I want, but I only go to the major parties—Halloween, Midsummer's Night, New Years, and the Fourth of July. I used to have a girlfriend that I brought every year, but now I'm single, and going to the party single is pretty fun. There's about a five-to-one ratio of girls to guys.
What do you think, man? A skinny guy like me—would I have a shot?
Dude, you're on fire, trust me. They'd be all over it.
Cool man. You and me. Next New Year's Eve.
Let's do it! I'm trying to think of what else I'm in right now... Oh, I'll be in Star Magazine next week. Wait, I think that's out right now!
You know what else? You're going to be in the Portland Mercury next week.
That's the big news. I want 10 issues!
Kato Kaelin can be seen every weekday morning on Eye for an Eye (UPN, 9:00 am).