Although Greg Robbins lived in Burbank, CA, and was raised the first 12 years of his life in Hollywood, there were no actors in his family until he chose the profession. In spite of his family constantly wondering, “When are you going to get a real job?” he’s been blessed to have made a living for 22 years from the entertainment industry.
Besides acting and modeling, Greg wrote and developed a series called “Animal Action” that was picked up by Discovery and Animal Planet. It was during the filming of an underwater scene at the bottom of the ocean that Greg realized he needed to stop dreaming about “Pastor Greg” and do something about it.
Greg is married and has 3 children who are talented and fun-loving, but don’t think he’s very funny. He and his family live in Pittsburgh, PA, which he says is one of the prettiest cities, with lots of really nice people, many of whom recognize him on the streets because of “Animal Action.”
Greg's joy and humor is contagious. It's no wonder his favorite verse is I Thessalonians 5:11: "Encourage one another and build each other up!"CC.com: How did you come up with the idea for Pastor Greg, and is it biographical in any way?
Greg: The first episode of Pastor Greg was inspired by my life. I had received a traffic ticket that I let go to warrant. At one point, the cops were knocking on my girlfriend’s door in the middle of the night looking for me. Soon after that, I was partying with my girlfriend and got pulled over for drunken driving. When the cops ran my name, they saw the warrant and threw me in jail.
Out of boredom I picked up this orange Bible and started reading it. I don’t know what I read, but soon I found myself weeping profusely in the middle of this cell with all these other guys around. I got on my knees and surrendered my life to Christ. I told God, “Do whatever you want, I don’t care.”
Not too long after that, I heard the guard call, “Robbins!” They pulled me out of the cell, told me that Los Angeles didn’t want me, and they were kicking me loose. They gave me a bill to pay for the ticket and I was free.
After I left the jail cell, I found a church and was baptized 3 weeks later. I’ve been trying my best to serve Christ ever since. That was in 1990.
In 1996, I was sitting in church looking around and had a realization that these people are really very funny and they don’t even know it. In that split second this entire TV series was downloaded into my head. I saw the characters, the sets, the church, everything! I was 36 at the time and had been working as an actor and model, and thought, “This is a Christian sitcom! Nobody’s going to buy it!” I started writing it anyway, but shelved it after a while.
I didn’t know anything about Christian TV at this time; I just knew what was going on in the mainstream. After about 5 years, I had written 80 stories and 30 episodes. I was developing characters, and was totally obsessed by it. I heard someone say, “One step below passion is insanity,” and this was making me insane!
At a critical point, many things came together suddenly to make producing this series possible. TBN underwrote part of the budget, Cornerstone Television came forward to air it, and ChristianCinema.com came along to help with DVD sales. I can’t stress enough that when it’s God’s will for something to happen, you can’t stop it with a freight train! If He wants it done, He’ll get it done.
I was working on the West Coast when Cornerstone Television (in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) found it and liked it. They moved me across the United States to produce it. We did the first 22 episodes all together.
TBN really took a leap of faith on us; they financed a lot of season 1 and almost 100% of season 2. It’s pulled good ratings for them, and they’ve been pleased with it. With no advertising budget, we had almost one million viewers on Friday night at 11 PM. That tells me that people are starving for entertainment like this.
CC.com: That seems like quite a switch from mainstream to Christian television.
Greg: It is, but it’s somewhat of a relief. Secular mainstream television is hard; it’s harder than getting eaten alive by an alligator in the Everglades! I’ve had all kinds of rejection by people who wouldn’t let me say Jesus’ name: Hollywood, my agent, and companies I’ve worked for.
I believe I really had no choice, that this was done by the one true loving God who provided miracle after miracle. He kept opening doors and kept me going when nothing else could.
You don’t get any more unknown than me; I’m just a 2-bit actor from Hollywood, and there are thousands who are better than me. I don’t know why God chose me. I can’t take credit for it, and maybe others would have done a better job, but here I am.
CC.com: Can you describe the feeling you want to accomplish with the series?
Greg: I want the series to feel like early TV situation comedy, and be similar to what Lucille Ball, Andy Griffith and others accomplished. I want it to have warmth and a message of hope and salvation in every episode. I’m very into character development, and want the characters on the show to be people that are familiar to us.
I’ve had a couple of people get mad at me because they think I’m poking fun at the church, but I’m not! Almost all of the stories I’ve told happened at my own church. In fact, that’s my favorite place to be, is at my church. Pastors Mike Gestridge and Ev Anderson are 50% stand-up comedians. I did kind of stereotype the church secretaries at the beginning, but I’m trying to veer away from that. I want to have fun with the situations.
I want this to be different from commercial television. Most shows try to gain an audience by including sexual innuendos and put-downs. I have seen commercials that are so sexually provocative it makes me sad. I’d rather gain ratings because we have fun stories, great characters you enjoy, and receive an uplifting message.
I once read an interview with John Travolta where he said that he enjoyed playing bad guys because there were no boundaries for the characters; they had no moral compass. I think that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard.
CC.com: Have you ever had a slump when you lacked inspiration for a story?
Greg: No. I just have to get up and watch my family to get inspiration; I’m dead serious. If course, I also do things that are worthy of comedic exploitation. Just the other day, I took my car to get new tires at the Firestone place. I drove in, talked with them, got it set up for them to put new tires on, and left. . . IN MY CAR! How can they put new tires on when I’m driving my car around, oblivious to it all?
Another time I was walking around talking with Calvin Kennedy for 30 minutes. I spent the whole time looking for my phone. Meanwhile, the crew was waiting for me to call them and tell them to load up. 30 minutes later I found my phone – in my pocket! So – No, I never lack inspiration!
CC.com: You’ve had a television icon join your series: Dawn Wells (Mary Ann from “Gilligan’s Island”). What’s it like to work with her?
Greg: She’s terrific! She came onto the series as Missy’s mother, and is so great to work with! She’s funny, she’s friendly, and she adds a great flavor to the series. I’m looking forward to working some more with her in the next season.
CC.com: Are there other projects you’re involved with?
Greg: I’m directing a musical comedy movie that Uplifting Entertainment is producing. It’s going to be feature-length, and I hope it will be released in 2007. It’s a very fun story called “Stuck in the Past.”
The story is about a famous Broad way singer that is sad, mean, lonely and self-serving. She goes to sleep and wakes up in 1958. She’s 17 years old and back in her hillbilly life, and she is not happy. It’s the first movie of a trilogy.
I’m directing the movie and I play the small role of Lester, who is a hillbilly bluegrass singer. Lesley Bowen and Sherri Bohlander are great unknown actors and singers who have lead roles. Laura Romeo (who plays “Missy” in “Pastor Greg”) has a role. The actor who played Carmine Ragusa (The Big Ragu) in “Laverne and Shirley,” Eddie Mekka, also has a starring role. And there are some fun cameos: Country singing legend Margo Smith and WWF legend Nikita Koloff make appearances.
We have everything in place to go back to 1958: town, clothes, cars, props, etc., so it’s a lot of fun to work on that film.
CC.com: Like most other independent producers/directors I’ve met, you’re a very busy guy. What about downtime? What do you do to relax?
Greg: I love to surf. But I haven’t been able to do too much of since I moved to Pittsburgh. I haven’t been on vacation for a while.
CC.com: What about reading? Do you enjoy it, do it for relaxation?
Greg: I’m not a reader, except for my bible and a devotional book. I love to pray and read and talk with God.
I must confess that I’m a massage junkie. I go to those guys that set up chairs in the middle of the mall and give you a 10-minute massage for $10. That’s awesome!
CC.com: What’s your favorite food?
Greg: Ice cream. I love Blizzards from Dairy Queen. I try to stay away from them, though, because I’m a stress eater, and producing a Christian sitcom is high-stress! I recently lost 75 pounds, so Dairy Queen hasn’t seen a lot of me lately.
CC.com: You do so much comedy. Do you enjoy watching other comedians?
Greg: Jeff Allen is one of the funniest guys on the planet. I saw him perform once; it was just a few seconds under an hour. I laughed so hard I thought I was going to puke! So, yeah, I enjoy watching funny people.
CC.com: Are there other filmmakers that you enjoy watching? What are some of your favorite films?
Greg: I like films from Christian producers that claim Christ as their Savior in it; that put Jesus and a message of hope and salvation in everything they do. Dave Christiano is doing a good job with 7th Street Theater, which is a Christ-centered television show. Rich Christiano’s films (Time Changer), the Downes Brothers (Six), Alex Kendrick (Flywheel, Facing the Giants); these are guys who are producing great Christian films.
CC.com: We look forward to seeing your film when it’s done. Sounds like it will be great! And we anticipate more great laughs from “Pastor Greg” in season 3! Thanks for your time.