HOT ROD TALES: Remember Jonah?
THE EMPLOYEES AND LOCALS OF THE REAL "MOTOR SKATESHOP" SHARE MID-'90S MEMORIES OF JONAH HILL
Words: Mackenzie Eisenhour
Hot Rod Skateshop was inaugurated in 1995 at 2253 Westwood Boulevard by Matt Solomon, Jim aka "Jammer," Dan Druff, Todd Schweinbold and a group of St. Louis transplants tied to Altered Skates. Joined a few months later by Jason Rogers and Chris Casey—Hot Rod quickly became the heart and soul of West LA skateboarding. As you probably know by now Jonah Hill (aka “Jonah the Jew”) loosely depicted his story of grom-hood there in his directorial debut Mid90s.
Having moved to LA and discovered the shop myself in 1995 at the ripe age of 17—and having had the shop serve as the epicenter of my life circa '95 through '04—I reached out to some of my old Hot Rod brethren to get the official story of Jonah spending the very first dollar at the shop (that was framed on the bathroom wall forever more), his time spent there as a sharp-tongued shop grom, along with their thoughts on his depictions of it all in the movie.
MATT SOLOMON (HOT ROD FOUNDER/MANAGER 1995-2002)
ME: So I have in 1995 Hot Rod was started by yourself, Druff, and Jim aka Jammer. Is that correct?
Matt: Yeah. It was me, Druff, and Todd Schweinbold.
Oh, Todd was there right off the bat?
He was there at the beginning but he got sick. That was right when he got sick so he had to go back to St. Louis. Then he came back to LA later.
That makes sense because I met him later I think.
And it was tied to Altered Skates? That's correct? Glenn and Tory?
Yeah. Just Tory. Tory Boettcher was the one who hooked us up with The Jammer (Jim). Tory was from Illinois (See famous Blender photo of Tory TWS 1986) so we all knew him from the Midwest.
So you guys are opening the shop and somehow the first dollar spent is from Jonah?
I don't even think we were open yet but the front door was open. I was building all the racks, the board racks and all that shit. This little fat kid with a fro walks in like, "Hey, is this a skateboard shop?" We were just like, "It sure is. What's up dude?"
With his mom or just solo?
He was just solo. He was a little dude. He was probably ten or eleven max. He kind of just hung around for a minute at first. The one scene that I thought was pretty accurate in the film was when the main kid goes into the shop the first time and he's all scared. He was like that for sure—a deer in headlights. He was the only person in there besides me and Druff so he almost had to talk to us. We were like, "What's up little dude?"
You guys were intimidating to me and I was like 17.
(Laughs) Yeah, we were kind of dicks.
Did you notice anything else specifically in the movie that reminded you of his firsthand experience there?
It was interesting to see it through his eyes. The whole thing where every other word is "Ni**a this, and ni**a that"—that wasn't like Hot Rod at all. That wasn't Jonah's experience either. He was a rich Westside Jewish kid. But he hung out with that kid Ruben.
I remember Ruben.
Ruben wanted to be a gangster. They were all pretty well off though.
It probably seemed like a whole different world to him regardless. To him it was South Central or whatever.
Yeah. Those dudes (Ruben and Jonah) were super into the Menace guys. They were really into (Eric) Pupecki and all those guys when they would roll through.
How did the dollar bill thing actually happen? Did he buy something eventually?
He bought a sticker. Then I remember (Dan) Druff was like, "All right, dude this is our first sale ever. You gotta sign it." So he just writes "Jonah The Jew" on it. We're just like "Jonah The Jew? What the fuck?" then he was just like, "All right guys, I'll see you later."
He wrote that on his own?
Yeah. That was literally what he signed his name as. At age 10 or 11. Then we framed it, put it on the bathroom wall, and as far as I know it is still there. It was there when I left.
I feel like I read "Jonah the Jew" subconsciously every time I pissed there for years. He came through pretty steady from then on right? I remember Kevin (Horiuchi) saying he banned him at one point.
Yeah. He lived like three blocks away. That neighborhood right there if you turn to go west on Pico (near Pico and Westwood Blvd.), he could walk to Hot Rod from his house so he would come in all the time on his own. His mom would come in too.
She was an agent or some type of Hollywood person?
Yeah, exactly. She used to always tell us how talented he was and all that. We would always just be like, "Uh huh." I don't remember Jonah getting banned but that did happen to kids there. You remember the kid "Twenty Questions?"
Oh my god. Fully.
He was always close to getting banned like, "Okay, you’re on 19 dude." All those kids would post up and talk shit or ask dumb questions. Jonah would sit there and eat and drink and watch videos forever. He would get his Subway and just post up. It would turn into a burn out eventually, like, "All right dude, you need to go home."
You guys were his daycare?
We were all those kids' daycare. Moms would seriously pull up in front of the shop, their kids would get out and they'd drive away. Then come back to grab them like hours later. We would just be watching them do it like what the fuck?
Then you left to do Captain and Casey Show at Fuel ('04-'10). Did Jonah ever know you guys went on to do that? That show always felt like the natural extension of the Hot Rod family to me.
No. When we started with Captain and Casey, Jonah was already sort of on his way to becoming a movie star. We tried to get a hold of him and it never worked out.
I remember he was still around after Cameron (Postforoosh) took over the shop (2004-2010). He was on that team board with all the photos as "Jonah The Jew." I always associated him more with that era than the start of the shop.
Yeah, I saw that recently. He probably remembers that era of Hot Rod more than the early days. He was older then. I split and never went back after all that shit. But when the Captain and Casey Show started up we always thought it would be cool to get him on. (Chris) Casey would always act like he would get in touch with him, like he was Hollywood or whatever like, "I'll just call Brad Pitt and get his number." But it never happened. If you end up talking to him tell him to call me. I'd love to hear from him. Honestly Jonah was a nice kid. There were kids there that were little creeps. Jonah was a sweet little dude. He was heavily into (Chad) Muska; he always had the Muska shoes, giant cargo pants, and a big Lakers jersey or something. We took him to Skate Street in Ventura one time. At one point we had a Hot Rod van, we'd get them all to sign permission slips and then drove them all up there to skate.
The BBQ scene in the movie felt exactly like those BBQs we had in back there.
Yeah, that was pretty right on. That crappy little parking lot. It was just that shitty ground with that crappy quarterpipe. Tommy Hilfiger showed up at one of those things. Leonard (Trubia) was flipping hot dogs and some guy walks up like, "Hey, I'm Tommy." Leonard was like, "Hi, I'm Leonard."
That's rad. Pure Leonard. Thank you guys for all those years man.
Oh, it's funny that now it's turned into something all these years later. There were so many crazy stories from the shop through the years. People that got caught shoplifting, fights…
I remember the strippers you guys would get after hours.
There was also the warehouse downtown. You could make a whole new movie about that place (laughs).
KEVIN HORIUCHI (HOT ROD EMPLOYEE 1996-1998)
You told me that Jonah was like the ‘Little (Pat) Canale’? Those are some heavy words right there.
It's funny. He learned how to watch skate videos from Pat Canale. He was always “Fat Jonah” or “Jonah the Jew.”
You moved here in '95 or so right? I met you around then.
Yeah, I was at UCLA right when Hot Rod opened. We all met and started skating together and hanging out at the shop. I started working there a little after that. It was right when they had the diner booth set up in the shop.
Oh my God. I forgot about that diner setup thing.
Yeah, it was like a full diner booth set up and you could watch videos. So Jonah used to come by after school and hang out. He was a local kid. Just another grom in the shop. He didn't skate a lot, because he was heavy—but he tried. He just always had that shittalker attitude though. In that time, it was sort of the Canale heyday writing video reviews in Big Brother. He would write his lines like, "The Antihero guys are so gnarly that they push uphill!" But Canale's deep knowledge of skating and what had been done before hand gave him kind of a license to talk shit—or at least he had the background for it. (Ed note: We all know how that turned out; Ty Evans famously had Owen Wilson say "Canale better watch his ass." in Yeah Right! ['03]. Note Hot Rod bag in the trunk next to Owen).
So he learned from Canale?
Jonah learned from Canale and he would just clown everything like, "Oh that's already been done. So and so did that so much better." Except Jonah didn't have any background at all. But little by little he was there enough and he watched enough videos that he really did start to kind of know. But it was also annoying as fuck because you'd be trying to work and this kid would just talk shit non-stop.
Pat Canale in Land Pirates by Matt Solomon (2002).
So you guys would ban him?
We would kick him out from time to time. He never got outright banned. It was more just like, "Dude, enough. You gotta go man."
Did he talk to Canale when Pat would roll through? I just remember a group of those kids were always posted up. I tried to ignore them.
I'm sure he did. He almost couldn't not have.
Pat was a big deal around that time. I remember before I even met him I saw him at Courthouse and somebody was like, "That dude writes for Big Brother." I couldn't believe it.
I don't think Jonah would have gotten to that level of shit talking without it coming form Pat Canale. Chris (Casey) and Druff could talk some shit. But nobody was as acerbic as Canale. I'm psyched for Jonah though. Honestly I'm psyched for him. To go from this little grom to where he's at now—it's empowering to see it.
Canale's shit talking gave him the skills he needed shit-talk his way into Hollywood.
(Laughs). Pretty much. In all seriousness though, he kinda was that guy too. Everything you see in Superbad ('07) is exactly who he was.
CHRIS CASEY (HOT ROD EMPLOYEE 1996-2001)
Mr. Casey. Thanks for getting back. What were your memories of Jonah there?
I believe the proper word for Jonah would be snarky. He was a snarky little guy. The Jonah story of signing the dollar bill is really the Mount Rushmore of Jonah Hot Rod stories so I'll go with a later one. Right when I retired from working at Hot Rod, around 2001 and right before the Captain and Casey Show, AVE and Dill decided to take me out to NYC. They were like, "You gotta get out of LA man, you're destroying your life." And those guys were my buddies so I thought okay. They fly me out there and at first it's cool, but they were filming for the Workshop video and I ended up kind of on my own. One night Dill is like, "You gotta check out this club," and then he just disappears. So I'm at this club now alone and there's a hot tub for some reason in the middle of the club.
I can see where this is going.
I'm looking at these girls, we're drinking and finally I'm like, "Anyone want to get in the hot tub?" They're like, "We'll get in if you get in." So I take off my shoes but leave the rest of my clothes on for some reason and get in the tub. The girls get in too and right then Jonah walks up. He's like, "Chris Casey? What are you doing here?" I'm like, "I'm sitting in the hot tub. I came out with AVE and Dill. Get in the tub." He's like "No. That's okay dude." I'm like, "Why? Don't you like girls. Girls meet this guy. This is ‘Jonah the Jew’." Right when I said it everyone got quiet. I didn't even think about it at the time but that was how we knew him. We would always call him that. But saying it around someone else sounds like your kind of an ass. So sorry Jonah.
What did you think of the movie?
I saw it. I liked it. I only had one complaint in the whole movie. Dude, who's letting anybody smoke inside of a skateshop? As far as clients and smoke filled T-shirts for sale, I mean people drinking in there—absolutely. But nobody would have let us smoke in there.
Who was Na-kel? Is that Matt, Druff, you? Who was the responsible one?
Dude you know who I think Na-kel is? And this will blow your mind. He's Daniel Haney. He's the sober dude who told people to stay sober, he lost his girlfriend at one point, he was always the only one focused on making things happen for himself. Haney worked at the shop. He was the guy that came to mind when I saw it.
I asked Solomon too, but Jonah never knew that you guys went on and did Captain and Casey?
I think a few seasons into the show I remember Matt being like, "Dude, we should get ‘Jonah The Jew’ on. He's in this or that now." It wasn't that far-fetched, we almost had Dave Chappelle on but the producers fucked that up. But I told Matt like, "Dude, trust me, the last thing on earth that dude wants to do now that he's making it is come on a skateboarding show with the staff of Hot Rod (laughs)."
MIKE DAMSKI AKA "PUNK ROCK MIKE", HOT ROD LOCAL & JONAH SCHOOLMATE
You guys both lived right by the shop right?
Yeah, Jonah and I both lived in Cheviot Hills, that same neighborhood right there.
Did you have that miniramp we skated or was that your boy?
That was my buddy Chase. Chase's ramp was over on Patricia. I grew up on Dunleer Drive and Jonah grew up on Motor Ave. That's why the skateshop is called Motor. On top of the Hot Rod tie in of course. I forget what his whole dad/mom situation was at that time but he was right there at Motor and Lorenzo in Cheviot Hills.
Did you find Hot Rod right when it opened too?
Like right after. I think the first time I went was right after they bombed that fire out front, which was awesome by the way—that mural. It was just the St. Louis dudes (Matt, Druff) and then JRog (Jason Rogers). Jonah was already there right then too. I think for him, like anyone, he was a little pudgy kid that comes into the store—from that group of guys—it was a little bit of a tough climb for him. Once he got into Daniel Haney's sponsor-me-tape he was in.
He was in Haney's sponsor-me-tape?
Yeah, remember Daniel Haney had a lot of gusto going for him right then.
For sure, he was on Foundation, he was "Dan-rail" blowing up. He battled the Muska and McNatt for that curved rail downtown.
Exactly. He was skating with the Wray brothers, even before Foundation, he was trying to get on Plan B. He was doing all these crazy rails and it was like the peak of big rail skating's popularity. He made this sponsor-me-tape where he did all these insane rails and right at the beginning of it it has Jonah rolling up on a tricycle saying like, "Hi, I'm Daniel Haney" or something. I forget the exact words but it was really funny. Once that happened everyone was like, "Oh Jonah's the fucking man." (Note: In the Mid90s trailer, there is a shot of Sunny’s character “Stevie” riding up to the shop on his bicycle).
He was in. That's funny you mention Haney because I asked Chris Casey who he though Na-kel might be based off of—like the more sober minded determined dude in the shop—and Casey thought that it might be Haney.
Yeah. Maybe. Haney had this intense girlfriend, was sober and he was a really thoughtful guy. He was amazing. He was also kind of the glue for the whole scene at times—almost like a Ty Evans—were he brought the flatbar to the spot, he brought the camera, then he started shooting photos. My first photo in a magazine was all because of Daniel. I had a varial heel in a Thrasher (see above), the one with Jamie Thomas switch lipping the Arco rail.
I have that issue here, I'll track it down. Of course your big claim to fame was the Big Brother Kids Issue.
(Laughs) Of course you have every fucking magazine.
When did you first meet Jonah?
Jonah and I went to school together. We both went to Brentwood School together. He was a year below me. I might have met him at Hot Rod first but we both went to this ritzy private school in Brentwood. Then he went to Crossroads (Santa Monica private school) later and I went to Pali High (Pacific Palisades High).
Damn, you had to slum it out in Pali?
(Laughs) Yeah, you would think it would be really nice but that school was fucked up.
Pali ain't Crossroads.
No. There's like 2500 kids and half of them are bussed in.
So you knew him a bit from school and then Hot Rod?
We've always run in the same crowds over the years. When I moved to New York he was in New York a lot. So we would hang then and in the later years in our 20s. But I would always run into him at parties and he was steadily building fame from 15 on. I mean we knew. Last time I ran into Jonah I said this to him, I was like, "We fucking knew man. We knew." As soon as he was in that Daniel Haney thing, we were like, "This kid…" It was right when Chris Farley was really huge or whatever and here was this little chubby kid coming up. And it's LA you know, so you know that shit's just going to happen by osmosis. We knew that fucking kid was going to be famous. Of course that doesn't work out for a lot of people but it did to him and it's a testament—he's rad dude. I love Jonah.
Were you "Punk Rock Mike" to Jonah? Was he "Jonah the Jew” to you?
Maybe. But that was more Matt Solomon's joke that caught fire.
Who was Jonah's crew? That kid Ruben, "20 Questions," who else?
Jonah's crew was like Ruben, who was amazing. Jorge, do you remember Jorge? He was definitely in that crew. Like I said they were a year lower than me in school, which was like a lifetime back then, so I had kind of a different skate crew. But we all skated Courthouse together all the time.
Best trick you saw Jonah land?
Maybe landing on a kickflip. But just barely. I think the greatest gift Jonah was given was self-awareness.
Tell the people what are you up to today.
I work at William Morris (WME William Morris Endeavor is one of the largest talent agencies in LA) in the story department. I just try to make money for our clients basically. I don't deal with Jonah too much directly, but his agent Sharron Jackson is here at William Morris. The cool thing for me was getting to see that script for Mid90s a while back. You have to sign a NDA and all that shit when you work at those companies. You can't say shit about anything, so even when I would see Jonah around I couldn't talk to him about it. But when I saw that script I was just like, "Fuck, I hope this gets financed." Which is usually easier when you have an A-list actor attached to it. But as far as directors—not a lot of people will take a risk like that. Even with someone who is as famous of an actor as Jonah without some kind of proven talent. So for him to get that script financed and make that movie as his first film—with a subject matter that isn't exactly the most mainstream appeal—was a big accomplishment.
What was the Hollywood consensus now that it's out?
Everybody loved it. It's critically acclaimed. I think around the office, what kids here—interns or whatever—talk about a lot in that movie is how cool the period stuff is in there. You realize that for you or I it's not too weird to see a Menace shirt, but for these kids, I mean they were like babies then so they knew nothing about it. So it's really cool to see the younger people at the agency be psyched on it from that angle—even though they weren't even there. I'm really happy just for my friend that it worked out. Jonah always had more talent than just comedy; hopefully there are more good things to come.
Hot Rod’s Industry Section in 411 Issue 36 (1999).
Go watch Mid90s in theaters now.
Follow Dan Druff: @fagengine
Follow Matt Solomon: @remotecontrolmonkey
Follow Jonah Hill: @jonahhill
Follow Chris Casey: @notcaseyagain
Follow Mike Damsky: @koolioiglasius
Follow Pat Canale: @upper_lorax
Follow Daniel Haney: @haneywood
Follow Camaron Postforoosh: @cameronpostforoosh
Follow HRLA: @hr_la
Huge thanks to all the Hot Rod OG fam and friends. Love you all: Comment if I forgot you! Matt Solomon, Dan Druff, Chris Casey, Todd Schweinbold, Eric Dressen, Tim Bruns, Leonard Trubia, Pat Canale, Kevin Horiuchi, Preston Acuff, Robbie McKinley, Chris Roberts, Steve Hernandez, Malcolm Watson, Punk Rock Mike, Max Bayol, Flo Bayol, Stoney, Angry Bill, Tim Dowling, Dan Rhoades, Donny Barley, Papo, Derrick Paris, Frankie Galland, Daniel Haney, Barrett Loose, Cameron Postforoosh, Gerhard Stohl, Jake Gebbie, Powers, Candy, Bobby Poole, Tinkerbell, Summer Savage, Whomainie, Sad, Ted Barrow, Alex Olson, AVE, Dill, Butters aka Sean Boyle, Steve Olson, Ben Beasley, Ivan, Chaka, Ruben, Jonah, Jorge, 20 Questions, Verbal, Foundation Billy, Paul Hastings, Pretend Paul, Mike Liddle, Chase, Smith Grind Joe, Rooster, Marius, and anyone I forgot.
Scroll down for some more snapshots courtesy Matt Solomon: