Michael ‘The Destroyer’ Yama Gets Rascally on ‘Betty White’s Off Their Rockers’
Actor Michael Yama has been honing his pranking skills for decades, and now he’s playing practical jokes on TV for Hollywood icon Betty White.
By Nalea J. Ko, Pacific Citizen Reporter
May 18, 2012
Japanese American actor Michael Yama, 68, admits he has a twisted sense of humor, but he says that’s almost a prerequisite for being on NBC’s “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.”
A crew of unruly senior citizens, led by the queen prankster Betty White, pranks unsuspecting youngsters in this hidden camera show. They have the sweet face of your grandparents, but this motley band of seniors is up to no good.
Yama has been nicknamed onset as “Yama the Destroyer” because he plays characters on the show that are hurling pineapples or bowling balls in shopping malls and knocking down product displays to the shock of younger customers. One of the regular characters he plays on “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers” is a blind man who innocently wanders around throwing birdseed on people lounging in the park, mistaking them for birds.
In other episodes Yama plays a technologically challenged senior unable to navigate his smartphone who asks younger people to assist him with sending quirky text messages like, “Cute picture. But that’s not my baby. It’s not even Asian.” Betty White told the Pacific Citizen Yama is “very good” on the show.
For 38 years Yama has worked in theater, TV, film and also lent his voice on an animation series. This is Yama’s first gig on a hidden camera show. But before Yama was pranking youngsters on TV, he perfected his practical jokester skills on his friends.
The P.C. spoke with the actor about his mischievous ways and his journey to Hollywood.
How did you become one of the cast members on NBC’s “Betty White’s Off Their Rockers?”
My agent called me and he said, ‘They’re looking for people who can do improvisation and I thought that was really great.’
He didn’t really tell me it was about old people. And so there I am at the first audition and there’s a lot of old people and I’m going, ‘What am I doing here?’
You did a prank where your necktie was caught under the car tire and you’re calmly sprawled out on the sidewalk. How did you stay in character and not laugh?
I’ve laughed hysterically, and that specific bit I couldn’t leave because the car is truly on top of my tie. But, oh, I’ve giggled a lot as I walk away from the unsuspecting person.
It seems like because the cast is older the younger people getting pranked don’t get angry.
The younger people have gotten pretty upset.
I was feeding birdseed again [laughs] and a guy was lying on this towel and enjoying the sun.
I’m throwing pounds of birdseed on people and they’re asleep and I wake them up and the amount of expletives that came out of his mouth [laughs].
But I’ll tell you what I’ve discovered is people will accept a lot. In fact I was talking to some of the people on the crew and I go, ‘I don’t know if I would be that tolerant myself.’
Is there anything you won’t do for the show?
Not yet [laughs].
I know you’re originally from Hawaii and left when you were 12. Do you go back often?
Oh, I’ve been back many many times. Even though I’m a katonk.
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