Editor's note: Kato Kaelin was the star witness in the O.J. Simpson trial. One of the last people to see Simpson before the murders and one of the first to see him afterward, Kaelin became a pop culture personality in the 1990s. Here, he talks with HLNTV's Graham Winch about the trial and his career.
Q: What was it like to become a celebrity overnight in the Simpson trial?
A: It was an incredible feeling, because I had no idea from the moment I walked into a courtroom, actually into a preliminary hearing. And not even being in a courtroom my entire life and walking out and everybody screaming my name, I knew my life was going to change instantly because every reporter, every camera was going, ‘Kato, Kato, Kato!’ So it was a feeling of ‘Oh my goodness.’ This is … the power of the media is incredible.
Q: Do people recognize you on the streets as the guy from the Simpson trial?
A: They do … and believe it or not, I had a show called "Eye for an Eye," a court show, and they recognized me from that, too. And now, even on the show I’m doing now, I’m getting recognized. And the best feeling in the world is to be recognized for something else other than the trial.
Q: Not all the attention was positive, right?
A: I get emails and I get people on Facebook always saying, ‘I don’t know why when I say your name I always smile.’ So, I take that as a compliment. So, I look at that as a good thing. But yeah, sometimes it’s not positive because people have their opinion of guilt or innocence and mine was just being in court telling the truth about the questions that were asked. So, do I feel he's guilty? Yes, but can I prove it? No. And that’s what happened in the court of law.
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Q: What memory pops in your head the most from the O.J. Simpson trial?
A: You know what’s funny? People actually quote my lines from the trial as if it was a play or a TV show. They will say, “I loved it when you said, ‘wouldn’t you?’” I’ve heard it so many times that people actually quote their favorite lines. I’m shocked at that. When the verdict was read, I’ll never forget that. I was with Barbara Walters at the time … I said to her, I said “I think they made a mistake when they said innocent.” So that kind of sticks out in my mind, sitting in that surreal room while she was doing “20/20.”
Q: Has O.J. tried to contact you since the trial?
A: No contact at all. I never see him. I saw him one time, believe it or not, I can’t give you the date, because I can’t remember, but I was golfing. I was golfing with comedian Norm MacDonald and he was at the same golf course, and the girl I was dating at the time said, ‘You won’t believe who’s in the clubhouse and is hitting on me.’ She told me, I said. ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I said, ‘I wonder what he’s on the golf course for, looking for the killers?’
Q: Did you watch the Casey Anthony trial?
A: I did see parts of it, because I did so many appearances on Nancy Grace, so I was aware of that trial. You know with every major trial, the Simpson trial will come up, because it’s the first of its kind. Larry King put me in a show. Larry King’s the one who said, ‘Kato Kaelin’s the first reality star.’ And that’s his moniker for me. And, because of that, I get called in to all the trials that come up and they ask me to put an opinion out there, but yeah, I was aware of the Casey Anthony trial and her getting off guilt-free.
Q: What do you think of our nation’s fascination with trials? Do you think it’s healthy? Is it a good thing?
A: Well, I think they crave things in their life that’s missing. I mean I can’t understand why we have so many CSI spinoff shows, everything’s crime-related on TV… So many shows started because of one trial and they said, ‘Look at the ratings.’ I’ve always said that crime does pay.
Q: Do you think the Simpson trial changed the justice system?
A: I think so. I think it made people aware of cameras in the courtroom. It became such an issue. I think it’s a positive and a negative, and I think one of the negatives in this Casey Anthony trial was because of certain shows … but it’s because sometimes shows may convict someone before they are declared guilty.
Q: So what have you been up to since the trial? I read you’ve been in a few movies, reality TV shows and you even did a stint in radio. Can you give me a broad picture of everything you’ve been up to?
A: Sort of a Kato Kaelin IMDB page?
A: Like I said, I hosted a show, 130 episodes of "Eye for an Eye." It was one of the best times of my life, hosting a national show that is still airing. I did radio. I still do radio. I worked in the film department for a company called ‘National Lampoon,’ attaching directors to films and then I landed probably the greatest job in the world now, it’s called ‘Tailgating with Kato.’ I have a pretty good knowledge of sports and doing some stand-up, hosting a lot of comedy gigs.
Q: You appeared on Comedy Central’s ‘Tosh.0.’ Describe that experience for me, and did you have fun dressing up as Keyboard Cat?
A: Way back in the day, there was a TV show called Eek. 'Eek the Cat' where I was 'Kato Kitten', so when Daniel (Tosh) called me, I knew it was a natural to be 'Kato Cat' and first of all, Daniel is genius funny. Best time working with him. I did two things on that show, but the Keyboard Cat, to this day, everybody from my crew to younger people call me ‘Keyboard Kato.’ So you should probably end this piece with a little 'Keyboard Kato.'