Interview date: 09/06/2009
Run date: 09/16/2009
When I watched the pilot for NBC’s new sitcom, “Community,” premiering on Thursday, Sept. 17th, I was convinced that I was watching the funniest sitcom of the new season…and I was not wrong. As such, when I arrived at the TCA summer press tour, I was a man on a mission: to interview as many members of the cast of “Community” as I possibly could, so that I might do my damndest to get people to watch the series. Not that it necessarily needs my help, given the incredible promotional push that the network is putting behind the show, but, still, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a sitcom that’s this funny and has this strong an ensemble from the word “go” (seriously, I think I’d have to go back to “NewsRadio”), and I wanted to do whatever I could to get the word out.In the end, I ended up chatting with five of show’s regulars during the tour (Joel McHale, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Donald Glover, and new addition Ken Jeong), catching up with two more by phone after making back (Gillian Jacobs and Alison Brie). Sadly, however, Chevy Chase was surrounded by hordes of my peers through his time at the tour, and attempts to secure a phoner with him prior to the run date of this piece were unsuccessful. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll be able to talk to Chevy sometime in the near future…and, y’know, don’t be afraid to drop NBC an E-mail and ask them to try and make it happen for us…but in the meantime, sit back and enjoy these conversations with the rest of the cast, and when you finish, we’ll be very surprised if you don’t run straight to your TiVo and order yourself up a season pass for “Community.”
Joel McHale: Hey, Will, how are you?
Bullz-Eye: I’m good, man, thanks. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m a big fan of “The Soup,” but every week I wait for you to say that you’re going to be doing a stand-up date in my area, but you never do.
JM: Where do you live?
BE: In Hampton Roads, VA. Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and all that.
JM: Well, I should tell you that, now, with the schedule I’m keeping, it’s probably never going to happen. I’m wondering if I’ll ever do stand-up again! (Laughs) But, seriously, I have never been more tired. It’s a complete dream come true, but I have never been more tired. No, actually, I was probably more tired when my kid was born…and with the second kid, I was just, like, “Where am I? What’s going on?” It was crazy.
BE: So, “The IT Crowd” is finally coming to NBC! No, wait, sorry, you’re here for “Community.”
JM: Nice. Nice that you knew about “IT.” I like that.
BE: Actually, I didn’t know you were in it until I was doing research for my review of the original British series.
JM: Oh, man, the original is amazing.
BE: How did you even find your way into that?
JM: Well, I was cast, then it was picked up, and then it went away. It was picked up, but it never made it to the air. There was a regime change at NBC, and they threw out the old stuff and brought in some new stuff. But that’s now ancient history, of course. It was a ball, though, and Richard Ayoade is an effing genius. He is one of the funniest people on this planet. But with “Community,” this is a new deal, and it’s so great. I mean, it’s just so much fun.
BE: It’s my favorite pilot of the new season.
JM: Bless you. Even if you’re telling it to everybody.
BE: I’m officially only telling it to people who are in “Community.”
JM: Well, thank you for saying that. But it’s one of those things where Dan Harmon, who I just saw over there somewhere, is a genius writer, and I love it because there’s so much heart in it, and it’s just…it’s ideal, really. Chevy Chase is amazing in it, and the cast is great. They just added Ken Jeong from “The Hangover,” and John Michael Higgins is in it now. He plays one of our professors. So it’s too good to be true, basically, and it’s all going to end in disaster. Right?
BE: I applaud your optimism. But the mere fact that I like it is rarely a good sign.
JM: Hopefully, you didn’t feel the same way about “Emily’s Reasons Why Not.” (Writer’s note: the series in question starred Heather Graham and was canceled after precisely one episode.)
JM: Shit, Will!
BE: So how far into development was the series by the time you came aboard? I mean, was Chevy attached, or were you the first person brought on?
JM: Geez, I don’t know. I think…I think we came on around the same time. I know the meetings were both happening right around then. And when I got the part, then they started casting all of the other parts, and they just put together this awesome team. Donald Glover, who was a writer on “30 Rock,” his stuff has just been too good to be true. I can’t believe it.
BE: So did they immediately start panicking at “The Soup” when they found out that you’d gotten this gig?
JM: I don’t think there was panic, because I’ve done a couple of other pilots. I think they were more, like, “All right, let’s see what happens with this one, McHale!” But then it got picked up, and E! and Ted Harbert have been so freaking accommodating, because I love doing the show, and they’ve made it really easy for me to do. So it’s just ideal. And I will be promoting the crap out of “Community” on “The Soup,” so hopefully I can bring some of the viewers from “The Soup” to “Community.”
BE: What’s funny is that I hadn’t really watched “The Soup” in ages until you did your TCA panel two years ago, but it has since earned a TiVo season pass. Big fan of Spaghetti Cat.
JM: God bless you. How do you feel about Chicken Tetrazzini?
BE: Love it.
JM: My publicist, Louis, basically has it on a loop in his head, and he will just randomly yell out, “I don’t want any! I don’t want any chicken tetrazzini right now!” So it kind of freaks him out.
BE: Have there been any lines or catchphrases that didn’t take off that you really wanted to?
JM: There was one point…and this was early on…when I was going through every “Tyra” clip, and I’d get to the end, they’d come back to me, and I’d say, “Just please stop.” And it wasn’t really a joke. It was just what I was really thinking. But they were, like, “You can’t just keep saying that.” And I’m, like, “Okay, you’re right, you’re right.”
BE: You’ll be pleased to hear that they just added “The Wendy Williams Show” to our market.
JM: My God, we love her. Actually, I like Wendy. We like her show. She’s so…she’s very cool, and I enjoy the rawness of it. I like it. She’s a great personality.
BE: And, lastly, who’s been your favorite guest you’ve had pop by on “The Soup,” and the most surprising that you’ve gotten to pop by?
JM: Well, I think when we got Simon Pegg and Keith Olbermann in the same show, in the same two sketches, that was pretty awesome. And then half the cast of “Mad Men” came by, and with Levar Burton, which was the strangest combination, but it worked really well. They wrote a great sketch, because Levar played “the voluptuous redhead from ‘Mad Men.’” He’s, like, “I’m the voluptuous redhead!” I’m, like, “You’re Levar Burton.” “It’s acting!” “Great.” So that was one of my favorites. But hopefully Chevy will come on while we’re promoting “Community,” and we can add him to the list.
Bullz-Eye: I’m sure you’re completely exhausted and yet still continuing to be busy, but I really appreciate you taking a few minutes to talk with me.
Alison Brie: Absolutely!
BE: I was at the TCA tour, but I never managed to corner you to chat with you.
AB: Yeah, what a crazy ordeal that was! It was hopping, that’s for sure.
BE: You must be pretty psyched to have been working on one of the hottest shows on television, only to get a call saying that you’re going to be on what’s potentially going to be the next hottest show.
AB: Oh, my God, it’s amazing. I didn’t even realize when we shot the pilot just how much the network was behind the show. I mean, when we made the pilot, I knew we were making something great, because the writing was amazing, and it was Chevy Chase and Joel McHale and…well, the whole cast is very talented. And working with the Russo brothers and Dan Harmon, our creator, it was unbelievable. But even then, it was sort of, like, it didn’t sink in until we were at the TCA tour. (Laughs) Because you know never know when you make a pilot what’s going to happen with it. But seeing the finished product, we all sat there, going, “Oh, my God, this is good!” And it’s just been a wild ride, and it’s just been so much fun going back and forth from “Mad Men” to this show and seeing the potential in “Community.” I can’t wait to see what happens with it and how people respond.
BE: So who do you think is more exhausted working two jobs: you or Joel?
AB: You know, probably Joel. (Laughs) That guy works like a dog, and he still manages to be totally charming and a great guy. But he’s constantly…when he’s not doing “The Soup,” he’s doing “Community,” and when he’s not there, he’s flying to Vegas to do stand-up, then to Toronto for a children’s charity. I mean, this guy, he’s a jet-setter. I can’t imagine. I mean, I’m a workaholic, so I’d like to think that my schedule will one day be that filled, but for now, I think I’m good. (Laughs)
BE: So did the producers of the show come to you, or did the script fall into a pile of potential projects?
AB: You know, I just auditioned for it. I had been going out for some other pilots during the season, and it was just, like, the last thing that my manager brought for me to read. And I just thought, “Oh, this is so good!” I’m telling you, the writing immediately caught my attention, and the fact that Joel and Chevy had already been cast…? It almost read to me that they had written it just for Joel. His character seems tailed to him and to his type of humor. And Chevy…I’ve grown up watching Chevy’s movies, so that alone, obviously, you hear that Chevy Chase is in it, and you’re immediately interested. But the writing was so clever, and they do a great job of keeping it funny and relevant and edgy, and yet retaining heart and keeping the characters based in reality, which is great. Also, the character that I play, Annie, was sort of a familiar character to me. I worked on a web series that was on ABC Family, and now it’s on Take180.com, called “My Alibi,” where I played this similar type of character, but it was a high-school-based show. But I responded to the character on “Community” immediately, because I felt like I knew this girl.
BE: Well, during the pilot, Annie gets a couple of lines which made me really intrigued by the possibility of flashback episodes, because she clearly had some issues going on in high school.
AB: (Laughs) Well, you know, they do a great job of layering these characters, and I think the more the writers find out about us, the actors, and how we are as people, they’ll start to incorporate more of those things in, like wild stories from our past that we may have told, or just interesting ideas. They just do a great job of balancing it so that your character continues to be a real person, and yet they’ll go off the deep end. I mean, Annie is one who… (Starts to laugh) They’ve written her to be so high strung and such a perfectionist that, when things start to fall apart, she really loses it. It’s fun, and it’s such a blast. And the Russo brothers are so great at giving us the freedom to really take it wherever we want. At first, I was, like, “Oh, my God, they’re going to run in here and go, ‘Less, less!’” But instead they went, “That was great! That was effing hilarious!”
BE: So how developed was Annie when you first got the script? Or did she evolve over the course of various meetings since you got the part?
AB: Well, I think…in the pilot, I think some of the stuff had been cut for time, but there was a bit more that fleshed out her character a bit. But, you know, when you’re casting a pilot, you don’t ever really know exactly where you’re going to go with all of the characters. And I think seeing us all together as a group…we get along so well, we work together so well…the writers had the opportunity to pair us up in different ways and sort of explore these different sides of the character that I don’t know if they’d been planning on exploring. I don’t know if, when I got it originally, they’d planned on Annie being as out there as she sort of has been developing into… (Laughs) …but it sure is fun. And, again, I think it’s kind of great that they listen to us and they sort of learn what we’re capable of doing, and then they tailor stuff to our capabilities and what they’re interested in, uh, making us do. They’re, like, “That might be funny…”
BE: It seems to be unanimous amongst the cast that you guys just got along famously from day one.
AB: Absolutely. It was crazy. I was the last person cast, and I was cast, like, two days before I started. In fact, I think they might’ve already started shooting the pilot by the time I got the call that I got the part. The very next day, I was in wardrobe, and the day after that, I was shooting, so it was super-quick for me. But, immediately, I walked on the set, and Yvette Nicole Brown was the first person I met in the make-up trailer, and she, like, threw open her arms and asked, “Are you our Annie?” And I was, like, “I am! I am!” (Laughs) I felt like Little Orphan Annie finding my mom! It was great. I mean, everybody…there’s not a lot of ego on the set, there’s just this camaraderie. It’s been really great, and I feel like we’ve just been so fortunate. Everybody’s low drama, likes to have fun, and more than anything, I feel like we… (Starts to laugh) It’s like a classroom full of naughty children. It takes them forever to get us quiet enough to start rolling again.
BE: When I talked to Gillian, she said that you’re actually the hardest person in the cast to get to break, as far as making you laugh.
AB: Yes! I totally am! I’m glad she said that, because even Dr. Ken Jeong can’t break me, and he’s, like, the master. He has everybody rolling with laughter. He’s hilarious. They’ll let him improv for 20 minutes, just making stuff up, which is amazingly funny. But he can’t get me! (Laughs)
BE: Does that come from years of practice? What’s your comedic background?
AB: You know, not much. I studied at Cal Arts! I mean, I’ve always been a funny person. Just ask my parents. No, no, I’m kidding. But I studied at Cal Arts, and doing theater, we did comedy and we did drama, so I felt like I was well versed in both. And since college, I actually studied at Lesley Khan and Company, in Hollywood, and her focus is mainly comedy, sort of sitcom and single-camera comedy…so, basically, exactly what “Community” is. I studied with her for awhile, so I can probably credit a lot of my timing to Lesley. But otherwise, I just think I have a lot of funny friends. (Laughs) And on this show, the nature of it really feels like a family. I almost feel like…like I’m incorporating sense of humor that I usually only use when I’m around friends and family, being silly.
BE: Okay, the obligatory “Mad Men” question. It’s a fantastic show, of course, but since I don’t want Mathew Weiner to hunt me down and kill me for asking you to reveal spoilers, I’ll just ask you what it’s like working with Vincent Kartheiser. Because, man, I knew him from “Angel,” but I had no idea what he was capable of as an actor ‘til “Mad Men.”
AB: He’s amazing. He’s phenomenal, and it’s great working with him. It’s so nice now, being in our third season…actually, we just wrapped our third season, but it’s so great to kind of get to know someone over the course of three years. You know, all of my scenes are with Vincent. It’s always just me and him, so you develop a close relationship and a great working relationship, and I feel like I’ve learned a lot from him, too, even though he’s still quite young. Like he’s said, he’s been working in the industry for awhile, so he’s full of little gems about the business. (Laughs)
BE: I’d try to ask you something controversial, but I don’t think there’s any way I can beat the headline that Starpulse.com has about you: “Alison Brie: ‘I Was A Bit Of A Nudist.’”
AB: Oh, geez… (Laughs) Well, I was on Carson Daly’s show last night, and he was asking me about my days at Cal Arts, and, yes, I did say that…and I stand by that statement! (Laughs)
BE: And it will no doubt haunt you for the rest of your career. (Laughs)
AB: It will! But you’ve got to take it lightheartedly. (Hesitates) Lightheartedly? Is that even a word? I’m making shit up now! But it was the nature of the school, it was a time of my life that I don’t frown upon, and…it’s funny!
BE: So have they worked it into a “Community” script yet?
AB: You know, I’m sure they’re on the verge of it. (Laughs) Recently, I was telling an…well, let’s call it an interesting story from Cal Arts that was similiarly risqué, and they were, like, “Oh, great, we can totally use the details of this in the next episode!” And I said, “Oh, geez, I’d better call some people and warn them…” Like, uh, my dad. Or the guy that the story’s about.
BE: See, you thought the worst thing in your past was going to be that you once appeared in a web series called “Hot Sluts.” Now you’ve got this future episode hanging over your head…
AB: (Laughs) Again, you know, for the comedy, I don’t mind going there, and “Hot Sluts” was a fun project as well.
BE: Actually, I went and watched it online after I saw that credit on IMDb. It had to be done.
AB: It’s an eye-catcher, right? (Laughs) It’s by the guys who did “Wet Hot American Summer,” and they used to be on “The State.” Joe LoTruglio is a good friend, and A.D. Miles…they both co-wrote it and produced it, and Miles directed it. It was a really good time. They called me up, and they were, like, “Ali, do you have a couple of days? Do you want to do us a favor?” And I was, like, “Yeah!” So we stayed up all night for two days and did five episodes of that crazy thing, but I thought it turned out funny!
BE: Last question: what are your hopes for “Community”?
AB: Gosh, y’know, I just hope people enjoy it. I hope we can entertain, and I hope people get it and are open to it. I think that the writing continues to be great, and I can see it going far. I hope people like it. I mean, I…I don’t want to say I hope people like it. But I hope it’s enjoyed.
BE: Yeah, “I hope people like it” kinda sounds a little desperate.AB: Yeah, I’m not, like… (In a pleading voice) “Oh, I hope people like it!” (Laughs) But whether people like it or not, it’s one of the highest quality things I’ve ever worked on, so I hope people can…and do…appreciate it.
Bullz-Eye: Okay, just to start things off on a strong note, I wanted to let you know that your show is my favorite pilot of the new season…
Donald Glover: Oh, thank you, man!
BE: …and I hereby swear that I have not said that to anyone who isn’t on “Community.”
DG: (Laughs) All right!
BE: So how did you come aboard the show? Was it a standard audition process?
DG: Uh, no. (Laughs) I mean, like, I think the Russo brothers saw me in this movie called “Mystery Team,” which I had co-written and co-produced with some guys in Derrick Comedy, which is an online sketch group that has gotten pretty popular. So, yeah, they asked me to audition and put myself on tape, so I did and gave them my take on it. I didn’t think I was going to get it, because I was, like, “Oh, it’s a high school jock, that’s not in me.” But I tried my best and did my best…well, my best impression of my brother. (Laughs) My brother was a football player. And they were, like, “Yeah, we love you, fly out.” And I was just, “Whoa!” It just kind of happened. It was just biff, bam, and I was out there. But I was, like, “Okay, that was easy, but we’re not gonna get picked up.” But we did, and I’ve been…this has been the best time of my life.
BE: I understand that one of my favorite moments in the pilot – when you call Joel “Seacrest” – was completely an ad-lib on your part.
DG: (Laughs) Oh, yeah!
BE: Are you a “Soup” fan? Did you know that he’s constantly ripping on Ryan Seacrest?
DG: I am, and I love watching it, and Joel’s the man, so I thought, “Well, let me see if I can slip this in.” Basically, it was me testing the boundaries. It was, like, “If he reacts poorly to this, then I should stop doing that kind of stuff.” But he thought it was so funny, and he was very sweet about it. He was, like, “Yeah, keep going, keep going!” I called him so many other things, I can’t even remember what they were, there were so many improvs, but that was the one they kept.
BE: Did he make it through the take when you said that?
DG: Yeah, he kind of looked at me, and it looked like he was holding it in, but he kept it going. And from there, I started calling everyone else names. I sort of became the Sawyer – from “Lost” – of the pilot, coming up with nicknames and stuff.
BE: So what did you think when you heard that Chevy had been cast?
DG: I was, like, “Oh, man! Six year old me is freaking out!” (Laughs) Because I grew up on his stuff so much, and he was a big part of my growing up and my thinking of, “That’s what funny is.” Like that thing in “Caddyshack” when he’s slip-sliding off the girl, and all of that physical stuff, is a lot of what I did when I first started. I was, like, “This is really great.” I immediately thought, “Regardless of how long we’re on, this is going to be an amazing opportunity to learn a lot from somebody who’s been in comedy and done a lot of stuff, from ‘The Smothers Brothers’ to ‘Saturday Night Live’ to ‘Fletch.’”
BE: What’s your favorite Chevy movie?
DG: “Fletch.” But, I mean, it’s probably a tie, because “Fletch” I probably personally love the most, but my dad, we used to watch “Three Amigos” together a lot, and also “Vacation.” I liked how much my dad enjoyed “Vacation.” I used to like sitting down with him, and he’s, like, “Ah, that dog peed on the food!” It’s just enjoyable. But I think my personal favorite, because I love mystery comedies, is “Fletch.” That’s my shit.
BE: So what’s your college background?
DG: I went to NYU and studied playwriting for four years. And I wanted to be a comedian, so I started at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater for, like, four years or so. Actually, I guess it was more like six years. But that’s my background.
BE: So I know you guys have gotten three or four more scripts since the pilot. Do you get the idea that it’s going to be playing on more universal college concerns, moreso than strictly community college stuff?
DG: I think it’s going to be playing on an even larger scale, like communities as far as the world, like families. I think the big idea is that these people are forced to be together, and people get that, whether it’s family or, y’know, work, when you’re forced to be with people that you’re, like, “I don’t know you, I don’t know who you are, I don’t like the things you like, why do we have to hang out together?” And that’s pretty much it. Everyone’s being forced to hang out together, really, and you get to see the beautiful parts of other people that you may hate but which make you a better person, and you learn that what really makes us a community is that we can only see ourselves through other people, really. So I feel like that’s the basis of Joel’s thing. He’s this sly guy who’s going, “Fuck what everybody else thinks,” but through the other characters, he kind of takes a good look at himself and realizes that he needs people like this around him. So it’s a cool thing.
BE: I know you’ve worked behind the camera as a writer on “30 Rock,” but have you ever acted in a sitcom before?
DG: I haven’t! I never have. This is, like , brand new. (Laughs) Everything’s so new. And, I mean, the movie was independent and a labor of love, whereas this was literally, like, “Yeah, okay, I’ll take this, too.” It just kind of came up, but to get to work with the Russo brothers and Chevy Chase and Joel McHale…
BE: Bam, bam, bam.DG: Exactly! (Laughs) Bam, bam, bam. It was a no-brainer.
Bullz-Eye: So how old are you, anyway?
Danny Pudi: I am, uh… (Laughs) …playing a student who is in his mid-20s.
BE: (Laughs) Gotcha. Well, I was really just asking because I was wondering about your personal frame of reference to ‘80s movies…like, say, “The Breakfast Club,” which you get to quote in the show’s pilot.
DP: I’m a huge fan of ‘80s movies and…well, basically, any ‘80s junk. ‘80s films? Check. ‘80s music? Love it. Tears for Fears…? Bring it. But, yeah, I’m a huge fan of all those movies: “The Breakfast Club,” “Say Anything,” all that stuff. So it was actually kind of great. My character is a film lover, obsessed with film, so we talked a little bit about some movies…and they’re very quotable movies, too, that I think really appeal to this generation. You know, that era, the ‘80s, you kind of reflect, look back, and laugh. There’s a lot of art imitating life, looking at films like “Caddyshack,” where you’re, like, “This is pretty great.” And that’s kind of a cool thing, where I’m able to look at those films. And, also, Chevy Chase is actually in our show! So it’s a very fun way we play it, where we’re actually commenting on it while being part of it.
BE: So where are you from originally?
DP: Chicago. Chicago, IL. Chicago has a huge immigrant population, and that’s where my parents met. But I’ve been living out here for four years now.
BE: Did you do anything at Second City?
DP: I did. I trained at Second City, and I did a couple of shows there at the Donnie Skybox theater. I wasn’t part of the resident troupe or anything, but I studied there, and I actually was in a showcase that NBC did, that they sponsored at Second City, which is what kind of led to my moving out here. That was four years ago, and the next thing you know, boom boom, I’m here. Yeah, Chicago has a great comedy scene, too, in terms of getting your chops and really studying the basics of comedy and stand-up, improve, sketch comedy. It’s a great training ground. I loved it. I was a huge “Saturday Night Live” buff as a kid, a huge “Monty Python” buff, that kind of stuff. Really absurd stuff. And I think that’s what great about this show. It’s absurd, but it’s very honest, too, which is great, because you can actually see the honesty in everyday life as well as the absurdity of it.
BE: Plus, having been a part of Second City, you’re a member of a very exclusive fraternity…relatively speaking, anyway.
DP: Yeah, I mean, if you want to do sketch comedy, if you want to do improve, I don’t know if there’s a better place to study it. I really don’t know. I mean, the teachers…everyone there has so much knowledge about the craft of it, and what’s great about it, too, is that it constantly teaches you to look at life, because it’s social commentary. So it teaches you to really look at what’s going on right now in the world, and how you fit into that, and how you see it. Which is great, because it forces you to develop characters as well as your own identity, and to look at the world and everything. Obviously, with Second City, nothing’s sacred. It’s all across the board. Which is great, you know? Sometimes, it can be tough because you’re doing a weird sketch about something political and you don’t know how people are going to feel about it, but ultimately it’s satire, and you have to look at it and be, like, “What is this saying about the world and the viewpoint?”
BE: You’re playing a member of a Spanish study group on the show. What’s your Spanish background?
DP: It’s very minimal. Un poquito. “Siempre tengo un atortilla en mi pantalones.” I think that means something like, “I have a tortilla in my pants.” I don’t even know if that makes any sense. I didn’t take any Spanish, but I actually speak Polish, which is kind of crazy. On the show, my ethnicity is…and this is kind of a fun thing…is half-Palestinian and half-Caucasian, but in real life, I’m actually half-Indian and half-Polish, and I speak Polish. It doesn’t really come in handy out here, and it definitely doesn’t help in this Spanish study group I’m in on the show, but I think I have an aptitude for languages, so it’s kind of fun to play with that.
BE: You mentioned Chevy Chase a minute ago. How crazy is that, to have him on the show?
DP: Completely surreal. You know, you’re just sitting with him, then you’re doing a scene with him and acting, and all of a sudden you go, “Omigod, that’s Chevy Chase!” And then you’ve got to keep acting. “Danny, your lines? Your lines…? You’ve got to keep going!” “Oh, sorry, sorry!” So you keep doing your lines, then you walk away, but then you’re, like, “Hey, Chevy, do you want some carrots? I’m gonna go get some carrots from craft services.” “Sure!” And then you’re eating carrots with Chevy Chase! And then afterwards you’re taking your makeup off in the makeup trailer, and Chevy’s there, and you go, “Hey, how was your day, Chevy?” “Good! See you tomorrow!” And you’re, like, “See you tomorrow, Chevy!” And you get in your car, you go home, and you’re, like, “Wow, I just worked all day with Chevy Chase!” And then you do it all over again.
BE: Are you guys always hovering around him and asking him to tell stories?
DP: We are, actually. It’s pretty sweet. I mean, a lot of us…this is kind of a newer experience for a lot of us that are younger. The cast has great credits, but in terms of Chevy, he’s a legend, so there’s that lure of him telling stories about “SNL” back in the day, and “Fletch,” all of these huge Hollywood movies, ad he lives in New York, and…there’s just that legend stuff. And as a comedy buff, which I am, just being able to kind of pick his brain, it’s like “Inside the Actors Studio with Danny Pudi.” But it’s wonderful. He’s amazing in this, and like I said, just being able to absorb his comedy genius is amazing. This cast is incredible. Everybody is.
BE: Yeah, I’m a big fan of “The Soup,” so…
DP: Oh, great! Yeah, Joel McHale’s amazing, too. He’s hilarious, and he’s perfect for this role, kind of this spokesman kind of guy who has this wacky world around him, and it forces him to take inventory of his personal situation. It’s a great cast, and everyone has been awesome. The chemistry…it’s amazing how quickly we came together.
BE: It’s my favorite pilot of the season.
DP: Yeah! (Into the tape recorder) Did you hear that? Did you hear that? Nice! Well, yeah, we love it. We’ve already gotten four scripts, and in each one, the writing is very tight, it’s sharp, it’s funny, but it’s very sweet, and it’s got heart to it, which I think is the future of comedy. It’s a little nostalgic, too. Like, when you’d go back and you’d have the Christmas episode, or you’d have the episode where so and so does drugs. You know, where there are, like, lessons to them? I’m a big fan of that, when comedy can have a little bit more bite to it. I think it’s always a good thing.
BE: I think it’s also that…well, from my perspective, I’m 38, and to have someone who’s in their 20s referencing “The Breakfast Club,” rather than making me feel old, it makes me feel like something that I grew up with has officially become timeless.DP: Yeah, that’s exactly it! And some of those movies are timeless. Even the song in “The Breakfast Club,” “(Don’t You) Forget About Me,” they did a modern remake of it for the end of the pilot. So it’s nice to be able to incorporate that stuff. And I think now is a good time period, where a lot of the stuff that was made during the ‘80s is coming back. I mean, look at pants, for example. They’re super-tight again. So I think it’s a good time for us to reflect on what happened then. And some of those movies really are classics. And in terms of comedy, “SNL” and all of that stuff back then, what Chevy was doing, we go back to it all the time. So, yeah, it’s been a blast for me, given that I love ‘80s movies, music, fashion. All of it. All day long.
Bullz-Eye: I was actually at NBC’s TCA party in August, but for whatever reason, I wasn’t able to catch up with you there.
Gillian Jacobs: Oh, okay! Yeah, I had, like, a 5 AM call the next day, so I think I headed out a little early.
BE: No problem. I’m just glad to be able to talk with you before the show premieres. So how did you come onto the show?
GJ: Well, you know, I read the pilot and I loved it. I was trying to be picky about the comedy pilots that I would go out for; I only really wanted to do something that I absolutely loved and would want to commit a couple of years of my life to. And I read this pilot, and it made me laugh, and I loved the character, and it was the sort of girl who I’d want to play and want to watch. So I was really excited about the script in terms of the project.
BE: Now, you had not really done a whole lot of comedy prior to this.
GJ: No! (Laughs) No, I’d always wanted to, but I kept getting cast in these really dark, depressing movies!
BE: Well, y’know, “Choke” had its upbeat moments…
GJ: “Choke” was fun, and it was funny, but it’s hard when your mom has to go, “So you’re playing an exotic dancer…?” (Laughs) But, no, I definitely had a lot of fun on “Choke,” and my part definitely skewed more toward the comedy. And it was really exciting for people to see me in that light, but it’s nice to do something that doesn’t have the darker edge to it, something that can, uh, actually be shown on a network. It’s a really nice change for me.
BE: How challenging did you figure it was going to be when you heard that Joel McHale and Chevy Chase were going to be working with you?
GJ: Oh, I was really excited! I mean, I’ve been a fan of both of them. I met Joel early on, and we seemed to click and get along, aside from the fact that he’s a foot taller than me! (Laughs) And then I met Chevy once I was cast, and…you know, the whole group came together in a really great way, which hopefully is evident in the pilot itself. So I feel really lucky to be a part of this cast.
BE: It certainly seemed like there was a great deal of chemistry from the get-go. You guys seemed to get along together really well.
GJ: Yeah! It was really amazing to see that, because it’s a really diverse group of people in terms of backgrounds, ages, experience, and so on. We have everyone from Donald, who was a writer for two years on “30 Rock,” to Chevy, and me not necessarily coming from a comedy background, but all of us just seem to genuinely get along and like each other…and thank God, since we’re an ensemble show! But you can’t really plan that.
BE: So what’s your college background?
GJ: I went to Juilliard, so I didn’t really get much of an academic education. Actually, I got no academic education. (Laughs) But I got very intense acting training! I guess the way I would relate it to this show is that I was locked in a room with 15 people for four years. I guess that kind of resembles making our TV show, with this study group of people. So that’s the experience that I bring to it. (Laughs) I never had to take a Spanish class, though. There are basically no academic requirements at Juilliard!
BE: I know Ken has been added to the show since the pilot was filmed. I would imagine that he’s a trip to work with.
GJ: Oh, my God, he’s so hilarious. I mean, the first day of work with him, we’re all just basically sitting in…well, you’ve probably seen clips of it from promos, where they’re introducing Senor Chang, but it was basically just a day of sitting there and trying not to laugh…or just trying not to laugh when the camera’s on you! He’s so great, and, y’know, just another really sweet, nice, funny person that’s been another really nice addition to our cast.
BE: So is the hardest person in the cast to break up?
GJ: To make laugh? Danny Pudi is pretty hard to break. (Laughs) You can get him. Let’s see, who else? Alison, she’s pretty hard to break. I’m very easy to break. I just try to cover my face and pretend that I’m crying or something.
BE: I’ll be sure to watch for that.
GJ: (Laughs) But I’d say that Alison might actually be the hardest person to break.
BE: I’m supposed to interview her sometime in the next couple of days. I’m sure that it must be crazy for her to be appearing in “Mad Men,” only to step into this show, which is being hyped to the nines.
GJ: Yeah, in fact, she was actually just shooting “Mad Men” yesterday! (Laughs) They gave her a day off, so “Mad Men” snatched her up.
BE: So when they approached you with the part…obviously, you were able to read the script for the pilot, but how much of your character was developed?
GJ: A lot, actually. That was a really exciting part of the process, because sometime you sign on for a pilot, and the scripts just get worse and worse, and by the time you shoot it, it doesn’t resemble what you signed on for at all, and it’s sort of lost what drew you to the character. But I felt like…we were lucky enough to have time to do rehearsals, so there was a lot of time with me, Joel, the Russo brothers, and Dan Harmon in our conference room, just going through every scene, beat by beat. And through that process, I really feel like we developed my character. They added a lot of nuances to her relationship, and they really strengthened it, so I was very happy with that process.
BE: Now, obviously, they’re trying to play up the romantic angle between you and Joel in the pilot. Did you get the impression that it’s something they’re going to pushing really hard, or will it be in the background because of the size of the ensemble?
GJ: Well, I don’t think anyone’s looking to have a quick and easy resolution of that. I think that tension is a great wellspring for comedy and drama as well, so I don’t think you want to get those characters together early on, and then what? Nobody wants to watch a smug, happy couple. (Laughs) So I think that the banter…you know, there’s that sort of “Moonlighting” and “Cheers” sort of banter, where these people clearly have an affinity for each other and a shared sense of humor, but there’s a lot of change and development. And that’s what I love about Britta: despite the fact that Jeff’s an attractive, funny, charming guy, she’s going, “Actually, no.” And she’s not going to suddenly go, “Oh, you know what? Never mind. He’s so adorable that I just cannot resist him.” (Laughs) The girl sticks to her guns…maybe to her own detriment. It’s probably because she wouldn’t want to give Jeff the satisfaction of going out with him!
BE: How much is John Oliver in the show? I know he’s in the pilot, but he’s not considered a series regular.
GJ: Yeah, we were lucky enough to have him back for two episodes. You know, basically, “The Daily Show” gets something insane like three weeks off a year, so we were just fortunate to have him come back for two more. And I think that as much as we can have him back, we’d love to. Hey, you know, it’s such a thrill just to have him in the pilot. You know, it gives us that kind of cred just to have him around. (Laughs)
BE: Do you have any guest stars lined up for upcoming episodes that you can talk about?
GJ: I don’t know if you know that John Michael Higgins plays one of the professors on an upcoming episode. Eric Christian Olsen is on one, and…let’s see, who else did we have? Oh, gosh. But just talking about guest stars, that’s another amazing thing about the show: people who have seen the pilot have responded to it and are willing to come and hang out with us for a week, which is really awesome.
BE: Plus, it’s a format that lends itself to guest stars, given that you can have people turn up as professors or students.
GJ: Yeah, and I know that they’ve been developing some webisodes for the “Community” website, though I don’t know how those will integrate with the show in the future, but it helps to create such a rich, dynamic world on this campus. So, anyway, I can’t think of any others right now, but I’m sure we’ll have many more amazing guest stars to come!
BE: So has Joel dropped from exhaustion yet?
GJ: You know, I’m absolutely amazed, because every week he leaves us and goes and tapes “The Soup,” and he’s here all day every day, and he has two small children. I mean, I don’t know how he does it. He says he started hallucinating one night, but thus far, he has not fainted on set, so… (Laughs)
BE: When I talked to him at TCA, he looked completely and totally serious when he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this.”
GJ: (Laughs) Yeah, I know! It’s like he’s got this wonderful problem where he’s got two great jobs. So I guess it’s an enviable position. He’s like the Ellen Degeneres of NBC and E! now, I guess. But it’s insane. I’m exhausted just having one job, so I can’t imagine how it is for him to do both of them.
BE: I know you said you were a fan of his. Do you have a favorite “Soup” bit?
GJ: Let me try and think. (Considers the question) You know what? It’s really just that I think he’s so smart, and there’s something about the way that he’s able to do it, where he never gets mean. You know? He’s able to sort of skewer everyone and yet remain so incredibly likable. I…I’m sorry, I’m so tired that I can’t even come up with a favorite bit for you!
BE: (Laughs) It’s okay.
GJ: But, really, I do just love the tone of the show and his delivery. That’s what I’m drawn to.
BE: And how’s Chevy to work with? I know he’s had a reputation for being prickly, but when I saw him at the NBC party, he seemed totally at ease and thrilled to be back on NBC and doing this show.
GJ: Yeah, I think he’s been really…every week when we do the read-throughs, I’m normally sitting next to him, and he’s gone, “They’ve done it again! It’s another brilliant script!” (Laughs) So I think that, like the rest of us, he’s very impressed with the quality of writing on the show and the consistency of it. Because we all did the pilot, and we all knew that loved the pilot script, but no one had any idea what the second episode was going to be like. But I think we’ve all been very impressed with the quality of the writing, and they’re giving him some remarkable, remarkable stuff to do, so I think he’s happy to be on the show.
BE: Is there a temptation for all of you to sit around him and just ask him to tell stories?
GJ: Oh, sure! I mean, that happens almost every day. (Laughs) And the variety of his stories is incredible. It’s not just the people he’s worked with and the things he’s worked on. It’s everything from being mistaken for Jim Morrison back in the day to playing drums with Steely Dan, or taking Kris Kristofferson around backstage at “SNL.” And he’s been very politically involved for a long time and heavy into environmental causes, so he’s got a whole wealth of stories.
BE: He’s the last person on my list that I need to talk to from the show.
GJ: All right! (Laughs) I hope you get him!
BE: Well, I know you’ve got to get back to work, but just one last question: what are your hopes for “Community”?GJ: I hope that we go into syndication, so that I can buy some real estate. (Laughs) I just hope that we maintain the quality that we’ve seen in these first couple of episodes, and that I continue to be excited to go to work every day. Like, we had a day last week where it was Ken Jeong and…oh, my God, I’m losing my mind…it was John Oliver, Ken Jeong, Tim Rasche, Joel, and I, all day, and I was just looking around, going, “This is such a dream team!” So if we can maintain that high level of quality and keep me consistently employed so I don’t have to go back to babysitting, then I’ll be a happy girl!
Bullz-Eye: First off, I have to say that you were awesome in “Role Models.”
Ken Jeong: Oh, thank you! Oh, thanks so much, man. I appreciate a “Role Models” shout out all the time, man. That means a lot to me. I loved that movie so much.
BE: So how did you find your way into “Community”? Since you weren’t in the pilot, I have to presume that it was relatively late in the process.
KJ: Yeah, it was late in the process. Basically, it was a matter of…well, it was a month ago, I think, where there was a character called Senor Chang, the professor of the Spanish class, and they wanted to get the teacher of the class that the pilot was based around, so…
(At this moment, my fellow TV critic Jeanne Jakle – a.k.a. Mrs. Ross Ruediger – suddenly experienced a moment of enlightenment and identified Jeong from his work in “The Hangover.”)
Jeanne Jakle: Omigod, you’re the guy in the trunk! I just realized that!
KJ: (Laughs) Yeah.
Jeanne Jakle: I loved that movie, and you had one of the best scenes ever!
KJ: Oh, thank you so much! That’s very kind of you.
Ross Ruediger: And you were also great in…what’s the other movie we were just watching? “Role Models.”
KJ: (Laughs) Which Will just brought up. But I’ll thank you, too!
JJ: You were such an ass in that!
KJ: (Laughs) I will take that as the ultimate compliment.
RR: She means it in the best possible way.
KJ: Hey, I’m just honored. I can’t believe I’m here…and, in fact, I was just telling Will about being on “Community.” It’s great. It’s such a great show, and, you know, any time I’m allowed to be a part of a show where the show doesn’t need me to be successful… (Laughs) …I think it’s a good bet to be a part of that. I feel like this show…I’ve seen the pilot three times, because I was able to get a copy of it before I was ever in contention for anything, but I just loved it. And I was telling everyone: “I love this show, and I know it’s gonna be a hit.” And then I was shooting a movie in Boston, like, a month ago, and I think there was just talk about having me on the show, but one thing led to another, I read the scripts to subsequent episodes, and I was, like, “I’ve got to be on this show. At any cost.” So I was pretty much begging to be on this show. The quality was that good, and…basically, I think I’d be a fool to give up a great show that’s on Thursday nights on NBC. It was just a dream come true. I mean, it’s on right after “The Office.” Come on, it’s ridiculous. I will not have the opportunity again to do a show like this, and I’m very aware of it. Show business is a fickle mistress, and you have to strike while the iron is hot. You really do. And I definitely want to be a part of “Community.” I was just so honored. And the thing is, everyone’s been so nice. Everyone had known each other prior to the second episode, because they show the pilot months ago, but the entire cast – literally, from head to toe, every single person – couldn’t have been cooler or nicer. And, comedically, everyone’s on the same page. We’re right there. I’ll do my press junkets all day with Danny Pudi, who plays Abed, and we’re, like, soulmates now. We can complete each other sentences in character. It’s that good. I mean, it sounds clichéd, but it truly is an honor to be a part of it. I’ve never been a regular on a show before, never done a junket like this or a conference like this.
BE: Didn’t “The Hangover” help, though?
KJ: Well, “The Hangover” and “Knocked Up” gave me a career. If it wasn’t for Judd Apatow discovering me for “Knocked Up,” I wouldn’t be here talking to you, and if it wasn’t for Todd (Phillips) putting me in “The Hangover”…
JJ: Where you were naked!
KJ: That was my idea, to do it naked. I read the script, and I think I had pants on, or at least some clothes on, when I came out of the trunk, but I pitched it to Todd. I was reading the script and kind of rehearsing it on my own, and I said, “God, y’know, I just think he’s screaming to be naked.” And I’m really not…I’m not an exhibitionist by nature, but I was just kind of in the zone of the character, and I just felt it. And the film is set up as a comedy noir, like a mystery, so it just gives another element of surprise. The only thing surprising to me, though, is how quickly Todd accepted my idea. Usually, you give a director an idea, they say, “No,” and stew on it, or they’ll say, “I’ll think about it,” and then they’ll say, “No.” What was a little disturbing to me was that I suggested it to Todd, and he was, like, “You don’t have to ask me twice!” And within an hour, they’d slipped a nudity waiver under my hotel room door – no joke – to make sure I wouldn’t change my mind. Todd Phillips...I love him to death. It was the right moment, the right time. My name is Leslie Chao in the movie, which was improvised by Todd Phillips. He’s Mr. Chao, but Todd and Bradley Cooper, I’ve got to give them credit, they said, “What if his first name is Leslie?” And we just did an improv run where my name was Leslie…and, to this day, whenever I E-mail Todd Phillips, I always sign it “Leslie.” And he always calls me Leslie. So it’s become part of my vernacular for Mr. Chao.
BE: The timing of that film’s success and this role couldn’t be much better…and probably isn’t coincidental.
KJ: Oh, believe me, I’m milking it for all it’s worth… (Laughs) …and I’m so grateful to have this opportunity. Honestly, I’ve just been an incredibly lucky guy. I’ve just been in the right place at the right time. I don’t know who I paid off, because I don’t have much money, but whatever happened, I’m very fortunate…and I’m very excited about “Community”! The script…these guys are money, man. It’s like doing a movie every week. Every take, they’re letting not just me improvise, they’re letting everyone improvise, just like the other comedies I’ve been a part of. They’re letting it roll.
BE: Given the authoritarian nature of your part in “Role Models,” I guess it wasn’t too hard to go professorial.
KJ: Definitely not. And it was great, because I was able to kind of latch on to…I don’t know if you know, but I was a doctor before “Knocked Up,” and to make a long story short, that’s one of the reasons I got cast: because of my medical background. So a lot of times…not from you, but from other press when “Knocked Up” came out, they were asking, “Well, why do you want to be an actor as opposed to being a doctor?” And my character has a bit of that thing: why does he teach Spanish? He has no reason to. So I really transferred that real chip on my shoulder, for lack of a better phrase, to that character, and it’s really just very real to me. So I’m having a great time, and all I can say is, “Watch the show.”
BE: Well, I’ve seen the pilot…
KJ: Oh, you did! Great!
BE: …but as I was watching it, I thought, “It’s good, but it could really use a little Ken Jeong.” And then lo and behold…KJ: (Laughs) You know, both of our dreams have come true here, Will. We’re winners! Both of us, Will, we’re winners, dammit!
Bullz-Eye: So how did you first come to “Community”?
Yvette Nicole Brown: I auditioned, and you know what? It’s funny that Dan (Harmon) was talking about the diversity of the show. He never mentioned how many people he auditioned, but I can honestly say that, when I went to my audition, I couldn’t tell who was there for Annie, who was there for…in other words, there were people there from every age, every race, everything. So it really was colorblind casting. So I auditioned, and I was blessed to get the part.
BE: What’s your college background?
YNB: I went to the University of Akron, in Ohio, and I graduated from there, but I actually went to Cuyahoga Community College when I was in high school. We took some computer classes there in the summer, so I do have a community college background with Tri-C.
BE: Did you ever expect that you’d end up on a project where you’d be adamantly asked in every interview where you went to college?
YNB: (Laughs) No, but I kind of like it ,’cause I like giving Tri-C a little plug, and I like giving University of Akron a plug. So it’s my pleasure!
BE: How far into the casting process did you come onto the show?
YNB: Oh, you know what’s so funny? Joel was for sure, Chevy was, and I ran into Danny Pudi in the parking lot. I saw him talking to Anthony Russo, the director, and I was, like, “Omigod, he looks like Abed!” And I was there to test, and it was me and four other women there to test, so I rolled down the window, and I asked, “Are you testing for Abed?” He said, “No, I am Abed! I’m Danny!” And he reached in my car and shook my hand. I said, “I’m auditioning for Shirley,” and he said, “I hope you get it!” And so I say that, when we touched hands, he passed it to me! When I saw him at the table read later, I said, “Danny, thank you so much!” So he was the first person I met, and he was probably the third person cast.
BE: Were you already a fan of Joel and “The Soup”?
YNB: Yes! Love Joel! Joel is so irreverent, but he’s so sweet at the same time. I think the snarkiness is to cover what a bleeding heart teddy bear he is. I adore him.
BE: And were you a Chevy fan as well?
YNB: Yes! But, you know, would you believe that my favorite Chevy Chase movie is “Nothing But Trouble”? Every time I say that, people are, like, “Uh, have you heard of ‘Fletch’?” Hey, nothing wrong with “Fletch,” but “Nothing But Trouble”…? Genius. I told Chevy, and he looked at me and said, “Really? Out of everything I’ve done, ‘Nothing But Trouble’?” But I love that movie!
BE: You know, I was hoping to ask him which of his movies he’s most surprised to hear people tell him they’re fans of…
YNB: I’d bet you it’s “Nothing but Trouble,” and he’d tell you about me. (Laughs) I really kind of spazzed out when I told him.
BE: How much have they told you about your character and her background?
YNB: I know that Shirley’s husband left her when he won a radio contest on 102.7. It was $1,000. (Laughs) She has kids, but I don’t know how many or their ages. I’m voting that they’re young, because I want Shirley to be young. I’m, like, “C’mon, no teenagers, please!” But she’s a mother, so she’s very mothering to the rest of the cast. She calls everybody “sweetie” and “honey” and that kind of thing. That’s Shirley!
BE: I didn’t have a chance to check out your IMDb page before the party. What was your comedic background prior to “Community”?
YNB: I’ve done a lot of shows. Gosh, I’ve been on “The Office,” I’ve been on “Entourage.” I’d done some dramas…I did “House.” And I had a four-year run on “Drake and Josh,” the Nickelodeon show.
BE: Nice! Well, I’ve got a 4-year-old daughter, so she’s not into it yet, but…
YNB: Give her time. She’ll find it. (Laughs) Let’s see, what other comedies did I do? “Girlfriends,” “Half and Half,” “Two and a Half Men,” “Rules of Engagement.” I kind of bounced around.
BE: How did you first get into comedy?
YNB: My mom and my brother were really funny, so most of my life, we’ve been cracking jokes and acting silly around the house, so I think it just comes naturally to me. I have no comedic training and I’m not a stand-up. I’m just blessed to be able to take someone else’s words and find a way to make them funny.
BE: How did you first get into it as a profession, though?
YNB: Oh, I did a play, one of those gospel plays, like, you know, “Daddy, Why? Mama, Don’t!” or something. (Laughs) You know what I’m talking about. But, no, this one was actually called “His Woman, His Wife,” and I just fell in love with the immediacy of the audience and realized that sitcoms would be just like that. So I did eight months of that on the road, then I came back, got an agent, and started auditioning. The first thing I booked was “Girlfriends,” and that’s how it started.
BE: It’s funny that you mention gospel plays. I used to work at a record store where I sold tickets, and I lost track of the number of different titles.
YNB: “Daddy, Why? Mama, Don’t!” “Where’s the Collard Greens?” “Close The Back Porch Door!” “Is It Raining? I Don’t Know!” (Laughs) But they’re great plays, and it’s also a great way to make some money and see the nation while you’re singing and acting, you know?
BE: It’s amazing how Tyler Perry has so popularized them that he can guarantee a #1 movie whenever he releases a new film.
YNB: He has literally taken the idea and run with it. Yes, he has.
BE: What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on that didn’t get the love you thought it deserved, whether it was a one-off or a regular series?
YNB: I did a show called “The Big House” about five years ago, on ABC, and we only got to do six episodes. It was kind of a precursor to…well, actually, to what Tyler’s doing now, but in an ABC way, and it had Faizon Love, Kevin Hart, Arnetia Walker, and Keith David. I don’t think we really had a chance to show what that show can be. And to compare this TCA to that TCA…? It’s like night and day, because… (Laughs) …people are actually excited about “Community.” Nobody cared about “The Big House”! So it’s a totally different experience.
BE: What’s that like, to be part of a show that you know most of the critics don’t like?YNB: You know, you just have to hope that, when they see it, maybe they’ll love it. In the case of “The Big House,” however, they did not. (Laughs) So you just kind of laugh about it and start on your next time around. But that was the first time I was a series regular, and I kind of learned not to get attached to things. Everything ends. Even if “Community” has a wonderful run, eventually it will end, either by our choice or by the network’s choice, and you just have to be ready for that. You’ve got to travel light. So that’s what I always try to do.