OK, subletting an apartment in New York City with only a bed to sleep in and an apple in the refrigerator to munch on sounds more tragic than triumphant. But pull back, observe the panoramic picture, realize those seemingly desolate circumstances will vanish in the sec it takes to hire movers, shop for food, or, in TV time, the instant necessary to click from The Real Housewives of New Jersey to the fake feelings on The Hills, and you will quickly notice that Scott Adsit of 30 Rock lives closer to the penthouse than the lobby in life, especially the way comic actors calculate success.
After all, Adsit plays a key part, the twitchy producer Pete Hornberger, in arguably the best sitcom on television, the aforementioned 30 Rock. He also acts, improvises and teaches at iO West in Los Angeles and at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in Manhattan. Now on Sundays at 10 p.m. on the Cartoon Network, Adsit can be heard but not seen in Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole, his second Adult Swim collaboration with his longtime friend and writing partner, Dino Stamatopoulos, who created Moral Orel five years ago and these days moonlights as Star-Burns on another NBC hitcom, Community.
“Frankenhole” revolves around Victor Frankenstein, the macabre monster maker, who, after mastering immortality, creates portals (the wormy Frakenholes of the title) that connect his Eastern European village to any time period — past, future.
Even actors toiling at or near the top of their profession usually view the world from the perspective of a window washer dangling from a scaffold. Out of character (at least his flinching, tentative Pete Hornberger persona), Adsit, though not under oath, admits to loving life.
“I don’t feel desperation at this point,” he says. “I will — nothing lasts, so, you know, I’m going to feel desperate again. But I’m enjoying kind of my relaxed sphincter…if I can keep using the buttocks metaphor.”
Maybe because he was waiting for the movers or a grocery delivery, Adsit took some time to open up to Punchline Magazine about his career, and, proudly, its remarkably “low crap level.”
Mary Shelley’s Frankenhole — where did the idea come for this series, why this project?
The creator, Dino Stamatopoulos [whom Peter met in a writing course in college in the ’80s], is a big fan of the classic monsters, especially Frankenstein, and he and I were tossing around ideas about how to create something, and we were already in love with the stop-motion animation we were already doing for Moral Orel on Adult Swim, and we were offered another series, so we tossed around the idea of doing something Gothic and twisted.
Thank God you didn’t do anything about vampires, that’s all I can say; I think we have enough of those.
[Chuckling] We do have vampires…just not young, good-looking vampires.
Are you writing for this show as well?
Writing, producing, directing, voicing.
You just don’t have enough to do these days, huh?
Well, I’m out in New York, so all my stuff is done over the Internet or on tape — a lot my direction is done on tape. I was around more on Moral Orel, but this time I’m kind of directing and producing from, uh, this is more of a long-distance relationship that’s still somehow healthy.
Which do you prefer, acting, writing, directing? Which one of those satisfies most of your creative cravings?
I like acting first; the other stuff is freeing and boosts my ego and makes me feel powerful [chuckling].
Is it overwhelming sometimes to be as busy and successful as you’ve become over the past few years, not that you weren’t before this, but I mean with a hit like 30 Rock and a new animated series…I’m sure there was a time when you were a little less busy.
Oh sure, I was in LA kind of in that beehive honey comb of compartments they put actors into, and then they take them out when they need them, and I was just kind of waiting to be needed for a long time. I was doing commercials and guest-star stuff here and there. It’s a big crap shoot. Luckily, I worked with a lot of people In Chicago, like Dino and Tina Fey, who found their own success and said, “Why don’t you come with me.” I’m fortunate to have friends who respected me back then and still do today.
So for all aspiring actors and writers and such, it’s better to have friends or talent…or both? I guess you need both.
You need both…because if you have friends, you can get hired as someone’s friend. If you have talent and friends, you have a justification for working.
How does the writing work if you and Dino are on opposite coasts? Howdo you guys collaborate?
Dino will write a first draft and send it out, and I’ll give him notes. I’ll rewrite a scene or two and then send it back to him. Then I’ll write a show, and he’ll give me notes, and we share that with other writers. We have several writers who are in LA with Dino who work with him more closely. Eventually, the baby becomes everyone’s. It’s just kind of a back and forth ping-pong game.
Are you constantly thinking?
I wish. I veg out a lot. I’m not thinking right now. This is a nice break from thinking; thank you for calling [laughing].
Is it surprising to you how your career has turned out? Or has it become what you always dreamed it would?
Well, it’s on the path I’ve always hoped and dreamed it would be on. One day I want to create something that’s strictly mine and have it be a success — we’ll see what happens. But the point I’m at now, I’m walking down the street thinking, This is the best time of my life. I’m free, I’m allowed to be creative and I get paid for it. I’m living in the best city on the world and I have a little money. I also have the freedom to do pretty much whatever I like, and I am. And I get to perform as much [improv] as I want onstage in New York [at the UCB Theater], and that’s a great dream come true.
What is that you’re still striving to create? What is that dream project?
It’s a network sitcom, it’s a cult movie. It’s the stage show I can perform, stop performing and return to and always have a home to go to. As soon as I make that cult movie, I’m going to want whatever the next thing is. You know what I’m talking about.
Is the best thing now having the name? Is recognition the best help in an actor’s career?
It helps that I’m associated with something of quality. It leads to some auditions or bigger roles to audition for — it’s not an open door certainly. I’m second or third tier on [30 Rock]. The show is a success because of Alec [Baldwin] and Tina and Tracy [Morgan] and Jane [Krakowski] and Jack [McBrayer] and Judah [Friedlander]…. As far as my association with the series translating into a red-carpet welcome in Hollywood — nah. It gives me certain recognition, “Oh, I love your show,” which is great.
Well it impressed Adult Swim.
I guess I’m really asking how did Moral Orel come about? How did your association with the Cartoon Network start?
Because of Mr. Show. Dino and I had been on Mr. Show and Adult Swim was a big fan of Mr. Show. Dino was a much bigger part of that than I was, and Adult Swim came to Dino and asked him if he had anything he’d like to create, and Dino had an idea for a Leave It to Beaver kind of take. He wrote the pilot, showed it to me and asked if I’d like to be a part of this, then we ended up writing all the shows [43 episodes in all] together.
So far I’ve kept my crap level pretty low [laughing]. Most of what I’ve done is pretty good. There’s no real taint on my body of work; there’s just balls and an ass on my body of work. The kinds of people I want to work with are the kinds of people who might be attracted to me, which is really beneficial.
For more info on Scott Adsit’s new show, check out the official site on Adult Swim.