You may have noticed the recent Speed Stick campaign, wherein folks were encouraged to tweet #HandleIt and describe a sticky situation they were forced to, um, handle. You may have also noticed Community star Danny Pudi was the comedic voice and face behind the campaign. Well, we spoke with Pudi a few weeks ago about that — a little bit — and more importantly, about his his role on Community. Keep in mind: this interview was done well before NBC renewed the show for a fourth season and, of course, before the ousting of Community creator and showrunner Dan Harmon. Enjoy!
Thinking about this campaign that you’re doing, have you experienced any particularly awkward moments on the set of Community or because of your role on the show?
Right! We’re working on this campaign with Speedstick that has guys tweet funny, awkward stories with the hashtag #handleit. The message is a moment where you’re sweating on the inside but you’re cool on the outside.
In terms of me, definitely. I had to recently play Brown Jamie Lee Curtis in an episode of Community—which, I know if you don’t watch Community, sounds very strange—but Google it, look at my face, look at Jamie Lee Curtis’s face, it’s strange how similar we look. I was dressed in a full dress, in drag, and that same week, my wife’s parents came to the set, so I had to interact with my wife’s mother from Iowa wearing a tiny black dress and red lipstick. Also, that same week, I had to meet Master P the rapper in a tiny black dress, dressed as Jamie Lee Curtis. I had to tell him, “Oh, I’m a big fan, man, I used to love watching your videos where everyone’s slam dunking.” I’ve definitely had a few.
Speaking to that, Abed’s certainly an odd duck as far as television characters are concerned. I’m curious if there are any elements of the character that you feel any personal kinship with, or if there’s anything that you guys have in common.
Yeah, I think that as time goes on, more and more. I think initially there was a little bit more separation. Abed’s half-Palestinian, I’m half-Indian, half-Polish, so there’s a little bit of similarity in terms of being mixed race. Abed’s an expert in popular culture, I’m not. Abed’s not married, I’m married, I have two kids now.
So there’s some differences there that are pretty basic, but I think we’re both fascinated with 80s popular culture and trivia. I grew up in the 80s, I loved that time period in terms of movies, all the Indiana Jones movies, Back to the Future, Police Academy, Monty Python, SNL. It’s such a rich time for comedy in film. There’s certainly some areas that we have very much in common. But I wish I was half as smart as Abed was in terms of knowing every movie and TV show out there.
Of course. It seems like the role really requires a huge amount of fluency in pop culture.
It’s crazy. I get a crash course every week. Thankfully, I work with brilliant writers. Dan Harmon and the writers’ crew are such experts in that field, and on top of that, the whole cast that I work with—they know way more than I do. Alison Brie, Joel [McHale], Jim Rash, Donald [Glover]—if there’s something I don’t get, or a movie I haven’t heard of, or a reference, I know between the study group, someone has definitely seen it and knows what we’re talking about. It’s great.
Thinking about the episodes that make very clear references to other pop culture icons like the recent Ken Burns parody, which I thought was brilliant, are there any episodes that stand out for you as personal favorites?
I think our show, to me, is special because every week it’s so different. There are times where I kind of waver back and forth for what my favorite episode is because they’re so different. They vary so much. I think the one that comes to mind the most is the My Dinner with Andre/Pulp Fiction episode. That’s the one that I think about the most. I don’t know if it was the one that I had the most fun doing, necessarily—I had an incredible time doing it—but the whole experience was really full and different. I hadn’t seen My Dinner with Andre, but I was a huge Pulp Fiction fan, so those two worlds coming together—on top of that, the conversations and acting with Joel. Joel was so incredible in that episode. I got to work with Richard Ayoade from the British The IT Crowd, who directed an amazing film called Submarine. The whole creative process of that episode was really special.
And then I’ll never forget doing season 1 “Paintball,” because I can’t believe we actually did an episode based on paintball in a comedy show. There are so many. Those are two that stick out for me most often.
Do you have any thoughts about other creative projects that you’re itching to do in the future?
I’m working on a film right now that I’m really excited about. It’s called My Friend Vijay, it’s a dark comedy in production. It’s about a guy who is presumed dead and goes back into life and starts questioning people in his life about what they really thought of him. It’s really cool. I like movies and projects that are a little unclear in terms of tone and a little different. It’s something I’m looking forward to.
Community returns in September to NBC for 13 episodes.