Danny Pudi Interview
You know Danny Pudi. You’ve seen his comic skills and on-point timing on NBC’s hit show Community. Pudi plays Abed, an awkwardly loveable geek with a passion for TV and films (a guy who may or may not have Asperger’s syndrome). But Pudi’s not as socially awkward as the character he plays on TV. In fact, the guy’s a pretty smooth dude.
He’s engaging, humble and always willing to make himself the butt of a joke. He’s a sharp guy, but when it comes to his brand of humor, he’s a giver, not a taker. He has the type of humility you’d expect from a guy who grew up having to explain that he’s half Indian and half Polish.
Pudi is a mellow, approachable cat who grew up in Chicago and cut his teeth doing improve at Second City. In addition to his TV work, Pudi’s got a few film projects lined up, he’s new Dad with twins and he’s also working with Speed Stick to help guys deal with random embarrassing situations.
Yes, Pudi and Speed Stick are kicking off a new campaign called “Handle It.” The gist is this: if you’ve got a weird, totally awkward situation that you need to sort out, send a tweet to @SpeedStick (before May 14) and use the hashtag #HandleIt. Danny Pudi will select his favorite submission and the winner will get to see their submission turned into a video where Pudi will provide advice as an “inner voice.”
We talked with Pudi about the #HandleIt campaign, improvising on the set of Community, working with Chevy Chase, fame, fatherhood, Alison Brie’s hotness and a bunch of other things. Here’s the full interview:
CS: So tell me a little bit about how you got involved with Speed Stick and the #HandleIt campaign.
DP: Yeah I think they came to me and we teamed up because I too am fond of and prone to awkward moments (laughs).
DP: Many a time. Starting from childhood when my Mom made me the center of a Polish dancing troupe and I had to explain why that was to most of my friends, all through all my awkward moments with girls and high school, with my wife – which continues to this day. That kind of stuff, from lighting myself on fire, from trying to figure out how to parent a child – which I have two kids now. I’m always hoping I will learn something from somebody else’s awkward moments. My very first red carpet for Community, I ended up walking down the carpet and realized halfway down that I had spinach in my teeth – or actually kale, I had kale in my teeth.
DP: So these kind of things happen to me quite a bit. I even done a couple live shows here like mortified regarding some of these awkward moments. I was excited to partner with Speed Stick, cause we’re asking guys to Tweet some of their awkward stories and how they handled it to @SpeedStick with the hash tag #HandleIt. Out of those stories we’re going to make a video and I’m going to narrate it. So I’m excited to see what we’ll come up with.
CS: So were you involved in the scoping of how you wanted the campaign to play out?
DP: No not really. They came up to me and they told me that they were doing this campaign regarding “handle it” moments and I think it’s something that just kind of resonated with me because there’s nothing I enjoy more and that seems more honest and true to me as an actor and person than that awkward moment between people. And I think it’s part of why I love my characters like Abed. He’s constantly questioning social etiquette, always second guessing how you handled a situation. That to me is life. My wife makes fun of me all the time for some of the things that happen to me. I woke up one time with a squirrel in my bed and I was trying to tell people about that and I ended up freaking out and screaming, and this is when I was doing summer stock theatre. One time I walked out of a building and as I walked out of the building I was really holding in a spit and as soon as I opened the door of the building I spat. I have terrible peripheral vision and I realized I spit in a guy’s face.
DP: I had to explain myself, make sure I didn’t get punched in the face. It was also on my shirt so I was wet. I gave him my sleeve so he could like wipe the spit off his face on my sleeve. And the guy was right next to me so it’s like (laughs) I don’t know. More than anything I’m hoping this generates a community of people who endured these awkward moments together and you have to share that you’re not the only one who has suffered (laughs).
CS: So I read that interviews kind of weird you out still. How are you coping with all the fame and attention you’ve been getting?
DP: It’s strange for me. I’m not used to it. I like to kind of do goofy things, walk around and make sure I can pick my nose in peace. But now people watch me a little bit more so that’s interesting. I do think it’s actually pretty cool too to be connecting with people, audience. The show is actually kind of making an impact. I love that. I love being able to play a character that has—like gives a voice to people. Especially a character that’s a little bit more unusual and not typical to American television. But yeah, as far as like getting used to it, it is weird. Like all of the sudden walking down the street, someone yelling “Abed! Hey Abed! You going to get coffee?” or whatever.
DP: Or “Abed you’re buying blueberries?” and I’m just buying blueberries, just kind of stuff like that. It makes you a little self conscious but, you know, I’m doing okay.
CS: Does it change you at all or do you still feel like you’re the same dude?
DP: I still feel like I’m the same dude. Just because, I don’t know, I’ve been married for a while and most of my friends and my family are pretty down to Earth. And also my family—my mom speaks Polish, she’ll yell at me and curse me out in Polish if I’m doing anything weird. So it’s a nice way to kind of come back to reality. I do still feel like I live in a small town. And I’m not from a small town, but most of my friends and my wife, that’s really who I hang out with. The other thing is the show I’m working on, Community, they’re truly some of the greatest people and they’re very family oriented. And we are like a family so that’s all we do. We literally work and hang out with each other then we go home and that’s it. And then I cry (laughs)
DP: (laughs) I just find a place where I can cry once a week. That usually does the trick.
CS: So what’s it like balancing your work schedule with being a new dad?
DP: That’s really difficult – I don’t know. You’ll have to ask my wife. She has become parent of the century because we have twins too, and she’s trying to do it all. She’s incredible. I mean, I love it. We’re having so much fun. The babies are amazing we’re really blessed. They’re really inquisitive. Every day is sort of a new adventure. They’re three months old now so it’s like all these new milestones. Now they’re mimicking us a little bit. They smile at you and recognize you and man, there’s no … there’s no greater feeling in the world and also no heavier responsibility in the world. I used to like get worried or panicked about memorizing lines for Community and now I’m like if I can get to set or if I can get somewhere when the babies are down for a nap, I feel like I literally just won an NBA championship.
CS: (laughs) So do you like pop culture and movies and TV as much as your character Abed does?
DP: I do. I think that I have an appreciation for pop culture. I think I’m not as, I guess, obsessive in terms of Abed and his knowledge. I definitely don’t have the grasp and reach that Abed does, and the other writers in Community that do Abed. I feel like there are 10 brains working there. You know, there are certain things, like “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was just on the other night on USA and that’s like… I get angry when it comes on at 11:00 at night because there’s no way I’m going to be able to fall asleep. I’ve got to watch the whole movie. So there are some things like that where I do feel I fall in line with Abed, but he definitely has a way stronger knowledge. I was more of a famous sports kind of guy. I would memorize baseball cards and baseball players as a kid and I was obsessed with Michael Jordan. That was how I was sort of a fanatic.
CS: So with Community I understand that there’s lots of improvisation that goes on on the show, especially those final segments like with you and Donald Glover. Coming from Second City, that’s something that you really have to enjoy right?
DP: Oh I love it, yeah. I mean to me, I love watching theatre, I love watching TV shows, but there’s no greater inspiration for me than when I watch a really great live improv or sketch comedy show. Like a Second City or Improv Olympic show. Just because it’s just so spontaneous – you’re really part of the discovery as an audience and as a performer. And I think there’s just something really special about being in one place in one row and one moment, and everyone experiencing something truly brand new and spontaneous together. So that to me is something I just love and I think there is a spirit of that in our show definitely. I think Donald Glover and Jim Rash are exceptional improvisers, but most of our cast is really strong comedic actors. We have this group vibe that developed over three seasons. We’re really able to play off each other pretty well. But that’s just fun. Something happens, we start going in a certain way, it’s always kind of fun just to see what happens. It all starts with something specific and really man, it’s the writing which I think helps create these really great characters and allows us that sort of freedom to play.
CS: Now you kind of alluded to this already but it’s really the talent of the people that are around you, with the cast, that makes that successful improv possible, right?
DP: Yes. Definitely. That to me is like the number one thing. That’s why I love to be—I feel like I excel and I feel challenged and most excited and liberated when I’m in an ensemble working with people towards a common goal. That to me is the funniest comedy too, where two people or three people or four people are all trying to do the same thing, all failing in their own individual ways. I mean that’s really entertaining for me to watch. So it’s as simple as watching two people with their bags stuck in a door and watching one person ask for help, the second person comes to help, and these people are struggling and still they can’t figure it out. And you want to help them of course, but there’s something so entertaining about two people trying to help each other, but stuck in a bubble that I will always find entertaining.
CS: When is your character going to get a love interest?
DP: I don’t know, you know? I mean there’s been hints at it. There was the CIA agent last year and there seemed to be sort of a good dynamic between the two. I think it just clicked. Very factual dialogue, they just understood each other. Abed takes direction really well so if you tell him to kiss you now and kiss your for 4 seconds he will do that (laughs). Abed had a Han Solo moment with Annie Edison last year, I think that was fun for Abed, especially to play the heroic character. But I don’t know. It’s definitely going to take a very patient and interesting girl (laughs).
DP: And he’s going to have to love kickboxing.
CS: (laughs) What can you tell me about the possibility of a fourth season?
DP: I don’t know. I’ve been told from others around that they’re confident in it but there’s nothing confirmed yet. We’re all still waiting, just like everybody else. I know that from the history of how I’ve been informed – like about being picked up from hiatus – I was one of the last people to find out.
CS: (laughs) Gotcha.
DP: So I do have a feeling that people on Twitter and Facebook will know probably about an hour or two before I do. Actually even sooner. I don’t know if that’s because I’m aloof or because they don’t want to tell me because they’re scared of how I’ll react (laughs).
DP: We don’t know. We’re hopeful. I think we had a really great strong ending to season three and we’re looking forward to graduating. It makes sense and it would be fun to see what happens in the senior year at Greendale, but in the meantime we did look at every episode as a potential last episode – which is why they were so ambitious.
CS: So I read something on your Wikipedia page that sounded like the coolest couple sentences ever; that you won the Chris Farley scholarship and that lead to an improv comedy event with Jim Brewer and Dave Chapelle? I mean, that has to be insane.
DP: Oh yeah, it was completely overwhelming. I only remember about 30% of it (laughs).
DP: I kind of feel like I’m always thrust up to these very “trial by fire” situations. It was like when I first went in to read for Community. It was Joel McHale, Chevy Chase, and Gillian Jacobs there and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t believe I was sitting there at this table with these people. So it’s the same thing with that event. In college I was a junior and won the scholarship. When Chris Farley passed away they developed this scholarship in his name, a comedy scholarship, I won it. At the time, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I was kind of a little lost, and it led me to study comedy. I was doing some theatre in college but I was really becoming more and more interested in the art of comedy. I learned that Chris Farley had studied at Second City and that eventually led to a Saturday Night Live career. The first thing I do is sign up for a class at Second City and that really kind of changed my life in terms of realizing that … first of all getting me out there so that I could do it for a living, and also it was just so much inspiration. That place is really historic and kind of an institution. Going in there and watching shows and doing shows, I just knew right then I wanted to do this for a living. And one of the first things they did, I was asked to be in this show, just improvise a little bit in between the sets that Jim Brewer and Dave Chapelle did, and I was just blown away at how good they were and also completely over my head. Which was fun though, because I realized more than anything, I needed to start studying for real.
CS: So what advice do you have for young comics or young people interested in improv that are just getting started? Is it time on task? Is it variety? What would you say to young people who are interested in following a similar path?
DP: That’s really a tricky question because I do think that people learn differently and I think people are inspired in different ways. One of the things, for me, that I know that works is I needed to be surrounded by people that are better than me. I always feel like that helps. So at Second City I made sure I’d take classes from people that I’d see on stage or really admired their talent or their point of view. So that helped. It also helped performing a lot because I think you develop your voice. I didn’t move straight to Los Angeles, I was in Chicago for about three years before I moved to Los Angeles. But Chicago allowed me to perform a ton so by the time I got to Los Angeles, even though I came out there with nothing, I at least felt like I started to develop my own comedic voice and had enough performances under my belt to kind of feel confidence when I was on stage. So that’s what I did. I watched a ton of shows. If I saw a show I liked at a theatre, I would investigate it a little bit more. And beyond that one of the things I’m obsessed with – I’m still obsessed with— is I watch people all the time. I just watch people and I talk to people and I think that there’s no greater inspiration. You learn, as an actor, just by watching people and seeing how they behave, I think that’s kind of worked for me.
CS: Now I know you’ve got some film projects coming up like Knights of Badassdom. What was it like working with Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones?
DP: Incredible. I only spent a couple of weeks with the cast, sort of a minor role, but working with Steve Zahn and Peter Dinklage was pretty incredible. At the time Game of Thrones wasn’t out yet.
DP: So I didn’t know how amazing it was. But I knew of Peter Dinklage. I mean now he’s my favorite character on Game of Thrones – the Lannisters, I mean it’s just an incredible show. That whole cast was pretty amazing, working with Steve Zahn and Ryan Kwanten. Again it’s one of those things where I love being surrounded by other actors who I’m a fan of so it’s kind of fun for me to be a fan and also be a participant in anything I do.
CS: And tell me a little bit about The Guilt Trip, the comedy written by Dan Fogleman that’s coming up.
DP: Oh yeah. That’s a fun movie. It’s with Seth Rogen and Barbara Streisand. I get a minor part where I just play a friend of Seth Rogen, but I like the story. I think it was really fun. I play a chemist, and this is one of those—I call it one of my “Sanjay” roles. I’ve definitely played quite a few Sanjays.
DP: (laughs) I’m adding another Sanjay to the belt.
CS: Okay just a couple more questions for you, rapid fire.
CS: Is Allison Brie super hot in person?
DP: Yeah. Next? (laughs)
CS: (laughs) What’s it like sharing a stage with Chevy Chase?
DP: It is like being in a bizarre hard work study program (laughs). Next?
CS: (laughs). I think I’ll just end it there. I don’t want to take up too much time, but I appreciate the time, Danny.
DP: No worries, man. Thank you so much.
CS: All right take it easy.
DP: Cheers man.
So yea, Danny Pudi’s a pretty cool, down-to-Earth guy who can make you giggle on the fly. If you have an awkward moment to share with Danny, hit @SpeedStick up on Twitter with the hashtag #HandleIt before May 14.
|Print article||This entry was posted by Chris Stout on April 30, 2012 at 10:29 pm, and is filed under Entertainment. Follow any responses to this post through RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback from your own site.|
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