The actor: Thanks to his uncanny skill at playing the naïf/genial square/normal guy, Andy Daly could go down in entertainment history as Hollywood’s go-to straight man. He’s already made a sort of career out of it, first on MADtv, and most recently as the cuckolded principal on Eastbound And Down. But anyone who’s heard Daly do comedy quickly picks up on his ace improvisational skills and willingness to go into the dark places his signature character type would find distasteful. (Check out “A Star Is Born” on Daly’s comedy CD, Nine Sweaters, where his character runs through a disturbing list of horrible things he’s done.) And perhaps that’s really the Andy Daly type: the outwardly pleasant man who harbors some sick shit underneath the surface. The A.V. Club spoke to Daly during some rare downtime in his busy summer—he just finished shooting scenes for Transformers 3, and has a regular role in the upcoming new Paul Reiser sitcom.
Spin City (1996)—“Payroll Guy”
Andy Daly: I got my SAG card doing the Payroll Guy on Spin City. I just auditioned for it, and I got it. It was in the first season of Spin City, and New York was very excited to have a sitcom in town. George Wendt was the guest star, and he was so nice. My story about George Wendt was that on tape night, he said, “Get that script away from me” to somebody. He was like, “I don’t want to look at the script—the script is gone. We’re just gonna go out there and do it. I don’t want to think about the script.” But I was walking around, really nervous about my three lines, obviously visibly terrified, and he said, “Hey, you wanna run lines?” [Laughs.] Which was very nice of him. My other story about that week was, I was introduced to Michael J. Fox, and his hands were in his pockets, and I put out my hand to shake his hand and he just looked away. I was like, “What a dick.” I told that story to so many people that year, and after about a year it came out that he had Parkinson’s disease, so he was probably avoiding shaking hands. So I had to go back retroactively and tell everybody that there was a reasonable explanation for that. [Laughs.]
The A.V. Club: Do you remember what your lines were?
AD: The idea was that somebody had stolen Richard Kind’s identity, or maybe had just stolen his work ID, and it was leading to lots of problems. So for the first and only time in the show’s history, the payroll guy showed up on the floor to distribute checks. And Kind said, “Where’s mine?” And I said, “You already came down and claimed yours.” It wasn’t him, it was the dude that stole his ID. Here’s another thing—this is smaller than trivia. There’s a moment I screwed up: I handed somebody their check a little too soon, and they weren’t ready to take it, so you see me sort of hand somebody their check and then pull it back and look at it again like, “Am I handing them the right check?” which I certainly scrutinized an awful lot back in 1996, my first time on television. [Laughs.]
Eastbound And Down (2009)—“Terrence Cutler”
AD: I think I just auditioned. At the time they were casting that, I was doing Semi-Pro with Will Ferrell, and I think he probably put in a good word for me as one of the executive producers of the show, and thought I could do it well. But yeah, I went in and auditioned for the guys, and I thought I wasn’t quite right for it, because to me it seemed like that character—in order to sort of look down on Kenny Powers—needed to be a super-athlete. [Laughs.] It says in the pilot script that I’m training for a triathlon. I thought Terrence Cutler needed to be like an Adonis, and a really terrible competition for April’s heart, like somebody Kenny could never defeat. But they went the other way. [Laughs.] They went the way of doughy, which I think is funny and more realistic. I think all the time—if you go back and look at Foot Fist Way, too, Jody [Hill] and Danny [McBride] are constantly making choices, like real-world choices. This is who that guy would be, I think. He wouldn’t be a super-awesome-looking Hollywood actor. The principal somewhere in North Carolina who’s really confident and training for a triathlon and thinks he has it all together probably would look like me.
AVC: The character certainly had traces of the kind of Andy Daly sensibility like on Reno 911!, when you were the neighbor. Sort of a naïve, nice, kind of clueless guy—but the Eastbound And Down character had more of an edge.
AD: That’s a good parallel to make. At some point while we were shooting the first season of Eastbound, Jody said to me that he had seen me on Reno in a bit where I’m just the nicest guy in the world, and the cops come to my house to sell me a candy bar as a fundraiser. I’m so sweet, and I buy so many candy bars, and I say “I’m gonna give them to my wife as a gift. As a matter of fact, let me write her a note. Can I borrow your pen?” And I just say “‘Sweetheart, sorry for the mess. Please enjoy these candies.’ Okay, great. Hang on one second.” Then I go into the kitchen and immediately blow my brains out. [Laughs.] So Jody had seen that, and I guess it told him something about where to go with Terrence Cutler after the pilot. That this guy is super-confident and super-sweet and just your dream guy to run into and have to deal with today, but he can pull a gun at any second. Lurking just beneath the surface is total madness.
AVC: As the season progresses, you get a better sense that he’s more than just an unthreatening nice guy.
AD: Yeah, I think his chipperness is covering up some anger and a lot of insecurities. [Laughs.] It’s very passive-aggressive. I think he’s an extremely passive-aggressive character.
AVC: The rumor is that season two of Eastbound is completely different, with different characters and everything. Are you involved with it?
AD: I am involved in season two, but not to the extent that I was in season one. Different things end up happening to Kenny Powers. He ends up inhabiting a very different world, but I don’t want to give away too much.
Semi-Pro (2008)—“Dick Pepperfield”
AD: In some ways, it’s almost depressing how much had to go right for me to get that part. [Laughs.] Like, Kent Aldermann, who directed it, had seen me perform years before in New York, back when he was a Comedy Central executive. He’s a guy who goes out and sees lots of shows, so he had been a fan of mine for a long time. Adam McKay knew my work, and Scott Armstrong, who wrote the movie, knew my work, and Will Arnett was a big fan of mine. So, so many things had to happen for me to get a big part in a big movie, that it was like, “Ugh, the chances of that are quite remote.” I also, honestly, had to give a really good audition. So I read the part and immediately knew what I would do with it and what I thought would be funny. I auditioned for it, and Kent loved what I did, but I had never been in a movie, really—certainly never had a part that size. They were talking to big actors about taking that part, and thankfully they all turned it down. But Kent wanted me, so what he said was, “Come to the table read”—the big table read where all the stars of the movie and all the producers and all the studio executives are gonna be in the room—“and read the part, and you know, just knock it out of the park so there’s no debate whether you should play it.” [Laughs.] So it was like a two-hour-long audition, and it was the scaredest I’ve ever been. But it was awesome, because I knew that part, I just knew what voice to do and what attitude to take, and I’ve played a straight man so many times that I just felt like I knew just what to do with it.
AVC: Did you do anything to help your nerves?
AD: I think I barely looked up from the page, was part of what I did. I just stared at the page, and I just thought in terms of this being a disembodied voice, you know, that was coming from another room. [Laughs.] Like I’m not here. But I got a lot of laughs in the room. So by the end of it, I felt pretty clear that I had made the case that I should get the part. So yeah, I was able to relax a little bit toward the end.
AVC: So did you feel like when you left that you had it?
AD: I never feel like I have anything. [Laughs.] People can tell me a thousand times, “You’re the guy, you’re the guy,” and I’m just like, “We’ll see when I’m on the set.” But I felt like I had done exactly what Kent asked me to, and if that’s what needed to be done to get the part, then I felt like I probably would. But you never know. Be gracious. I think the studio had a list of people they wanted to offer the part to. They did. They offered it to a few people, and luckily they all turned it down. Nobody wanted to play the straight man. [Laughs.]
Reno 911! (2005-2009)—“Brad the Friendly Homeowner,” various
AVC: You were on multiple episodes—IMDB says five over the course of a few years. Did you know those guys from doing comedy in LA?
AD: They were in New York when I was in New York, and we would cross paths and stuff, but I don’t think I ever really “knew” them. I think I didn’t come to their attention until there was a show at the Comedy Central workspace put up by these two funny Crossballs writers, Josh Segal and Dylan Morgan, who were pitching this show to Comedy Central called Celebrity Dungeons & Dragons. It would have been like Celebrity Poker, but with Dungeons & Dragons. [Laughs.] It was awesome! It was like a really good presentation. I don’t know why Comedy Central didn’t pick it up, but part of what they did was, they had actors on hand to act out the various scenarios that the players were finding themselves in. I played a wizard, and I just kept coming back. It was a funny, funny show. Tom Lennon was in the audience, and after the show—he’s such a nice guy, and so not shy about paying compliments, which a lot of people in comedy are. He’s not stingy with the kind words, and he said after the show, “That’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, you playing that wizard.” Within a week, I had an audition to go in and try some things at Reno, and yeah, they used me a bunch of times. I loved that job. That was the easiest job in television.
AVC: Reno’s almost all improvised, right?
AD: It’s incredibly improvised. It’s more improvised than lots of things I’ve worked on that are supposedly improvised. [Laughs.] I think the first time ever that we’re on this show, they were like “The cops are gonna come and knock on your door and just tell you something, and just go.” [Laughs.] And, like, that’s it. “Really? You have nothing in mind for me to do, or no place you want this scene to go?” That was the one that CSI was gonna be shooting on the streets of Reno, and they were going around warning people. So that scene just started with them knocking on the door, telling me that piece of information.
AVC: Did you shoot it all at once and use it in multiple episodes?
AD: Yeah, you know what, two of them were at the same time. Because we did the CSI thing, and then we did another thing for some day where I had called the police but regretted calling them, because it was such a minor matter. “It was just that some guys came into the house with guns, and they took my daughter, and I’m sorry. I’m wasting your time.” [Laughs.] “I hate to put you out. I can’t believe you drove all the way across town for this. But if you do see my daughter…” [Laughs.] They’re the sweetest guys. I miss the show. It’s gone now, but when you do the show, a lot of times their note is, “Well, that was hilarious. Let’s do it again.” [Laughs.] And it’s just like, “Really? Are you really that nice and that supportive and that sweet?”
Crossballs: The Debate Show (2004)—Various
AVC: You were on a couple of short-lived shows on Comedy Central. How much of these things feed into other things? You did Crossballs and Lewis Black’s Root Of All Evil. Is it like once you’re in and the network knows you, you kind of get repeat invitations?
AD: It does seem that way with Comedy Central, that they think of certain comedians as being in their stable in a way. I feel like I came to their attention through the MADtv reruns that were shown on their air. They were showing the reruns, and then Matt Besser pitched Crossballs to Comedy Central and mentioned my name. He said they were all excited, so from the first pitch meeting, I was always gonna be involved. I don’t know why they know me or why they like me. I guess they’re watching their own channel. [Laughs.] It’s the only explanation. Then I think based on that show, they just sort of kept me around as a guy that if you mention me in a pitch, they go “Ah ha. This pitch is nice.”
AVC: It’s definitely like The Daily Show’s format, where you guys were playing characters to straight men who didn’t know you were putting them on.
AD: Right, yeah. It was called Crossballs because it was modeled after Crossfire and Hardball, this sort of roundtable-discussion debate show on the hot issues in the news. We were actors playing experts debating actual experts who were found on the Internet—you know, the president of some interest group or whatever. They didn’t know that we were actors, was basically the premise. It would start off in the first act, the actor would have a somewhat ridiculous point of view—plausible, you believe somebody could feel this way, but it’s ridiculous. There’s a lot of jokes written, and by the end of the show, nobody could possibly believe that this was real. You couldn’t possibly, and yet everybody did. [Laughs.] There was never a time when somebody said, “Ah, I call bullshit on this. This is a prank show.” It just never happened. We never expected that. We thought they would balk. But I think there’s something about being entrenched in your argument and just wanting to win your argument that it puts up blinders to common sense around you. Yeah, it was a weird show—great fun to write, and great fun to perform. Like a real challenge as an actor, to be like “I wanna be funny, but I wanna be real enough that this person doesn’t suspect that they’re being pranked.”
AVC: The plastic-surgery episode is particularly harsh. You’re talking to this woman, and you say, “You, madam, I would say like after six to eight plastic surgeries, you could be attractive.”
AD: Well the hardest thing about that job was when we had to stop down for commercials. I mean that was terrible. Chris Tallman, the host, would throw to commercial, and then we would just be sitting there in silence for like two minutes while the producers would come up to us with index cards and talk to us about jokes they wanted to hear in the next segment and all that. You had to sit there with these people, and they were told “Let’s not have the debate in the commercial break,” but it was still super-awkward, having to remain in character. But it was a weird prank show in that at the end of it, there was no reveal. We never said “…and it’s all been a joke.” We sent them on their way thinking they had participated in an actual debate, because nobody wanted them to go on the Internet and blog about their experience, which would then taint the pool of future guests.
AVC: So you just had to let this person go, knowing that she thought you were just a horrible person?
AD: Yeah. [Laughs.] Exactly. Just hope I never run into them.
AVC: So you had to have filmed them all in advance before they aired.
AD: Yeah, we filmed 24 all in a row. I think we shot four a week for six weeks and just jammed them out. We were racing against the inevitability of someone going on the Internet and saying “Don’t do this show, it’s a joke.” That finally did happen with this gun-rights activist. It’s the only episode that never aired, because he had lots of pro-bono lawyers at his disposal. He figured out that it was a prank, and it’s amazing watching the video of the moment when he pieces it together. Like, things just become too ridiculous, and his mouth falls open and his eyes just go to some distant place. [Laughs.] He’s just putting it together going, “So when they contacted me on the Internet, that was a producer from the fake show? And this is a joke? And he’s not real. And who’s real?” When it was over, he confronted the producers. He figured it out and went home and just put it everywhere he could on the Internet to try and do exactly what we didn’t want, which was prevent future people from coming on the show. He was trying to sabotage the show. Then his lawyers threatened Comedy Central, and they didn’t air that episode. If there was any debate about whether there would be a second season at that point, he ended that debate.
AVC: The premise would be hard to sustain beyond the first sweep. It’s sort of the Borat principle. You can’t go back and do the same thing again.
AD: Right, exactly. But I always felt like that show was a really funny sketch show that had this added element of marks that it maybe didn’t need. I actually think it could have been a very funny parody of a debate show all by itself, without those people.
Lewis Black’s The Root Of All Evil (2008)—Himself
AD: Paul F. Tompkins was doing his Paul F. Tompkins Show at Largo, and he invited me. At the time, it was his last Paul F. Tompkins Show. The final one, he was saying goodbye. He has since revived it. It was the last show, and I went and did my character, who I call Jerry O’Hearn. He’s this standup comic who has no material. That goes well a lot of the time, but it never went better than it went that night. One of the people in the audience was Scott Carter, who is producer of Bill Maher’s show. He at that time was pitching The Root Of All Evil to Comedy Central. So he saw me do that and put me on the list of possible prosecutors. That’s how that came about. I think I was in four of the episodes in season two, and maybe just two of them in season one.
AVC: Were you involved with the writing of the parts you were doing?
AD: Yeah, very much so. I loved doing that show. It started off with these epic brainstorming sessions with a lot of really funny writers, most of whom were from Bill Maher’s show and various other places. We would just sort of brainstorm about what topics we could prosecute, and if one of them appealed to somebody, they would say “I’ll take that.” Then you would go home and write up as much as you can, knowing that the writing staff is also writing jokes. They all go into a big soup, and you get to sort of pick and choose and argue for your bits, and benefit from the great writing and the writing staff. Yeah, I love that way of working. I write for myself, but other people are writing for me, and we get to really say which is the funniest. Sometimes it’ll be mine, and sometimes it won’t be, and that’s great. [Laughs.] Then you’re out there sort of doing your own material. That was a fun show, and Lewis Black was so incredibly selfless. It was kind of a thankless job for him. The two comedians are out there getting lots and lots of laughs with lots of jokes, and he’s just sitting there banging a gavel. [Laughs.] He always had a very funny opening monologue and funny jokes throughout, but in general, the show was handed over to the prosecutors.
AVC: Why do you think that show didn’t work out?
AD: I think the ratings were not phenomenal. But I also did hear—I don’t know if it’s true—but I heard Lewis Black at some point didn’t want to do it anymore. Because I think he does really well on the road when he tours, and really loves doing that. So he might have been taking a bit of a financial hit doing a television show. [Laughs.] And also, I think it was a limiting show for him. I think he wasn’t super-enthusiastic about it, and the ratings were not so amazing that they compelled them to do it again.
AVC: You mentioned MADtv was being rerun on Comedy Central. You were on for what, two or three seasons?
AD: No it was two, kind of one and a half. The first season, I was a featured player.
AVC: How did that come about?
AD: I auditioned every year for MADtv—it was like an annual thing. I would go up to the Fox offices in New York and put myself on tape. I never heard anything, and I never watched the show. I had no idea what was going on on that show. Then I think it was like 1999, and they came to see me at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York, doing a show called The Real Real World. They asked me to audition, and this time I actually watched the show, and I didn’t really like it. It just kind of wasn’t my cup of tea, and I didn’t see what I could do on it. So I said no. “No” is such an aphrodisiac in show business. As soon as I said no, they needed me. Over the course of the next year, I said no three more times, then finally said yes, because it was the end of a pilot season and I hadn’t gotten any work, and I didn’t know what I was gonna do next. [Laughs.] So I was like, “Okay, yeah.” So I did audition and got the part. And I never really thought I had much to add to the conversation that was occurring at MADtv. [Laughs.] I didn’t know what I would do on the show. But I showed up and I was surprised—it was fun to work on. Everybody there was really nice, and they seemed to be interested in my contributions. So I went there thinking, “Well, I’ll just take the money, and probably it’ll be a total failure, and they won’t like any of my sketches.” When I got there, it’s true that they didn’t like any of my sketches, but I wanted to succeed on the show more than I thought I would want to succeed. I wanted to be a valuable member of the cast, and I tried to be, but my initial hunch was right, that I just never really—however you characterize that style of what they’re doing on that show, I was not able to write it or particularly perform it, either.
AVC: Do you remember any sketches that didn’t make it?
AD: I wrote very long sketches that were very—the big laughs did not come quickly, so they were dead on arrival. [Laughs.] But I had one that I thought was so funny: a little boy and his grandpa playing a game of Jenga. It’s just a disastrous game, because every time it’s grandpa’s turn, his hand is just shaking too much, and it falls over. In the meantime, they’re having some very dark conversations, and the tower keeps collapsing. I found it funny. Then there was a sketch—I don’t know why I had such an interest in writing sketches about the founding fathers. I handed them like three sketches about the founding fathers. “Well, this isn’t really our demographic.” And I was like, “No, your demographic is learning about these people right now!” [Laughs.]
AVC: That show never had much of a reputation. I had no idea it had been on for 14 seasons, and I had no idea it went off the air just two years ago.
AD: The first season when it premièred—I think it was 1995? Saturday Night Live at that time, people were writing its death warrant. It was just one of those years where everyone was just like “Saturday Night Dead.” People thought MADtv was gonna be a real challenge to it, and a real fresh take on sketch comedy, so people paid attention to it for one year. [Laughs.] This is my take on it, anyway. I don’t know if the numbers bear this out. But it seems to me at the end of that year when it didn’t unseat Saturday Night Live, it sort of proved not to be the big threat to SNL that people thought it might be. The general interest and the press and everybody kind of walked away from it. It maintained a loyal following for all those years it was on, but I think a smaller and smaller following, and Fox lost interest in it. Every year, the budget seemed to be getting smaller, and there was absolutely no promotion anywhere. The show when I was on, it was doing crazy things. They were having soap-opera stars come do sketches because they knew within the soap world, that would generate a lot of buzz. [Laughs.] Because Fox wasn’t promoting MADtv, if you put somebody from General Hospital on it, they will promote it to General Hospital fans, so at least you’ll get them. And they did that with wrestlers. They were constantly putting on wrestlers because in the wrestling world, Steve Austin would go back and promote it among wrestling fans, so they would tune in. That was what the show had to resort to get any kind of promotion or talk, because Fox had no interest.
AVC: Did that make for awkward interactions in sketches? Sports stars are usually pretty terrible in sketches.
AD: I don’t know. I think there’s an attitude at the show where you’re just kind of like “Well, this is what’s keeping us on the air this year, I guess.” Particularly with The Rock. What year was that? Like 2000. So The Rock was just sort of starting to break out to be an actor, and they wanted to put him in one sketch, and he said “No, I’d like to be in five sketches.” [Laughs.] Like he wanted to be in everything all night long. It’s just hard for all of the actors, because we’re all competing over the same tiny amount of airtime every week, that The Rock is gonna suck up five sketches this week. But I don’t think—did I ever work with any one of those people? I don’t think I was ever in a sketch with a soap star or a wrestler. I was in a sketch with Blink-182. It was a Leave It To Beaver parody… because that’s the demographic! [Laughs.] I don’t know what the hell was going on with that show. I never did. I was in an Andy Griffith parody. Why were they parodying Andy Griffith? Anyway, yeah, there was a parody called “Leave It To Blink-182.” Where all four members of Blink-182 were standing in for The Beav and saying outrageous things about your mom.
AVC: That sounds pretty dire.
AD: Yeah. It didn’t distinguish itself in funniness. [Laughs.]
AVC: Were you conflicted at all when you became part of the cast after you were a featured player?
AD: I was optimistic about season two. I showed up with a notebook of what turned out to be rejected sketches. One thing that happened on that show, I really do enjoy playing the straight man. I find it fun. One of my favorite comedy performances of all time is Charles Grodin in Midnight Run, and in a lot of things he’s done. I think he’s hilarious as the straight man, playing it real. I think there’s good work to be done as the straight man, and I let that be known at the show, and I took those parts seriously. If I’m the guy working at Starbucks and the ridiculous recurring character comes in and frustrates me, I really tried my best to play that believably, and to serve the scene as best I could. That was very much appreciated on the part of the writers, so I kept getting stuck in those parts. After a while, it was all I did. We even did a sketch calling attention to it, a really funny sketch where I think it was a parody of that MTV Diary show or something, and it was about my life as the super-awesome best sketch-comedy straight man in the world. [Laughs.] Which is, you know, a shitty job. But in the sketch, I took it seriously, and it took place in an alternate universe where the guy feeding the straight lines was the star. But yeah, by the time that second season ended, it was pretty clear to me and everybody that I was just not creating the big recurring characters and not generating sketches that worked on the show, and was just kind of being a useful straight man and utility player, and that wasn’t of such high value to the show. I was fairly replaceable, which was a bummer at the time.
AVC: So you didn’t want to leave?
AD: Hmm, you know, I said at the end of the season to Dick Blasucci, who was writing the show, “I’d like to come back, but it’s gonna have to be really different, because I’m not happy doing these parts.” I wouldn’t go as far to say that I laid down demands, but I basically spelled out how I would like to be if I came back. He just completely agreed and understood and everything like that, and then I just didn’t come back. [Laughs.]
The Office (2007)—“Ben Franklin”
AVC: Speaking of the founding fathers, what about The Office?
AD: Oh yeah, that’s right. I was the right guy for that job. I love the founding fathers. That was another one that I almost didn’t audition for, because I was like “C’mon, they’re gonna hire a 50-year-old guy with a paunch and a real bald head.” So I don’t know why they hired me. I guess maybe because he was supposed to be a pretty unconvincing impersonator, and not a guy you would believe was Ben Franklin. But that was great fun, because I got to do scenes with everybody in the cast of that show—lots of scenes. It was really funny and a fair amount of improvising. My proudest moment on that episode was that I did do some research about Ben Franklin before I went to shoot it, thinking there might be some improvising. I just brushed up on his various accomplishments and inventions and things, and there’s a scene where Rainn Wilson—part of the joke is that Rainn Wilson wants to trip me up and get me to admit that I’m not the real Ben Franklin. He even had a line where he said, “I’m 99 percent sure that that is not the real Ben Franklin.” Such a ridiculous line. [Laughs.] So we improvised this scene where he’s interrogating me. He’s asking questions that only the real Ben Franklin would know, and most of them were scripted, but then he went off the script and started asking me questions, and one of them was, “Are you nearsighted or farsighted?” And I, just because I had been doing research, said, “Both, that’s why I invented the bifocal.” It was just a beautiful moment of research paying off.
AVC: Had you worked with anybody from that show before?
AD: I had. I do the ASSSSCAT show in L.A. at the UCB Theater, and everybody in the cast of The Office has come to do monologues, so I was kind of surprised when I got to the set. I was like, “Oh yeah, I know all these people.” Jenna Fischer had been there, and I guess I knew John Krasinski in New York. He was an intern at the Conan O’Brien show when I was doing bits there. Isn’t that incredible? And I knew Angela Kinsey from iO West when I was doing shows out there. It was kind of weird to be there in real life.
AVC: Does it seem like, when there’s a show that’s an incubator with people that have been involved for a long time in comedy, it’s inevitable that you’ll get pulled into it at some point?
AD: Yeah, it’s great to be known by people, to have been around long enough and to have come up through something like the UCB Theater that has launched people to so many places. I think there are times where they’re looking for somebody to play something that is right in my wheelhouse, as they say, and luckily there are people in those rooms who know my work and say, “Yep, he can do it.” I feel very lucky. That’s not what I had in mind when I got involved with the UCB Theater—I just wanted to do good improv shows—but it turned out to be a great way to get to know people, too.
Late Night With Conan O’Brien (1998)—Various
AD: That was an awesome experience. It felt like being on Your Show Of Shows, the most ridiculous sketch show. You could be standing between a hot dog and a Frankenstein and a rabbi. I did all kind of bits. Do you remember the staring-contests bits? I was in a lot of those. That’s where I got to play Hamlet. I came out as Hamlet with the skull of Yorick and I’m staring at it longingly, sadly, and then a tongue pops out and I start to make out with it. [Laughs.] Then there was a bit called the “Late Night Salmon Grab” which was really funny. They had a salmon swimming around in a tub, and they said, “We’re gonna have a contest to see if anybody in the audience can grab this salmon with their teeth.” Then they pan around the audience and there’s a grizzly bear in the audience raising his hand, and I’m sitting in front of him also raising my hand, and they mean to call on the grizzly bear, but they call me, so I go down there and I catch the salmon with my teeth.
AVC: Were your parents supportive of you going into this? It’s like, “Mom and Dad, I’m going on TV! I’m going to be the guy grabbing salmon with my teeth on this weird late-night show.”
AD: Yeah, I don’t think they were so excited about those jobs, but I think my own incredible sense of pride to be doing those things was so undeniable that nobody had the heart to pop the bubble. [Laughs.] I was so excited to be standing between Conan and Andy, grabbing salmon with my teeth. [Laughs.]
AVC: You were only there for a year or so, right?
AD: I feel like I did it for more than one. I think I probably did two or three years, random bits and things, sometimes really small parts. There was one, it was that bit where they would access the satellites on top of 30 Rock to watch weird cable channels that you’ve never heard of. One of them was “The Lonely CHiPs Channel,” and it was a bit that Jon Glaser wrote, I’m dressed up like a CHiPs officer, and I’m just lonely and I don’t have any friends. I’m just walking around town all sad and glum, and it was so funny somehow.
AVC: Did you get involved with the show just having worked around New York?
AD: Do you remember the Dana Carvey sketch show? I don’t know how I ended up getting an audition for that, but I auditioned for it, and I had a callback, and I think I was 24 and I was sitting around a table with Dana Carvey and Louis C.K. and Robert Smigel and maybe Dino Stamatopoulos. My mind was blown, and they were just like, “So yeah, what characters and bits do you do?” and I was unprepared, so I just sort of ran through impressions and character bits that I had tried, and stuff like that. I didn’t get hired for the show, but Robert Smigel recommended me to the Conan casting people. He was like, “We don’t want him, but he’s really funny and you should use him.” And they did. They called me right away, and Smigel also kept me in mind for his TV Funhouse cartoons and brought me back again and again. I later heard that Robert Smigel has a reputation for starting lots of people’s careers in comedy, which is kind of amazing, because he really did for me. He was the first guy to recommend me to other people.
Saturday Night Live TV Funhouse (1998-2000)—Various
AD: I did a couple of his Mr. T parodies. I guess there really was a Mr. T Saturday-morning cartoon in the ’80s, with him and a bunch of kids walking around getting into adventures? Sure, it might be his real life for all I know. But I played a couple of the kids. One of them was the scratchy-voice kid. [Laughs.] Terrible voices. And I did the Harlem Globetrotters’ Christmas. But how it works there, if he asks you to come in and do one part on those TV Funhouse cartoons, it was always like, “Oh and there’s also this, do this one, try this.” I get the feeling he probably asked multiple people to try the same parts, so you never know what you’re gonna end up doing in the final edit. Yeah I think in Mr. T, I was a couple of the kids, and I was also a director. The premise of one of them was that Mr. T was looking for work and they were doing a production of A Doll’s House or something, and he went in and strong-armed the director and threw one of the actors out and sort of violently took over the lead role. So I played the director and the lead actor and a couple of the kids. It was always a grab bag, but so much fun. It was just amazing to work with him, because Smigel was so funny and so self-effacing and not full of himself. He’ll turn around and ask you, “Is this funny? Is this joke funny?” I’m like, “Robert Smigel is asking me if a joke he wrote is funny? That’s kind of incredible.”
The Life & Times Of Tim (2008-2010)—“Mr. O’Flaherty,” Various
AD: That was a fun show too. That was improvised as well. There was a script, but the way Steve Dildarian worked is, you’re hired to play a particular part, but by design, you don’t see the script until the second you go into the room. It’s handed to you just as you’re going in. Then you run it. Maybe you’ve been able to glance at it before you run it. And he just wants maximum improvising, just to get awkward moments. He doesn’t want anyone prepared. It’s great; I think it works wonderfully.
AVC: In those kind of situations, does it take longer to get work done? Say there’s this scene that’s only gonna be three seconds—are you doing 10 times the amount of interaction for something that’s only going to be a little bit of actual screen time?
AD: I guess so. On The Life & Times Of Tim, we would probably do a three-page scene three or four times, and if you ended up typing up a transcript of each of those attempts, it would probably end up being an eight-page scene, just because we go and go and go. And so they end up with a lot to choose from. The moment when they say, “Let’s move on” is not them saying “We got it right once,” they’re saying. “We’ve done it enough times that we can choose this line and that line, and edit something together out of those four takes.” It takes a long time to get there, but it’s not terrible. You’re never there for more than a couple of hours.
The Informant! (2009)—“Marty Allison”
AVC: That was such an interesting experiment, in that Steven Soderbergh had all these famous comedians in it essentially in straight roles.
AD: Yeah, I never understood what was going on. Paul F. Tompkins, I heard him talk about it onstage, because he’s in it too, and he summed up my feelings about it saying that when he got the audition, he was like, “Well well, I’ve transcended something. I’m getting offers to audition for serious, dramatic films.” Then he showed up at the audition and was like, “Oh no, I’m part of a stunt.” [Laughs.] That is kind of how it felt. I read the script, and to me it didn’t read like a comedy script, so I didn’t understand why all these comedians were being hired, so I was like, “I guess when I get to the set, it will be made clear to me. Will I be asked to improvise? Will I be asked to sort of find the comedy, punch it up a little bit?” But nothing was ever explained. I guess Soderbergh works really fast. The first scene I did was me and Matt Damon having lunch together, and it was shot with two cameras, one on him and one on me. We did it once, and there was no direction at all—Soderbergh didn’t say a word. Then we did it a second time, and then for some lighting reason, we had to do it a third time. Matt Damon said to me, “If we do a third take of this, it will be the most takes we’ve done of anything in this entire movie.” That’s incredible! I’ve never experienced that. Sure enough, we did a third take and we just moved on. I was on the set for a total of 30 minutes. [Laughs.]
AVC: That’s the fastest movie in history.
AD: Yeah, it was pretty bizarre. If that’s the way he always works, that’s incredible, because the Ocean’s movies always look slick and so beautiful, and this movie had such a consistent tone and feel and look about it. I dunno, somehow he manages to communicate that without saying anything, and just move really quick.
AVC: So there was never any sort of reason for these comedians to be in these roles?
AD: Not that was communicated to me. Maybe some of the other comedians were told, because Tony Hale is very funny in it, and a bunch of people are. I think I probably could have been free to mine for laughs a little bit, or be a little jokier and sillier, but it was never asked of me. I just thought “I guess it seems like a pretty straightforward script, and without the invitation to go crazy with it, I’m just going to try and play it real.” It was just hunch-work. It was pretty bizarre, but I really liked the movie. I heard the story of it on This American Life years ago, and I read the book, and I think it’s a fascinating story, and I think Matt Damon is really funny and interesting in it.
AVC: It’s one of those things you would never expect to be an interesting story—on paper, it sounds incredibly boring.
AD: Oh yeah, I would tell people it’s a movie about white-collar crime and agribusiness. “Oh fun, I can’t wait to see that. Summer blockbuster?”
Off The Road With Andrew Daly (2006)—Himself
AD: That was a pilot for TBS. I had done David Spade’s Showbiz Show, which was run by this guy Hugh Fink, who had been at Saturday Night Live. Hugh had this idea for a Charles Kuralt-type show, a sort of a parody of a show like that where you’re visiting quaint, local towns and meeting with quirky local characters and just covering small-time stories, but doing it from a comedic perspective. We shot a pilot of that, and we visited the coon-dog graveyard in Tuscumbia, Alabama, and we interviewed the elderly gentleman who oversees the graveyard for coon dogs. Of course, we went to the lawn-mower races in Mansfield, Ohio. That was also very spectacular. [Laughs.]
AVC: Were you playing it straight? Or was it kind of like Daily Show-style?
AD: The reason you’re not enjoying this show on television is because some of those basic questions were never answered. [Laughs.] The tone wasn’t ever fully figured out. It ended up just being, having these people believe that they were being profiled for a show on the Travel Channel, but they were being asked wise-ass questions, and in the voiceover later, there were more jokes, and through editing, they were made to look stupid. That was sort of the whole deal. It could’ve been and probably should’ve been done better. Maybe someone in the future will do better with that premise. But it was interesting to meet those people, and I wanted it to get picked up. When it didn’t, my wife was like, “You know, I just did the math on how long you would have been out of town traveling, and thank God you didn’t get that job.”
Nine Sweaters (2008)—Various
AVC: Because it’s not a traditional stand-up CD, I think this qualifies. You’re doing a different character in each track.
AD: That whole thing actually kind of started from that notebook of rejected sketches at MADtv. Matt Besser of the Upright Citizens Brigade came to town during my second season of MADtv, and put up a show at iO West on Thursday nights at 10 o’clock where the lineup was me and Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn and Dave Koechner and Jerry Minor and Matt Besser and Danielle Schnieder, and nobody came to that show. It was crazy. We would do that show for six or seven people because it was such a crappy time slot, and somehow word just wasn’t out about it. I don’t know, it was 2002. I don’t think the L.A. alternative-comedy community has coalesced yet. I did a different comedy-character bit every week, because the stakes were so low. I was just like, “I’ll try out a brand-new thing completely to amuse myself that I don’t think anybody else will find funny, and it doesn’t matter.”
Out of that process, I think I got four or five of these bits that I ended up performing all around town and at Comedy Death-Ray. That’s when the alternative-comedy crowd sort of found me and I started performing and writing more of these bits. They were always one-man sketches. A lot of them started out as sketches where I pared everybody else out and said, “Okay, I don’t have to sell anybody else on this idea or get anybody to perform a part the way I think it should be, I’ll just do it all myself.” So it was like six years in the making, working these bits out in various rooms. Then the guys from ASpecialThing Records said, “Why don’t you do an evening of your characters, and we’ll record it as an album?” Luckily, Scott Aukerman had the much better idea of me doing a 10-week residency at Comedy Death-Ray and doing a different character every week, which is exactly the right way to do it, in front of a fresh audience every time. I did that, and I think every one of those characters is on the album.
The Paul Reiser Show (2010)—“Brad”
AVC: Is that airing this fall?
AD: Nope, that’s a mid-season show. We’re gonna shoot six of them starting in October. I don’t know when mid-season is, but whenever that is, I guess we’ll be on. I’m one of Paul Reiser’s buddies. Paul Reiser is playing himself, and I guess in Paul Reiser’s real life, he’s got this circle of friends that have sort of been foisted upon him in a way. They’re his wife’s friends or the parents of his kids’ friends. I play a fellow dad who is a billionaire. Kind of the premise is that Paul doesn’t necessarily love any of these guys, they’re just kind of stuck together making the best of the fact that they’ve had this friendship forced upon them. It’s a fun and easy part to play, because the whole idea of my character is that everything is great for me. My life is going fantastic. I’ve got billions of dollars and my wife loves me and everything is just fine for me. It’s sort of fun to play an uncomplicated character.
Yogi Bear (2010)—“Mayor Brown”
AVC: So you’re the voice of Mayor Brown?
AD: I’m in it, actually. The bears are animated, and everybody else is live-action. I was in New Zealand for three months shooting in 3-D. It was outrageous.
AVC: Was there a lot of green-screen?
AD: No, they hired a local giant and a local midget to stand in for Yogi and Boo Boo. They put them in brown suits, and we just acted like they were the bears, and through the magic of special effects, they’ll erase those two guys and replace them with cartoon bears. What was that like? It was pretty weird. I only had one scene with the bears, so that wasn’t too strange. But it’s super-fun to work on a kids’ movie where you can’t sweat the details because there’s so many implausible moments. You just kind of have to run with it and have fun. It’s also a really, really funny script, actually. Tom Cavanagh and Anna Faris and T.J. Miller and Nate Corddry and me are kind of the only humans in it, and that’s a funny lineup.
I play the bad guy, but what I think is so funny is that I’m destroying Jellystone Park, but I’m not motivated by a hatred of nature or bears or anything. It’s just about the city budget, and I’m doing it on the way to other things. Literally a lot of my things take place in a limousine as I’m on my way to something else. I’ll just roll down my window and go, “Oh, and by the way, we’re destroying the park.” I’m the most casual, good-natured villain of all time. Destroying Jellystone Park is just one of the things on my long to-do list.
Transformers 3 (2011)—“Office worker”
AD: Yeah, well, you know, I don’t want to make Mr. Bay angry or give away too much. [Laughs.] A lot of it takes place in an office, and at some point, this office gets destroyed—and it for real does. A typical day on the set there’s a guy walking around the set with earplugs going, “It’s gonna get loud, you might want to put these in.” [Laughs.] Crazy! Things explode. There was one day, no kidding, where Michael Bay said, “I want a machine gun. And don’t bring one of the gun experts or anything like that. Let’s not make a big production out of it. We’re not gonna see it—I just want someone firing a machine gun off-camera just to get the reaction of the crowd, and the pops and the flashes.” [Laughs.] I don’t think that happened—if it did, I wasn’t there for it. But he was like, “I just want someone firing a machine gun here to get people running.”