Ike Barinholtz on The Mindy Project, Eastbound & Down, and his most embarrassing TV moment

Ike Barinholtz on The Mindy Project, Eastbound & Down, and his most embarrassing TV moment

Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

The actor: Ike Barinholtz was born and raised in Chicago, not too far from the improv theaters where he started performing. After he moved to Los Angeles, Barinholtz spent some time working as a busboy and doing comedy, and ultimately landed a spot on MADtv, where he stayed for five years. More recently, Barinholtz has gotten attention for his role as rogue nurse Morgan Tookers on The Mindy Project, where he’s also a writer.

The Mindy Project (2012-present)—“Morgan”
The A.V. Club: You started as a writer on The Mindy Project and ended up becoming a series regular, correct?

Ike Barinholtz: Yes, I did. I was a big fan of Mindy’s for a long time, and she’s a big fan of Eastbound & Down and randomly tweeted about me on that show. It was something like, “Oh my God, he’s such a weirdo.” And I tweeted back at her, “Hey, I’m not that weird,” or something like that and we started following each other on Twitter. Then, right around the time her pilot was being ordered to series, my writing partner—Dave Stassen, who is also from Chicago—and I, our agent was like, “Hey, this is a show you should be involved in. It’s really funny.” We watched it and really liked it and we met her and she kind of off-handedly was like, “Oh, I’d love for you to be on the show. I think you’re a funny actor.” I figured I’d be like, I don’t know, the sex-offender janitor that you see once or twice a season, but she ended up writing this role for me that was so much fun and so funny and, right from episode two, it just kind of took off into this really stupid, but kind of loving guy that looks out for her a bit. 

AVC: Based on your Twitter back-and-forths, it seems like you guys have gotten to be friends. 

IB: Absolutely. Everyone who works here is starting to become really close. Especially the writers, because we are here a lot and there are a lot of younger people who have similar taste. We all love Breaking Bad. We all love Game Of Thrones

AVC: Controversial. 

IB: I know, it’s weird. We’re really iconoclasts for liking those amazing programs. 

But, yeah, when you spend 70 hours a week with someone, you naturally develop a friendship with them. If you don’t, your job is horrible. Luckily for us, she’s super fun and so funny constantly and makes us laugh. It’s a pretty great job, and we’re so lucky. 

AVC: You guys are in the middle of shooting the second season. Anything we should look for? 

IB: I take pride in the fact that I don’t break a lot. I always looked down on people that break, like, “Come on, keep it together. Be professional.” But there was this scene the other night where I try to seduce Mindy, and I couldn’t get through it. I looked through the dailies the next day and was like, “Nope, I’m kind of laughing in that.” I was laughing at the fact that I was mostly nude and have a strange body, I think. I have weird haunches and weird patches of fat and hair. That was for episode 204, which will be coming on in September or October. But I was laughing so hard for the three hours we were shooting it that if we could shoot scenes like that for the rest of my life, I would be very happy. 

I also really love the intro she wrote for me back in episode two when I showed up. Oh, and any scenes with Seth Rogen were really funny just because he’s one of those guys that is always laughing. You’ll say something to him like, “Oh, we have Chinese food on set,” and he’s like, [Imitates Rogen laugh.] “Oh, I love Chinese food!” and you’ll start laughing. It was really fun. 

Eastbound & Down (2012)—“Ivan Dochenko”
AVC: Did you have to walk around with that horrible haircut?

IB: Oh my God. Yeah. 

I’m a huge fan of Eastbound & Down. It’s one of my favorite shows. I was initially going to go in for the role of Shane, which my buddy Jason Sudeikis got and rightfully so. But then I was getting dressed to go to the audition and my agent called me, like, “Hey, they already have an actor,” and I was so bummed. But he was like, “Can you do a Russian accent?” and I was like, “Yeah, I kind of think so.” You know what I mean? I have some family members from Russia that I’ve met and my landlord is Russian and I can kind of imitate him, and so I went down there and read for Danny [McBride] and Jody Hill and I got the part.

I remember it said in the script that he has a faux-hawk and I remember thinking, “Oh, a faux hawk is kind of cool. David Beckham’s got a faux hawk, I could rock that shit for a little while.” And then I got down to North Carolina and McBride was like, [Imitates McBride.] “Hey, man I’m going to show you this picture, you don’t have to do it, but I think it’s super fucking funny. If you want to do it, it’s your call.” He showed me this picture, and it looked like this Czechoslovakian teenager taking his high-school photo in 1980. It was so horrible, so, so horrible that I was like, “Yeah, fuck it, lets do it!” I didn’t realize how drastic it was until I got back to the hotel that night and the guy at the front desk couldn’t believe that I could possibly be a guest at this hotel. He assumed that I had crawled out of a swamp or something.

It was fun doing that and going back home to my wife, because it was like we were role-playing when we were making love after I had that haircut. She was playing a nice lady, and I was playing a scum animal. 

The League(2010-2012)—“Frank ‘The Body’ Gibiatti” 
AVC: Speaking of playing a scum animal, you also had a weird, physically imposing role in The League for a while. Did you audition for that? You’ve been on that, Childrens Hospital, and NTSF:SD:SUV, all of which seem to be fairly interwoven. 

IB: It’s like my family; it’s very incestuous. 

I went in and auditioned for one of the main guys for The League when it was first casting, and I was so excited because I was like, “Oh my God, this is my life!” I love fantasy football, and I play with my buddies and my wife is frustrated with it. And the feedback I got was, “Hey, they like what you’re doing, but they know exactly who they want for these parts.” It’s the guys that they cast in the show. But later that season, Jeff and Jackie Schaffer brought me in to play “The Body” Frank Gibiatti, who is the worst possible person. You know how some people are like, “Oh, I went to high school with this guy and he was a total dick, but recently I ran into him and he was really nice”? It’s like, “No, a lot of these people were huge dicks in high school, and now they’re much worse. They’re emboldened.” They’re just horrible, and that was so much fun. They brought him back a few times and it’s such a fun show. Nick Kroll and Paul Scheer and Mark Duplass are such hilarious improvisers, and that show really is improvised. It’s not improvised like Curb Your Enthusiasm where Larry David tells you what to say. They give you an idea; they’re like, “Hey, this is how we want you to do the scene. If you can work in one of these lines, that’s great.” And they just let you go. 

A lot of people recognize me from that show in, like, Texas. In airports they’ll be like, “Hey, man! You’re the guy who made fun of that guy for fucking that fat girl!” And I’m like, “Don’t say it so loud.” But it’s a super-fun show and, through that, you work with Paul Scheer. Then when he needs a tiny part done on his show, [you’re in]. Then I did a little part on the Kroll Show that comes out later this year, so it definitely is very connected. It’s just a lot of people that are friends with each other. 

AVC: Apparently “Wheels Ontario” is coming back during the second season on the Kroll Show

IB: Oh, God. So funny. I got to do a sketch with Dr. Armond. I play Dr. Armond’s attorney for a sketch. Nick is crazy talented and everyone loves him and he’s a super-nice guy, too. 

Neighbors (2014)—“Jimmy Blevins”
AVC: Neighbors used to be called Townies, but now it’s just Neighbors. 

IB: Yes. Neighbors. I just spoke to the director, and he said that, apparently, a lot of people don’t know the terms “townies.”

AVC: That’s ridiculous. 

IB: Those are the townies that don’t know it! Everyone knows it! But I guess they thought Neighbors makes a little more sense, and it totally works for the story. 

AVC: So what’s your role in Neighbors?

IB: Jimmy. Jimmy has one of my favorite last names of anyone I’ve played. It’s Jimmy Blevins, which I don’t know why, but that makes me laugh so hard. 

Basically, the movie is Seth [Rogen] and Rose Byrne, and they buy a house in a small town in Madison or Westwood or whatever. Then the worst fraternity on campus gets kicked off campus and moves in right across the street. At first they see them moving in and Seth is like, “Well, maybe they’re a cool, nerdy, Jewish fraternity.” Then you see like Zac Efron shirtless carrying a chair and Rose Byrne is like, “No that guy is definitely not Jewish.” And they have like the craziest parties and a war wages between Seth and this fraternity. I play Seth’s best friend. Jimmy is going through a really bad divorce, and he’s in really bad shape. He’s a really angry, sad man. And, at first, he’s like, “This is amazing! You’re living like a dream, you can go and party whenever you want!” And then some things happen between him and the fraternity kids, like Chris Mintz-Plasse. Some things happen between him and Jimmy that push Jimmy firmly toward “let’s destroy these motherfuckers.” 

I just saw it for the first time the other day, and it’s really, really, really funny. Two great guys wrote it—Andrew Cohen and Brendan O’Brien—and Nick Stoller directed. I’ve been a fan of his since Undeclared,so it was so much fun working with those guys. And I’ve been confused for Zac Efron my whole life, so finally to work with him was kind of cool. People always think I’m him, and it was nice to work with him. 

AVC: You’re probably at least two feet taller than him. 

IB: Thank you, thank you. He’s a little shorter, but you can really get lost in those blue eyes of his. He was constantly shirtless. So Seth and Stoller and I were just constantly like, “We’re not the same species as him!” He’s got a six-pack on top of a six-pack. He has those muscles that point to his penis. It’s crazy. I don’t understand how you have that kind of body. I don’t get it. 

MADtv (2002-2007)—various characters
AVC: You were on MADtv for a long time, and you worked with a lot of people who are becoming big in comedy now, like Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key.

IB: I was really young when I got MADtv. I’d been out in L.A. for a year and a half and had a series of degrading jobs and was like, “Oh my God, what am I doing here?” I was kind of friendly with Nicole Sullivan, who was on MADtv for many years and she saw me do this two-man show with my friend Josh Meyers who was on MADtv with me. She was like, “This show is really funny and different and we’re looking for guys,” so she brought some of the producers of MADtv to come see us, and they hired both of us and it was the best. 

To be maybe 25 and be on a network comedy sketch show with your best friend is, like, the most impossible job. You get to do a lot of different stuff. I got to do a lot of dumb, bad impressions and, somehow, people were like, “Oh, I get it. I guess you sound like the guy from Frasier.” And then we brought on Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key and then it was a really, really fun job. I was definitely ready to leave when it was over because it was five years and I was young, and I wanted to go on and do a ton of other stuff and the show had started to end anyway. But the first two years I was on MADtv were really, really fun. We always thought it was Saturday Night Live’svery nice, slightly asthmatic, shorter cousin. 

AVC: On your IMDB page, under your MADtv credits, it just reads “Various / Lynette Scavo,” who was a character from Desperate Housewives. 

IB: Oh, God! That’s Felicity Huffman, I think. I just recently had a baby, a little girl, and just before we had her, I remember saying to my wife, “I really hope she looks like you, because if she doesn’t, she’ll look like this.” I showed her a picture of that sketch and was like, “This is what I look like as a woman.” It’s not good. Luckily, the baby looks like a perfect combination of the both of us. 

I remember I played, one time—whatever was trending that week, they would throw together a sketch. Remember the show Joe Millionaire? I ended up playing Joe Millionaire a couple of times. Then I went to this Fox party and they were like, “Let’s get a picture of you and the real Joe Millionaire,” and he looked at me like I was a such a piece of shit. He was so hardcore and like, “Okay, man. I guess…” He was so not a fan, and I remember being sort of offended that night. But now, of course, I think he’s a grip on a gay-porn set somewhere in Alhambra. I shouldn’t say that. He was a very nice guy; I’m just sure he wasn’t a fan of mine. 



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Family Guy (2008)—“Dane Cook”
AVC: Is MADtv how you ended up doing the voice of Dane Cook in an episode of Family Guy?

IB: Definitely. I did Dane on the show a little bit. I remember seeing Dane a couple of times. He was so big in L.A. and you’d see him and think, “Wow, he’s got a lot of personality.” Then I did him a bunch on the show, and Seth MacFarlane saw it and was like, “Hey, you should come and do a couple of lines of him.” And, I’ll tell you, those Family Guy residual checks come so often, you know? It’s like the gift that kind of keeps on giving. It’s syndicated in Siberia. 

A lot of people will still come up and be like, “Hey, man. Fuck Dane Cook! Am I right?” And I’m like, “I don’t know about ‘Fuck him.’ I did an impression of him.” I don’t think he liked it, though. I think I found out later on that he wasn’t a huge fan of it. 

Drunk History (2013)—“August Spies”
AVC: Speaking of impressions, you played August Spies on a recent episode of Drunk History

IB: Derek [Waters] is the best and Jeremy [Konner], they’re the best. 

AVC: You were acting out Kyle Kinane’s story, and he was incredibly drunk.

IB: There’s never been a drunker human being ever. Never, in the history of alcohol, has there ever been someone that drunk. 

When Derek asked me to do it, I was a big fan of the concept and the web series for a long time, he sent me the DVD and I just remember saying to my wife, “This is going to be impossible! This guy is adding in so many weird blips.” I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But I got to set and the way they shoot the show, they have audio of the guy on a loop so you hear it a hundred times and it ended up being really, really, really fun. And people really like that show. 

AVC: Hopefully it gets a second season.

IB: I hope it does; I think it will. There are too many fans of it, and too many people tweet about it. I got into a bit of a fender bender a couple of weeks ago, and the insurance guy was like, “The deductible stays the same, rates stay the same, and also, I just want to say, I love Drunk History.” 

It’s really funny, but I learn shit, too. Like the drunk part is funny, but the history is so cool. I grew up in Chicago and I’ve heard about the Haymarket Riot for a long time, but I never really knew the finer details of it. You walk away and you’re like, “Hey, I learned something.” 

AVC: I saw you and Kyle tweeting around the time the episode aired and was wondering if you’d met. 

IB: I’ve never met the guy. I saw him do stand-up once, I think, and I thought he was hysterical and then, after watching him get alcohol poisoning, I felt close to him. But, yeah, we were tweeting each other the night it was airing. It’s such a funny show. It better get picked up for a second season.

Disaster Movie (2008)—various characters
Meet The Spartans (2008)—various characters 
Vampires Suck (2010)—“Bobby White”
AVC: You’ve done three parody movies: Disaster Movie, Meet The Spartans, and Vampires Suck. How did you get involved in those?

IB: After I left MADtv, I thought it was time to work on some gigantic motion pictures and some major TV shows, and it didn’t really happen right away. So I went in and auditioned for one of the parts in Meet The Spartans and the two guys who do those— Aaron Seltzer and Jason Friedberg—are the nicest guys, such cool dudes. I think they know that their movies are, basically, for little kids, you know what I mean? It’s like Airplane! but for, like, younger people. 

Anyway, I went down and shot it and had such a good time and then they made Disaster Movie,which I still can’t believe was snubbed at the Oscars that year. It had to be because 2008 was a really big year. No Country was big, There Will Be Blood. I think we just got pushed out that year. But I went back for that and they were like, “Hey, can you do Hellboy?” and I was like, “Yeah, I think so.” 

For the last one, I remember they called me and, at that point, I was really kind of caught up on a bunch of different writing projects, but they called and were like, “Hey, we want to parody a bunch of Twilight.” I’d never seen Twilight or any of that shit, and they were like, “We really want you to be Taylor Lautner’s dad.” And I was like, “Okay.” They said, “Do you think you can play a Native American man in a wheelchair? It’s two days of work.” And I was like, “Sure.” 

The funniest thing was seeing my dad’s reaction to that part. After I got the part I sat down and watched one of the Twilight movies, those pieces of shit! I mean, I’m sorry. I just don’t get the concept. Nothing is less scary to me than a vampire. 

AVC: It’s okay. It’s not for you. 

IB: I’m more scared of parking by a parking meter than vampires because one of them is real and adversely affects my life and results in a $35 fine and one is nonsense. It’s made-up. But, anyway, my dad had never seen a second of Twilight, so he called me and was like, “I just don’t understand. What was really in Twilight, what was not?” and I was like, “I don’t know, Dad.”

AVC: “Why is it funny that you’re in a wheelchair?” 

IB: “Why are you in a wheelchair? Why was that man punching you?” I said, “I think that was a real scene from the movie.” And he said, “But why would they put that in the movie?” So to not only have to explain the parody of the movie, but also the movie that you were parodying was a bit much. But those guys that make those movies are such nice guys. I just think they’re super dudes. 

Central Intelligence, (TBA)—co-writer
AVC: Are you and David Stassen still working on Central Intelligence?

IB: Yeah, we are. We wrote it years ago as a first-time movie we sold. And it’s one of those ones where, every six months to a year, all of a sudden it looks like it’s going to get made. But I’ve learned that it’s impossible to make a movie. Every time one comes out, it’s a miracle. The studio had the money at the time, but the actors they wanted weren’t available. It’s really ridiculous, and it just defies logic. But we really love this project and we’re pretty confident that it’ll get made one of these days. It might be when we’re in our 80s, but at least it’ll pay for my funeral arrangements. 

AVC: Last I’d heard, Ed Helms was starring, and Galaxy Quest’s director, Dean Parisot,was directing. 

IB: Yeah, that was the last incarnation a couple of years ago. Ed is still attached to it, but the director of Galaxy Quest is out. It’s one of those things that in a month we could have some crazy follow-up conversation about it or it could be three years from now and, still, nothing’s happened. But it’s a really funny idea that hasn’t been poached or taken, and we think it would be a super-funny movie that a lot of people would relate to. 

E! Hollywood Hold ’Em (2005)—himself
AVC: You were on an episode of E! Hollywood Hold ‘Em back in 2005.

IB: Oh my God! I’d rather you bring up footage of me masturbating, because this was my biggest regret. 

Remember when poker was really cool? And really good-looking people were playing poker? You’d turn on the TV and every channel had a poker-related thing, and then people realized, “Well poker is kind of a major form of gambling that ruins your life and it’s kind of gross.” 

Anyway, I played poker with these guys and they were like, “Yeah, we’re doing this show. It’s called Hollywood Hold ’Em.” And I was like, “Yeah, sure. Why not?” And I didn’t really know what it was, but I got to their house and there were cameras there. I was like, “Oh, wow. I guess they’re going to shoot this.” I just remember being there for many, many hours and being really bored and they were really adamantly giving us beer. I probably had four or five beers, and I’m a bit of a lightweight. I remember kind of feeling that I was like, technically, drunk. Not like sloppy drunk, but like get-pulled-over drunk or get-a-DUI drunk. Then they interviewed me at the end when I was the most exhausted. 

I remember watching the episode and being fucking mortified. I’m like, “Oh, great. I look like a fucking moron.” And the worst part was that everyone who was there on the show was like Laura Prepon and Danny Masterson, all the people from That ’70s Show,and I was just on MADtv at the time. I remember watching it and when they’d do everyone’s intros, it would be like, “Danny Masterson: That ’70s Show” and they’d do a freeze frame of him pointing with his sunglasses and he’d look really cool. Then his brother, “Chris Masterson: Malcolm In The Middle” and they do a freeze frame where he’s giving the thumbs-up. Then they did me. “Ike Barinholtz,” freeze frame with my eyes closed and it just said, “their poker friend.” I was like, “What the fuck?” It makes me look like some degenerate friend of theirs that they were kind enough to extend an invite to and then they mock him. 

With that said, I did draw a royal flush. If you know poker, the odds are miniscule that you’d draw that. I don’t even know if this footage still exists. My hope is that it’s been destroyed. But if you do find it, you will see me draw a royal flush on the flop. And, just through a good poker face, manage to bleed out two of the other players. So it was this really amazing moment surrounded by 46 minutes of embarrassment. 

AVC: Did you win?

IB: I think I came in second. But it was also one of those things where I didn’t know how it was going to turn out so I invited some friends over that night to watch it. I imagine it’s how Mitt Romney felt on election night. Everyone just left kind of quietly. I think one of my friends patted me on the shoulder and said, “It’s okay.” I was like, “I’m going to go into my garage and close it and turn on the car.” But yeah, it was definitely one of those things where I don’t drink a whole lot, but when I do there are no cameras around; I don’t even want anyone around who can draw well.

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