Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Ben Schwartz’s high school mix CDs freaked out his friends

Ben Schwartz’s high school mix CDs freaked out his friends

Graphic: Rebecca Fassola, Photo: Vivien Killilea (Getty Images)

In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee.

If anybody is going to take 11 crowd-sourced thought starters and run with them, it’s Ben Schwartz. From Jean-Ralphio on Parks And Recreation to Dewey Duck on DuckTales to his freewheeling appearances on Comedy Bang! Bang!, there’s a certain, endearing zeal that Schwartz brings to his creative endeavors. That energy recently helped to take a once-troubled Sonic The Hedgehog adaptation to the top of the box office; as a follow-up, Schwartz and Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch are bringing a relatively niche form of live comedy to one of the world’s biggest entertainment platforms. Their series of Middleditch & Schwartz specials for Netflix are a first for the type of long-form improv that is the duo’s specialty: a single narrative, made up entirely on the spot, in which Schwartz and Middleditch play every character—sometimes multiple characters in a single scene, sometimes playing a role their partner originated in an earlier scene. Ahead of the specials’ April 21 premiere, Schwartz answered The A.V. Club’s 11 Questions, reflecting on his eclectic high school mix CDs, relating his hair care regimen, and challenging us to make up an addition to the questionnaire on the fly.

1. If you made a candle, what would it smell like?

Ben Schwartz: I love the smell of s’mores, and I’ve been eating a lot of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups lately—I’ve been eating such bad food for me—so it’d be that. Or, because of quarantine days, the smell of some ride at Disneyland where it was fun to be outside amongst other people.

The A.V. Club: Have you ever made s’mores with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?

BS: What are you, a fucking crazy person? [Laughs.] That sounds brilliant! So instead of the Hershey’s, you pop in your marshy and you pop in a Reese’s, and you just go for it? I, no joke, will try that within the next two hours.

2. What’s your favorite album from high school? 

BS: I listened to Musiq Soulchild, and the album was Aijuswanaseing. I would listen to a lot of Stevie Wonder. But also my friend David Fernandez got me into Offspring—Smash was a big one. Green Day—Dookie was a big one. I listened to a lot of smooth R&B. David Hollister, who’s a Chicago guy. New Edition.

I drove a purple Chevy Beretta—it was very cheap and shitty. It broke down very often. But you’d plug your portable CD player in there, and I’d always make mixtapes—this was right when you could burn CDs. My mixes would be hard rock to old, and then it’s, like, very sexy smooth R&B. And my friends would be so weirded out driving in my car.

AVC: Do you think those mix CDs were a precursor to the Comedy Bang! Bang! Olympic Song Challenge?

BS: Oh, my god. It just may be, by the way. If you can drop a therapist piece of knowledge for every single one of these questions, I’d be very impressed.

3. What conspiracy theory do you think is most plausible?

BS: Oh, shit—I don’t really follow conspiracy theories. Do you have a log of conspiracy theories that I could say yes or no to?

AVC: What about the theory that the government has covered up the existence of extraterrestrial life?

BS: [Laughs.] I don’t know. I’ll have no answer to any of these. Replace that question with something you make up right now.

AVC: [Laughs.] Okay.

BS: Or you can save that for the last. Make the one that you make up the 11th question!

4. What’s the first time you were disillusioned by politics?

BS: I find myself, as I grow older, more frustrated with politics, and I wonder if it’s because I’m paying more attention, or if it’s because of the current climate. But I find the older I get, the more frustrated I get. It’s almost like I have no control, which is a high-anxiety feeling. But also, there are these beams of like, “Oh, maybe this will be exciting,” and beams of hope. This biggest thing is to grab onto the hope and not be drowned out by the rest of it.

AVC: That’s all you’ve really got control over.

BS: A big thing in therapy is learning that you can only control the stuff you can control. Stuff that’s out of your control you can’t spend all your [time on], or you’re just never going to be able to live your life.

5. Who would you call if you needed help burying a body?

BS: I would call my dad. I trust him to the ends of the earth. He’s that guy that, when we were growing up, everybody would call him to help fix their cars or install a toilet. I think it would start with my dad, and I’d ask him, “Do you have someone who could help us with this?” And then the dominoes would fall from there.

AVC: It sounds like if he doesn’t have direct knowledge of what to do, he at least has a wide range of expertise that you could rely on.

BS: He’s the Kevin Bacon game, but for bodies being buried.

6. What’s your favorite Halloween costume you’ve ever worn?

BS: Listen, I am terrible—terrible—at Halloween costumes. One year when I was a kid—I think I was just too old to be trick-or-treating—I got a big foam cowboy hat, and I wore that. But the laziest one was we were going to a party, and I didn’t know it was a Halloween party. So I took off my shirt and I had a white undershirt, and I rolled [the sleeves] up, and I slicked my hair back, and I pretended I was John Travolta from Grease, and it worked great.

AVC: A T-Bird costume is in everyone’s back pocket.

BS: Or putting, like, a name tag on and saying, “I’m Bob!” “What do you mean?” “I don’t know—this guy Bob. If you knew him, it’d be perfect.”

7. If proximity to your industry were a moot point, where would you most like to live, and why?

BS: I ask this question all the time. I think I have two places. I’ve never been to Hawaii before, but a place like that—that felt very relaxing. I love that I’m naming a place I’ve never been. Going to Paris is incredible, but I don’t know if I could live there 24/7—it’s a big city. I’d love to have a place that’s in Manhattan so I could be close enough to my family and then a place that’s surrounded by nature, and just split my time between those two. I don’t know if I’d live in L.A. I think I’d travel a bit. That’s one of the fun things about doing this tour with Thomas. I’m getting to see so many cities and see so much more stuff.

AVC: What’s a city that’s surprised you during the tours?

BS: I love Chicago. The food in Chicago blew my mind. There’s some cities that we’ve been like, “Yeah, we’ll go as many times as you want.” Chicago—I’ve been three times now, I think, for different things—and I looooove the food there. I love London. I spent a bunch of months in London. And I love Vancouver. All those cities blew me away. Vancouver would be a really fun place to live, because there’s so much nature, and there is so much great food as well.

AVC: And it is technically close to the industry, with all the TV shows that shoot up there now.

BS: I know! I’ve probably shot four different things there now. It’s crazy.

8. How did you learn about the birds and the bees?

BS: My dad says that he told me, but I’m sure that it’s through porno or something. It has to be. You know what it is? I bet it was a friend who told me. I grew up in Riverdale, in the Bronx, and I’m sure friends were talking about it all the time. But my dad says that he sat me down and he told me. I don’t remember that conversation—maybe because I blocked it out. My family is pretty open about all that stuff. If something’s bothering somebody, we’ll talk about it.

AVC: But further proof that your dad’s a reliable expert on a variety of subjects.

BS: I’m telling you, man. If you need to bury a body, I’m sure he knows a guy.

9. What’s the pettiest hill you’re willing to die on?

BS: I don’t think you need to shampoo your hair everyday. People yell at me for that. I was told you’re supposed to let your hair create its own juices. You can shower everyday, you just don’t have to use shampoo and conditioner everyday. You’re supposed to go a couple days in a row without using it. Someone smarter than me told me that, and then I started not shampooing as much. And I think that it’s helped!

AVC: Would you say it’s the secret to your signature head of hair?

BS: I think the secret is Judaism, to be honest.

10. What pop culture or art do you turn to when you’ve had a bad day?

BS: When a good thing happens to me or a bad thing happens to me, I eat a cheeseburger, because that’s a comfort-food-type thing. And I find myself watching The Simpsons or something that I’ve watched many times before. That’ll calm me down. Also, if I’m feeling anxious, I’ll listen to James Taylor or Jim Croce or Sufjan Stevens.

Schwartz’s character in The Simpsons’ “’Cue Detective”
Schwartz’s character in The Simpsons’ “’Cue Detective”
Screenshot: Disney+

AVC: Where’s your go-to cheeseburger spot?

BS: When I lived in New York, it was Shake Shack. And now I think it still is Shake Shack. I know everyone loves In-N-Out, but Shake Shack to me—I love the taste of Shake Shack.

AVC: Do you want the makeup question before or after the 11th question?

BS: Whatever you think is better—yours or that 11—make that one last.

AVC: Well, here’s the thing: There’ll be mine, and then there’ll be a question from the previous 11 Questions interviewee. So we’ve got three more to go.

BS: Okay, let’s do yours.

Makeup third question: What was your most treasured stuffed animal growing up?

BS: I had Ren & Stimpy dolls—loved those. Those are probably up there for me, because I’d put them on my bed and put them on my pillow when I made my bed. It’d probably be one of those two guys.

AVC: Did the Stimpy fart? I have a vague recollection of a plush Stimpy from that time that farted.

BS: There was a Stimpy that farted. I don’t believe it was that one.

11. If you could find out the day you’re going to die, would you?

BS: I think no. If you find out that you’re going to die on a certain day, isn’t there a chance that you can still kill yourself beforehand by mistake?

AVC: You’ve found the loophole.

BS: I think if you know the day you’re going to die, then you’d live your life a little too carefree and might kill yourself beforehand. I don’t sense that that information helps you at all.

12. Bonus 12th question from Harvey Guillen: What cartoon instantly takes you back to your childhood?

BS: The Simpsons to me is the thing that I would watch all the time growing up. Other cartoons like Flintstones and Scooby-Doo and stuff like that always make me remember that time. But in terms of really remembering, I think The Simpsons helped shape me as a writer, and the way my comedic mind thinks—especially those three, four, five, six seasons. Those were monumental. So in terms of childhood rewatching things over and over again, it’d probably be The Simpsons.

But if you’re talking about other shows, I was a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan. The Disney Afternoon—DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, TaleSpin, and Rescue Rangers—that reminds me of my childhood more than anything, because I would go to David Fernandez’s house, we’d make mac and cheese, we’d watch those shows, we’d play Super Nintendo. He had Genesis, too. That reminds me of my childhood more than anything else in the universe—the Disney Afternoon, right after school.

AVC: When you were watching those shows, did you ever think, “Oh, one day, I could be one of the voices in a cartoon?” Because not only did that happen, but you also wound up playing a lead on later versions of Ninja Turtles and DuckTales.

BS: Never. I didn’t know anybody that did this, so it’s like saying, “I want to be an astronaut.” And even when I started doing comedy at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade], I never would’ve thought that I’d be able to do that. It’s just until things start falling into place, and you get more and more roles, you’re like, “Oh, my god, now I’m doing voice-over commercials! Oh, my god, now I’m doing a guest star. Oh, my god, now I’m doing the lead of Randy Cunningham!” It all builds.

Illustration for article titled Ben Schwartz’s high school mix CDs freaked out his friends
Photo: Todd Wawrychuk (Disney XD)

There’s a question somebody asked me for the Sonic stuff, being like, “If you saw your younger self and were like, ‘Hey, man, you get to be Sonic, you get to be Dewey, and you get to be Leo,’ what do you think would happen?” I was like, “First of all, I’d be like, ‘Holy shit, there’s time travel?’” But then after that, it would be so insane to me, it just wouldn’t compute.

AVC: And what would you like to ask the next person we interview?

BS: Which TV theme song makes you smile the most when you sing it?