Local Putnam County Spelling Bee Tony winner Dan Fogler is warming up to the spotlight as of late, with a buzzy new play debuting at Fringe Festival and big upcoming roles in the ping-pong flick Balls of Fury and the Dane Cook–Jessica Alba comedy Good Luck Chuck. Fogler spoke to Vulture about playing the outcast, hanging with Christopher Walken, and his recurring case of Toilet Arm.
How would you describe your new Fringe play, Elephant in the Room?
Someone said recently that it was as if Ionesco’s Rhinoceros got a South Park–esque overhaul. That’s a good way to describe it. Rhinoceros was Ionesco’s reaction to the Nazis taking over. It was a time of chaos and a time of war and a time of change, all of which people really had no control over, and it’s amazing how many parallels you can make between then and now. I was very disenchanted when Bush got reelected, so I think I had a lot of issues that I needed to get out, and they came out in the form of this play. I’m always writing though. My brain doesn’t like to be quiet. I lose a lot of sleep.
The characters you play — in Spelling Bee, Balls in the Room, etc. — are all pretty dorky. Is that a stretch?
Did you just say Balls in the Room?
Oh. Yeah. I did.
That’s the ultimate title! [Laughs.] Anyway, I like to play antisocial characters. I would think that my Balls of Fury character is actually kind of tame in a lot of ways. He’s the straight man a lot of the time, which is hard for me. You know what, now that I’m thinking about it, he’s completely ridiculous! I don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. He’s walking around in Def Leppard T-shirts and short shorts with a shiny silver jacket on. He’s normal to me, I guess.
New York is a crazy theater town. Any wild fan encounters so far?
When I was on Broadway, people would really just recognize me around the theater. When you’re showing up on commercials and posters, the scope of people recognizing you gets a little wider. The taxi guy will be like “Ey, you! You’re the funny balls guy!” And it’s like ‘Uh, yeah, how ya doing?’
You star opposite Christopher Walken in Balls of Fury. What’s he like?
He’s as eccentric and strange and totally legendarily cool as you think he is. I’d ask him anything just to hear him talk. “So, Chris, tell me about your trip from your trailer to here right now.” [In Christopher Walken voice] “Well, Dahn, first I opened the do-ah. I walked down the stairs and I had a little trip. I fell on a rahk.” And I’d be like, “Awesome, tell me more!” He’s very cool, and a perfect professional. I think he said once in an interview that 99 percent of acting is being comfortable and that’s it. It doesn’t matter if you say one line like Muhammed Ali and the next line spinning off into a pirouette, because they’ll believe you if you’re comfortable.
So what was it like after-hours?
I mostly just chilled. I would just go home and ice my Ping-Pong Arm, just get ready for the next day.
Did you really get Ping-Pong Arm?
I still have it! This injury I have started in School for Scoundrels from putting Jon Heder’s head in a toilet over and over again. I’m not even kidding! You’ve got a good 175 pounds you’ve got to lug over your shoulder and shove it over and over again into a toilet. It’s hysterical to say ‘No, it’s not Ping-Pong Arm, it’s Toilet Arm’. Or Swirly Arm. That’s what it is: I’ve got Swirly Arm. And then comes Balls of Fury, where I’m hitting the ping-pong over and over from a million different angles and swinging my arm and swinging my arm. That wears on you! I’m not a big complainer, but I wear my emotion on my face, and you can totally see that shit on camera. —Sara Cardace