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Community’s Danny Pudi on Tonight’s Dungeons & Dragons–Themed Episode (Plus: A Clip!)

It's not as fancy as a KFC-fueled space trip or as scary as zombies, but tonight's episode of NBC's Community does feature gnomes, elves, and ... compassion? When Jeff takes pity on struggling student Fat Neil, the study group stages a game of Dungeons & Dragons to boost his morale. The ever-observant Abed (Danny Pudi) plays the Dungeon Master, who assigns the gang their game characters. We chatted with Danny Pudi about tonight's episode, the girl who will test Abed and Troy's bromance, and the show's chances for another season. And because you're twenty-sided dying to see the role-playing episode (D&D humor!), we've also got an exclusive clip of Pudi speaking gnome in tonight's show.

What's going on in this week's Dungeons & Dragons episode?
In many ways, it's sort of a bottle episode again because we are in the study room the whole time for the most part. It's a really well-balanced episode because we all play this game where everyone basically has a turn. We go on this magical journey including gnomes and pegasi and goblins. It's scary at parts. It has sort of a Lord of the Rings feel to it.

Have you played Dungeons & Dragons before?
I played it like once, I think, in high school. I don't think we ever finished the game. I don't remember much about it at the time, which is kind of unfortunate because playing it this time around, I was like, “This is kind of awesome!” You get to play in a fantasy world where there are no rules. You can do whatever you want. There's elfin maidens, which to me is like ... I get why you would want to be into this world. Someone recently told me that Dungeons & Dragons is being banned from prisons and that saddens me. [Laughs.]

I've seen how the cast cracks each other up at panels. Do you have a hard time keeping it together in these bottlelike episodes where you're all together in one room?
Definitely, definitely. Especially the later we get into the hours and stuff. And especially, for instance, in this episode where you get to see what Ken Jeong is wearing. [Laughs.] When your job is to talk to someone who is dressed like an elf, it can be very difficult at times not to laugh … This is sort of our therapy, being stuck in the study room together, staring at an elf. In India, they have laughing clubs. This is my laughing club.

You're also having a lot of fun with Twitter, I see, with the actor-on-actor Twitpics.
[Laughs.] Yeah, the actor-on-actor action. I liked it. It was a writer — Emily Cutler. She was walking around set, being like, “Hey, will you get into a seductive pose?” And I was like, “Will I? Oh, sure.” I've been waiting for that opportunity. I think we're all quite ready and willing to do anything, and I think the writers realize that. Hence, we're constantly in our underwear, wearing wigs, space suits, fighting zombies, or whatever it is, because I think the writers know these guys will do anything. Uh-oh!

What's coming up for Abed and Troy's bromance?
The bromance is being tested next week for Valentine's Day. Troy and Abed both have a crush on this librarian on campus and they want to ask her to a dance. The first thing they want to do is talk to each other and be like, “How are we going to do this?” [Laughs.] They're so honest about everything: “Here's the thing. I have a crush on her and I know you do. We need to figure out a plan.” Because it's always got to be a plan with Troy and Abed. They do everything together. And for some reason, it always has to be kind of like a stealth mission. The greatest thing about their relationship is that they're more concerned about the integrity of their friendship than they are about the girl.

They should just present themselves as a package deal to her.
I think that would be a good package. I'd be fine watching Troy make out with a girl for like an hour. And I'm sure he'd be fine with watching me. I don't know about the girl. It'd be a hard deal for a girl. What's in it for the girl besides having a buddy stare at you for a long time?

Any other fun Abed stories that you're excited for viewers to see?
Last week we actually just filmed Abed's birthday episode. And there's a debate on campus coming up in a couple episodes, and Troy and Abed do some things with Greendale Campus Television, which was really fun to do. And the episode [we're shooting this week], Abed takes an elective, a critical analysis of Who's the Boss?. [Laughs.] That to me was one of those where I was like, “God, I really wish they offered this course at Marquette University while I was there.” I was a huge Who's the Boss? fan.

The show gets a lot of critical praise and it has a hard-core fan base, but it's still on the bubble. How are you feeling about the odds of a third season?
I don't know. I was looking at it last year, trying to figure out when we found out about a second season, which was in early March. It's February, so I know we still have a month. With all the changes, with Comcast taking over NBC, who knows? I do feel like we have an audience. We have fans who love our show and they're vocal about it and they appreciate it. When I meet somebody, it's never like, “Oh, I've seen your show a couple times.” It's more of like, “I love 'Troy and Abed in the Morning'! I have a 'Troy and Abed in the Morning' mug.” I think one of the knocks people talked about last year is you kind of don't know what you're going to get with every episode of Community. To me, that was always one of the most exciting things about our show, especially for an actor. I never know what we're going to be doing in an episode. I'll be reading the script, "The boys are stripping down to the underwear in a week" and I'm like, “Crap. All right, I gotta eat a lot of fruit this week and do a lot of push-ups.”

Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images