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Happy Endings’ Adam Pally on the Show’s Underdog Status, Improvising on Set, and Being Chubby-Skinny

When ABC's Happy Endings premiered in April, the latest in a season-long flood of Friends copycats, it was critically savaged. But over the course of the series' two-month run, it has overcome the tepid reception by being really, really funny. Doing more than anyone on the cast to make it so is Adam Pally, who plays Max, the sloppy, jerky bro who just happens to be gay. We spoke with Pally right before Happy Endings season finale, which airs tonight, about the show getting picked up fora second season order, the reaction to Max, and his desire to drop the N-word on national television.

So, I really like your current IMDb photo
My agents made me change it, but it used to be much worse. I used to only have pictures of Dennis Franz. It was just like six pictures of Dennis Franz and four pictures of Dennis Farina and that's it.

Why don't more actors have fun with their IMDb picture?
Well, probably because my agent called and said, "We can't get you a job because every time we put you up for something they call and they're like, 'We don't know what he looks like.'" I was like, "Okay, well, I'll fix that; I'll put up a picture of me in Little League."

Solves the problem. Congratulations on Happy Endings getting picked up. Were you at all surprised?
No, I wasn’t. When we got picked up for series, people were kind of shocked. Then we had a weird time slot and we did well and people were shocked. Everything about the first season has been weird, but I think it's helped us because I think we have an underdog status. The reason I'm not surprised is because I really feel like the show is a good show.

Why were people surprised when it was picked up in the first place?
Because there's been a million crappy Friends-type shows, and I think people were kind of looking at us as just another one of those. I think a lot of the critics were turned off by the concept. I think six friends hanging out in a big city, I think before people even see the show they hate it.

Did you have a personal hesitation about that when you read the script?
No. The script is hilarious. I think you have to look at the people behind the show rather than the concept for the show. The "hook" of a sitcom to me is not very important if the writing is funny and the actors are funny. I think once people sort of gave it a chance they found that it doesn’t really matter if it's similar to other shows. If it's funny, it's funny.

When you first read for a part on the show, did you read for Max?
No, I read for Dave originally.

And then what happened?
I'm assuming the network didn't think I was good-looking enough or too fat or something.

You make that fat joke about yourself a lot. There's been a lot of chubby jokes on the show.
Well, it's true. I am what they call a chubby-skinny guy. I appear to be normal and have the look of an in-shape man, but if we were to go to a pool party I would go with my shirt on. I have, like, fat-boy nipples, where you're nipples are kind of inverted.

So you think they thought you weren't good-looking enough to cast as Dave?
Oh, I don't know if it was that. I was just kidding. I think it's one of those things where I read for Dave, and for a while it looked like I was going to be Dave, and then they thought it would be funny if I read for Max because they were having trouble finding the right Max. I read it and it was really funny. I thought it was just such a funny part. When I got it I was so excited.

So the idea of Max being a bro who happens to be gay was not in the original conception of the character?
No, it was written in the script that way, but I think it's a question of how heavy do you play it. I think they were trying to find the right mix for that.

Have you had a particular fan reaction to Max?
The gays love me. The gays love me.

He's a great character. What happens?
I've gotten a lot of Facebook messages from people who say it's an inspirational character. I got one really nice message from a kid who said that I inspired him to come out to his parents and I thought that was really beautiful. I could have never imagined doing that. I just play this guy like an asshole. I don't even think about stuff like that. So that was really great. Then there's some weird stuff. Someone tweeted at my wife asking her to send them shirtless pictures, to which she wrote back and said, “why.” She couldn't understand why they would want that. I was like, come on, send the pics!

You improv on set a lot, right?
It depends on which director is working, but the Russos are amazing about it. There's always that kind of freedom on the set to go with a joke or go with a moment that feels good. No one is precious about their words or their work, and I think that's what makes it such a fun show. The actors are treated as part of the creative process. The writers and the cast are really close. Every week we go to this bar in West Hollywood that's in the middle of a diner to watch episodes. We've gone to Vegas together and partied. Everybody is really close, and it always feels like summer camp with the writers and the cast on the show. I think that comes across onscreen.

What are some things you guys have improvised?
There's been a running joke through the year where I'm trying to say the N-word [while talking to Damon Wayans Jr.'s character, Brad]. That's been improvised every time. I'm hoping on season two to actually say it.

Really?
I would love to. I would love to. I really want to.

There's no way ABC will let you say that.
I bet you there is. I bet you there's a way I can say it. Think about the opportunity for sweeps week.

An entire ad campaign built around the big reveal …
Yeah, Adam Pally drops the N-bomb. I also hope to say it with the "er" on the end. I'm doing it real.

Maybe if they cut out in the middle of the word.
Look for it next season.

You come from an improv background; you've spent all this time at UCB. How important is it for you to be able to improv in your day job?
I would be happy to work, is an honest reply. Anytime I audition for something, it's always a question of whether or not the people I'm auditioning for understand I'm an improviser and I like to do that, and if they like that or if they just want someone who's going to do what's written. I've not gotten so much stuff because I improvise in an audition, but I always feel like if that's the case the reason is because it wouldn't have worked out anyway with us working together.

Has that ever gone over really horribly?
Oh, it's gone over really horribly all the time. I'd say 80 percent of my auditions go very horribly.

Well, you were just cast as the lead in a pilot, BFF, that got picked up on NBC, and now they're going to have to recast your part.
I kind of knew with BFF what the deal was. I was psyched to get the job, but I was kind of doing it more as a favor to my friend. I've known Jessica [St. Clair] and Lennon [Parham] for like ten years, and they're amazing and beautiful and so funny. When they asked me, I was honored and I was glad everything worked out. Plus, Fred Savage directed it and I really enjoyed working with him and Scott Armstrong, who wrote the Hangover II and produced it. It just felt like a really great project. Everyone kind of knew that if it went we would have to cross that bridge. I'm still happy it worked for them. I think it's going to be great.

When you were on Jimmy Kimmel, you did one of your very short impressions. I think it's really funny that the first one you did was Steve from Sex and the City. Not a super high-profile impression!
I know. It's embarrassing. I told him they were random, but he wanted to hear it. I was like, "I'm warning you that they're random." I'm working on a couple of other random ones.

Like what?
Like Adam Duritz talking about the economy.

Does he do anything besides having ridiculous hair?
In my mind, he talks about the economy a lot.

Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic