Rob Riggle Talks About Improv, the Internet and His Upcoming Projects

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Rob Riggle is a busy guy. The onetime Daily Show correspondent and SNL castmember has already built up a seriously impressive comedic resume, appearing in movies such as The Hangover, The Other Guys and Stepbrothers and shows such as 30 Rock, Arrested Development and The Office. And he’s showing no signs of slowing down; he stars in a new CBS pilot produced by Mark Wahlberg, has a part in both Tom Hanks’ upcoming Larry Crowne and Matt Walsh’s High Road, and appears as the President of the Navy in Paul Scheer’s upcoming NTSF:SD:SUV. I talked to him about everything he’s got going on, how he stays in touch with his improv roots and the exploding number of web comedy videos being produced.

You’ve got a lot of cool stuff in the pipeline, I just want to talk to you a bit about what you’ve got going on. Let’s talk about Home Game, the pilot you’ve got going on for CBS.

Yeah, well we shot it last month and it was a blast. It’s a pilot for CBS, Mark Wahlberg is producing it. We have a great cast, Constance Zimmer, who you might know as Dana Gordon from Entourage, and Ken Marino and Affion Crockett. When we shot it it went great. And now we just have to wait and see. [Laughs] As is the life when you make a pilot. You make it and then you’re cautious but optimistic.

So what’s the feel of the show? Is it a single-cam show or multi-cam, or what?

It’s a traditional multi-cam show, shot in front of a live studio audience. Which is really fun, I always liked that a lot because you get the instant feedback from the audience and it’s like doing a play, because you’re doing it live in front of the audience. Well, I mean, it’s taped, but you’re still doing it live in front of the audience. I like that aspect of it a lot. But it is a traditional multi-cam sitcom and it was a blast to do. We’ll see what happens.

So when you’re doing it in front of an audience like that, do you have an opportunity to improvise and change things up based on the audience’s reaction as you’re taping it, or do you stick pretty close to the script?

Yeah, I stay pretty close to the script. That’s not to say, though, that if something happens you don’t seize it. You definitely want to jump on the opportunity. But you know, what usually happens is that you do as scripted, and then the producers and the writers come over and you kind of chat. And you say, Hey, what if I tried this. Or they say, Hey, why don’t you try this. And you kind of work out some details and you’re like, Yeah, yeah, let’s do it again but this time I’m going to do this. And then you try something different, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s always fun.

Cool. It sounds like the polar opposite process from how you just shot High Road, Matt Walsh’s movie.

Yeah, I loved doing that. But I’ve been lucky enough to work on a lot of movies where the directors come from an improv world, or came up trained in improv and stuff. So they have an appreciation for letting people do their thing. But yeah, High Road, that was a blast. That was Matt Walsh, who was actually one of my improv teachers at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theater. He directed it and it was great. It was great to play like that.

So what was the process like? Did you just start with an outline and rehearse via improv before shooting?

Yeah, you pretty much show up, and you know who your character is so that’s the one thing that you do kind of stress, that you know your character. That way you know how your character would respond to almost anything that’s thrown at them. So you show up and Matt says, In this scene you’re trying to get this information out of this guy, and action. And then it’s up to you, you know. And Matt’s really smart, he got some really talented comedians and people who understand how to improvise, because there is an art to it. It’s not just getting out there and saying something funny, because if you do that you leave people hanging. You have to learn how to play with each other. And that’s a skill, so he got people who would know how to play well together.

So it’s a comedy, and there are so many great comedians in it, but in the trailer it looks like it’s got a pretty dark streak to it. Can you talk a bit about what the overall plot of the movie is?

Well the movie is kind of a road trip, if you will. It’s a story of people escaping where they are and at the same time discovering who they are. I play the dad of one of the young guys who runs away from home with this pot dealer. And I assume that he’s been kidnapped because surely my son would never leave of his free will. So I grab Joe Lo Truglio, who is a great comedian and actor, and he and I set off and start chasing them, trying to get my son back.

And it just premiered or is premiering soon at a film festival. Is there any word on when that will get a wider release, or are they shopping it around now?

I don’t know what they’re release plan is. I know it just premiered at the Newport Beach Film Festival last weekend. Unfortunately I was unable to be there because I was down in New Orleans shooting another movie. So I wasn’t at the premiere, but I heard it went well. People liked it.

That’s great. So you’re also in Larry Crowne, which is Tom Hanks’ new movie this summer, right?

That’s right, Larry Crowne, which is coming out July 1st. I have a small part in that, but still I got to do scenes and act with Tom Hanks. And that was the thrill of a lifetime, so it was all worth it.

And I was talking to Adam Pally a couple weeks ago and he said he was writing a part for you in Paul Scheer’s new show, NTSF:SD:SUV.

Yeah! That’s going to be an awesome show. That’s so much fun. On Adult Swim. Yeah, NTSF:SD:SUV. National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle.

Rolls right off the tongue. And you play the president of the Navy?

[Laughs] Yes, president of the Navy. And it’s a ridiculous as it sounds. Because clearly there is no such person as president of the Navy, except in our world. And Paul Scheer and I have been doing comedy together. We started together at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade in ‘97 or ‘98. We were students together at the UCB, and we were on the same improv troupe for seven years. So we have a great history, and I took him to Iraq with me when I went and did that USO tour. I’ve appeared on his show, Human Giant. And even tonight, we’re going to be doing an improv show at the UCB here in Los Angeles.

Oh, that’s great.

Yeah, we still love to get together and do improv. And it’s his show, so it’ll be a lot of fun.

Your team, Respecto was really amazing. It’s crazy how many of you guys went off to do amazing things, and it’s cool that you still get to work together so often on various things. You, Paul Scheer, Rob Heubel and Jack MacBreyer were all on that team together.

Yeah! And the show we started back in New York called Facebook, we’re doing Facebook tonight out in Los Angeles.

Oh, that’s awesome.

Yeah, the only reason anybody misses is if they’re out of town. But if you’re in town, you go and it’s a blast. And you know what it’s like to improvise, it’s a blast and you do it because you love it.

Yeah, it’s got to be a nice thing to always be able to go back, in between doing all these other things, to kind of like a home base of sorts.

Yeah, I mean, it’s just hanging out with your friends. These are guys I’ve been doing comedy with for 13, 14 years. And you know, that’s a gift. And they’re awesome. And any chance you get to get up onstage and play with them, it’s just the best. Because at this point now we’re just trying to crack each other up.

Right, yeah.

And it’s awesome, it’s just so much fun. And I’m also doing this Axe Dirtcathlon thing, which I don’t know if we talked about. Axe is doing a relaunch of their whole brand, so they came up with this idea to do a webseries. And the idea is this Axe Dirtcathlon, where it’s kind of like a reality show meets a game show. And they got four hot young couples to get together, and myself and Owen Benjamin co-host it. And we run these four couples through this gauntlet of challenges. And if they win the challenges, one of the couples is going to get to go to Spain and be part of that tomato festival where they pelt each other with tomatoes.

That’s cool. It seems like with web comedy stuff it’s moving towards this model of branded content that I see a lot more of. Be it Funny or Die, or CollegeHumor, or stuff like this. It seems like this is how a lot of this comedy is getting made on the internet, and it’s interesting.

Right. I agree. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yeah, not really a question, sorry.

No, but you’re right. There is a new vehicle out there, and it is, for lack of a better term, the wave of the future. I’ve done a couple different internet type commercials, or promotions, and people respond really well to them. People like them, and they enjoy them. And it’s a great way to get the word out, and also just from the comedic point of view, places like CollegeHumor and Funny or Die, it’s awesome. Because, you know what it’s like, you’re an improvisor as well. You sit around with your buddies in the green room and you’re like, You know what would be really funny is if they did this. Well, now you can actually go do that.

[Laughs] Right.

You know, you don’t have to make a feature film out of it. You can go do a five minute funny bit, and there it is and it’s done. It’s out there for people to see and it gets exposure. It’s definitely a good thing.