The writers of The Mindy Project discovered early on that they could easily walk from their offices on the Universal lot into the adjacent Universal Studios theme park without anyone noticing or asking for their ticket. But when actor-writer Ike Barinholtz, who plays nurse Morgan on the Fox comedy, recently escorted me over for a free spin on Jurassic Park: The Ride, there was a security guard milling around on his secret way in, as well as signs on the gates that warned of alarms. “Hmmm, this is a new development,” Barinholtz said, and then helpfully dictated an intro to my story in advance in case things went awry: “Ten thousand volts of electricity course through my body as the chubby security guard from Universal holds me down on the ground. I watch Ike Barinholtz run away in the distance. ‘Sorry, Denise!’” Fortunately, the guard went away and we were able to enter the park Taser-free and make for the dinosaurs. (“Aaaand we’re in!” he said, hopping the ropes on his way to the front of the line.) What follows is a list of things you learn when playing hooky with the 36-year-old Chicago native, previously a regular on MADtv (alongside Key and Peele’s Michael Keegan Key and Jordan Peele), and perhaps best known as Kenny Powers’s rival Ivan Dochenko in the third season of Eastbound & Down:
1. He is also a writer on The Mindy Project, and as such is more or less required to have a favorite rom-com. His is True Romance. He still hasn’t seen You’ve Got Mail. “Mindy knows,” Barinholtz says, faintly guilty. “She’s mentioned that I should watch it.”
2. Kaling wrote the role of Morgan, the practice’s well-meaning con turned nurse, especially for Barinholtz, and he’ll always be grateful because auditions are the worst. He explains: “Here’s how testing works. You spent three days with a bunch of dudes who kind of look like you, and usually you know them and you’re friends with them, and most of you are going to go home and not get the job, and then you get heartburn or diarrhea.”
4. He had to live with his awkward Eastbound shaved-sides hairdo for longer than his wife would have liked. “Nauseated might be the right word for her here,” Barinholtz said. The look was based on a photo Danny McBride brought in. “It was probably of a Czechoslovakian student from 1987,” he says. “Like, if a mullet walked into a barber shop and said, ‘Give me a haircut,’ this is the haircut it would get.”
5. He was up against Russian bodybuilders for the part of Eastbound’s Ivan. “It was, like, literally extras from Eastern Promises,” he said. It wasn’t until he and Danny began improvising a curse-filled pissing match (like this one) that he got the job. (Originally, he was called in for the role of the catcher, but that part was filled by Jason Sudeikis before Barinholtz got to audition.)
6. He likes to serve as tour guide for the Jurassic Park ride, which he has been on more than a few times. It’s a slow-moving tour on a boat that courses through the jungles of the park where dinosaurs are peacefully grazing. “There’s a plantosaurus,” Barinholtz whispers to our row of passengers. When a dino lifts its head from the water, he cries, “Oh no! We’re going to get sprayed!” When signs of wreckage begin showing up on the tour — wrecked electric fences and an abandoned tour raft — he pretends to be a voice of calm. “It’s so weird that there aren’t any workers around. But, you know, I’m sure those sparking electric wires are fine.” But when the boat makes its 85-foot plunge, he just screams.
7. Barinholtz even said he’d try to accommodate the two girls sitting next to us, who had asked at the start of the ride if we could be the Y and the M in their YMCA pose for the photo op before the big drop. Here’s his best effort:
8. The writers have also sneaked on to Transformers: The Ride 3-D. Barinholtz gives it an A-plus even if he was raised a G.I. Joe kid. “With The Transformers, it was always like, ‘So, the endgame here is a car?’ I’m not a car guy.”
9. Before he got hired on to MADtv, he once auditioned to play sandwich filling in a Quiznos commercial. “The director was explaining the concept to me like he was explaining fucking Avatar,” Barinholtz says. “He’s like, ‘Hey man, here’s the deal: Quiznos oven-toasts their subs and you’re an onion on a sandwich, so when I say, ‘Action!’ that’s when the lights are burning you. Do whatever that means to you.’ It means I want to kill myself is what it means. Didn’t get it.”
10. Also before MADtv, Barinholtz bussed tables at Los Angeles steak house Arnie Morton’s. “See, old people chew their food and they can’t digest it, so they spit it into their napkins,” he says. “I remember we’d open at 5:30 p.m., and at 5:31 p.m., oh my God. They’d split one steak, one salad, a potato, and then tip mathematically. Exactly 14 percent. It wasn’t the best.”
11. Originally, he wanted to be a politician but was derailed by pot, among other things. “I never smoked marijuana in high school because I wanted to be president and I’d remember Bill Clinton had a hell of a time saying that he didn’t inhale,” Barinholtz says. He had a change of heart when he began attending Boston University. “I was disaffected in college, and I started smoking pot, and it was like, ‘Oh, God. I love pot. It’s great.’ Pot and responsibility don’t really go hand in hand, and I didn’t like the classes I was taking … I got kicked out/dropped out. Mutual agreement.”
12. It was when he attended ImprovOlympic’s fifteenth anniversary show — which featured Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Tim Meadows — that he decided to pursue comedy as a career. “I laughed for, like, three days after,” Barinholtz recalls. He came up through the showcase at the same time as 30 Rock’s John Lutz, who he says is “maybe the funniest, coolest dude ever … I would cast him in every single possible pilot because he is just so, so funny.” Barinholtz was also a member of Boom Chicago, the Amsterdam-based improv group, alongside Seth Meyers and his brother Josh.
13. Last October, he showed up to Adam Levine’s Halloween party dressed as Game of Thrones’ lady knight Brienne, complete with white-blonde wig and oversize armor. (His wife went as his prisoner, Jamie Lannister.) No one recognized them. “We walk up to Stephen Merchant. He goes, ‘Great costume … Uh, who are you?’ ‘Game of Thrones.’ ‘Which ones?’ He had no idea. The one person who knew who we were was dressed as Khaleesi, and she had no teeth.”
14. Sometimes for lunch (for instance, during our outing) he gets a Nutty Wutty from the Chunk ‘n’ Chip food truck. It’s an ice-cream sandwich made with peanut butter ice cream and two warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. It is delicious. Food trucks come to the Universal lot where The Mindy Project films regularly. One of Barinholtz’s favorites is the Flatiron truck, which serves steak and fries and fried cauliflower. “It’s brutal. We’re like coal miners,” he jokes.
15. TV Mindy’s ex-boyfriend Josh (Tommy Dewey), who fans immediately fell in love with but who ended up having another girlfriend on the side, was a happy accident who unfortunately happened too soon. “He was written as this small Jewish guy, no-big-deal part, but then Tommy comes in, all good-looking but loony and we go, ‘We have to have this guy.’ We loved writing for him,” Barinholtz says, comparing him to a sort of lovable Dennis Duffy. “He’s the guy you can be in the middle of a nice moment with and he’ll say, ‘Oh, Indianapolis has a jazz fest. Gross.’ Eventually we knew he had to go because Mindy can’t have a long-term boyfriend.”
16. Barinholtz and his writing partner David Stassen serve as the “writers on set,” which means they come up with material on the fly when a script needs massaging. Take Jamie (B.J. Novak) and Mindy’s date in “Harry & Sally.” Much of the dinner conversation was improvised, including the discussion about how men are obsessed with abdominal muscles.
Mindy: It’s like the headline of every men’s magazine is, like, how to make your abs great. But no girl has ever been, like, “I wish you had a flatter stomach," right?
Jamie: I should hope not.
Mindy: They’d be like, “I wish you made more money”; “I wish you would open up about your feelings.”
Jamie: You should be the editor of a men’s magazine
Mindy: Big Fat Slobs, I’d call it … Who Are Paid Well.
“None of the things they said were written,” Barinholtz says. “We would just yell out topics and the two of them would take a beat and then just launch into these tirades and monologues and little bits and runs about macrobiotic diets and recycling and Prince Harry.”
17. Kaling loves a lot of what Barinholtz pitches, except for the obscure baseball references. “Sometimes we’ll get really deep and she’ll go, ‘I don’t know the Cubs’ shortstop from 1983!’ My fans don’t know who Larry Bowa is, okay?”