It’s been a turbulent year for the critically-acclaimed NBC sitcom Community, but cast member Danny Pudi is taking it in stride. The cast and crew are currently several episodes deep into filming the fourth season, which was just delayed indefinitely by NBC, and I recently had a chance to talk to Pudi about the new season, his new gig as a spokesman for Speed Stick, why Prince would be his ideal Community guest star, and the time he met Master P while dressed up as Jamie Lee Curtis from True Lies. Our chat took place before this week’s news about Community’s hiatus, so that’s why that didn’t come up.
So how’s season four been going so far?
It’s been going really well. It’s different. That’s kind of the new thing. I’ve never had to deal with Community on an emotional level like this. [Laughs] Behind the scenes and on camera. So that’s been kind of a new challenge. There’s been a lot of changes, and I think we’ve been dealing with that, and [are] still kind of dealing with it. But overall, I think more than anything, we’re just really excited to be back.
Has the show stayed the same on the whole - with all the changes?
No, but our show hasn’t really ever been the same. I think the spirit of our show has remained the same, so that’s good. But in terms of the show being a little different, yeah, I think it has been a little bit different. And I think in some ways it has to be, because it is different. I’m thankful for Dan Harmon and everything he’s given us. So it’s still sad for me to see him go, but in the meantime we have new writers and we have to still continue making this show. So it’s been good. It’s been a little different. I think we’re still figuring out the new direction that the show’s going in. But, for us actors, we don’t really get to see what’s going on in the writers’ room or on that side of the show. So for us, we’re excited to be back in the study room and working on an Inspector Spacetime Convention or Halloween episodes, which has been fun the first few weeks.
Is there anything from the show that you wanted to return to for your character?
We just did an episode which was the Inspector Spacetime Convention where we had Matt Lucas and Tricia Helfer on, and that, for me, was pretty exciting, in many ways. Not just for Danny Pudi, but for Danny Pudi as Abed Nadir. Just to be able to see all these things come together in one place. I was really excited about that. In terms of where the character goes, towards the end of season three, it got a little dark. And I was really excited and thankful that we got to go explore the Dreamatorium, within Abed’s mind. But I was also eager to get back to Abed and his relationship with the study group and just kind of see what other adventures they can go on. And so far, we’ve been on a few adventures, which has been really exciting, already in season four. [I’m] also excited to see what else is going on in the study group. We get to meet Jeff’s dad this season, which I’m really looking forward to.
So have you had episodes with Jeff’s dad yet?
We just did. We actually just did last week. And I didn’t get to meet him, and I wasn’t there on set, because that was all a separate storyline, but I heard it was really, really great, and I’m excited. It’s kind of one of those storylines that I think a lot of fans have been waiting for, for a long time, to get a peak into Jeff Winger, the man, and his ability to give us these famous Winger speeches at any moment. Where does that come from? So you get a little taste of that.
Yeah, it seems like Jeff’s relationship with his father is something the show’s been building to since the start.
Yeah. I think most of our characters have really interesting relationships with our fathers. I think you saw my relationship with my dad in season one, episode three. That was pretty strange too. “Falafel is a fallback” is the thing my dad told me about. [Laughs] You know? But more, I think what’s really happened - what’s taking shape - is that the study group has become each other’s family. And so you see that. You really get to see that early on in season four, how much that means to the group when they start realizing that if they graduate, will they see each other, what’s that going to be like?
But it does seem like the show is kind of positioned for the characters to continue knowing each other after graduation?
Definitely. Yeah. I think they’ve realized that now they’re… this is the family, and whether you like it or not, you don’t get to choose. You’re stuck with each other. But it’s been cool. I’ve been working on that, and the Speed Stick campaign for highlighting uncomfortable, awkward moments, with men, is going live. We did a video based on the winning story, which is a gentleman told us about shrinking his girlfriend’s clothes, and how he handled it and how he managed to get his girlfriend not to punch him. That video goes live today on YouTube.com/speedstick. And that was really fun for me too, because going through all the awkward moments I’ve been through, most recently, of course, and also through my whole life, it was encouraging to see that I’m not the only one going through them.
How did that campaign come about?
I think they were looking for someone who was comfortable with awkward moments, and somehow my name was mentioned [Laughs]. And, so a couple of months ago, we asked guys to send us their stories on Twitter at Speed Stick, and it was really fun to see the response and see how many people had really strange encounters, you know? A guy told us about going on a date, and the girlfriend showed up with her parents. Another person told us about being on the beach and hitting a woman in the head with a Frisbee, and he had to blame it on a little kid next to him. So those kind of things happen, and I think that Speed Stick knew that a lot of my life, you know my last name is Pudi… I go through a lot of uncomfortable moments all the time. I’ve told them about last season we were shooting Community - I don’t know if you remember - there was an episode where I play Jamie Lee Curtis in True Lies. And I was dressed in drag in that episode, and my mother-in-law came to visit the set that day, so I had to talk to her, as I was dressed as Jamie Lee Curtis in bright red lipstick, and people told me many times that I make a really ugly woman. So it was difficult for us to have a normal conversation, so we talked about shoes and how uncomfortable women’s shoes are and that’s how I chose to handle that. Coincidentally, that was also the week I met Master P, the rapper. So I think Speed Stick realized that maybe I was the perfect one to talk about awkward moments.
Were you dressed up as Jamie Lee Curtis when you met Master P?
Oh I was. I completely was. [Laughs] And I just chose to drop my voice as low as it could get when I said, “Hey I’m a big fan.”
What was his reaction like to seeing you in that get-up?
He didn’t say much. You know, I think he was internalizing his reaction. Ken Jeong actually introduced me to him. I guess they’d worked together previously. Umm. [Laughs] So I just made sure to tell him that I’m an actor on a comedy show, just so he knew what the purpose was.
Yeah, he didn’t think that was your regular outfit.
Yeah, I don’t know. Again, it wasn’t how I envisioned meeting Master P, but I guess it’s typical to my life.
So are there as many theme episode coming up this year on Community? I feel like the past two years had a lot of them.
Yeah, a little bit. You know, we do have a caper coming up in an episode, where there’s sort of a breaking-out caper. I can’t really go too much into it. But beyond that, we have - we talk about the Hunger Games in the first episode back, in the premiere. So there’s still some of that typical Community spirit. I think online, some of the pictures of - you can see some of the pictures of Dean Pelton and Jeff Winger, that have just come out, with unicorns and shirtless men. So that should give you an idea of what we’ve been up to.
Do you have a dream guest star that you’d like to see on the show?
Oh man. I don’t even know anymore. This year I’ve already got to work with Malcolm McDowell, Matt Lucas, who was incredible. I had Tricia Helfer. I don’t know, I’m pretty speechless. II would love to have like Simon Pegg or Nick Frost on our show. I think that’d be really interesting. I’m such a fan of Shawn of the Dead and Hot Fuzz and I just think that they’d fit into our world pretty great. I know Gillian’s mentioned Amy Sedaris, who I also think would be really, really fun on our show. But beyond that, maybe Prince? I don’t know. I don’t know if Prince would ever do our show, but I just think he’d be really fun on our show.
Yeah, I don’t know if he does sitcoms.
[Laughs] I don’t think he does, but you know, if you want to put in a call, maybe this is the one. I tell people Community is a sitcom that you should consider not a sitcom.
Yeah, he’s got to start somewhere, if he’s going to transition.
Start big, baby. Start at Community! I’d love to see Chevy with Prince in some kind of scene. I think that’d be really interesting.
Yeah, that’d be great. So are there other comedic actors that you look to or sitcoms from the past as a model for acting on Community?
Uh, I don’t know. I don’t know about acting in Community. But recently I’ve been going back and watching old Cheers episodes, and I think that show didn’t hit me at the right time when I was younger. I probably just didn’t get it, or I was probably too young for it, when it was really, really, really popular. But I really appreciate it now, looking back at some of those episodes and really love it. I think it’s really, really well executed. So that’s a show that I’ve been watching lately. Besides that, I think about Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace a lot. I don’t know if people have seen that, but it’s a BBC show that was short-lived, which I think was one of the funniest and most specific strange shows in a long time. So I think, in some ways Community kind of fits nicely in between those two: Cheers and Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
Yeah, and you guys had [Darkplace’s] Richard Ayoade direct an episode too.
Yeah, yeah, and that was one of my favorite experiences on the show. He’s really brilliant, and he directed a great movie called Submarine last year, which I don’t know if you’ve seen, but it was really, really cool. He’s just got a really sharp, comedic mind. So people might know him from The IT Crowd. He’s also in The Watch, that just came out. But, that was for me, a treat, just to work with him.
So what’s it been like working with the new bosses at Community?
So far, it’s kind of the way it’s always been. You know, we don’t have a lot of communication with the writers room, so I think there’s a split between the actors and the writers. The writers do their thing and then the actors show up on site with a script and we go for it, you know? They made an effort to reach out to us right away, which I thought was really nice. A lot of the changes took place over the summer when we were gone. So there wasn’t a lot of us being able to meet in the study room on the set of Community and talk about what’s going on. There was no adjustment period. The first time I saw them was at ComicCon on a panel. So that was interesting. A different experience for all of us. We were unsure what’s going to happen - and we still are. We’re still kind of working through everything, trying to figure out the future of the show, but they’ve been good about coming to us and talking to us and making sure our voices are heard. So I think we all really appreciate that. You know, we’re five episodes in. I think we’re starting to kind of get into a nice little rhythm here on the set of Community, but I think we’re all definitely also very thankful for Dan Harmon and what he created, and we do miss him in some ways as well.
Do you still talk to Dan? Have you talked to him since–
You know, we’ve emailed and texted a few times back and forth, but I haven’t actually seen him in person. I know a lot of the other cast has. I was gone most of the summer, and I was traveling. And in addition, my wife, we just had twins. So I haven’t seen anybody really in a long time [Laughs]. I’ve been at home or at work, so it’s been a lot to take at one time in my life, but more than anything, I’m just really thankful to the fans for their support because I think without their support, I don’t know if we’d be back for a fourth season.
How was Comic-Con this year?
It was great. I was only there literally for the morning and the panel, and then I had to - I took a train back, which was pretty exciting, actually. I’d never taken the train from San Diego to Las Angeles. That was cool. But I think a lot of us were worried or at least a little scared about what the reaction was gonna be like. We were in the biggest ballroom this year, at Comic-Con, which we’d never had, that ballroom. And with the changes to the show, we weren’t sure how the fans were going to react. And they embraced the show. It was really great to hear their reaction, and, more than anything, to see that they’re still there. They’re supporting us and they want Community to go… to keep moving, you know? And so, I think all of us were relieved, I think, more than anything. I think each year we’ve gone to ComicCon, what it does, more than anything, is that it excites us to get even crazier the next season.
That’s awesome. Do fans yell certain phrases at you on the street?
All the time. All the time. I mean, “Cool Cool Cool” all the time. People sing “Troy and Abed in the Morning” all the time in different ways. [Singing:] Troy and Abed in the Morning! I’ve been at an airport when a guy’s whispered the “La Biblioteca” rap to me in my ear. I’ve seen people with Evil Abed goatees on their pets. The fan support is really incredible and remarkable, so we definitely see it.