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John Gemberling Talks Playing a Man-Baby on Broad City and Being a Man-Baby in Real Life

Photo: Rachel Murray/Getty Images

On Broad City, John Gemberling plays Matthew Bevers, better known simply as Bevers, the worst roommate ever. He isn’t even technically Abbi’s roommate, but a hanger-on — the boyfriend of her actual roommate, who is never in the country. Bevers is a character you only wish to exist on television: He rummages through Abbi’s food, tosses her Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons, and masturbates on the couch to The Good Wife. He is a nightmare roommate. Vulture called up the actor who plays Bevers, John Gemberling, at his home in the Valley in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and two kids. The conversation threaded between the performative and the surreal, as Gemberling told me about masturbating to Showgirls in a friend’s den and the time he duct-taped a refrigerator door shut because the food was rotting inside.

It looked like you were having a lot of fun in the second episode this season, “Mochalatta Chills,” where Bevers joins Abbi’s gym, Soulstice.
I had a great time shooting the episode. I don’t generally exercise that much. I exercised a great deal in my life — at times. In periods. But at the time of that episode, I had not exercised a lot. So even the small amount you see me doing was somewhat difficult for me. Also they had like one of those ab-roller things just lying around, and people were trying it. I tried it, and it really fucked up my abs. It felt like I had been stabbed. But then my abs did look good later that day, just for like an hour.

It was basically all the exercising in one day, and by the end of that day, I was exhausted and sore and partially injured. But then another day I got to just drink those coffee milkshakes all day, which was nice.

So you got to experience both extremes.
I had both ends. And I’m proud to say, and the girls have assured me, that the fart in the episode was real. They kept the natural sound of what I really did in that moment. It was not an improvised fart. It was written into the script that Bevers farts, but I did have one chambered, and I did use it in that moment.

You had it locked and loaded. That’s dedication.
Yeah. I saved them money on sound effects, so I’m proud of myself.

The couch sore you had was epically disgusting.
It was. They had to do a couple versions of it. Sarah Egan, the makeup woman, did it, and it sort of looked like “realistically” what it would look like, but they saw it and were like, “No, we need a deeper red, we need it bigger, and we need it going into his ass crack.” I like stuff like that. I like gross-out stuff, but not gratuitous. When it’s contextual, and when it’s called for, I like for it to be as disgusting as possible.

The cultural critic Evan Kindley wrote that your character is the embodiment of the man-baby. With Bevers, we’ve moved away from the man-child to the man-baby.
It’s funny, I used to do a character that was just a baby — just an adult baby. I would get up onstage and complain about adult stuff, but as a baby. I was in a diaper, and I would require hugs from the audience and reassurance and stuff.

I mean, I feel like a baby. My mom always treated me like a baby, would snuggle me. We would play this thing called Bed Babies. I would run into the bedroom and jump into the bed and she would chase me, and if I got under the covers before she got there, then I won. This is like, well into my teens — 17-year-old friends would be over, we’d be chatting in the kitchen, and I would just take off into the bedroom, and my mom would have to chase me. I’ve cultivated the idea of being a baby.

Abbi and Ilana have both talked about how their characters are built on their younger selves. Do you feel the same way about yours?
Yeah. In my 20s, I lived with my old comedy partner, Curtis Gwinn. We lived together, and we did comedy together, and we spent a lot of time on the couch watching shitty movies, playing video games, and ordering food and just gaining huge amounts of weight. Then we’d join the gym across the street and go for three months and really dedicate ourselves and lose weight, but then something would derail us and we would go back to ordering Domino’s. They used to have a coupon for a medium pizza with ten wings or chicken kickers for $12.99. I don’t even know if that’s a good deal or not. But we would each get that, and split a two-liter bottle of Coke. Several times in a week, we would invoke that deal. And it was disgusting. You would feel horrible afterwards, but it’s definitely a fulfilling lifestyle if you can swing it for as long as you can swing it. Which is what a lot of my 20s [was like].

Some people are really disgusted by Bevers.
Yeah, it’s funny, I read stuff about the character and people are like, “This is the worst character. I’d hate to live with this this awful, disgusting, rude person.” But when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I’m being rude, I just feel like I’m being willfully naughty. I just feel like a scamp. I know that what I’m doing is annoying, but it’s not really that big of a deal, and it’s easy not to deal with Abbi’s pleas for me to leave. The habits of Bevers are rooted in my younger self, but his scampish, impish behavior is something I still do. People still get annoyed at me, and I like to just brush it off and pretend like it doesn’t matter so I can act however I want. And that’s not mature. But you only live once.

Of the things that Bevers has done, what do you feel like is the most egregious?
I mean, I can’t fathom how he would walk out of the room completely naked to drink milk. I guess that’s something I might have done. I wouldn’t have done it in front of a girl, though. I definitely have done that in front of men, but to get a rise out of them.

There was that time Bevers was jerking off on the couch to The Good Wife.
Most people would think jerking off on the couch is crazy, but you’ve got to do it. My wife, who was my girlfriend at the time, has caught me jerking off a couple of times. As a teenager, I was at a friend’s house in the TV room and people were around. He was in the kitchen. His mother and sisters were in the next room over, but Showgirls was on the TV, and they were doing the sex scene in the pool with Kyle MacLachlan or somebody. I was 16. I had to do it. I didn’t feel I had a choice in that moment. And I did not get caught. I very easily could have.

Getting caught is always a risk.
I definitely hot-dogged with it. I took risks. I used to be in a ska band, and I did it while we were in the van driving to the show. And nobody caught me; nobody saw me. It was nighttime. Something about that danger zone is thrilling.

Do you have any terrible roommate experiences?
I mean, my only roommate experience was when I lived with Curtis and his brother for many years. It was sort of like The Young Ones a little bit. We never washed the dishes, and Curtis’s brother would always scream at us to wash the dishes. And one day, he just threw them away. [Laughs.] He just angrily went into the kitchen and he just had a big garbage bag and he was like, “I’m going to throw these away.” And we were like, “Okay. That sounds good.” And he threw away all the dishes and all the silverware that was in the sink, and we just started over.

Once the power went out and the refrigerator stopped working, and we didn’t clean it. And at a certain point, you couldn’t open it because it was too rotten, so we just duct-taped it shut. Then we got the landlord to get a new refrigerator, so these guys had to come take it away, and they couldn’t get it through the door with the refrigerator door on it, and they had to open it and they were like, “We’re not fucking taking this. You guys have to clean this shit, and then we’ll come back and take it.” So we had to go to the hardware store and get painter’s gas masks or whatever and bleach the inside of this highly sporous, stinking, black-mold fridge. So I lived it, brother.

You did UCB along with Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, the creators of the show. Does that sensibility inform the set?
UCB is where we met and got training in improv and comedy and all that, but I don’t think you can credit the girls enough with what they bring. It’s their spirit more than anything: the naturalism, fun, and comfort they bring. The whole production is invested with their free spirit. I think the whole thing works because of that more than anything else. I’m there a week or so a season, so maybe it all gets dark at the bitter end or something, but it seems like everybody’s having fun and is just excited to be making something that everybody thinks is good.

Why do you think people connect with the show so much?
We have a lot of trouble in this culture figuring out how we feel about sexuality and drugs — these picky cultural hang-ups that are exhausting. And it’s all stuff that is only ever someone’s personal choice. It never has anything to do with anyone’s life, and I think it’s refreshing to see characters that are beyond this cultural squabble. There’s a lot of comedies where they get a lot of capital out of being shocked by stuff, like: “Whoa? That’s what you said?” Or: “That’s what you did in the bedroom?” And it’s sort of like, Yeah, that’s what people do. It feels more real because most people don’t care. It’s part of everybody’s lives in one way or another: You have to reconcile with your own sexual proclivities. And I think it paints a world that feels nice in the sense that this stuff is not a big deal. The world could benefit from being a little more like Abbi and Ilana in that way.

Broad City’s John Gemberling on Being a Man-Baby