Paul W. Downs is having quite a moment — not only does the comedian play Abbi’s boss and now love interest Trey on Broad City (for which he’s also a writer, along with longtime girlfriend-slash-writing-partner Lucia Aniello), he was also just featured on Netflix’s The Characters. We caught up with Downs to talk about Trey and Abbi’s surprising compatibility, putting funny first, and kissing babies.
Was the intention always to have Abbi and Trey become an item?
No, I don’t think any of us envisioned that. Their relationship just kind of evolved, and this season in particular we’ve been able to evolve the world [of Broad City], to expand the world around Abbi and Ilana. As far as Trey, he’s always cared for Abbi. He just doesn’t realize that he can be annoying, but his intentions are always good. I think this is kind of a natural evolution.
What are some ways your character has evolved that have surprised you?
A lot of people know a Trey. He’s this relentlessly enthusiastic, upbeat trainer and, you know, if you go to a gym, if you go to an Equinox or something, that person exists. And like I said, he’s a well-intentioned, good guy, but he’s sort of been a vehicle for jokes, and it’s really exciting to go deeper with him. It’s been really cool actually. A lot of shows will have a character fill an archetype and stick to that, and one of the things I’ve been really excited about, that Broad City’s been able to do, has been to take someone who’s been a source for jokes, and a source of angst for Abbi, and made him into someone who the audience sympathizes with and actually likes.
He’s become a very sweet character. Lincoln sort of had that arc too.
Yeah, as the writers have gotten to live with these characters now for three seasons, we’ve gotten to expand their voices.
Do you think that because you end up writing for yourself sometimes—
What’s interesting is that most of the episodes I’m in, Abbi and Ilana have written those episodes. I typically don’t write the episodes Trey is in. The one exception is last week’s episode, “B&B-NYC.”
That was a pretty significant Trey episode.
Jen Statsky had written the episode this year when Trey and Abbi have sort of an accidental kiss, and it just felt like Abbi and Trey bizarrely make sense together. We wanted to explore that and be truthful to the characters, and Abbi isn’t the kind of person who would jump into a relationship with this guy, because on paper they’re very different at first glance. So we wanted to, in exploring their relationship and having it grow, do it in a way where it wasn’t too immediate. We wanted it to have a natural and organic growth. The episode last week, the one Lucia and I wrote, was like the stepping stone between where Abbi got to spend some time with Trey solo, and got to see him outside the gym and get to know him a little bit better. And actually, weirdly, Abbi’s sense of humor and her personality line up with Trey’s in a way she never could have imagined.
Who’s your favorite non-Trey character to write?
Well, obviously it’s most fun to write Abbi and Ilana. Lucia and I in particular have such an understanding, because they are our close friends and we’ve been creative collaborators with them for so long now, it feels like second nature to write in their voice. But besides them, Susie Essman is so fun to write for. She’s somebody I’ve been a fan of forever, and getting the chance to not only work with her onscreen but also to write for her — last year we wrote the “Knockoffs” episode that she was introduced in — has been such an honor and a pleasure.
She’s totally hilarious. I would watch an entire show just about her and Bob Balaban.
We need a spin-off. They are so funny and so good and so natural together. That casting — every once in a while you get perfect casting, and they’re really so great.
Have you been surprised by the cultural phenomenon that Broad City’s become?
All of us have been surprised, and so happy, that that’s been the reception of the show. Our aim is always to do the funniest thing first. We just want to be funny. And if that has had some cultural significance as well, because of the way in which we present things that are funniest to us, that’s just icing on the cake. It’s obviously something we’re happy has happened but it’s not something we ever aimed to do.
Is there anything you’re excited about in an upcoming episode?
I will say that obviously Abbi and Ilana this season have some real moments of — I’m trying to figure out how to put this. The girls have growing pains, and as they are forced to grow up in their twenties, they experience some of the repercussions of their actions. One thing that’s really fun is that they take a little break to try and escape their problems a bit. So the journey they go on in the next couple of episodes — we’re kind of becoming more serialized, and the next few episodes, the girls trying to escape the city presents all kinds of other problems.
I just watched your episode of Netflix’s The Characters last night and, uh, did you really make out with John Lutz and Sue Galloway’s baby?
Well, that wasn’t John and Sue’s actual baby … but I did make out with that baby. That baby was cast, and if you watch her face, that baby is an incredible actress.
What else are you working on right now? Where else can the readers look forward to seeing you?
I make a brief appearance on [Amy] Schumer’s show this year, and Ilana and I, with Lucia, wrote and shot a mini-series for Comedy Central called Time Traveling Bong, which, like the title suggests, is about a bong that takes you through time. Ilana and I play identical cousins, and when our bong is broken, instead of going home we find ourselves bouncing around the space-time continuum and kind of blazing through time. It’s gonna be fun. I don’t know if anyone’s ever done a 4/20 special before.