I met Neil Flynn when I was on The Middle a couple months ago. I had a scene with him and Atticus Shaffer and he couldn’t have been nicer. It was great to watch Neil do a scene. Each time he did something different and it was a blast to be able to act with him.
Coming from an improv background, what are your thoughts on this new form of comedy in television, based on the awkward situation. In The Office or Parks and Recreation, the actor’s reactions or awkward silences are sometimes funnier than the lines themselves. Does that ever seem like cheating for an improv actor?
No, I don’t think so. I like it. It did not really occur to me that it was based on awkward or discomfort until I read it somewhere and I agree with that. I guess that is true. I don’t classify it as comedy based on awkwardness or anything. It’s just a particular sense of humor. I like it though.
I read that a lot of your lines on Scrubs were improvised and at one point, the writers just started typing “Whatever Neil says” on the script next to your character’s name. Is that accurate?
That happened just twice I think. Knowing that the scene was open-ended and being on the show as long as we had, they knew that we’d be able to come up with something on the set. Especially scenes I had with Zach Braff. Very early on, we were comfortable altering the dialogue a little bit. Bill Lawrence, the creator, was all for it. He joked that if it was funnier, he’d get the credit.
And Scrubs was famously supposed to end after its eighth season before ABC decided to order another season. Did the entire cast have the option of coming back or did producers know that they wanted to take it in a new direction immediately?
Well, they would have had everyone back if everyone was available. We aired a series finale so the show was done. No one was under contract or anything and so a few of us headed out and tried to get our next jobs. It turned out that ABC was going to do more with Scrubs so there’s no hard feelings of any kind either way. It just so happened that I got a different job so they asked me to do the first episode of Scrubs [this season] to explain why my character would no longer be there. But they tell me that they’re keeping a spot open for me should I ever feel like coming back and I’d love to.
Do you get as much room to improvise on The Middle?
No, it’s a different set-up. On Scrubs, I played a very unusual character who pretty much was defined by saying and doing strange things so it was easy to improvise around that. This is much more of a based-in-reality show. It’s just a different kind of comedy that does not really call for improvisation. The comedy is a little cleaner and it is intended for families to be able to watch together. While The Middle is still funny for adults to watch, there aren’t sex jokes. And I’m fine with that. I like the idea that my nieces and nephews can watch it without their parents.