Q&A: Alison Brie and Danny Pudi on ‘Community’, New Show Runners and the Dreamatorium

Alison on the Dreamatorium episode: "It really was an amazing acting exercise"

alison-brie-danny-pudi1Community stars Alison Brie and Danny Pudi are clearly great friends. In a recent conference call, the two were finishing each other sentences, making each other laugh and talking about how much they love working together. It was a fun conversation to be part of.

I love the show and am so happy it came back so another season. It’s been a bit hit and miss but I think the recent episodes show that it’s coming back to what it was when Dan Harmon was the head guy.

In this interview, the two talk about the current season, the new show-runner, working on the Dreamatorium episode and more!

Community airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC

I think all of us fans were concerned, or expected, when the new writers came on that the show might become – they might try to keep it more focused on the community college and make it more of a standard comedy.

And I think it’s exciting to see that they’re still as ambitious with the episodes as Dan was. Were you worried about that and were you relieved that the show keeps pushing things with the new episodes?

Alison Brie: Yes. I think, you know, if it’s a tough thing to learn that your show runner is not coming back to the show and (unintelligible) is such a big part of the show. So I think we were a little nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but that’s not really a new feeling, having worked on our show for four years now.

So I mean when we met the new guys they really stressed a lot how much they loved the show and wanted to keep it the same and some of our writers were still the same and so they have – so we all were certainly very vocal this season to sort of speak to what our characters would or wouldn’t do and the way things might go on the show and so we were all sort of working together to keep the show intact.

Danny Pudi: Yes I think, you know, Community itself, the show, is a very specific, I guess, different kind of (unintelligible) too, so for all of us, yes, I think there was a lot of fear that the show isn’t going to, I guess, maintain its level and also, you know, will people get it?

I think for us the one thing that, you know, we wanted to do and make sure that comes across this year is that our genuine love for the show comes across and I think you’ll see that with us this year. Still there is an extra level of responsibility we have to us as actors to really make sure that, you know, we’re still staying true to, you know, who these people are and the world around Greendale. But it’s definitely like you can’t replace Dan Harmon.

And I think he created something that’s pretty amazing and so and we’re – I’m forever thankful for that.


One of the highlights of Season 3 was the episode where Annie and Abed had their moment in the Dreamatorium.  How was that as actors and for your characters to perform?

Alison Brie: I loved shooting that episode.

Danny Pudi: Me too.

Alison Brie: Obviously Danny and I love each other. There’s no one I’d rather be locked in there with.

Danny Pudi: Agreed.

Alison Brie: But I also thought it was a really great way, you know, you don’t see a lot of people, obviously Troy and Abed are sort of a unit and Troy is kind of adventuring with Abed all of the time, but you don’t really get to see other people going into that world.

And so it was really kind of by having Annie go in there you got to let the whole audience go in there and really take this journey into Abed’s mind, which is a place we’re never really privy to.

So and it was kind of really special because I think Annie and Abed have distinct differences in their characters, but also have similarities in their, you know, lack of being able to relate to other people. And Annie has never really had a lot of friends. I think Abed has never had this many friends at one time. So in certain ways they’re similar sort of outcasts and it was fun to watch them get to know each other.

Danny Pudi: Yes I think it’s fun to see how, you know, they have to face both their, I guess, neurosis in terms of like they both love control. And I think that’s something that you get to really explore in that Dreamatorium, like what happens when someone else is like, “Well I get the Dreamatorium. I know how it works. Why can’t I just hold this clamp and (spammer) like this?”

That’s – and so – and also I mean just overall in acting I think one of the things that’s really special about that episode, which people don’t know about, is that we didn’t have a working script for the entire week and Dan Harmon would get us pages on the day as we went. And so for us it was really exciting because it was largely Alison, I and (Trisham Shapiro), our director, in the Dreamatorium piecing it all together and figuring out the episode on the…

Alison Brie: Yes and we’re playing each other’s characters and then we’d get pages right then and shoot it ten minutes later. So it really was an amazing acting exercise.

Danny Pudi: It really was and it was exciting.

Alison Brie: And it was fun to have, you know, Danny and I would do impressions of ourselves for each other so that we knew how to play each other. It was – that was a really fun thing to try to do.

Danny Pudi: Every five minutes or so I’d be like, “So wait a minute this is me as Abed playing Annie, or is this Annie as Abed.” It was great. I mean it was one of the episodes where, you know, only Dan could write it. But I think that’s…

Alison, where is Jeff and Annie’s relationship is right now? Where do you think they are and are we going to see more progression in that area?

Alison Brie: This season is sort of a fun season for Jeff and Annie fans because as usual their relationship doesn’t really progress. I think that the last episode showed a progression in terms of Annie’s maturity and their maturity sort of as friends in terms of her admitting that she sort of has a crush on Jeff.

And I think that Annie will always have a crush on Jeff and I don’t know that Jeff will ever be fully comfortable really getting together with Annie, or if that’s even, you know, it’s not as primary a focus on Jeff’s radar as it probably is on Annie’s and that’s fair.

So I think this season is sort of like them just acknowledging and kind of – and almost kind of moving past it in some ways to being good friends. But at the same time for fans there are some ways, without them actually getting really close, there will be some interesting things for fans later this season just between Joel and I, some certain, see I don’t know I’m trying not to tease too much, but like some certain things (unintelligible) in alternate reality.

Danny, do you think Abed has become more of a focal point for a lot of the stories as the show has gone on over the years and what do you think about that?

Danny Pudi: Yes I mean I do. I think it has in certain ways. I think there has been a, I don’t want to say a shift, but I think maybe starting, in Season 3 especially, started to dive deeper into Abed’s mind, which in some ways it’s been great because it allows us to go to these really interesting worlds. It’s a great way for us to go to an Inspector Spacetime convention or, you know, go into whatever it is, you know, a space bus, or going to any genre into the Dreamatorium, yes. I think we couldn’t – it would be hard to start our show that way because I think it would be difficult for people to grasp kind of what is going on. I think it’s a little easier on the palate when you don’t go into the Dreamatorium right away in our show, but it’s been fun to kind of go there.

Sometimes I wonder if, or I’m relieve when it’s not an Abed centric episode when we do, for instance, a documentary episode I’m excited that I’m behind the camera literally in the episode because it allows me a week to not have to memorize monologues from a movie that I haven’t seen.

Do you think this show is ahead of its time?

Alison Brie: I do think that it’s always been a very progressive show. Dan Harmon set this precedent of really pushing the boundaries of what could be on network television. And in that way I think that, you know, it’s a – it will take people some time to catch up with it because it’s a scary – you’re not – it’s something you’re not used to seeing. It’s a little bit of a scary thing. I – sometimes I wonder though, on the other hand, about how the show will age just because so many of our references are…

Danny Pudi: Now.

Alison Brie: Current. But at the same time, you know, the genius of the show is that it sort of weaves in all of those types of things. You know, later this season we have our Christmas episode, which is sort of homage to an Alfred Hitchcock movie, Rope. So it’s not like all of our references are completely current and in the moment. Some of the stuff it really spans genres and time periods and things like that.

So I’m coming back around and I do agree, but I think – I’ve always felt that it’s a show that is better the second time you watch it because there’s so much going on that you catch it again later and that’s how I always felt about Arrested Development. I could watch it again and again. I sort of caught up – I was a person who caught up with it late. I caught up with Freaks and Geeks late, so I hope that we can be a show like that. Certainly our fans are amazing right now, but there’s not that many of them. If we could reach more people later that would be even better.

Danny Pudi: Yes I think I am also going to start by saying I don’t know right now, but by the end of this answer I will know. I think it’s – first of all that’s a huge compliment for us. And Arrested Development is – I mean it’s my favorite comedy over the last 10 – 15 years. So I also came around to it late, watched it on DVD actually, and I was blown away by it.

And I think that is part of the reason why I was able to also buy into that show and its nature is because I was able to watch it in bunches and I heard about, it’s a word of mouth show, and then I was able to kind of go in being like, “I’m going to give this show a full chance. I’m going to watch all three seasons right now.”

And immediately I had a common language with a bunch of people who watch Arrested. I can say, “Annyong” and immediately everyone would laugh, you know, that kind of thing. And I think there is an amount of that within Community as well where people will start watching the show, I think, and I think saying, “Pop, Pop” to each other ten years from now and it will be a nice little secret language.

You know, but like Alison said, a lot of our comedy is also reliant, and I think most comedy is reliant, on what’s happening now in the world around you, especially our show, which relies on a lot of back and forth, which is pretty immediate with the fans, and Twitter and stuff. So some of the jokes may not necessarily age well, but I think the story lines and the characters I think they will be appreciated a few years from now.

I think there’s a lot of challenges our show faces. The number one thing is that there’s so much on television and how do you get to our show. We’re not a show that’s marketed like all over the place, you know, and we’ve always faced a lot of competition. We’ve always faced shows like Big Bang and American Idol and so I think just getting people aware of our show is a big challenge, but I do think when they do get aware of our show I’d like to think and hope that they’ll really enjoy it.

Could talk about some of the changes that your characters have experienced throughout the show?

Danny Pudi: Yes I think, you know, that is in some ways what we setup for Season 4 is embracing change. And I think specifically within the world of Abed you see that right away in the premiere in Season 4 is going to his happy place, especially every time anyone mentions that it’s our senior year, which is scary.

And I think with Abed we’ve explored change a few different times already. In the My Dinner with Andre episode, you know, it ends with Abed saying that changing really isn’t his jam, you know. He’s more of a fast blinking stoic type.

And I think the thing about senior year at Greendale is that whether or not we change much as individuals our circumstances change and our environments change. So I think that is something that we have to at least address. So there is part of that.

And I think honestly like that’s, when I look at the world around me, I think most of my friends and the people I know they’re, at their core, they’re essentially the same people. It’s, you know, you do grow, but in many ways the things that grow is literally just the fact that you’re a little bit older now and you have to have a job, and you have kids, and a family, and you’re no longer living at home.

Your responsibilities in the world around you changes and it’s your ability to adapt to that that I think is interesting and I think that’s what we explore in Season 4.

Alison Brie: Yes I think that Annie, like all the characters, has always been changing, you know, because they started out as singular beings and now they’re sort of a unit and just in terms of gaining friends like that and growing up a little like everyone, I hope, grows and changes in college because you’re learning so much about yourself through your interactions with these other people.

You know, with Annie she started out – I always think of Annie as being kind of two steps forward and one step back, like in all of her growth. She started out so studious and just seemed very driven and is still driven, but we’ve seen some detours. She gets hung up on guys, she gets hung up on the friend group and trying to keep the study group together because she’s never had friends like this before and she’s never had guys interested in her before.

So we’ve seen those kind of detours with Annie. And this year she’s sort of returning to her studious roots and she’s discovered a new major, forensics, that she’s now interested in and feeling really passionate about again. And so we sort of see her returning to being that figure for the group, to being kind of driven and to being kind of the voice of reason for the group and that’s how she changes this year.

Who is the most difficult person to do a scene with without cracking up or laughing and so forth?

Danny Pudi: Alison probably.

Alison Brie: Yes probably Danny.

Danny Pudi: Because it’s down to the point now where Alison specifically targets me.

Alison Brie: No Danny targets me. And here’s the problem, because we’re so close and there’s inside jokes inside other jokes it’s like Danny just lifts an eyebrow across the table to me and I just lose it. So it’s kind of like – and it’s not even in just scenes where it’s just the two of us. It’s like because we sit across from, I mean not directly across, but we are across from each other at the study room table, so when we’ll be – we’ll have moments. Because and also I think we’re probably the two worst in terms of cracking ourselves up.

Danny Pudi: We allow ourselves to laugh when know it’s not going to end up in the episode. And it’s more of just like what we do is we, I guess, we convince ourselves that it’s good for morale, for company morale, by…

Alison Brie: We’re there to just be fun and laughter onset.

Looking back on other episodes, what do you think was a pivotal moment or one that you just hold near and dear to your heart in terms of what allows you to kind of progress with your character and also how it works within the world of what Community was doing?

Alison Brie: I love the episode from Season 2 with Troy’s 21st birthday where all of the characters go to the bar. It’s a really dark episode for the show at that point. It was like our darkest episode, of course two and three got a lot darker.

Danny Pudi: Way darker.

Alison Brie: And just for my character there was a scene at the end of the episode just with me and Donald and these two characters, Annie and Troy, who were in high school together and are the same age and sort of connecting in that sense of like, you know, I don’t know what I’m doing, I don’t know where I’m going, like I think which is a feeling everyone feels at different points in their life.

And that’s just something – it was such an amazing honest scene that I thought was such – that episode was so rich with the character development on a comedy show and for such a dark episode it sort of so many sweet moments with the characters learning about themselves and that’s one that I always think of.

Danny Pudi: I would say – I mean that’s the thing about our show is I remember looking at multiple episodes and seeing okay I did not think the show was going to go in this way and now we’re going in this way and that’s exciting. A couple of times during Season 1 – the very first time I remember thinking, “Wow this show is going in an amazing way.” Is the Halloween episode, the very first one in Season 1, which I think was like our 6th or 7th episode?

And that was the first time where I really was like I could kind of see the potential of us going into different worlds and that creatively was super exciting, especially playing Batman and knowing full well I’ll probably never play batman, a harsh reality. It was a really nice treat.

Alison Brie: And that was sort of the first time – I love that episode too. I always think of that as like the first episode where all of our characters really came together.

Danny Pudi: Full throttle, yes.

Alison Brie: Because in the first season, you know, we had to spend the first five or so episodes getting to know each character individually so that you could kind of understand them and then this is the first time that you really saw them altogether interacting…

Danny Pudi: As the ensemble.

Alison Brie: Yes in sort of a wacky way. I love that episode.

Danny Pudi: I do too. And then I think one more I just want to say is the end of Season 1, the chicken fingers episode, the Goodfellas episode, which was also – I felt that our show was changing at that – like I remember feeling that that week being like, “Wow I don’t – this is really exciting. This episode is doing this thing with Goodfellas and Scorsese and Godfather and it’s also like really honest with these characters.” And I think that allowed us to go to paintball and allowed us to go to other places. So I remember that week thinking, “This is really exciting.”

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