Danny Pudi seems to be having the time of his life working on NBC’s Community. And why not, this season he’s battled zombies, played Jesus, manned a space mission and even helped give birth.
In the upcoming episode, Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas, he and the rest of the cast become stop-motion animated characters in yet another episode of inspired wackiness.
I talked to Danny in a conference call where he talked about working with the cast and how his stop-motion character is better looking than he is.
As a kid, did you see Chevy in the Christmas Vacation in a movie theater?
Danny Pudi: I saw it later on VHS, the only way to see Chevy Chase. No.
So what’s it like when – here’s a guy whose made a big impression on you and suddenly you’re working with him?
Danny Pudi: You know, it’s very bizarre, I mean, the whole experience is bizarre. One day, you’re working with Chevy Chase and the next day you’re going to visit a claymation studio where they have a doll of you.
None of this really makes sense in this world, but that’s the really fun and beautiful thing about this job that I love is that every day is so different and unique.
But for me, literally, there are so many dreams coming true that sometimes it’s really hard to put into perspective until summertime when we’re on hiatus and then after a month of being away from people, I’m like, “Holy crap, I just spent a year working with Chevy Chase.” So to me, it’s just very fun, interesting, always, always interesting and I love that.
You probably grew up watching the Grinch and Charlie Brown. What’s it like the first time you see yourself animated?
Danny Pudi: It’s very bizarre because you’re looking at a version of yourself and in my case, it’s definitely an enhanced and better looking version, I’m very excited.
The eyebrows are fuller, the forehead is smaller. I think I’m more handsome; I got a nicer jaw line. I probably have the same, actually, the same size legs, which, I don’t know if that’s a good thing, as my doll is in real life. That’s true to life. But it’s very weird, it’s very bizarre but it’s just really fun, you know?
Is there a lot of Abed in you and a lot of you in Abed, or when you go to work is it like you’re putting on a costume?
Danny Pudi: There’s definitely a little bit of putting on a costume, except in my case, it’s putting – getting into skinny jeans. And definitely after Thanksgiving break, when I came back this week, it was a little harder to get into them.
But I think there is also, you know, there is sort of a convergence of both Abed and Danny, you know, as over the course of time, you know, working with the writers, there are aspects of me that they’ve worked into the script.
I don’t think Abed was half Polish until I got the role, you know, and so there are things like that, and you know, I think Abed definitely has a larger encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture. I think he’s probably more observant and aware of what’s going on constantly, he’s sort of a detective.
There’s definitely aspects of Abed that I wish I had. I wish sometimes I was as sharp and I could notice as much as he does. I think in my life I’m probably a little bit more aloof – there’s sort of me is coming into the character, but at the end of the day, I think Abed is definitely his own unique person.
The TV references that are often spilling out of the character’s mouth, do you find yourself getting most of them or do you have to research a lot of them and find out what you’re talking about?
Danny Pudi: Definitely a lot of research. I think that’s Abed’s unique talent, you know, he is an encyclopedia and, you know, every script I get, I’m constantly looking and talking to people, being like, “Don’t know this one, don’t know this one.” Googling – my Netflix queue is always full of Community research – movies like Meatballs and, whatever it may be.
You guys look like you’re sweating blood to kind of carve out a niche on Thursdays, then CBS moves Big Bang up against you, Fox is about to move Idol up against you. Is there a sense of, “What else could they possibly do to us?”
Danny Pudi: There is and it’s almost comedic in terms of like – it’s become sort of comedic for us because we’re just like, “Oh, what the heck what is next?” You know? Pretty soon, it’s going to be, you know, that we’re going to be running just in local outlets, you know, it’s not going to be national anymore.
I never even thought that I would be actually worrying about that, the fact that I’m on a show itself is kind of a wonderful thing. So yes, who knows what’s next? So that’s why I think we’re just happy we’re getting the stop motion episode done.
This claymation episode is another example of the non-traditional sitcom-y things you’re getting to do. What’s your reaction to these things and are you happy that you get to do all this weird, bizzarro stuff?
Danny Pudi: I love it. For me, it’s my – and my mentality and how I work I love kind of the spontaneity of not really knowing what’s going to happen next. I guess that quality – the same quality that didn’t make me the best office employee probably suits me for this job. I like not knowing what’s going to happen next, and I think all of us here are so excited to see what’s in the next script.
I mean, when we get to a table read we’re all like flipping through eagerly and it’s the quietest you’ll ever see our cast at one table because everyone is reading the script so, you know, just getting into it, you know?
And I think that’s a testament to the writers because they’re really always surprising us, but always, you know, trying to find, you know, new things for the characters and growing.
To be able to go to the places we’ve gone in a 22 minute comedy with an ensemble that includes Chevy Chase, Joel McHale, Donald Glover, you know, Ken Jeong, you know, Alison Brie, I mean everybody, it’s like with all those people and giving us a little piece of that pie it’s really exciting.
When you first got the script what were your thoughts, like, knowing that it was mainly about you?
Danny Pudi: I guess I was a little nervous because I, you know, just kind of wanted to know what’s this about and how to take it. And this was sort of an interesting and a different approach to a script because, you know, we’re not really acting as a group in this one. We were going into a recording studio with, you know, the Director and the writers and doing all this stuff in a voice-over booth, you know?
So it’s a little different because, you know, I’m not a voice-over actor. I’ve never really done any voice-over work. So trying to convey some of that, you know, some of the feelings and stuff, it was definitely a little bit more challenging for me. You know, I was definitely nervous about that and seeing – just making sure that would happen.
Because then what they did was take our voice-over looping and then they animate the characters based on that. So that was a whole new experience and really fun for me, too though, because again, it was a new thing for us to do.
But yes, I was also terrified because I was like, “Oh, boy.” I mean, there’s a lot of work that I’ve never done before.