Q & A: Joel McHale and John Goodman on ‘Community’, sitcoms and the Jeff/Annie/Britta triangle

John: "I have big ideas because I have big ideas about the character"

Community is back after it’s summer hiatus and this fall, the gang has another authority figure to deal with, Vice Dean Laybourne.

Laybourne is played by John Goodman who, according to Goodman, may or may not be in 6 episodes this year. That all depends if they “can rid of [me] more cheaply,” he said.

I talked to John and series star Joel McHale in a conference call about the upcoming season, Goodman’s return to TV and why Joel keeps doing E’s The Soup.

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Community airs Thursdays at 8/7c on NBC

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes

John, do you have any idea of what your episode count is going to be this season?

John Goodman: Six, I think. Unless they can get rid of me more cheaply.

What was it about this role or about Community in general that made you want to be a part of it?

John Goodman: It’s the cast. I think they’re a wonderful ensemble. The writing is out there. It’s just – it’s not a typical situation comedy sitcom. It’s risky and – yeah, it – you know, it’s combination of great things and I’ve – I’m just dying to get back into comedy again. That’s what I like to do. I enjoy it. And I’ve been doing pretty heavy guys lately, so you know, it’s nice to lighten up. Not that that’s any easier, I mean the stuff – I had pages of dialogue yesterday that was really precise and – but it’s good to stretch like that.  

You mentioned that our dying to get back into comedy, does that mean you’d be willing to sign on again for a – like a part in a 22-episode sitcom?

John Goodman: You bet.

Have you been hearing from anyone now that they’ve seen you back doing comedy on TV?

John Goodman: Every once in a while it’s just – they – it – nothing’s clicked so far. It’s got to be – I’ve done two failed sitcoms since Roseanne and they’re no fun if they’re not right. It’s you’re trying to be funny and that – man, that just don’t – I don’t work.

Joel, can you talk about how Jeff will change this season and how we’ll see his relationship with Annie develop?

Joel McHale:  Well, I can tell you that that relationship will develop further on the romantic end of things, much to the chagrin of half the audience, at least who comments on message boards, and it’s divided right down the middle. They’ll be like, “Oh, so sweet,” they’re like, “It’s disgusting.”

So – and Dan – I know that my father will become present in the series. Jeff has a lot of father issues, and so that will be dealt with. And according to Dan, my character’s to kind of be put through hell, so I’m really looking forward to taking the journey.

Joel, it seems like with every episode you’re kind of just going for broke and just going crazy with the stories…

Joel McHale:  Yeah, I think there – at one point there was something like people were talking about how it was going to become about relationships, which obviously it is about that. But as far as kind of a lot of stuff happening an episode, they, as John was saying, they are action packed and it’s like we are making a movie every week. There’s so much stuff to shoot and film many specialty shots and it’s great, it’s – but it’s as densely packed as a wonderful lasagna.

John Goodman: It – that’s absolutely right. It’s like a huge fruit cake over there. It’s very layered and it’s like there’s two features going on at the same time on the same stage. Everybody is doing something. It’s – let’s combine the fruit cake with bee hive imagery and I’m down…

Joel McHale: Yeah, it’s like a bee hive, fruit cake lasagna that’s put into a blender and into an enormous smoothie.

John Goodman: Making a smoothie of comedy.

John, can you talk about why you want to come back to comedy on TV?

John Goodman: It – because it’s funny. There’s a sense of – I haven’t done comedy in a long time, intentional comedy. There’s a great sense of achievement because it’s so damn hard. There’s a lot of ingredients to doing it and it’s – it keeps your skills going. It’s – you know, you have to learn how to juggle again and it’s just a great thing. Plus, there’s a great payoff when it works. And I like to laugh almost more than anything in the world and it’s – if you can make somebody else laugh that’s a great thing.

And Joel, can you talk about what it was like to have John Goodman on set each day and what he brings to the show?

Joel McHale:  Well, as John had mentioned earlier, they kind of knock out a lot of his scenes, you know, like end of the day. And so, he ends up having to do the bulk of the work during the day and a lot of the actors just go and watch him so he doesn’t steal anything, and he’s had a problem with stealing stuff off the set. No…

John Goodman: They missed a lot.

Joel McHale:  …but it gives – he was – I mean, I know that, John, you love the gushing or that I’m – but you know, it’s like I really do – having him on the show is such a – I – you know, it’s like we just got the Stealth Bomber and no one can touch it. So I feel like, you know – see he – we just – it just a bond. But, it’s one of those things where I – we are all so excited and we wonder what bet he lost to have to come on the show.

John, I was wondering what your thoughts were on the current TV landscape and how things have changed since your days on Roseanne? Sitcoms now being just grossly outnumbered by reality shows? What’s it like as an actor when you’re seeing all these reality shows?

John Goodman: It’s probably a natural weeding out process. It reminds me of the early days of television when they’d throw anything up against a wall to see if it would stick. There’s a lot more – you know, it – with all the cable – the shows going to cable – or I’m sorry, hour shows going to cable now, you’d think there would be more comedies out there. There are a few, but I thought there would be more, but it doesn’t seem to be going that way. I don’t know why, maybe there’s a smaller concentration of comedy writers than there are real people out there.

I really don’t – I’m not – I’m just an old crabby bastard. I’m not a big fan of reality television. There’s some stuff I like. There’s a lot of stuff that I don’t, but that’s – you know, that’s just popular culture in general. I’m just an old crab.

Joel, they put your character with Britta and with Annie, do you have any personal opinion where Jeff belongs?

Joel McHale:  No, wow. Wow, in my personal opinion, geez. I – that’s a good question. I had not thought about that. I – you know, when it comes to that I trust Dan implicitly and, you know, with Jeff he’s a very uncommitted and guarded man, even though he seems – he’s got a lot of issues going on, and you know he’s going to be more gravitated to Annie this year.

But, if it’s my personal choice then I guess it would have to be – boy, I don’t know, that’s a good – probably anybody from the WNBA.

Joel, a lot of people would have left The Soup when they got a big primetime network TV show, so why do you still do it?

Joel McHale:  Oh, gosh. Well, I love doing it and well, I have a contract, so I can’t leave it or they would – they could kill me. No, but I didn’t want to leave and it’s one of those things where it’s difficult enough to have anything work on television and I wasn’t about to leave something it – with it working, and all my friends are there. My best friend from childhood is a writer and he’s a performer on it, and so it’s a real family and I really do enjoy doing it.

And – yeah, and they’ve made the schedule work, so there was really no reason to – no one was forcing me to leave it, so I kind of thought, “Well, this is – this – why quit something that’s not broken?” And so, that’s kind of was my reasoning and who knew what was going to happen with Community when we started 2-1/2 years ago?

So, you know I’m – I was raised Catholic so I think at any moment the sky will open and I will be crushed by, I don’t know, a large bird that died in mid-air – mid-flight. So, I’m – you know, I still keep my paper route.

John, you look awesome. You’ve lost so much weight. How did you do it?

John Goodman: I – you know what, it’s sad. I worked my ass off last – I’m sorry this is the New York Times, Mr. Goodman worked his derrière off. It was very hard, very enjoyable, the results were great, and I got a knee operation that slowed me down. My other knee, to compensate for the other knee – anything. I just had a rain of things go bad, so I put on a great deal of that weight back. I’m – it’s a constant struggle, so I’m – you know, now I’ve got to go back down again and start eating Drano tablets…

John, I know that some of the cast has said that people come into the show and normally kind of go, “What am I doing here,” because the cast is so crazy. Did you feel that way when you came in – you had to get used to everything going on?

John Goodman: No. I just – I – yeah, I just went with it. Whatever happens, happens and just, you know, try to show up and know my lines and bump into anything, and that’s true. And just, you know, whatever – I’m just a hired hand, you know, there to help and then some.

Joel McHale:  Yeah, we did the regular thing where you haze the person that shows up. We hazed him for about a week, and then we finally did the initiation and he had to wear his underwear on the outside and, you know, carry a live chicken around. Yeah, it – we shaved his head and put all his hair into a pillow.

John, I was just wondering you’re back on television now, you’ve done a lot of work with movies and you’ve been on Broadway, is there any type of work that you enjoy doing more than the other?

John Goodman: No. It’s – whatever I’m doing at the time, I yearn for something else.

John, obviously you’ve seen prior seasons and there’s a lot of really big personalities from Dean Pelton to Chang and such, when you were trying to kind of figure out how big to make the Vice Dean was there any particular inspiration or anything that you talked to about with Dan Harmon about?

John Goodman: No, I actually had a really bad idea coming in and it didn’t work out, but I – it’s kind of being redeemed this week. I – yeah, it’s – I have big ideas because I have big ideas about the character. I don’t know if I’m right yet, so I don’t – boy, it’s all personal acting crap that’s very boring. It just sounds like psycho-babble, so I’ll just keep it to myself.

Joel McHale:  Whatever he’s doing it’s working great, so I hope he’s completely tortured. I’m so sorry, John.

John, did the show come after you or did you express interest in the show?

John Goodman: They – it was out of the blue. It was unexpected and a very welcomed surprise.

And this is for both of you, what’s your advice to actors?

John Goodman: Be prepared.

Joel McHale:  Yeah. Just make sure you do a lot of it if you are – want to be one.

John Goodman: Yeah, and what – at whatever, whenever, and wherever you can.

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