Jim Rash may be best known for playing Dean Pelton on NBC’s critically-acclaimed comedy Community, but in the last year he has completely upped his game as a writer. Not only did he take home an Oscar for his work on the script for The Descendants with Nat Faxon and Alexander Payne, he also co-wrote and co-directed the indie coming of age dramedy The Way, Way Back and even scripted one of the best episodes of Community last season. He has proven himself to be a talented multi-hyphenate and thanks to his role on the new series The Writers' Room he can add “host” to his credentials.
At San Diego Comic-Con last week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend a small event for the upcoming Sundance Channel series and sit down for a quick chat with Rash about both the new show, what it’s been like talking to the writing staffs behind some of the best shows on television, and how the medium has evolved over the last few years. Check it out!
Where did this start? It’s an awesome idea.
It’s a great idea. It did not come from my brain. It came from Sundance and some executive producers, maybe through Entertainment Weekly, but we... Basically, they approached me asking if I’d be interested in hosting The Writer’s Room, which was described to me as a panel discussion with the writing staffs of great shows and I said, “Absolutely.” I just love that idea because I feel like it’s a story that’s not told that just add to the story we know about these shows and plus, as a writer, I want to, I have a thirst for knowledge about how to fucking make this easier and those people offer that. Or they don’t know the answer, but we can all commiserate about how shitty it can be. So, it’s great and they picked six shows to start with. At first we were going to do all dramas and then I think I or somebody suggested we should do a couple comedies because it’s such a different dynamic and then I realized that all these shows had a different dynamic, in a good way. So, it was fun.
Did you get to pick the shows?
They picked the shows. I may have sort of called out, I think, you know, obviously these people are walking into it, they don’t know what the show is or what it will be about, but they all jumped on and there were other shows that wanted to that will go to the next round, hopefully, but I think it was just to get a cross section and then some of these shows are coming to their end, made them good choices for now like Breaking Bad and Dexter and then shows that are in the middle, like Game of Thrones and then it’s great with American Horror Story since it is serial and reinvents itself each year. It made for a nice discussion about a classic version of television that’s not done that often. So, all good stuff.
This is really the perfect time for this show also, because we are really kind of in a golden age of television. It’s never been like this before.
Comedies certainly are catching up, but I feel like dramas are out of the gates, way into a renaissance period and I think it really comes down to embracing story, but embracing complex, sometimes fucked-up characters and I think that’s what TV is doing and doing very well and I think that complexity is sometimes lost in movies right now and TV is realizing, or not realizing, but we’re realizing the value of following a or a similar culture of characters for many stories or one long story, because I think, my opinion is, it comes down to characters and I don’t know few would go, “Oh, how enlightening!” Everyone would fucking say that, but it is. Any writer knows that if their story goes off track, it’s probably because they lost their characters.
One of the things I’ve loved about the evolution of television over the last few years is that it used to be, you start an episode and you finish the episode exactly where that character was in the beginning. Character evolution has expanded so much.
What I loved are these shows, like you have a show like Breaking Bad, where the character evolution is actually on a negative track, which is just as powerful as if they’re ascending, and obviously we don’t know what’s intended for the rest of season five, but I can’t wait.
Oh yeah [laughs].
You’ve got Dexter too, where he’s going a slightly different way, and it’s just as complicated and then in Game of Thrones, where you’re doing a show where no one’s safe, so these are shows and they get hate mail, I’m sure. I know the Game of Thrones guys did, because people who didn’t read the book are like, “Well, how the fuck did they kill the king??” but then people embrace it. They go, “Oh, ok...”
It makes for really dramatic entertainment.
It does. And it’s not, anyway... It was a collaborative effort ...
And obviously, you kind of split yourself between television and film at this point. Where is your brain mostly? Which kind of writing style do you prefer?
Well, I’ve always considered myself a writer/actor, maybe I wasn’t always working, but I’ve always considered myself by definition a person who loved to write and act. Obviously my first foray into co-directing was this past summer and I hope to do it again, but at least I can always describe myself as that, first, but I just, I sort of forgot your question.
Where do you see yourself in terms of television and movies?
For me, in television? Well, right now, obviously, my primary function in television is as an actor on Community.
I loved the episode that you wrote last year, by the way. It was fantastic. It was one of my favorite episodes of last season.
Thank you! It was such a joy to write and I felt so honored to have the opportunity. I know when that sad day comes when Community finishes and we close that chapter, my primary goal is…my voice is loud and clear in all types of stuff but I often play characters, and I’d love to play something closer to me, so that would be what I love to see for myself.