Yesterday, actor Danny Pudi, who plays Abed on Community, spoke with the press about tonight’s episode as well as next week’s special stop-motion Christmas episode.
I never got into Farscape, however as a self-proclaimed geek who would actually prefer to spend some evenings picking over the details of a cancelled TV series rather than flirting, I felt for Abed tonight when he sat at the bar, feeling alone and disappointed. Hopefully things will work out better for him during next week’s Christmas episode, titled “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.” Here’s what Danny Pudi had to say about his own Christmas traditions, working on Community, and what’s to come next week when the characters find themselves sucked into a stop-motion world.
I was wondering about both Abed and about you. Did Abed grow up with Christmas or did he grow up with multiple religions? And also, the same thing with you. Did you grow up with Christmas or did you grow up with different religions or what? But first of all, Abed.
Great. In both cases - well, in Abed's case, specifically as addressed in this episode, religiously, he is Muslim, but he was always a big fan of Christmas and his mother is Polish, so I think there was aspects of Catholicism and the Christian traditions from the Polish perspective as well as being Muslim and that kind of thing.
I think Abed also just overall being a fan of pop culture and stuff, he's very aware of Christmas and what it represents around the seasons and in terms of movies and all that. He's probably a big fan of Chevy Chase's National Lampoons Christmas Vacation.
And as far as me, Danny, I also grew up Polish and Catholic and so we definitely celebrated the Polish traditional Catholic and Christmas traditions, which is Wigilia, which is celebrated on Christmas Eve, which includes a lot of different fish dishes and oplatek, which is a very interesting tradition where you go around breaking a host that's been blessed by a priest and you give people wishes for the next year.
It can be uncomfortable when you bring new people into the fold. And it's also - it can be uncomfortable for people who don't like to communicate much, but it's always interesting.
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 previously and you're suddenly walk in a room and you're working with him?
You know, it's very bizarre, I mean, the whole experience is bizarre where you're doing all this kind of stuff. 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 and once they presented this script to us about this episode and said that we were going to be in stop motion, we were all so excited. 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.
Okay, just one other thing about the doll now. You probably grew up watching animated Grinch and animated Charlie Brown. What's it like the first time you see animated you? I mean, what's that like?
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, what else? I'm just - 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 and - but it's, I mean, it's just really fun, you know? I thought, the first time I met one of the animators and there was, I think, eight different animators working on ten different stages there and I met one of the ladies who was making the doll.
And she saw me and she was like, "Hey, I recognize..." Actually, I saw her away from set - I saw her, actually, at a random bar I believe or some place in Los Angeles, she's like, "I recognize you because I've been working on your doll."
And she came up to me and I was like, "That's definitely another first." There's a lot of firsts I've been experiencing and that's the first time someone's recognized me from a doll they've made of me. So I'm very thankful and very excited about all this.
Speaking of having a doll, one of the Star Trek actors once told me that the great thing about having a little doll likeness of himself is that he can play with himself in public and no one says, "Boo."
For what that's worth. Has NBC started selling little likenesses of you and the rest of the gang on its Website yet and if not, is there any doubt that they will do so ultimately?
If there's a way to make money, I am sure they're looking into it. I do know one of the things that they've started to do is sell the Troy and Abed In The Morning mugs - coffee mugs. And I've gotten a number of people who have sent me pictures and - on Facebook and Twitter of them drinking coffee in the Troy and Abed In The Morning mug. And I always think that's really humorous just knowing that in some office right now, a CPA is looking over somebody's taxes while drinking some Folgers out of my mug. So I think that's just really interesting.
As far as the dolls, I don't think we have any dolls out yet, but I do know that you can get Ken Jeong's Hangover doll at Urban Outfitters - his bobble head. So I don't know. I think that right now, it's definitely something that they're probably going - if there's a way to make money, I think they'll find a way to sell it and I'm hoping it ends up in people's living rooms, but I'm still kind of freaked out about all this. I'm just happy to have a mug.
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?
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 there is sort of a convergence of both Abed and Danny as over the course of time 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 and so there are things like that, and 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.
You know, 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, but like I said, 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.
Okay, and 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?
Definitely a lot of research. I think that's Abed's unique talent, he is an encyclopedia and 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, a Farscape for this week's episode.
Abed definitely has the encyclopedia knowledge, although I am a big fan of '80s movies and stuff, so there is certainly a good crossover, like Indiana Jones is my favorite movie of all time, so when it came to talking about that and wearing Indie's whip in an episode, that was very natural for me.
Wait a minute. What? Did you just say Idol's going against us?
Big Bang is against us, too?
Yes. Is it...
Do we even have a chance?!
Is there a sense of like, what's next, like, "What else could they possibly do to us?"
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 that we're going to be running just in local outlets it's not going to be national anymore. Or it's going to be only airing on Hulu or, who knows? And for us, we're just really thankful and I think that they found such a - I think with Dan and the writers, they're just so ambitious and full of like, really, "Let's like really cherish this opportunity to do something really interesting." And it's kind of fun, too, for us because there isn't as much pressure, I feel like, for us, in terms of like Big Bang and Idol are very numbers oriented and driven shows.
They both do great. I don't think we have a chance of ever beating them. And so for us, I think many of the writers and stuff are really just focusing on making a really fun, smart, interesting show and just seeing what we can do next, exploring where we can go further.
So I think there's - that's kind of the fun of it and who knows? All that other stuff we can't really control and I don't know about any of that kind of stuff because I - this is all, like I said, this is pretty new to me in terms of like ratings and that kind of stuff. 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.
But it seems like the underdog role kind of suits you guys.
Yes, I think so, too. And that's - I think that in a lot of creative things, a lot of great, creative things come out of times where there's a little bit of a struggle, you know? And I think for us being sort of that underdog is, I really don't mind it and I think some of the people here, I think if you asked them, they probably would actually say that we kind of enjoy it. Because like I said, there is a little bit of room for like, "Hey, we can try stuff here." We have a little bit of room for experimentation, which I always think is a fun thing, especially with comedy and especially with our show, which can go in a lot of different places.
It all starts very grounded and very real, but the fact that we've already gone to outer space this year, we had a zombie episode, we had a bottle episode where - and then - and now we're actually going into stop motion and we're only halfway through Season 2 really excite me and terrifies me at the same time that I don't know what's next, but I think that's kind of the fun thing about this show.
Is this claymation thing just another example of sort of the non-traditional sitcom-y type things you're getting to do, like with that episode where Abed was in the background the whole time, delivering the baby and everything.
Danny Pudi: Yes.
There's another example. Are you constantly surprised or what's been your reaction to these things and are you happy that you get to do all this weird, bizzarro stuff?
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 just getting into it. I think that's a testament to the writers because they're really always surprising us, but always trying to find new things for the characters and growing.
And also I just love the fact that our show, as bizarre and as absurd as it can go really there's a lot of good lessons being learned constantly, characters are growing and learning from mistakes and we get to do a lot of different things, which is for regular comedy that's only 22 minutes I always think about that. 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, Ken Jeong, 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.
So to me I love it, and like I said, this year has been really interesting, too, like the whole episode where we end up - I was in the background delivering the baby and now we're doing this. The attention to detail with this show is also awesome. Like just Ludwig who's doing the composition and the scoring for our show. He's doing stuff with a full orchestra just for this Christmas episode.
The music is incredible, you know? And there's that and then there's the props and the sets, I think if you look around everyone like really cares, and I think that probably goes back to a little bit of like, the other question about us, worried about having competition like Big Bang and Idol against us.
I think there is a little bit of that we never know when this is going to end, and I think because of that it's sort of like, "Let's work really hard and see what we can create."
Oh, there's a little bit of Farscape stuff going on in there. There - I do have conversations with someone regarding Farscape and the differences between Season 1 and Season 3. And I think Abed is just very excited to be able to discuss Farscape with someone because there's not many people in Abed's life that can actually speak about it.
And so again, it's Abed's yearning to communicate with someone. And I think tomorrow night's episode is very - it's a really sweet episode. It's actually Troy's 21st birthday party. So the gang goes to celebrate his 21st birthday party. Which I always think is interesting because I don't think we've done that very often where you see our group interacting with people outside of Greendale. While we're still together, and that's always kind of interesting to see like, "Oh, okay, how would Abed and Troy interact with a regular customer at a bar?" Or, "How would a regular customer at a bar perceive this group of knuckleheads." So you get to see a little bit of that tomorrow night, which I think is fun.
Did you end up liking Farscape?
I did. I actually watched a few episodes. It freaks me out a little bit right away with some of the aliens and how - I mean, they're not slightly alien, they're very alien looking with very human qualities. But there is sort of a fantasy element that I really like because as a kid I always was like, "Okay, if it were possible for me to make out with or," I was a teenage boy, "to get with an alien woman, that would be an exciting thing." And so watching Farscape definitely rekindled some of those memories. Yes. I am human though, I just want everybody to be clear of that and married, so don't tell my wife.
When you first got the script what were your thoughts, like, knowing that it was mainly about you?
I guess I was a little nervous because I 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, we're not really acting as a group in this one. We were going into a recording studio with the Director and the writers and doing all this stuff in a voice-over booth, you know?
So it's a little different because, I'm not a voice-over actor. I've never really done any voice-over work. So trying to convey some of that some of the feelings and stuff, it was definitely a little bit more challenging for me. 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 then regarding the script itself, I just think it's perfect. There's so much beautiful stuff in there and I think it makes complete sense that this is sort of coming out of Abed's point-of-view because the claymation characters, I think the great thing about the writers and what they've been able to do is make it all come from a real honest place. And I think coming from Abed it sort of makes it natural, like, "Of course, he watches Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer every year, this makes sense that why not - why can't his perspective be in this episode all stop motion?" That's his Christmas. So I just thought that was really smart of them, 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.
You know, it's funny, we haven't seen the full episode yet. So I've seen bits of it, like a little - couple of short clips of it and we've seen our dolls. We got to go to the studio and check those out, and it's way more incredible than I thought it would ever be. Like I said, there was, I think eight different animators working right now. They've been working on it for over six weeks, and while we were there we actually got to see one of the animators, (Sarah), working the tag which is also going to be in claymation and she spent three days working on a 30 second tag. In my head I was just like, "Wow." Okay, again, some of the people in there was quiet, they were behind a dark curtain, they were working alone, their hands were still, all the qualities that I don't have. I was admiring them for being patient and stuff.
But the work that goes into it is really tremendous and it paid off. When we were watching it we were looking at the colors. It's really beautiful looking and it really captures the spirit of Christmas and some of those things you see when you're a kid like, Nightmare Before Christmas, and Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, there is that.
I think they did a great job, just an amazing job and like I said before, with the music, too, adding that layer on top of this it just feels like a really fun special episode and I'm really proud to be involved in it. But I'm also excited because I haven't seen the full thing yet. So it's going to be a surprise for all of us.
I saw some photos of it. Now, is your character supposed to be a Wise Man or a wizard or something?
My character in this is not, but John Oliver's character will be a wizard in it. First of all he's one of the funniest people I'd ever met, but with him and a wizard in the Christmas episode I think is worth hopefully everyone watching because it's great. Ken Jeong also plays a really fun character, which I don't want to give away, in the Christmas episode which to me makes complete sense. So I think people will enjoy that.
What it is with Community and holidays that kind of are going to go hand-in-hand now that you mention, of course, you've done a Halloween episodes and now it's Christmas. I mean, is there going to be like a Purim episode coming up or, you know?
Give us enough time, give us enough seasons I'm sure we'll hit them all. I think there's a couple things that go hand-in-hand. I think with our group, the ensemble itself, and everyone having their own unique take on Christmas. Like Annie being Jewish, Yvette being Christian and very much Christmas was about the birth of Jesus Christ, and Troy being Jehovah's Witness, with all these people having their own take that also means everybody kind of grew up with different traditions. I think you really get to see that when there's a holiday. You know? And then so when there's a special holiday or a season or some kind of thing like that, even a birthday, you really get to see kind of how each person, where they came from, each character.
I think some of the fun in our group is really just seeing where each person kind of came from and what they're used to and then just trying to learn from the other - from the rest of the group, you know? We're all sort of kids in a sandbox in preschool except that we're all adults at Greendale. But we're essentially doing the same thing, we're all learning from each other and being like, "Well, this is how I've done it. How do you guys do it?" And I think that's largely the reason why we like to celebrate holidays, plus they're just fun and there's a dance.
I want to know, too, if you maybe took like a picture of your claymation self and put it on your Christmas card this year, too?
It's going to be very hard for me not to raid that studio and steal one of my dolls. But I've heard that the dolls can go upward of $10,000, the ones with the ball and socket, the silicone dolls that they use, and so - and then they actually gave me one to hold. And like I said before, I'm not the best at keeping things steady and I got really nervous.
So I put it down right away, but I mean, they're really expensive and they're really true to life, like I said. So I did get a picture of one of them with me, and I'm very happy about that. I think my mom and some other people are kind of weirded out that I have a doll. I think it'd be really weirded out if people came over and I had like game night with my friends and they came over and just saw my doll in the corner. I'd be too scared and it, I think, would probably give me flashbacks to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom with the voodoo doll. So I'm going to keep it away from my house probably.
Earlier this year the episode on religion was really deep and profound. I was wondering, you have been talking about the themes of the Christmas episode, how does it compare to that one?
I think that one was a little bit more about - definitely a little bit more about the life of Jesus and that I guess the Bible. It was a little bit more Christianity based, and I think there was a little bit more about. [In] the last Christmas episode we talked about different religions and stuff, and this episode we definitely talk about them a little bit, but I think in this episode it's not as much about religious differences as it is a little bit more about our characters and kind of exploring the meaning of Christmas for all of us.
We definitely touch upon the religions and how we're different, you know? We talk about even just Seasons Greetings versus Merry Christmas, saying it, you know? But I think what's fun about this episode it is sort of - there is a little bit more of Abed's journey into figuring out what is the meaning of Christmas and the study group kind of coming together at the end.
So I would say definitely less religious, but still very full of meaning in terms of like not only Christmas but other holidays as well.
Well, it wasn't just the religion in that episode, it was the whole meta of things affecting the film and back and forth. Does the stop motion allow any opportunities like that to be reflective?
I think a little bit. That one was definitely more meta. Film was in the film, about the film, about the film. And a little bit more about that concept. I think in this episode there is a little bit of that about what we, you know, Christmas is sort of what we make of it. There is a little bit of that, but I think it's much more practical I think in this episode. It's much more like, "Let's just figure out what is going on, Abed needs to figure out what is the meaning of Christmas for him."
The study group kind of comes together on a mini-mission, I would say all within probably one day, maybe even one hour. You know? And I think it's definitely a little bit more - I would say focused. Especially also because a lot of it is coming from Abed's point-of-view, one character's point-of-view, and I think that, yes, so it's a little bit less about the meta and more about just, "Oh, crap, let's figure out why we're stop motion."
And tomorrow night's episode is it just Farscape you talk about or there's some other good references, too? I'm trying to think. There might be another reference, but I think Farscape is kind of the big arc; it's the one that's looming over our heads. But, yes, tomorrow night's episode, that's another episode where I think Abed learns a lesson as well. I think a lot of people learn a lesson from tomorrow night's episode, it's very interesting. I think Farscape is just sort of the means to the end.
What are you looking forward to after the Christmas episode for the next half of the season?
A lot of things. I mean, we're doing - we just did an episode where we get to put on a drug play. So I'm exited about that. Anti-drug play, sorry. Let's be clear about that. Like I said before, every script I get, I'm just really, really excited to see what's next and where we're going. I really am in many ways I feel like I'm turning back into a 5 to 10-year old and reliving all my fun childhood things and the fact that I get to do that as an adult with a bank account makes me really excited and my mom can't be mad at me because this is my job. When you get to play in a blanket fort and then do an anti-drug play at a school and then you get to be a stop motion character and play with a doll.
Again, these are things that, as an adult male who's married, probably wouldn't be able to get away with or at least you'd be monitoring - you'd be monitoring his behavior. Some kind of law force would be. But I get to do all that and I don't know, I'm pretty excited, so we'll see. Tomorrow we have a table read for the next episode and I don't - I have no idea what it's about, but I'm really excited.
Community airs on Thursday nights at 8:00 p.m. on NBC.