"Community" star and Chicago native Danny Pudi is happy fans who have waited so long for the return of the wacky sitcom finally can sit back and relax Thursday.
"If you've been waiting for something weird to happen, this is the week," he said. "We're back and I think a little dose of weird is good for everyone. I think people will enjoy kind of getting back into the 'Community' groove."
After being bumped from NBC's schedule in October, the show finally begins its 13-episode fourth season at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 with "History 101," in which viewers get to delve deep into the mind of Pudi's character, Abed. And they're going to love what they find there.
I caught up with Pudi by phone Tuesday to talk about the departure of creator Dan Harmon, the new season and how change can, indeed, be good. But first we talked about he and wife Bridget's year-old twins, Fiona and James.
He also had a special message for his hometown, where his mom still lives, when he heard it was snowing in Chicago Tuesday: "I love you. If you need a dose of summer, maybe watch 'Community.'"
Pudi will be in Chicago on Friday for a free Q&A starting at 6 p.m. at DePaul University's CDM Theater, 247 S. State St., as part of the university's Visiting Artists series.
With the kids, do you have a big family van or something?
[Laughs.] No double-sided minivan yet. We do talk about it, but I ... don't know if minivan is my style--yet. We'll see if I lose that battle.
I imagine your back seat is all baby car seats.
It's all baby car seats. There's probably a four-inch gap in between the two car seats that really just fills with bottles, blankets, burpees and Cheerios.
So it's a pit, like under your couch cushion. That's kind of where everything goes right now.
How are they?
They're doing great, man. It's cool. Like they're a year old now and it's good. ... It's fun to kind of step away and watch them to their twin speak to each other. They kind of babble and say "dada, dada, dada, dada." I'm convinced that they know I'm "Dada," but at the same time they point to a light and say "Dada." They see a dog and say "Dada." I'm hoping they don't think every dog is their "dada."
They're getting close to walking. They're doing like the sort of cruising; they're on tables and things. It's really cute. They're a fun, fun, cute age right now. They'll do stuff like right now they'll be like really cute. They'll come up to you and hug you. And then like they transition so quickly to like they'll pick up like a remote control and hit you in the face with it.
It's really fun to be like, "Ouchy, ouchy," but they have no idea what you're doing. Next thing you know they're slamming a remote against your face again. All this stuff I know I deserve, by the way. Someone somewhere is laughing deeply every time one of my children slams the door in my face or bites my finger.
It's pretty amazing watching all their little developments here and there--pointing to stuff. It's good because now that the show's on hiatus I get to be around more, which is really nice. And see stuff versus just hearing about it via my wife.
Right. Well you guys filmed what, July to October or something?
This year we filmed July to December. This year was shortened because we only did 13 eps total. Typically we shoot from July till about the end of February or early March. That's with 22 to 25 episodes. But this year was shortened so we've been done since Christmas, which was nice because I got to go back home, travel and now we've just been kind of waiting for February 7.
Since you guys got jerked around a little bit.
Yeah, well February 7 I hope is really February 7. [Laughs.] It would be nice to shock people's systems by having a Halloween episode in mid-February, I think. Instead of Valentine's Day people will see our Halloween episode, which in some ways it's just a different kind of Valentine's Day.
Wasn't your first line in this first episode, "It's good to be back from summer break" or something like that?
Probably. Yeah, we are coming back from summer in February. So I don't know if Greendale is set in Australia or what, but it is summer wherever Greendale is. Also in two weeks it'll be Halloween wherever Greendale is. And then in like three to four weeks it will be Thanksgiving wherever Greendale is. So, yeah, we don't really care. It's a chance for people to celebrate holidays twice, so I think that'll be nice for everyone.
Exactly. Do you have any idea yet if this is the final season?
I think it's just like we felt in the previous seasons; I have no idea. I really don't. I mean, every day I hear something different from fans or speculation from my family members who are searching Twitter and other websites. Or my representatives. In some ways it's a feeling that we've gotten used to and we've adapted to the reality that we may not be on the air longer than the season. But at the same time we've withstood a lot of different changes and it's nice to actually still be around. And I think a lot of it is because of the fans and because there are a lot of people who do care deeply about the show that it's been able to hang around. And so I'm thankful for that.
In the season premiere Britta tells Abed to go to his happy place. When talk of the end of "Community" comes up, did you all just sort of go to your own little happy places?
[Laughs.] That's exactly it. [Laughs.] I think the "happy place" is definitely reflective of what are psyche was like as Danny Pudi and everyone else, as well as Abed. That's the thing about our show; we tend to incorporate what's going on in the real world and our real lives as well. The writers do a fantastic job of that.
I think with all the upheaval and all the changes behind the scenes as well this year with Dan Harmon leaving there was a little bit of an adjustment period. It was kind of difficult at first. There was a bit of a transition trying to get used to all the new people around and all the new crew and the writers and just trying to get back up to speed and find everyone's rhythm.
I think with any show after a while you develop a communication and you develop just a common language and all that where everyone understands each other and you kind of move smoothly. And so after a third season, with Dan gone and a whole new crew and a largely new staff of writers, there was a little bit of an adjustment period. And I think that finding our happy place was really important, especially in the beginning of the season.
Slowly as we started working our way deeper into the season I think we definitely got stronger and started, I think, really kind of embracing "Community." So I think it's just like anything. If you have new people it just takes a little while to get everyone back on the same page.
How did Dan's absence affect the vibe of the show?
I guess there are a lot of things that were different this year--one of them being Dan, of course, which I think had the biggest impact on us all. I think Dan has been, he's the vision behind this show and for us it was always an extension of Harmon's mind. To see him gone was, I think, a big hit to all of us. ... He was the guy; it was his idea.
And then another thing that was different was the fact that we never saw an episode while we were shooting. In the last three seasons we'd always be like three to four episodes ahead and then the show would premiere in Septemberish and we'd have sort of this renewed energy, like a second wind.
Because we'd be like, OK, all these weird bits that we've been doing on Stage 32 at Paramount ... wondering if anything that we're going to do is going translate. To see an episode actually gives us that sort of encouragement that people actually like this and although we feel like it might be just a strange little comedy, people are embracing it. This year we didn't get to see any of the 13 episodes and now we're just kind of waiting to see what people see.
It's encouraging when I hear you say that you saw the first episode and the Inspector Spacetime to hear that we're still feeling what we do. ... We were just shooting and hoping that we were still delivering and not disappointing our fans.
But do you feel the style and the jokes are what fans expect?
I think it was different this year. Dan Harmon's not someone I think you can just replace. I think when new people come in and new writers, it's now a little bit more their vision and it's a little bit more of the cast's vision as well and some of the directors. Tristram Shapeero, who's our executive producer, having him around was really helpful this year too because he was with us all through last year. He was, in many ways, our guide because he was directing pretty much every other episode this year. Just to have someone there, some consistency and familiarity with our show was good.
It's going to be different; Dan Harmon has a very unique style about him. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. It's just definitely different. That's just kind of how it is. When you have new people coming in they're going to have their take on it.
But at the same time I think there are a lot of things this year that are very true to the "Community" spirit. Like our Halloween episode and I think the Inspector Spacetime convention [episode]. I think are really super fun. And so I'm excited to see what people think.
I think Abed says it and Jeff says it in the premiere: "Change is scary." It's very apropos to what was going on with you guys, right?
Yeah. I think we were all terrified of it. [Laughs.] For Abed to say, "Changing isn't really my jam." He said that in the "My Dinner with Andre" episode, "Critical Film Studies," [in] Season 2, I think, Episode 19. There is something to that, you know?
There is something really comforting about just being able to do your thing and just do it forever and ever and ever. But I think we all know and not just with these characters but with the TV landscape, things change pretty quickly. And sometimes they have to unfortunately, but that's just kind of how it is. I think it's OK, but I think that's the cool thing about this show, is that we've got to the fourth season which forces us to sort of at least address the fact that it is our fourth year, our senior year, of being at Greendale. So we do have to address that. We do have to address the reality that this is not going to go on forever.
Not just as "Community," but as students at a community college. How long can we be there and in what capacity? Can the study group last forever? I think that's the great thing about this year; we do start to really look into that. I think this group, especially for Abed, has become his family. So it's not necessarily that bad for it to change in terms of it not being a study group anymore at Greendale. Maybe they'll still be together and part of each other's lives, but in a different way.
Part of that is embracing the fact that we do have to change. Or at least address the fact that things are changing around us.
Do you think that was just coincidental or did the writers purposefully try to tell the fans that change is inevitable too prepare them for whatever might be coming?
I don't know. I think one of the things that our show has always done is being aware of the viewer. ... We know you're aware of the fact that we're doing this homage to whatever it is. If we're doing a "My Dinner with Andre" homage or whatever we're referencing. We know that the viewer's aware of that. And we also know that the viewer is aware of the fact that Britta and Jeff have this history. ... Or taking something from Twitter and putting it into an episode. I think these little nuggets make our show special in some way.
I believe that the writers were very aware of the fact that going into our fourth season we didn't have Dan Harmon behind the show as we're also going into a senior year at Greendale. And there's always been the threat of our show being pulled off the air at any moment. So I think those things are definitely addressed. We address those things and a lot of that has to do with being comfortable with change or getting used to the fact that we might not be around forever. Because that is the reality of our show.
One thing I liked in the first episode was when Abed does go to his happy place and imagines "The Abed Show." It's a sitcom with the laugh track. It's so not a "Community" type sitcom.
Yeah, it's so funny. It's funny to laugh at something that you don't like anymore. What it is actually that's what you're doing. We're laughing at a laugh track. We're all children of multicam [sitcoms]. I fell in love with, as an actor growing up--I was just watching the other day "The Cosby Show" reruns. I'm like, "This show is the greatest show in the history of shows." It's so funny. And it's so good. And it's got a laugh track.
Would you be interested in appearing in a show actually called "American Sword Cooks?" [Readers, you will not what I'm talking about after seeing the episode. Watch carefully.]
[Laughs.] Heck yes, I would. Imagine cooking with a sword. First of all, I don't know how good I'd be cooking with a sword overall. I think I'm pretty dangerous just with a regular sharp knife. I bought a really good German knife the other day for my wife and I to use. It's like our first real cooking knife. And it is so sharp and we've both already cut each other multiple times. I didn't cut her--I cut myself.
It's just like a normal little cutting knife. Like a paring knife. It's great. But what would happen with a giant sword? I think that would be definitely interesting. I think ratings would be off the charts. It's like if you watch car racing. A lot of people probably watch it for the fact that there might be an accident at any point. But I think that's what you're going to watch with "American Sword Cook." You know, who's going to accidentally cut off whose arm?
Right. The Inspector Spacetime episode deals a lot with the Troy and Abed friendship. How will that play out this season?
Things have always come easy for Troy and Abed. Now what happens when something comes between them? And just like any friendship certain things have to change and I think that that's something we do this year. We realize that certain things are going to be good for Abed that are not going to be good for Troy and vice versa. And that's OK. I think that's the big thing that they come to realize this year. That just because one of them is in the Dreamatorium alone doesn't necessarily mean that's a bad thing. Sometimes it's good to have some alone time in the Dreamatorium. But that is something that's new to their relationship. It's nice to actually see them evolve in a way and see what happens when Troy and Abed disagree about something.
What else is coming up after these two episodes?
There's a great Halloween episode. It's awesome. We get to go to Pierce's mansion. I'm very excited about it and that's a really fun episode.
Is the mansion actually going to be a haunted house?
It might be. You can take an educated guess. But it is a Halloween themed episode at Pierce's mansion. So if that doesn't frighten you I don't know what will.
One of the things I'm really excited about this year is Jim Rash [who plays Dean Pelton] got to write an episode and that was awesome. Working with Jim on the other side of things was really cool. And that was a really, really fun episode that is a really fun Troy and Abed story line exploring their friendship. I think that's later.
Do you mean Oscar winning screenwriter Jim Rash?
[Laughs.] That's right. Oscar winner from "The Descendants." Fresh off of Sundance with his movie with Steve Carell. Got to write an episode of "Community." So it's a setback for him, but it was kind of awesome working with him.
What else have you been up to?
I'm doing a sports documentary, but that's kind of all I can say for now. And I'm doing this movie with Mark Feuerstein, Henry Winkler and Rebecca Romijn. So naturally, that's fun. I actually just started shooting this week. So that's been really cool. ... It's really fun. It's just kind of a playful indie comedy. And it's been cool working with Mark; he's such a great guy. I've been having a lot of conversations with Rebecca about our lives being taken over by twins. So that's good. She's trying to give me some advice. And Henry Winkler has been really cool. He taught me how to tie a tie the first day of the shoot. It's been cool. And it's been nice, too, because it's shooting in LA kind of off and on the month of February.
Oh, cool. And then you shot something last summer too, right?
I did. I shot a movie called "My Friend Vijay" in Europe. So I'm waiting on that. It's a European film with European distribution. And I believe we'll hear something about it pretty soon. It was filmed in Luxembourg and in Germany. Kinda cool.
I saw an old Marquette blog post. Tell me about "Study Poison."
[Laughs.] Curt, how did you find that? That was my nickname. My two friends from Marquette named me that because frequently I would meet with them in either the Union or at Cudahy and I'd be like, "Hey guys, you want to go and play video games or go watch the Marquette game or go play NHL hockey." And it was always when we were supposed to be studying. But I really liked study breaks more than studying. Or I should say they're just as important. They're equally important. So they knew like all of a sudden we'd be studying somewhere and I'd get up and I'd be like, "It's time guys." And they'd be like, "Here comes Study Poison." [Laughs.] So I know my strengths and I know my weaknesses, Curt.
I interviewed Ike Barinholtz not too long ago and I told him about our "Chicagoans on TV" gallery and that it can hold just 100 photos. He said, "So we have to kill someone? I'll kill Danny Pudi from 'Community.'" [Read the Ike Barinholtz interview here.]
[Laughs.] I love it. I will gladly be killed by Ike Barinholtz. I will laugh while he kills me. He's the only person I know who I will laugh while being murdered. He can make me laugh, believe me, he's hilarious. We actually did a show years ago in Chicago at The Playground I think. It was at the Playground on Belmont and something. When he was doing a show at Barinholtz and Meyers--Josh Meyers--I was in a group called Stir Friday Nights. And they performed before us as part of the Chicago Sketch Fest. And I remember thinking that guy was hilarious then and following him out to LA and now I've seen him a few times. He works with a few of my friends on "The Mindy Project." He's hysterical and he's a big Bears fan. So we can watch a Bears game first and then he can murder me.
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