The comedian made TV history as Abed Nadir on ‘Community’. He speaks to Clémence Michallon about his new podcast, that day Snoop Dogg got high on set, and the cathartic virtues of screaming in closets
Think of the great comic creations. Frasier Crane, absolutely. Leslie Knope, claro. Michael Scott, indisputably. Just as brilliant – though he doesn’t always get the same recognition – is Abed Nadir. As played by Danny Pudi, Abed was the secret weapon of the quirky sitcom Community, stealing the show with his offbeat delivery and encyclopedic pop culture knowledge. He might have seemed socially clueless, but his bluntness was a vehicle for truths that would otherwise have gone unspoken. Even a single word – “cool” – became comedy gold when Pudi gave it the Abed treatment, turning “cool, cool, cool” into a bona fide catchphrase.
“I see people coming up to me all the time asking me when the next season of Community is coming out, because they’re discovering it for the first time,” says the 42-year-old, on the phone from Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife Bridget Showalter and their twin children. He’s done a lot since Community ended – from DuckTales to the Emmy-nominated Mythic Quest e agora Bobby Wonder, a new podcast for children – but fans will probably always associate him with Abed. He doesn’t mind. “It feels good that the show still feels alive to so many people.”
His scenes with Donald Glover’s Troy Barnes are especially beloved; the two were best friends, united by their childlike wonder, their commitment to absurd stunts (stuffing as many pencils as they could in the other’s mouth), and a silliness that often bordered on genius. Recall their unbelievably smooth freestyle rap in Spanish, which begins with an innocent “Where is the library?” and devolves into “Lard, mustache, huge, little, head is snow, beer is good.” They were – and still are – the friends everyone wanted to have.
Pudi and his former castmates are still close. There is a group chat, he tells me (I don’t think Chevy Chase is in it – but more on that later). They use it to congratulate one another on their various accomplishments, of which there are many. Donald Glover has thrived as a rapper and as an actor (having released the chart-topping, Grammy-winning hit “This Is America” and starred in the Star Wars e homem Aranha franchises). Alison Brie was a cutting presence in Emerald Fennell’s Oscar-nominated Promising Young Woman. Ken Jeong had his own ABC sitcom, Dr Ken, has scored a string of film and TV roles, and is now a judge on The Masked Singer. Gillian Jacobs has remained a steady presence on the big and small screen, with recent credits in The Twilight Zone, Disney +’s Earth to Ned, e a Fear Street slasher film trilogy. Yvette Nicole Brown just received an Emmy nomination for her role in the HBO comedy series A Black Lady Sketch Show.
“The cast is amazing,” Pudi says. “We’re literally texting each other all the time. It’s a beautiful thing. Community was such a unique show for us. De muitas maneiras, it was like college for us – a growing-up experience where we really, really bonded.”
Even in Pudi’s home, Community is finding new fans. The comedian recently watched the show with his nine-year-old kids for the first time. He was captivated by their reactions to the show’s comic bits, especially Troy and Abed’s scenes. “They really responded to a lot of those kinds of moments,” Pudi says. “There was something really childlike and joyful, like friends making the most out of a moment. I know from my personal experience being on set with everyone that we had a lot of fun just riffing and piling on jokes. And I like to believe that that translates on screen.”
Ainda, Community, like most popular sitcoms to come out of the 2000s and 2010s, has been re-evaluated in recent years. When it started streaming on Netflix last year, Vox acknowledged a “handful of misfired jokes” in the series, while at the same time labelling it “one of the all-time great TV sitcoms”. Though it didn’t involve Pudi’s character, Ben Chang’s drawn-out “Gayyyy!” in response to McHale’s Jeff giving a presentation about respect remains one of the most misguided lines on the show. Are there any jokes Pudi would handle differently if Community were on the air today?
“I haven’t thought about that too much," ele diz. “Whether or not specific jokes age well, that’s always tricky. It was very much a moment in time that we were trying to capture and do our best to be honest in that moment.”
Pudi had an unusual journey into show business. Born in Chicago to a Polish mother and an Indian father, he grew up learning Polish folk dancing and starring in Polish plays. After earning a degree in communication and theatre, Pudi worked as a recruiter, doing auditions on the side. “I never really did the struggling actor thing in terms of waiting tables, temping and so on," ele disse India Currents dentro 2009. “I totally respect that choice, but I always had a good job.”
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His first screen credits came in the mid-2000s, with guest appearances on shows such as ER e Gilmore Girls, where he had a small role as a staffer working with Rory and Paris – poor guy – on the Yale Daily News. But it was Community that propelled him to fame – though not exactly overnight. Despite earning four Emmys nominations, the show was on the brink of cancellation for its entire run. “The show was a passion project in many ways, but it was also unpredictable,” Pudi says. “There were many, many moments when we didn’t know if it would be cancelled or picked up. All of that added to the joy of being able to enjoy the time we had with each other.”
Community fez, na verdade, end briefly, before the now-defunct Yahoo! Screen rescued it for a sixth season. Despite these highs and lows – or maybe because of them – Community earned a cult following. A famous and determined fan campaign demanded “six seasons and a movie” – so there’s just the movie still to go.
Shortly after the series wrapped up in 2015, Pudi booked a voice part on DuckTales, Disney’s celebrated reboot of the 1987 programme of the same name. Recently, he has played Brad Bakshi, head of monetisation at a video game company, on Apple TV+’s Mythic Quest. He also voices the title character of Bobby Wonder, a newly-launched podcast by the children’s entertainment studio GoKidGo. Bobby, a boy who finds out on the day of his 10th birthday that he’s from another planet and has superpowers, must protect his hometown of Pflugerville against the villainous Mighty Mila, whose goal is “to make life miserable for everyone”. The podcast is a lively, often funny, and sweetly absurd account of Bobby’s efforts.
As a father, Pudi wanted to do more work he could share with his two children. Besides, podcasting comes with the added convenience of working from home, and has proved unexpectedly cathartic.
“It’s been really exciting and therapeutic to go upstairs into this closet that I’ve transformed into a sound booth and scream for a little bit,” says Pudi. “I don’t think you need to do voiceover or have children to connect with that feeling. You could go into any room and just scream for a little bit. I do feel better after that. I always do.”
Pudi is upbeat and chatty, often self-deprecating. His kids, by his own admission, are at times “not really impressed” with his work. “They’ll watch half of my stuff and then I’ll be like, ‘Isn’t that funny? Isn’t that exciting?’ And they’ll turn to their programmes of choice, Como O mandaloriano e The Great British Bake Off. It’s interesting to see what they find funny. Inevitably, any time I get hurt or I’m petrified, they’re very excited by that.” At that, he bursts into laughter. “So I’m looking to incorporate that into my performances.”
The only hint of tension comes at the mention of Chevy Chase. The comedian left Community’s main cast after the show’s fourth season – his character, the curmudgeonly, bigoted Pierce Hawthorne, was killed off – making only occasional appearances from season five. Chase has faced accusations of problematic behaviour on the set of Community. UMA 2018 profile of Glover in O Nova-iorquino alleged that Chase “often tried to disrupt [Glover’s] scenes and made racial cracks between takes”. Glover told the magazine he “just saw Chevy as fighting time” and that “a true artist has to be OK with his reign being over”. Chase, in turn, told the publication he was “saddened to hear that Donald perceived me in that light”.
Brown, Brie, and Pudi have all spoken positively about working with Chase; McHale has acknowledged that Chase “always hated the hours and didn’t want to be there for that long”. When I bring up Chase today, Pudi’s representative steps in. The question will be skipped. I’m left revisiting what Pudi told his alma mater, Marquette University, a few years ago: “I keep telling Chevy, when he’s ready for a vacation, to let me know. I don’t know what it would be, a road trip vacation, pode ser? Me and Chevy on a Vespa or something … I think that would be hilarious.”
Chase aside, Pudi lights up whenever he discusses his work. I ask him about Snoop Dogg’s recent guest appearance on Mythic Quest (in the season two episode “Breaking Brad”). The episode, ele diz, was “very important” to him because it delved into his character’s backstory – a thrill for any performer – and because his close friend Parvesh Cheena played Brad’s brother Zack. Enquanto isso, Snoop Dogg was getting high with Rob McElhenney at 7.30am.
Next thing you know, Pudi recounts, “Snoop has given a private concert in a motion capture suit, and it’s a complete party. People are dancing, people are high, and I’m crying with my best friend. So it felt like I was back in high school again.”
Bobby Wonder is streaming now on Spotify