Talking to actor writer/actor/comedian and The State alum Joe Lo Truglio, you get the feeling that he’d be a go-to guy for your softball team. That is to say, he’s a team player: humble about his work alongside other actors and aware that comedy is often a collaborative effort. In discussing his career up to this point as well as his work as Agent O’Reilly in the Simon Pegg/Nick Frost/Seth Rogen sci-fi comedy Paul, Lo Truglio credits the desire to work alongside and support actors and actresses whose company he enjoys as the secret to reaching comic success. I recently spoke to the actor who has upcoming roles on Children’s Hospital, NBC’s new series Free Agents, and voice work on the animated Glenn Martin, D.D.S. about the comedy legacy of The State, making comedy work, and showing his junk to co-star Paul Rudd.
MTV Geek: What attracted you to the role of Agent O’Reilly in Paul?
Joe Lo Truglio: I’ve always been a big fan of Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, and of course the opportunity to work with Greg Mottola again, and Bill [Hader; Lo Truglio worked with both on Superbad]—I was very excited about that. As well, I hadn’t worked with Jason [Bateman] before, and Kristin [Wiig] I’d been a fan of forever. So the people—that was a long way of [explaining the appeal of] working on the project.
And in terms of O’Reilly, I was certainly able to relate to his love of comics. I was a big MAD Magazine fan when I was a kid and I read a lot of horror comics—I illustrated as well. I think there were a few things about O’Reilly that I liked. And I also loved as a kid running around, pretending I was a spy or a cop.
There were a lot of levels there that I was attracted to.
Geek: You describe a bunch of comedy powerhouses there—and you’re no slouch yourself—
JLT: Oh, thank you.
Geek: How do you thrive or stand out when surrounded by other really strong comedians?
JLT: It’s kind of “birds of a feather.” You surround yourself with amazing, grade-A talent, and you’re going to have to lift your game. You kind of thrive just by being around such people. And it was a very collaborative, silly, and fun atmosphere on-set. It wasn’t really a one-upmanship going on there—it wasn’t competitive in that way. It was kind of like tossing the ball around, being silly.
Geek: And along the same lines, you’ve had a couple of guest stints on Cartoon Network’s Children’s Hospital. What’s that set like?
JLT: That’s also very light and fun. That’s a group of people that love being together and love doing that show, and they’re very tight. And ordinarily, when guest stars would come on to a show that has that kind of momentum going, it’s hard to kind of vibe or fit in with the regular cast. But in this case, it was different for two reasons: one, they’re very open people and two, I’ve been able to work with many of them already. So it was kind of a seamless transition to jump into that circus that is Children’s Hospital.
It was very reminiscent of being on The State in a way, in that they really had a good time trying to make each other laugh, and I always think that’s very important when you’re doing a comedy—that sense of fun, and that sense of “I’m going to try and get you and get you to crack on this take.”
Geek: When thinking about writing for comedy, I’m always wondering about that—you talk about making things funny for yourselves, but how do you know what’ll land for the audience?
JLT: You don’t, really. I found—it was one of the first lessons that I learned on The State—is that really, you have to, with your stuff, make the people you’re working with laugh. You have to trust that all of you have some semblance of—that your cast isn’t tone deaf to what is funny. So if you can make each other laugh, then that’s sort of all you can do. Because you’re not going to know whether or not things are funny.
Really, I think for me, I’ve been lucky so far and I seem to work with people who are also funny, so I have ample faith that we’ll get something worthwhile out of this. You really don’t know what’ll work—you really have to just do what makes you laugh and hope that there are more people out there like you. It’s almost like trying not to be too special, you’re just saying “Well, if I find this funny, hopefully there are other people out there in TV land or movie land that also find it funny.”
Geek: What do you think it is—what kind of magic or whatever—that still keeps people finding The State funny after all these years? People still kind of speak of it in reverent tones even now.
JLT: I think the biggest reason is that we tried hard on The State to not write or do dated sketches, which is to say, although there were certainly a couple of pop culture references—certainly in the first season—we focused [less] on political humor and more on absurd humor and silly humor, and absurd things in real situations. And that’s a type of comedy that is timeless and that’s why Python is still amazing and Kids in the Hall still has amazing sketches as well.
Because we made a conscious effort to write sketches and concepts that weren’t about Full House or Nirvana, per se. Although I do think we did have a sketch about Nirvana. But you know, does that make sense? We tried to stay away from, certainly political humor, and we didn’t really do impressions—we just tried to stick to the silly stuff and hope that lasted.
I think also, we were coming from a very specific experience, he 11 of us. We were all coming from a white, upper-middle class background, so we all had very similar tastes, and very similar experiences, childhoods, and adolescents, and we brought that to our comedy. I think once you have a voice that is unique or specific, it stands out a little bit more because it’s not trying to please everybody.
Geek: It’s always a thrill to see you guys crossing over into each other’s work. What keeps bringing you back together?
JLT: The fact that we trust each other, and everyone’s very good. It’s like that in a job—forget even in the entertainment industry—[you prefer] working with someone who does a great job and that you trust to deliver, you’re going to go back to that person. And I think you see that in many of the groups that are in comedy, like the guys from North Carolina like Danny [McBride] and Jody [Hill], or even Sandler and his crew.
Everyone trusts each other, and what’s great is that you’re seeing crossover from all these camps. And I think that the reason is that everyone is familiar with each other’s work and you want to work with your friends. You want to work with people that you trust, that you’ve known for a while.
Geek: And you’re actually working with one of your The State co-stars, David Wain, on a film he’s directing? Could you tell us a little about that?
JLT: Sure: Wanderlust stars Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston, and they play a married couple who recently bought a place in New York and had to sell it because Paul’s character loses his job. So, they travel south to live with Paul’s brother, who’s annoying—played by Ken Marino—they stop over at a bed and breakfast. And what they think is a bed and breakfast turns out to be a hippie commune, where they encounter a bunch of crazy people. One of which, is me, playing a nudist, and winemaker and aspiring novelist. And it’s a really funny movie—it’s exactly what you would expect from David Wain, and at the same time I expect it could cross over to a larger audience, just like Role Models did.
Geek: What was it like showing Paul Rudd your junk?
JLT: [Laughs] Well, Paul Rudd and I have gone on man-dates before where he and I just sit in a karaoke run and sing songs to each other. So, it really wasn’t that difficult. You know, it wasn’t really anything he hasn’t seen before.
Geek: What else do you have coming up?
JLT: Yeah, there’s a show called Free Agents that’ll be on NBC this Fall. And again, a case where I’m delighted to be working with a fantastic cast with Hank Azaria, Kathryn Hahn, Mo Mandel, and Anthony Head. And these guys are, once again, really fun people to work with. John Enbom, the creator of Party Down is behind it and so is Tom Holland. It’s a show I’m really, really excited about. I play a security guard who’s an avid sword collector—he loves practicing with swords, videotaping himself, and then showing them to other people.
It’s just a great show about relationships in the workplace. It takes place at a PR firm and all of us are in that building as one dysfunctional family.
There’s another movie called High Road, which is Matt Walsh’s (the character actor from John Benjamin Has a Van, The Hangover) directorial debut. It has a great cast as well. And another movie called Queens of Country, which is an independent feature with Lizzy Caplan and Ron Livingston, that’ll hopefully be out next year as well.
PAUL is available on ON DEMAND, as well as Blu-ray and DVD