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Community’s Danny Pudi On The Return Of Evil Abed, And Why He Should Play The Riddler

If there’s a break-out character on NBC’s surging Thursday night hit Community, it’s Danny Pudi as the TV loving Abed Nadir. His rapid fire delivery, stoic look, and perfect handle on inhabiting pretty much any genre of TV and movies have made Pudi’s Abed the most quotable character on a show full of quotable characters. In advance of the show’s upcoming episode focused on the Holodeck-like Dreamatorium, we chatted with Pudi about his roots in sketch comedy, the show’s upcoming Law & Order and video game themed episodes, and whether he or Christian Bale make a better Batman:

MTV Geek: I’m curious, as you have a background in sketch comedy… Do you think that at all feeds into what you do on Community, or is the show its own animal?

Danny Pudi: There’s an element of it… Donald and I get to do these end tags, and there’s definitely an element of sketch, where we’re almost doing these blackouts. There’s a timing element to it, too, where we know they have to be about thirty seconds long. It’s very much, find the joke, hit the joke, look for the out. Which to me feels very much like a quick improv game, or a sketch, within a sketch show.

Sometimes, Abed has to take on these personas, whether it’s alien, or Jamie Lee Curtis, or Don Draper, where it feels like there’s a sketch component… But at the root of it, it’s coming from Abed’s perspective, so I think it is a different animal. There’s that sense of finding Abed first, and then adding those personas over him.

Geek: It’s interesting you say that, as Abed often comes off as somewhat robotic… How do you, as an actor, approach a character like that, and still make him human?

DP: To me, Abed is very human, and it’s such a fun character for me to play because he’s constantly affecting other people’s emotions, in addition to his own, and trying to figure out and handle them at the same time. If you watch Troy and Abed together there’s an interesting dynamic there… Troy experiences emotions full on, right away. All of the qualities I talk about in Blanket Fort, Part 2, the Pillow Fort episode… Some of his faults cause him to cry right away. Abed is more introspective, and trying to figure out why this person is crying, I’m not really sure why I don’t feel that way.

It may seem robotic, but there’s a lot that grounds it for me that makes it really emotional. He wonders why people are going through what they’re going through, and is just trying to connect himself to them, and connect this given moment, and why he’s supposed to feel a certain way. Abed experiences the world a little differently than in the traditionally portrayed way.

Geek: Where do you think he’s going then? Given that he’s trying to figure out how emotions work, do you think his eventual path where he has figured it all out, and he is able to become a fully fledged, fully rounded human being?

DP: I don’t think so, I don’t even think that’s the right way for me to look at. Abed is a person, and this is how he looks at the world. One of the great things about our show is that we don’t force people to have these “changes” all the time. People I know, who I’ve known forever… They haven’t changed that much. The situations and the circumstances around them have changed: they’re now older, they’re now able to afford a car, or have a baby they’re supposed to be responsible for… But at their core, they’re still the same person that enjoys fart jokes as much as I enjoy them.

That, to me, is just more interesting, seeing a real person live, and seeing the situations change on them. Even in the show, Abed said, “Change is not really my jam. I’m more of a fast-blinking, stoic, removed type.” I think that’s more true and more honest… And I know it’s more true and honest, because I know people connect with Abed in that way. People come up to me all the time and say, “I know people like Abed. My best friend and I are like Abed and Troy.”

That’s more important. To show honest people reacting to situations, than forcing change. I don’t know where he’s going to go, I don’t know how he ends up. But it’s fun to see how everything changes around him.

Geek: We’ve seen a Troy Britta thing going on, and of course a Jeff Annie thing… Are we going to see Abed get any sort of long term romantic interest, or is it the Troy/Abed relationship that’s the center of that character?

DP: It’s like looking at all the different kinds of love… Certainly with Troy and Abed [laughs] it’s true love. It’s real, deep friendship, and they accept each other. It’s like agape, the Greek words for love. The Troy and Abed they just accept each other, and with his father in the show, you see him struggle to understand his son. It’s nice for Abed to have someone who accepts him for who he is, and understand they might not see the world the same way, but they’re both trying to connect with the world, and be who they are.

Troy Britta are more eros, the passionate love, and… Maybe they’re more like Philia, I’m looking at the types of love right now [laughs]. I don’t know if there’s going to be an eros type of love for Abed. There was that CIA agent that Abed took romantic interest in, you saw that their relationship worked, but we also saw how complicated it was, because the agent had to leave. You could also see what it would take for Abed and a person to fall in love, it’s not going to be your typical kind of person. I also hope that if it does happen, it’s real, and honest, and true to him and his relationship.

With that being said, more important is Abed’s relationship with his study group, who I think has become his one true love.

Geek: Let’s talk about some specific plot stuff… I hear Evil Abed is returning soon. What can you tell us about that, and how much fun is it to play “Guy with Goatee?”

DP: [Laughs] It’s pretty amazing. If you would have told me that I would be acting some day in multiple fake goatees, and fake mustaches, I would have told you, “Sign me up, and I don’t need to do anything else in my life. I don’t need to eat…” The fact that the second half of the season is primarily dedicated to me in a goatee is pretty exciting.

Evil Abed is back… This week’s episode is all about the Dreamatorium, and that to me is fun. It’s also fun to explore alter egos within oneself. I’m going to go deep for one second. There’s a Whitman quote that says, “Do I contradict myself? Very well then. I am large, I contain multitudes.” And I think that is one of my favorite quotes ever because it’s saying basically the same person, who is a neat freak can also leave his underwear laying on the floor of the bathroom. That’s what I tell my wife.

That is to me is Abed, and Evil Abed. It’s nice to play two sides of a person, and show that one side is like this, driven by control and power, and the other side can be driven by the need to be with people. That’s where we get the Evil Abed dynamic… As we go deeper and deeper into Abed’s mind – which is a place a lot of people find sort of accessible – that might be pretty cool for people to see.

Geek: I feel like I may have stolen this from somewhere on the Internet, but do you think there’s a chance we could get a full length show version of ‘Troy & Abed In The Morning’?

DP: [Laughs] I don’t know! We’d need a lot more content. Troy and Abed in the morning is designed for one bit. It is the pinnacle of blackouts. We bring our guest on, we tell them, let’s talk about your new pet lizard, for instance with Starburns… Starburns realizes there’s no audience… That’s the end of the show. We’d have to develop actual content for the program. We’d have to hire a staff to write content for an actual Troy and Abed in the Morning, get segment producers, talk about news of the day. Right now it’s one bit, a song, a mug, and a guest who’s confused… That’s the show.

Geek: Who plays a better Batman? You, or Christian Bale?

DP: Oh, come on, you know it’s me. [Laughs] I wouldn’t even touch that, Christian Bale is pretty damned incredible, Dark Knight is one of my favorite movies of the past fifteen years or so. He’s unbelievable, and remember, when I do my voice, it’s a [switches to growl/whisper Batman voice] complete homage to Christian Bale.

He’s an incredible actor, but hey, I always fantasized about being Batman as a kid.

Geek: If you could jockey for a role in the next Batman movie, do you have a choice? Some role you would want to play?

DP: I’ve really come to terms with my body and my physique, knowing that I’m probably not going to be Batman. But there’s a lot of other characters… I wouldn’t mind being anybody in Gotham. I kind of feel like I’d probably be a better villain. As a kid, I always fantasized about being Riddler, that would be a ton of fun. What do you think, is there anyone you think I’d fit the type for?

Geek: I gotta say, the first one I thought of was The Riddler.

DP: I would love to play The Riddler… Scarecrow maybe? I dunknow. My Mom would want me to do Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, maybe.

Geek: Let’s talk a little bit about the Speed Stick promotion you’re working on right now.

DP: I’m really excited about, because of my fascination about – and always finding myself in – awkward situations. We’re asking people to tweet their awkward stories and encounters to @speedstick, using the hashtag #handleit. Out of these stories, we’re going to pick one, and I’m going to narrate it. I’m really excited to see what happened to some of these people… I’m constantly telling my wife and friends about things that I’ve done, or times I’ve gotten in trouble for saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing in front of my wife’s parents… I yelled out “Hooters!” from my car at my wife one of the first times I met her Dad. That didn’t go over well. It will be fun just hearing about how people got into awkward situations, and got out of them. It’s April 23rd through May 7th. Hopefully I learn something about myself, and find out I’m not the only one who’s been in many awkward situations.

Geek: There’s obviously been a lot written about the show’s hiatus, and return – and knock on wood, things seem to be going pretty well right now. But what can fans do to guarantee six seasons and a movie?

DP: I don’t know! Whatever they’ve been doing, it seems to be working. I tell people I’m so thankful for the flash mobs, and fake goatees, that bring a visibility and voice to our show… A lot of it is just awareness, a lot of people just aren’t aware of our show, we’re on a very competitive night of television, going against Idol, and Big Bang, we’re just trying to survive. So it just starts with telling people about us, and that we’re out there. Hopefully people tune in to our previous episodes, and are able to discover this wacky band of misfits, and have fun with us. The things people are doing are great! Our fans are so creative, and we’ve seen so much cool fan art and fan action on the Internet, all the blogs and Reddit posts, they help spread the word.

It is sort of a grassroots kind of show that people can embrace, and take on as their own. If you see anyone who hasn’t watched it, tell them about Troy and Abed in the morning, tell them about Starburns, and hopefully we can get them hooked.

Geek: What’s coming up for the rest of the season?

DP: This week’s episode is all about the Dreamatorium, and an exploration of Abed’s mind, and relationship to the world. There’s an episode coming up where it’s a Law & Order parody, which I think is awesome. It’s one of my favorite episodes we’ve done. There’s a crime committed on Greendale’s campus, and in the style of Law & Order, we try to figure out who’s the culprit. There is a video game episode, where we all play a video game, which I think is going to be really cool. There’s an Ocean’s 11 type episode, where we’re going on a caper, the group has a mission. There’s some fun things coming up, but there’s also a lot more at stake now: Troy & Abed’s friendship, the gang, and even the whole school.

Community airs on NBC, Thursdays at 8PM!

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