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Thursday, October 24th, 2013

Talking to Adam DeVine About 'Workaholics', His New Show, and the Joys of Voicing a Cartoon Slice of Pizza

While one would think there's not much left for somebody to accomplish after popularizing the phrase “tight butthole,” Adam DeVine's career is only just getting started. After launching into the comedy spotlight on the hit Comedy Central sitcom Workaholics – which he co-created with fellow Mail Order Comedy members Blake Anderson, Anders Holm and Kyle Newacheck – DeVine has since landed roles on Community and Modern Family, appeared in a couple commercials, and had a memorable turn as egomaniac Bumper in the a capella musical comedy Pitch Perfect.

DeVine even managed to find enough time away from writing and filming the upcoming fourth season of Workaholics to host his very own standup show. The first episode of Adam DeVine’s House Party airs tonight at 12:30am on Comedy Central, and the series puts a unique twist on the standard showcase format. House Party features DeVine blowing his production budget on nightly ragers at his mansion and blends scripted sitcom-style storylines with real performances by up-and-coming comedians. I recently had the opportunity to talk to Adam DeVine over the phone about his own standup career, the movie the Workaholics crew is developing with Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, and his quest for the perfect set of jet skis.

Standup showcases aren’t new to Comedy Central, but having that fictional component of your show is very unique. What made you want to structure Adam DeVine’s House Party around that scripted element?

I love standup. I’ve done standup for a long time, and a lot of my really good friends are standup comedians, and it just seemed like there hasn’t been any standup shows that you really want to watch. You want to watch the big comics. You want to watch Chappelle’s new special or Louis C.K.’s new special or Chris Rock’s new special but, like, the new stuff, it never really translated into TV because they’re new comics, they only get a few minutes and you don’t really get to know them enough to care to watch the show. So I kind of was like, “Some of these people are so funny and are funny outside of being a standup comedian.” And what’s cool about the new generation of standups is they’re making internet videos, and they’re doing improv, and a lot of them are, across the board, really funny people. So I kind of wanted to do something that showcases their talents in multiple capacities as far as they’re actors and they can be funny in a situation as opposed to just being funny on stage. So that was kind of the birth of the idea.

Did you have time to brainstorm the scripted scenes with the comedians that appear in them or was all of that written beforehand?

A little bit. We would have the general idea and for the comics that I knew — I knew quite a few of them — we would like to show their voices a little bit and try to put them in situations where I thought that they could be funny and that it could work. But I didn’t go through every comic and do it just because we didn’t have enough time to really facilitate everyone at that level. We just had a few minutes to fill so it was just, like, take the money and run, which is what I’m doing with the whole series. [Laughs]

From the episodes I’ve seen, the combination of the standup and the scripted stuff works really well. Did you find it at all difficult trying to balance the two when you were developing the show?

No, not really. I wanted to give people enough time in their standup acts that you really felt it was substantial, but when it was all said and done, we had to cut their sets a little shorter than I would have initially liked. But I think it really works well with the pace of the show. That’s why standup shows, they kind of suck. They used to suck because you’re watching some comic that you don’t know for 10 minutes, you’re just like, “I don’t know, that’s not long enough to really get to know them.” Like, if they had a half-hour special or an hour-long special you could really get to know them, but 10 minutes isn’t quite long enough for that and it’s a little bit too long to just really hit them over the head with it and then be gone and be like “Wow, that guy was lights-out funny. Where can I see more?” So I think a lot of the comics are coming and for four-five-six minutes where they get to do their standup stuff and then they have a few lines within the scripted narrative of the show. And that way I feel like you really get hit over the head with their standup comedy and see what they’re like and also see their personas off of the stage, which is kind of a cool element of the show that I dig.

Do you incorporate any real life party experiences into the show?

Kind of. The ex-girlfriend episode was like a similar thing that had happened to me where a buddy of mine brought an ex-girlfriend of mine to a party. He wasn’t a standup comedian, but I was kind of like, “What the fuck are you doing?” You know, like I took weirdly too much offense to it even though it wasn’t like a real ex-girlfriend of mine. Like, we dated a few times and then she was like, “You’re kind of a weirdo!” and didn’t want to date me anymore. And then she dated my buddy and I kind of took way too much offense to it. I always think stuff like that is really funny, when someone really just overplays their hand and gets way too aggressive on something that, really, they shouldn’t be that upset about.

Most of your work in the last few years has involved acting and writing, but is standup something you would like to focus more on?

Yeah man, I love doing standup, and I try to do it as much as I can. Workaholics and with some of the other stuff I’m doing is just so time consuming. I get done at the end of the day working 14 hours on the show, and then I’m like, “Now I have to go down to the Improv and hang out and perform.” It just seems like a lot. In my hiatuses I try to get up as much as I possibly can. I was initially an improv guy. I was doing a lot of improv at the Second City and stuff and I was in a couple of improv groups, and I just kind of wished I could just do my own thing and not have to worry about, “Oh, is this scene going to suck?” or “Are they going to hog the scene?” or “Are they not going to give me anything and I have to try and carry the whole scene?” So that was my initial impetus into doing standup was just, if I fail miserably, I want it all on me. I want to be the one that people can blame if it sucked. So that was the reason I got into standup. I wanted to do that, and there’s something really freeing about getting onstage with a microphone and just saying like, “Here’s my stuff. If you like it, it’s all my fault. And if you hate it, it’s also all my fault.” You know? Like, those are my jokes, and if you don’t like them then fuck you, those are my jokes.

Did your relationship with Blake Anderson and Anders Holm feel more natural than the other improv groups you had been a part of?

Yeah, our stuff, it was cool because we met – Ders and I met at the Second City doing improv and Blake and I met in an improv class in college – and initially we just clicked. It wasn’t difficult and when we were doing scenes together, it was really fun and it really worked. So that’s why we kind of kept doing it, and then YouTube came about and we were like, “Oh my God, we can make internet videos and people will actually see them.” So we just said, “Fuck it, let’s make as many as we possibly can and work as hard as we can in doing so.” And thank God it paid off. Or else, I’d probably be selling insurance in Omaha, Nebraska. My face would just be on bus stops. I already have my bus stop smile. It’s sparkly.

You’d be on park benches?

Yeah, totally. Which, also, not a bad life!

The Workaholics cast popped up on the fourth season of Arrested Development recently, and you showed up as Jeff Winger’s stepbrother last year on Community. What have your experiences been like acting on those shows for an episode or a brief scene?

Oh, it’s so cool. When we did Arrested Development, it was Mitch [Hurtwitz] just kind of throwing us a bone, because he had contacted us after season one [of Workaholics], which is mind blowing. Because he contacted us with like, “I’m a fan. I think you guys are doing great work. I’d love to be a part of it in any way.” We were like, “Would you like to write a script?” And he was like “No, that’s real work. I don’t want to do that.” And we were like, “Okay!”And then we wrote him a role, and he came in and just killed it. He played our human resources guy in an episode. That was sort of him throwing us a bone, like him saying, “Put me in your stuff and I’m going to put you in mine.” And then Community, it was really cool. Since Workaholics came out, it’s really opened up a lot of doors for all of us. It’s kind of cool being given this freedom that they give you now that they trust your comedic instincts. Showrunners and directors and producers and stuff are just like, “Okay, cool! That’s what you did.”

You’ve done some commercial work recently. Did you have any creative input on those projects?

Yeah. I was a big SimCity fan and of video games, so I thought, “Yeah, that’s cool.” So I did that. The Norelco spot was in conjunction with Funny or Die, so… The thing about commercials is you don’t want to look like you’re just selling out and just taking a bunch of money for selling some bullshit product that you don’t even like, but at the same time you want to be able to afford really nice jet skis and stuff. So, that’s where my head was at for all of those projects. I was like, 'I want to make them as funny as I possibly can and also be able to afford jet skis.'

Were you successful? Do you have your jet skis?

I bought a house instead. I really blew it. But the jet skis are coming. Watch, I’m going to be in 15 commercials next year. Diamond-plated jet skis. [Laughs]

You’re currently at work on the fourth season of Workaholics. What’s the writing process for that show? Is it just a few weeks of putting scripts together, or are you thinking about possible episodes throughout the year?

It’s just a giant Powerball machine with words on it. We just sort of spin it around, it pops out, it just says “alcoholism.” Then we’re like, “There’s an episode! Keep spinning!” No, we think about it all the time. My notes on my phone are just filled with random ideas and lines we can say and, you know, story ideas, episode ideas, possible arcs, everything. We’re always thinking about stuff like that. And even beyond Workaholics, with like movie ideas and whatever. I think it just helps with the creative process to always be thinking of stuff and, at the same time, writing it down because I smoke too much weed for me to remember all that stuff. So, I have to make sure that I write everything down or my dumb stoner brain will forget.

It seems like Workaholics goes bigger every season. Is there a conscious effort to try and top yourselves?

Not really. I think what it is, is we want to make movies. Because Workaholics doesn’t really have any arcs. It’s not like we have girlfriends or babies dropped off at our house and that’s what the season is about, is taking care of these babies. We really want it to be self-contained, little mini-movies where every week we’re getting into some crazy shit, so that’s what it’s about. It’s not like, “Oh, last week we flipped the Volvo, so this week we have to set it on fire and have an orgy on top of it.” Although, great episode idea! I’m going to write that down.

The cast of Workaholics has all done projects outside of the show, but you’re the only person to have a series named after himself. Do you lord that over the others at all?

Constantly. I’m always holding up a photo of Tyler Perry and just saying “This is my peer! Who are you?!” No, I mean, they’re not standup comedians. They don’t give a shit. [Laughs] They just think it’s cool. I think we’re all pretty happy for each other. A lot of people are like “Oh, you guys must be so sick of each other, hanging out, working with each other 14 hours a day.” We’re not, really. It’s weird. I think our personalities are different enough and also our friendship runs deep enough that we are still very much entertained with each other, we think each other are all really funny, and we like kicking it with each other. So one of us gets something – whether it’s Ders being on Mindy Project or Blake starting a clothing line or Kyle going off and directing a bunch of episodes of other TV shows – we’re just sort of pumped for them. Because when it’s all said and done, we want to work with each other for twenty more years. This is our home base. So it’s like yeah, sure, go off and do your other stuff and hopefully we can, after Workaholics, we can be making movies together. We can make one or two movies a year together until we’re old men. We can ride all of our jet skis together. Into the sunset. That’s how we’re going to die.

[Laughs] That’s a happy ending.

Yep. Just old men riding our jet skis towards the sunset until we run out of gas.

Have you guys worked on any movie scripts?

Yeah, we’ve written a script that we’re working on right now. We have Seth Rogen and Scott Rudin helping us produce it with Evan Goldberg, Seth’s writing partner. We’re hoping to take that on in the next few weeks and setting it up and trying to shoot that this next year. So we’re really excited. It’s a big action-comedy. It’s not a Workaholics movie, but it is starring the three of us. So we’re kind of looking at a Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder situation, where they play different characters, but they were in 50 movies together.

Workaholics makes fun of bro culture a lot. Is that something you’re outright mocking, or is that done in an endearing sort of way?

I mean, it’s a little bit of both. I think everyone has a little bit of bro in them. If you were raised in the ‘90s, a little bro seeped into your brain. You thought A.C. Slater was cool at one point. I think it’s a little bit of, “Oh my god, how dumb is that?” and a little bit of it’s just really funny. It’s hilarious for dudes to be really into their muscles or talking about how hot their hair is. That stuff is just funny stuff.

Speaking of the ‘90s, Workaholics is one of the first TV shows to feature a lot of humor and jokes steeped in references to ‘90s culture. Do you think that generational aspect is a big part of the show’s appeal and its success?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, when we got the show, we were all like 25 years old. Most people don’t get a show that young where they’re the bosses and they’re in charge of everything, so we just were writing what we knew and those were our life experiences. Growing up in the ‘90s and high school and just all those things. And music. Seven Mary Three really inspired me. "Cumbersome" was a point of my life. [Laughs] So why not talk about that? It’s just like how an older generation will reference Star Wars all the time. I’m like, “That shit is old as fuck to me. Star Wars is some old balls,” so when I see that on Community or whatever I’m like, “Oh, those guys are much older than me, who wrote that episode.” Because I wouldn’t talk about Star Wars. I might talk about Demolition Man, you know. I might talk about even like a Commando or something. But, yeah, it’s a generational gap and so we’re just trying to do our best with what we know.

You’re currently playing Pizza Steve on the new Cartoon Network show Uncle Grandpa. As soon as you heard “talking slice of pizza that wears sunglasses,” did you know you had to have that role?

Oh, when I auditioned for it, I was really amped on it when they showed me the artwork. My buddy, one of my best friends has a tattoo of a piece of pizza with sunglasses on it. So when I auditioned for that I was like “I have to get this role. Then I can always tell my buddy that he has a tattoo of me on his arm like a total bitch.” [Laughs] But yeah, if you would have told the 10-year-old me that I’m doing half of the stuff that I’m doing today, I would probably freak out and cry and shit in the pool and then eat a ton of Kit-Kats because I was so excited. I was a fat kid who loved swimming and who also loved Kit-Kats. So, yeah, very stoked on Pizza Steve.

Jeremy Popkin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia. His work has been featured on Ology, Nerve, and Destructoid.