Talking to Jon Daly About ‘Betas’, ‘Kroll Show’, and Being Friends With Kenny G
As a longtime improviser, Jon Daly has entertained countless UCB audiences, been featured on sketch series like Human Giant and Kroll Show, and created such memorable Comedy Bang! Bang! staples as Bill Cosby Bukowski and Mall McCartney. As 30something programmer Hobbes on the new Amazon comedy Betas, Jon Daly has thus far purchased a robot vagina, carried around a frozen dead cat in a bag, and bared more skin than any given character on Game of Thrones. One of those sets of achievements may not sound as impressive as the other, but Daly imbues his burnout Betas character with genuine pathos, and has quickly established himself as the strongest comedic voice on the promising new series.
I recently had the chance to talk to Jon over the phone about his experience on Betas, what we can expect from the second season of Kroll Show, and some of the upcoming projects he’s most excited about.
How’d you first get involved with Betas?
Well, I auditioned last pilot season and then just got the part. It was pretty easy. So yeah, I just auditioned and booked a role at the end of pilot season and we shot it, and then the pilot was up on Amazon about two weeks after we finished shooting. So it was a really fast process, and then it was immediately out there for people to kind of vote on it and judge.
As a performer, what was your experience like having the pilot out in the public so quickly, and having people on the internet offering their feedback and deciding the fate of the show?
My main focus was on my body and how bad it looked. So, my character is introduced with my shirt off, and I have a big scene where I’m almost naked. Then it turned out, throughout the season of Betas, I get quite naked. And there are definitely three episodes where I am fully exposed, besides my dick and balls. You know, everything’s out there, so I just mainly looked at my body and was like, “You look disgusting.” [Laughs] Self hatred, there’s a lot of self hatred and a lot of doubt. But I think my real answer is that once I discovered that the comments – it basically came down to the comments being more overwhelmingly positive than they were negative. I kind of thought it was going to be commented on like a YouTube video and just have a bunch of disgusting things out there immediately about the show or just kind of like weird irresponsible stuff. When I saw that people were generally being more positive than negative about the show, I was like, “Oh, okay. This is actually a good experience,” whereas it definitely could have gone the other direction. I just didn’t know, it was kind of an unknown factor. Like I’ve put out lots of internet videos, but this was definitely a much, much bigger deal.
What interests you about playing the character of Hobbes in particular?
I really loved playing Hobbes, and it really comes down to the fact that throughout the season, the writers gave me an opportunity to take a character I feel that could be seen as a stock character in a movie – kind of like a disgusting older dude who hangs out with younger people – and allowed me to actually make it a real character. A character with a past, a future, a background, and not just this joke, hipster, kind of disgusting character, basically. I’m not saying that in an incredibly quotable way, but basically they really allowed me to dive into the sadness of this character and a guy who really is basically homeless. My character, as we find out, not much family and not much personal connections and his darkness and rudeness really come from a real place that I feel like the writers gave me a real opportunity to dig into. I was given the opportunity to do more dramatic acting in Betas than I’ve ever had the wonderful opportunity to do. So that was really awesome. Every day was really exciting and they were open to my ideas. We had meetings about the arc of my character. I mean, it was kind of a dream come true.
Being that your career has primarily focused on improv and sketch work, was developing a more in-depth character over a longer period of time a new or challenging experience for you at all?
It was a lovely experience being able to play the arc of a character over an entire season. Again, I’ve never had that opportunity before, and it was a pleasure. I started off, I went to drama school and was an actor and then got into standup and improv and sketch, and so to come back around and actually be able to do a real character was totally rad.
Do you hope to move more towards television and film roles, or do you still want to focus on live comedy?
I want to do both. I’m definitely gonna keep doing live shows and festivals and go on tour as much as I can and I do improv at UCB. But yeah, I definitely want to be on TV and movies as well. [Laughs] You know, just kind of always doing everything when I have time for it, which is great. I want to keep doing sketch stuff too and playing insane characters and doing videos and keeping all of that consistent, but also hopefully get to do some good acting roles. That’s basically my answer.
Speaking of your sketch work, is there anything you can tell me about Kroll Show’s upcoming second season?
Kroll Show season two is just going to be bigger, better, more crazy. There’s more characters, Kroll plays more characters, I play more characters. There’s more “PubLIZity.” Gabe Liedman, Jenny Slate both have season stealing performances. Kroll is the best, and he’s gotten even better. Jon Krisel, the director, and John Levenstein, the head writer, we all – it’s just really kicked us to the next level. There’s more stories that span the entire season. It’s just going to be star-studded and the next level when it comes to stories, when it comes to one-off sketches. “Too Much Tuna” really comes back in force, John Mulaney is so, so hilarious. We have a lot, a lot more “Wheels Ontario.” We have a lot more “Rich Dicks.” The Rich Dicks’ private plane crashes so they have to fly coach. Can’t wait. It comes out January 14th, by the way. It was really, really intense. So fun.
You recently wrapped up filming a sequel to your web video “My Imaginary Friend is Fabio,” with Kenny G as your new imaginary friend. Did you ever envision you’d have the power to summon Fabio and Kenny G to star in sketches with you?
Well, listen. I always dreamed of working with Fabio, you know. I’ve always respected him, I’ve always thought that he was a secret genius. In episode one, filming with Fabio was a dream come true. Fabio is everything you think that he is, as well as being a really smart, nice guy. He was down for whatever, and he’s hilarious. He is hilarious. Episode two of “My Imaginary Friend,” I lose Fabio at the end of episode one and I end up in that pool and then we pick right up with episode two, and then it’s, “Where’s Fabio?” We’re searching for Fabio. And I find Kenny G, and he does just fine. And I was so excited to work with Kenny G because I have played sax since I was in fourth grade, 8-years-old, and I’ve always had a saxophone. I made a character called Barry R because I was obsessed with Kenny G about five years ago. And then finally, everything came together in working with him. And my friend Brian McGinn directed the second episode, and my friend Grace Helbig is in it from Daily Grace, who is lovely and amazing. It’s great.
Do you have any other upcoming projects you’re looking forward to?
Well, besides Kroll Show coming out in January, I’m in The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the new Ben Stiller movie, and that comes out Christmas Day. That was a pleasure and an honor to be a part of as well, and I’ve just gone to the premiere and it’s an incredible movie and I’m super proud to be in it. The cast is incredible – Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Adam Scott, Patton Oswalt, Kristen Wiig. Ben directs and stars, and I got to play a small part in the movie, and I was super, super psyched about that. And yeah, I’ll be making web videos. There might be a Mall McCartney in the works, coming up. Maybe another episode of “Imaginary Friends” in the works, still nailing down… I don’t want to name names. But yeah, a bunch of different stuff.