Getting Animated with Rob Huebel
It’s not often that an actor gets the opportunity to voice a character created by a five-year-old. Rob Huebel currently plays Grey Diamond, the naïve and optimistic sidekick to Axe Cop on the show of the same name. Axe Cop is unique in its origin; it was originally a comic written by five-year-old Malachai Nicolle and drawn by his older brother Ethan.
Rob Huebel has a background doing improv at UCB and was one of the stars, along with Aziz Ansari and Paul Scheer, on MTV’s Human Giant. Huebel has had roles on The Office, Children’s Hospital, and just last year landed a recurring role on the Amazon hit Transparent. I spoke with Huebel about playing jerks, avoiding Twitter trolls, and getting Henry Winkler to officiate his wedding.
How did you discover Axe cop? Were you aware of the comic beforehand?
Yeah I knew of it, but I only knew of it because Nick Offerman and Ken Marino; we all do Children’s Hospital together. Those guys were always talking about it. I never read the comic book or anything. And we were at Comic-Con and I think the Axe Cop guys had a booth. And I went with either Nick or Ken over to their booth. Those guys are like uber fans so I was catching up through them.
Axe Cop started with Malachai Nicolle, at five years old, thinking of the ideas for the show. How does the writing process work now?
Malachai was five and he came up with these great ideas for stories and had this super active little kid imagination. Now he’s 10. So he’s fully ready to take on the responsibilities of a TV show. But I was asking the producers about that too. How much of the ideas are his and how much of it is the writers taking and reimagining it so it can be a workable TV show? They were telling me it’s actually mostly him. I think what the grownups have to do is to figure out how to edit the story. For example if there’s too much story about one character and not another, they do an editing job on it. I think the story is really driven by this little kid.
You’ve mentioned before that you like to play the asshole. The character you play in Axe Cop, Grey Diamond, isn’t an asshole but what makes you want to play the that role so often?
Well I think you’re right Grey Diamond is not really an asshole. I am sort of known for that I guess, for good or bad. I look at Grey Diamond as more of the best friend you sort of wish you had. He’s that kind of bro that hangs out with you and just laughs at all your jokes and totally has your back and tells you how great you are all the time. Everybody would want a best friend like that.
I’ve certainly carved out a pretty good niche for playing either assholes or douchebags. You look at my IMDB and that’s how I make my living. I just think it’s a pretty great comedy type. I don’t think that I’m an asshole. I hope that I’m not. I just think that those guys are so funny. I really love it as a comedy stereotype, just the oblivious idiot. I think I sort of gravitated towards that early on in my career and I was just somehow good at it so I started getting cast as assholes a lot. It’s a tough business so if I have to play assholes I’m more than happy to do it. I’m pretty good at it.
I read that you started doing improv at 27. What made you start at that age?
That was just unfortunate for me. That was dumb. I always wanted to work in comedy, but like for a lot of people it just seemed impossible. I didn’t know how to do that. A lot of my peers studied theatre and acting and came up through an improv program as a young person. I even know some people that started in high school or at least college. I didn’t do any of that. I just couldn’t figure out how to get involved in comedy. For whatever reason I didn’t know about improv. I didn’t have improv at my college. All I knew about comedy was standup and I was a big fan of standup, but it just seemed like everyone was trying standup. A lot of people were doing standup that I didn’t think was original.
I happened to see an early UCB show in New York and it just literally blew my mind and changed my life. I very quickly wanted to get involved and figure out how to take classes. So I started doing that. Back then it was all these guys that are now well known. It was me, Rob Riggle, Paul Scheer, Ed Helms, and Rob Corddry. I got involved so late. It was my own fuckup. If I had it to do over again I would have started when I was a lot younger.
Things have seemed to still work out.
I had such a weird approach to it. To dive into comedy and try to make money, I didn’t know how to do that. My initial plan was to move to New York and go to work in advertising. I thought I’ll work in advertising and then I’ll be around commercials and commercials are funny and maybe if I’m really lucky I can write commercials. Then I moved to New York and that didn’t work out. But I started taking improv and then I started acting in commercials and I was like oh I don’t want to just write stuff I want to be funny on camera. So I did commercials for a long time and then that lead to other stuff.
While you were in advertising did you find you had a yearning for comedy or were you satisfied with what you were doing?
I wasn’t even in the cool part of advertising. I never made it to the fun writing commercials part. I was on the advertising sales part. I was just an office guy. Like a lot of people I hated working in an office and I would do anything not to work in an office. I just wanted to fuck around. What eventually happened was I started doing improv and I got an agent, a commercial agent, so I started skipping out on work and going to auditions.
It’s true you auditioned for both Mad Men and Modern Family?
I sort of famously passed on Modern Family. I very foolishly read the script of Modern Family and passed because it was in a documentary format, almost like The Office. When I read that, I was such a fan of The Office that I thought how dare another show try to do that. I wouldn’t go in for it. I was like this show is doomed for failure. I passed on even auditioning for it. Of course now those people are the richest people on the planet.
But you actually went in for the Mad Men audition?
I went in super prepared for Mad Men and I was really convinced that I got it. And I never feel that way. Normally you audition and you feel like you screwed it up. I just felt it in my bones like oh yeah I got this. I’m going to start writing checks. I’m going to buy a jet ski or a baby rhinoceros or something really extravagant to celebrate. But yeah thankfully I didn’t get it because a way better actor got that. I forgot his name. Wasn’t it Jon Hamm?
[laughs] Something like that. I wanted to ask about Human Giant. Do you still write at all with Aziz Ansari and Paul Scheer?
We all hang out and see each other a lot. Aziz is doing a show in New York right now. I haven’t written anything with him in a long time. Paul and I work a lot together. Right now we’re working on two mini pilots with the producer of Children’s Hospital. Scheer is a machine. Paul always has about 10-12 projects going. Nobody works harder than Paul Scheer.
On You Made It Weird you said were recently married and Henry Winkler had officiated it?
That’s right, Henry married my wife and I in January. We became friends on Children’s Hospital. He just has an energy about him that is so positive and calming. My wife and I were really stressed out. I don’t know if you’re married or not, but getting married is a really stressful thing and so my wife and I were really stressed out about it and just the planning of it was such a huge undertaking. So my wife and I were talking and she said “I think Henry would be so great. He would help me feel calm and reassured.” So I asked Henry, not knowing whether or not he’d do it or whether he would even consider it. He was so lovely about it.
He took it very seriously and when he showed up he was so prepared. He had gotten ordained on the Internet like you have to do so the wedding counts. It was an amazing ceremony. Everybody says he’s the nicest man in Hollywood, but he really is the nicest man in Hollywood.
He comes across like a really genuine person.
What’s crazy is that he’s been in the business longer than most people I know. You would sort of expect someone like that to be tired of the Hollywood bullshit and that they themselves would become jaded and cynical, but he is so lovely and is so excited to meet people. When he meets people for the first time, fans or whoever, he really engages with them. He’s like a cross between Jesus and Bill Clinton.
Were you fan of him growing up?
Oh yeah. Everyday I’d come home from school and watch Happy Days. This is how old I am, not the reruns on Nick at Nite, the original ones. I was such a fan of him and that role of Fonzi is the polar opposite of him, not that he’s not cool, he’s very cool, but there are scenes in Happy Days where he would intimidate people and scare people, like he was going to fight high school guys to protect Richie. He’s just the sweetest man. When I met him I was so confused because I thought he was going to be this muscle-y guy with a leather jacket and motorcycle and that he was probably going to kick my ass. He’s more of a lovely father figure.
You’re on Twitter. You mentioned having a rule that you won’t interact with anyone one on the site.
It was probably a bad decision in retrospect. At the beginning I didn’t want to constantly be available to people and have a constant dialogue with people. I was trying to protect myself from people who are rude or just haters on the Internet. I was like I don’t want to engage with them or get in fights with people; it’s probably not the best use of Twitter. I still read what everybody writes about me. That’s what was really dumb is that I read all of the shitty things that people say. Some 14-year-old in his mom’s basement will talk shit about me. I’ll read that, but I wont respond to it. Which is dumb. I should allow myself to attack people on the Internet. I should go after 14-year-old boys and start fights with them. That would be a lot more fun in the long run.
Axe Cop airs on FXX every Thursday at 12:15 a.m.