Exclusive Interview: 'Community's Danny Pudi Talks Awkward Moments and Being Like Abed
Exclusive Interview: 'Community's Danny Pudi Talks Awkward Moments and Being Like Abed
Jenn Lee
Jenn Lee
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
Danny Pudi has become a household name since his breakout role as the eccentric Abed Nadir on NBC's Community, currently in its last stretch of its third season. Pudi recently teamed up with Speed Stick to promote their new "Handle It" campaign: Pudi is asking guys to share their most awkward, horrific "Handle It" moments when they somehow managed to keep their cool. As part of the campaign, we were able to catch up with the Community actor to discuss the "Handle It" moments of life and what it's like to play TV's most pop culture-savvy outsider. Read on for the full transcript of our interview.

So, Danny, let's start at the beginning -- how did you get involved with the Speed Stick "Handle It" campaign?
I think they were looking for someone who's been in many awkward, funny situations. And I'm like, "wheelhouse!" It's really about sharing funny stories. We're going to ask guys to tweet funny stories to @SpeedStick using #HANDLEIT, and it's all about these uncomfortable situations, weird stories that people have had and how they handled it. And we're going to pick one of these stories that people tweet us and make it into a video that I'm going to narrate. It could be really anything -- we've already got some really great stories.

Could you share a personal "Handle It" moment you've had with us?
When I was first meeting my wife's parents, we were going out to lunch in Milwaukee, and I was very uncomfortable because her dad's pretty intimidating. We were dating at the time and he's got this thick mustache -- I could never grow a mustache, so right away he's winning. They're in the front seat, we're in the back seat, I make sure my seat belt's on. Then instinct takes over because I'm just waiting for some way to break the ice in there -- and there's a lot of ice -- and we drive past a Hooters and I yell, "HOOTERS!" I just yell that word, which is a terrible word to yell in front of your girlfriend's parents. There was no real follow-up to it other than I said, "I like their wings," but it did break the ice and eventually I married my wife and she still thinks I'm an idiot.

But everything turned out well for you two in the end.
Yeah, we actually just had twins a couple months ago, and the ["Handle It"] theme still holds true. We were changing our son James' diapers - by the way, cute little babies, they pee so hard - it's interesting the minute you take off a diaper, they start peeing. So James starts peeing and it's shooting in the air, and I don't' know what to do and my instinct, again (besides yelling "Hooters!"), is to take my shirt and just start trying to catch the pee in the air. My wife's like, "Why didn't you just cover him with the diaper?", meanwhile I'm running around trying to catch all the pee in the room. [Laughs] I'm confident some people have had similar situations.

Would you say Abed experiences a lot of these awkward situations?
I think so, but it's different with Abed. Because Abed is in the middle of them often times, but he's not aware of it as much as other people are. I think other people are more sensitive to social etiquette. Like in ["Virtual Systems Analysis"], when Annie is saying to Abed they should leave and let Britta and Troy have lunch, Abed is like, "Is this a social cue?" It's stuff like that that I just loved, because that to me is some of the most fun stuff to experience in our world, especially as it gets more compact and you have more clashing of cultures and age groups and different social requirements -- it's interesting to see what takes priority for certain people.

In recent episodes like "Virtual Systems Analysis," when Abed and Annie explored the Dreamatorium, there's been a deeper focus on Abed's character in terms of his insecurities and the surprising need he has for acceptance, just like the rest of us. Do you think this shows Abed's growth and development on the show?
What I love about this show is we're not afraid to go into people's backstories and expose some of their vulnerabilities. The deeper you get to know them you realize, someone like Abed -- who might seem confident and fine doing his own thing in the Dreamatorium - I'm just trying to connect, just as everyone else is. Sometimes you have to see deeper layers of a character to also realize what they're doing. Ultimately, I think the comedy resonates more when you see more behind-the-scenes how much people are struggling with certain issues.

It was the same thing in last year's episode where Jeff and Abed have a dinner where they just talk to each other ["Critical Film Studies"]. Abed initially starts the sharing: "I'm done with pop culture, I've moved on, it doesn't mean anything, how could someone who's in Cougar Town watch Cougar Town" -- meanwhile he's doing this whole My Dinner with Andre conversation trying to connect with Jeff, and then Jeff all of a sudden start exposing some of his secrets, like dressing up in pigtails one Halloween. What I love about the show is we really get to see deep inside some of the things people are struggling with - ultimately it just makes everything funnier, when you see these people are real, real people -- real vulnerable, real insecure. I just think that helps the comedy. It's more real to me, more truthful.

Some people consider Abed the heart of the show, even if it seems counterintuitive, with him seeming so emotionally detached. What are your thoughts on Abed as the heart of the group?
I love to hear that. I think it's wonderful. To me, there's nothing more joyful than being part of an ensemble as an actor, as Danny Pudi. I love with working all the actors on the show and all the writers, where everyone is doing all these wonderful things around me. My mom's advice to me as a kid was always practice making faces (one), and two, surround yourself with people that are better than you. And I feel like that's what I'm doing every day. It's fun to be in the middle of this wonderful group of people and talented actors and just be in the middle of it.

As Abed, and I've talked about this before, I get to be this blank canvas that is kind of rotating through this world and people are always projecting and throwing their paint up against me. For instance, on a simple level, Troy and Abed - you see Troy's emotion and his crying, his outbursts, and his excitement and you see Abed as sort of sometimes the stable guy with an idea, "Let's go do this; let's play Inspector Spacetime," and then Troy is basically the emotions, the childlike innocence -- all that coming out. And it's fun to walk around and be that blank canvas for everyone. It's challenging, too. But to me, it's really fun.

Abed is definitely a fan favorite, and people seem to connect to him through his weirdness.
I think it's really cool, too, because people are like, "Oh what's it like to play Abed, a character that seems so strange," but I get more responses on Twitter, Facebook and fans I meet on the street of people saying they know people like Abed, or "Hey, I really relate to Abed; I quote movies all the time." To me, there's no better feeling in the world to have someone say, "I really connect to this."

On that note, are you anything like Abed in real life?
I mean, there's probably a reason I'm playing Abed. I'm a believer in fate, in some ways, but at the same time there are definitely parts of me that are not like Abed at all. I'm married, I have two kids, I didn't go to school for film, I think my mom wished I was a priest when I was a kid and then maybe wanted me to be a doctor and that didn't work out - either one. But then there are other things, where I do find myself more closely aligned to what Abed is like. As a kid I was a huge sports fan, I liked to memorize statistics, I was a movie guy, but I was never a guy like an encyclopedia like Abed. I never saw My Dinner with Andre prior to that episode, so I watched it a few times - it's things like that where I have to become an expert pretty quickly. I also wear some more loose-fitting jeans [laughs]. Yeah, I have some preferences as Danny. But it's fun, because I get to see and play in the world from a different perspective, which I love.

Lastly, do you have any possible teasers for the end of season 3 you could share with us?
We've got a couple great episodes coming up, including a video game episode that I'm really excited to see what happens in post-production, because we did a lot of voice work for that. And there's also an Ocean's 11 caper, so that's always fun.

(Image courtesy of NBC)