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Paley Festival: "Community" Cast and Crew Give Us Vampires, Doppelgangers, and Naked Joel McHale

Vampires. Doppelgangers. A nearly naked Joel McHale.

Such were the topics at last night's Community screening and panel at the 2010 William S. Paley Television Festival, where the cast and crew of NBC's Community (sadly without Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Pudi, and Alison Brie, who were shooting last night) came together to celebrate the freshman comedy, attempt to ignore the jaw-dropping antics of Chevy Chase, and offer a brief insight into the hysterical madness that is this sweet/sour comedy gem.

While Brown, Pudi, and Brie were absent (Brown told me via Twitter that they were shooting a scene with Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton), the rest of the cast and crew filled the stage, including: Chevy Chase, Ken Jeong, Neil Goldman, Anthony Russo, Gillian Jacobs, Joe Russo, Russ Krasnoff, Joel McHale, Donald Glover, Garrett Donovan, and Dan Harmon.

Moderated by Entertainment Weekly's John Young (who seemed a little out of his element and way out of his depth), the raucous and insightful evening got underway with a screening of tonight's episode of Community ("Physical Education"), which features Jeff (McHale) taking a billiards class until he learns that he must wear physical education department regulation shorts--resulting in what might just be television's very first naked pool match as Jeff strips down to face off with the class' curmudgeonly instructor--and the gang attempting to makeover Abed (Pudi) so he can win over a girl who seemingly has a crush on him. The result? Comedy gold.

I can't say enough wonderful things about tonight's "Physical Education," which features Pudi's Abed in a range of various personas--from a vampire (which must be seen to be believed), Don Draper from Mad Men, and Jeff Winger--and McHale in a truly hyper-confident sequence where he strips off his clothes and his inhibitions (and constant need to be cool) in order to play a game of pool.

Each of the characters gets a chance to shine here, whether it's Brie's Annie cautiously checking out Jeff's naked behind, Glover's Troy explaining to a confused Shirley (Brown) that they want to "Love Don't Cost a Thing" Abed after Abed says that they intend to "Can't Buy Me Love" him, the hostility of Senor Chang (Ken Jeong)'s "you're the worst" line, Britta (Jacobs)'s pronunciation of "bagel" (and the ashamed face she makes later), and the general obliviousness/insensitivity of Pierce (Chase). There's also a nice undercurrent of anti-PC racial humor, touched on above, that goes onto include someone's unexpected doppelganger.

Plus, the episode features one of the very best tags ever on the series. I don't want to spoil the surprise but I will say that Pudi and Glover are absolutely hysterical and worth every penny they're earning.

Following the screening, the cast and crew took to the stage to talk about the series.

Genesis: Asked where the idea for Community came from, creator Dan Harmon said that he had enrolled in community college when he was 32 years old. Acing his biology class, he was roped into a study group with teenagers who wanted to somehow siphon his knowledge but eventually came to like these people, whom he normally wouldn't be friends with. At the time, he mentally bookmarked the scenario as a possible idea for a television series and later used it to develop Community.

Racial diversity: The character of Troy was originally written as a white, Woody Harrelson jock-type but the casting of Donald Glover is what really brought the character to life and took it in a whole new direction. Harmon joked that he had to rewrite the character's dialogue after Troy became an African-American character, so he just added "yo, yo, yo" to the beginning of every line... a topic that veered into an insightful look at race neutrality in the casting of these characters and Harmon's childhood in the 1970s being raised by a liberal mother in Milwaukee who strove so hard to make her son not racist that Harmon instead became obsessed with race.

Glover went on to describe what an urban version of Community would be like: Troy would be the star, Reverend Run would play his father, there would be tons of bling, and he would try to sell Britta.

Nudity: Given the larger-than-life near-nudity in the screened episode from McHale, a significant part of the conversation was devoted to McHale's nakedness shooting this episode. "I got so used to being in nude underwear," said McHale. "It was no problem. I didn't realize it might be weird to be at the craft services table." He also revealed that he had to shave down before shooting. "I shaved down," he said. "I had lots of unwanted hair I never knew I had. I went on the 'you're going to be naked in two weeks' diet."

Chevy Chase: I have to wonder how anything gets done on set with Chase being quite so, er, distracting as he is. Over the course of the hour and a half or so that the panel lasted, Chase interrupted numerous times, talking over people, imitating them as a ten-year-old might (as he did to poor Ken Jeong as he attempted to answer a serious question), shouting out "boob" in the middle of the conversation, gargling with water, fiddling with his microphone, and repeatedly checking his phone. That is, when he wasn't engaging in impromptu pratfalls, as he fell out of his chair backwards at one point, or pulling out wads of cash from his pocket to prove that he had money. Chase might be a comedy icon but he came across as an extremely frustrating and irritating personality, one that likely would cause friction among a cast. (McHale meanwhile, when asked what he has learned from Chase, said, "How not to match my clothes." And then went on to say, "Chevy is like Nolan Ryan, in that he's still alive.")

Gillian Jacobs: The role of Britta was extremely difficult to cast but Harmon was exceptionally pleased by the audition given by Julliard graduate Gillian Jacobs, who had mainly played drug-addicted teen prostitutes ("look on IMDB," she told the audience) and appeared in very low-budget indie films. Jacobs nailed the role of Britta, which director/executive producer Joe Russo said was "two parts full of herself [and] two parts totally sincere."

Coming up: Before the season is over, look for a highly conceptual episode directed by Justin Lin that is being likened to a twenty-minute action move in the mold of The Warriors, Casino Royale, I Am Legend, and Die Hard, according to McHale. While the cast and crew wouldn't give any specifics, we do know that (A) they're being absolutely serious, (B) the episode had the production number of 119, and (C) it features Glover's Troy saying "Get some bitches!" Wow.

There's also an upcoming episode in which Chase's Pierce comes to believe that he is a wizard. (Yes, seriously.)

Greendale Human Being: Harmon and the crew stated emphatically that Greendale's creepy, corpse-like mascot is not played by Danny Pudi and is not Abed. There was a scene in the Valentine's episode, in fact, that got cut which played up this Twitter rumor and had Abed hiding and then popping up after it was remarked that the Human Being was there and Abed wasn't. It landed on the cutting room floor... but maybe for other reasons, said Harmon.

Asperger's Syndrome: An audience member asked Harmon whether Abed has Asperger's Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder. Harmon said that they don't want to label Abed in one way or another (you can read my interview with Harmon on the subject of Abed and Asperger's over here at The Daily Beast), while McHale likened Abed to Spock or Data. Harmon went on to say that because of Abed's detached observation of the characters and human interaction, he's essentially a writer. Or, as this week's episode points out, "a god" or "God." (There's also a moment in this week's episode where Annie nearly diagnoses him.)

All in all, an extremely enlightening and hilarious evening that had the entire audience in stitches. Kudos to the cast and crew for being quite so game and recounting embarrassing, "intimate," infamous, and hilarious stories. Here's to hopefully a second season of Community and many more to come.

Community airs tonight at 8 pm ET/PT on NBC.


Hadley said…
I have to admit that I wasn't a huge fan at first (I thought it was trying a bit too hard) but I think the show has found its voice and has really grown on me. The cast is funny and likable and just the right amount of kooky!
Julia said…
OMG I was at the event and Chevy Chase was completely out of control. At first it was kind of funny but then it just became sad...especially when he was interrupting other people. (I really wanted to hear what Ken Jeong had to say!)

Honestly, he's the least funny person on the show and he should show more respect for the rest of the cast.
Unknown said…
Can't wait for the episode tonight! And I am not surprised about Chevy Chase at all. If you read "Live From New York" (the history of the first 25 years of SNL), pretty much EVERYONE hates on him and talks about how insanely unproffesional he was/is. I'm surprised he's still able to get work.
Anonymous said…
Love Community and find it sad that Mr. Young was the mediator - sad he wasn't up to the challenge. I think Joel McHale should have introduced the clip and team himself. Clearly from the Soup he has the talent - and charm! - to do that, plus he is invested in the show...

Can't wait to see tonight's episode. I have been on board with Community since the beginning and though there are some less interesting episodes, the show is definitely finding its voice and has a terrific cast of talented characters ready to shelter nothing from the audience and lose their dignity on network TV. Hope we see more of Winger vs. the Dean. They are comedy GOLD!
Annie said…
You have made my week. :)
Lizzie said…
Chevy's presence in the cast balances the group. He is also hilarious, and retains the comic timing that made him a movie star where other SNL alumni failed. Where one can sometimes feel the cast straining too hard with the often self-consciously clever dialogue, Chevy always delivers a laugh. If he's awkward on publicity junkets, give him a break. When he made fun of a Gilda Radner character on SNL, America loved it. God forbid he not treat the Paley festival or the irreverent Ken Jeung with due reverence. The fun "Community" would be a far lesser show without him.
Sue B. said…
"God forbid he not treat the Paley festival or the irreverent Ken Jeung with due reverence."

It had nothing to do with reverence just to show some level of respect for your coworkers. It wasn't funny, it was sad. He can't turn "off" or not try to steal the spotlight.

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