There are interviews where I go in with no agenda beyond wanting to have a conversation, and then there are those that center on questions I've been wanting to ask for years. Paul Rudd is one of the latter. We're close to the same age (he's a bit older), so I've followed his career from Clueless on, including the period just afterwards when he seemed to drift through a series of movies without making much of an impression beyond general amiability. Then, he got funny. His appearance in 2001's cult fave Wet Hot American Summer might have been a one-off, and I saw next to nothing of his recurring role on Friends, but after the 2004-5 double-shot of Anchorman and The 40 Year Old Virgin, it was clear he had some serious comic chops, and could hold his own as virtually the only traditional actor amidst a cast of professional comedians. Since then, he's done numerous projects with the folks from Stella and The State as well as a handful of Apatows, and made guest shots on half the shows on Adult Swim, from Robot Chicken to Tim and Eric. So when I put in for my Dinner for Schmucks interview, I knew just what I wanted to talk about.
As it turns out, Rudd is a self-professed "comedy nerd," as well-versed in cult BBC shows like Little Britain and The IT Crowd as the Marx brothers. Ands he discusses in our interview for Salon, shooting Schmucks was an aficionado's dream come true, an opportunity to work up close with stars risen (Steve Carrell) and rising (Zach Galifiankais) as well as some whom only hardcore comedy fans would get jazzed about (David Walliams and Chris O'Dowd, of the above-mentioned Beeb shows). The feeling of geeked-out excitement he describes at watching them invent material on the spot is the same I felt when watching the Mighty Boosh bat a stray idea back and forth, amplifying and enhancing it, in what felt like a distinct echo of the way they write the show.
As the interview's in Q&A form, pretty much our entire conversation is represented (minus some of my more circuitous questions), but I do want to draw your attention to a particular passage that I would have underlined more forcefully in a narrative feature. Rudd's talking about how great it was to shoot the climactic dinner scene in a room stuffed full of comedians he admires, and how in awe he was simply to be in their presence. And then he gets around to Jeff Dunham, the hugely successful but coastally unloved ventriloquist:
Jeff Dunham is, like, the biggest thing in the world. I'm thinking, "Wow. How many people would love to be where I'm at right now," watching Jeff Dunham go through his thought process on jokes for his puppets. All these different things in that dinner scene. What a cool thing to be in the room.
Isn't that the nicest way of saying, "I don't think he's funny in the slightest"? Given how effusive Rudd is on the subject of his other co-stars, the fact that he describes Dunham inventing "jokes for his puppets" pretty much says it all.
Of course, Rudd has had his down moments, too. To wit: