The Verge: Ben Schwartz
The last two years have been quite busy for Ben Schwartz. The UCB comedian moved out to Los Angeles and almost immediately found himself writing jokes for the Oscars (he co-wrote the recession-themed musical number for Hugh Jackman when he hosted in 2009), co-starring alongside Michael C. Hall, Sarah Silverman and Rainn Wilson in the upcoming Peepworld, and being cast on shows like Parks and Recreation and Undercovers. Not bad for a guy who used to fax jokes to Saturday Night Live and David Letterman.
When Schwartz rang up Movieline last week to discuss his burgeoning career, his call was immediately dropped. ("I have an iPhone, so you can expect that to happen every five minutes.") After reconnecting, though, he spoke all about Undercovers, the thrill of meeting J.J. Abrams and whether or not we've seen the last of Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation.
It looked like you had blast shooting the pilot for Undercovers. What was that like?
It's so much fun. I get to be an action hero and at the same time be really funny and nerdy. For me, as a comedian and as someone who used to love watching the guy who always said 'I'm hacking into the mainframe,' it could not be more of a dream come true.
How did you get cast?
I auditioned. I went on five different auditions to get the role. I remember when I got called back, I was like, 'Oh my God I'm going to get to meet J.J. Abrams!' I think he is inspirationally good. I look up to him such a great deal as a creator. Anyway, I did the audition, it went well. Then I did three more, got the role and was being directed by J.J. How cool is that?!
What was it like when you first met J.J.?
I was a little bit nervous, but the coolest thing about him is that he could not be cooler. He's so down to earth, so smart and the dude is straight up funny. We would be hanging out between scenes and he would crack me up. We would run lines and he was so good at writing for my voice. He wrote this with Josh Reims (Brothers & Sisters) -- he co-created it with Josh -- and he's amazing. And to meet those guys in the beginning was very important. When I got hired, I found that all the lines were being tailored to the way I talk. They're such good writers and they care about the actors.
Is J.J. deeply involved in the show or did he kind of abdicate things to Josh after the pilot?
He's absolutely involved. He still watches dailies, man! He shares writing credits on the first three episodes. He's continuing to pitch in, even as he moved onto Super 8. I can't wait for people to know Josh, though. He's written on a ton of great shows before, but he is so good. He's killing it on Undercovers.
Do you ever wonder how J.J. has enough time to do everything?
J.J. is a robot constructed just to be completely creative. He can be doing 100 things and I can send him an e-mail -- with like a stupid joke -- and he will write back, laughing at it. How does he have time to reply to my stupid email?
Is Undercovers a typical "J.J. Abrams show" or do you think people can jump into it without having to worry about being lost in the mythology?
I didn't get to watch Lost, and then when I got this show, I'm like, 'Oh I'm going to have to watch every episode of Lost.' I go on Netflix On Demand and there's 130 f***ing episodes! I'm like, 'Oh God!' So finally I did Lost in a weekend, then Fringe, then Alias. I had to watch so much TV. It was hard to pick up those shows in the middle. But this will be a little bit easier to jump in. Let me tell you, I want everyone to watch episode. There's no need to jump in. Obama's president. Just watch every episode. I love using that for anything, by the way: 'Anything's possible, Obama's president.'
You're so funny on Parks and Recreation as Jean-Ralphio. Any chance you'll get to return to the series when it comes back in January?
Right now I'm just so much into Undercovers, I can't really think about it. But I will say we are trying very hard. [Parks & Recreation creator] Michael Schur has been unbelievable. He loves Jean-Ralphio. He has told me that we're going to try just to get me on. Everything I do is Undercovers first, but they've been really cool and understanding and so has J.J. I hope it works out, I'm excited to see what they do with Jean-Ralphio.