By: Amrie Cunningham [My Take on TV]
I tuned into FOX’s Back to You when it premiered earlier this TV season to see two classic TV stars interact. What happened after the pilot was that I found myself tuning in to the next few episodes not only because of the chemistry and the talent of the big names, but the supporting players, who, in my humble opinion, continue to steal the show. One of my favorite supporting players on the show is Ryan Church, the sweaty and anxious news director played so well by Josh Gad. Josh took some time out of his busy schedule to chat with me about his character, about laughing so hard he thought security should show up, and why people with some time on their hands should tune into BACK TO YOU.
I’m so glad to get to talk to you!
I’m so glad that you get to talk to me.
Ha! Just want to start by saying that on your show, you could easily have been one of the characters that gets lost behind Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton, but you really stand out. I find myself laughing at your stuff more than others.
Thank you so much, that means the world to me.
Tell me about this role, how did this come to be?
It’s actually a great story. I was filming 21 in Boston at the time and I had auditioned for Back to You probably three months prior. Nothing came of it. I didn’t even test for it. They just wound up going a different way, so I hadn’t thought about it in months. I hadn’t thought about TV, and doing any of that stuff. I got a phone call one day while I’m on the set, and they said, are you near an airport? And I said why? And they said you need to get on a plane in an hour, you were just offered the role of Ryan Church in back to you. My jaw dropped and I’m like “What?” And they said the guy who was playing the role, it wasn’t working out. Mind you, this was 48 hours before they shot the pilot. I’m starting to freak out. I’d never done a sitcom in my life, not a guest star, not anything. I don’t even know what the hell the format is like, so I’m on the plane with the script and it just happened to work out, serendipitously as luck would have it; I had a few days off where I’m not shooting. I get on the plane with the shirt on my back, nothing more, and I head over to LA, had the script in hand. I rehearsed for one day with the cast and then the next day, shot in front of a live audience. Most of the sweat and anxiety that was in the pilot episode? That was real. That was Josh really being frightened by what he was doing. It was pretty magical, it was pretty intense, and it was a wonderful ride and hopefully I settled into it.
I would never have known that you had only that time to prepare. It absolutely came off like you had some time with the role.
Thank you so much. It was great. It was to the point, where I had to look at Jimmy Burrows the director and be like, so is this like theatre where they do it all the way through, or do you actually stop and go? Haha, and he was just laughing at me, the new kid on the block.
Is it hard keeping a straight face on that set?
It’s not hard. Only because I’ve chosen not to keep a straight face anymore, because it’s impossible. When I break, I genuinely can’t help myself. I find so many things on the show funny that I just break down and start laughing at my costars while we’re taping. It’s a great environment where all of us just feed on that, feed on making each other laugh. Being able to get through the scene is often difficult. There was one scene I was doing with Ty where I touched his face ever so gently as I say this thing about how scared I am, and the two of us, literally, were crying, we could not stop laughing for what seems like 5 or 6 minutes, to the point where I thought everybody was just going to leave the set, and security was going to escort me out. It’s been a blast; every day that I go to work is a joy.
Tell us what’s coming up on the show in the next few episodes.
I’m not sure how much I’m going to say about some of the changes that have occurred. What I can say, the daughter will soon learn that Chuck is her father. I don’t think that’s giving away anything new that hasn’t been spoken about. And we also have a couple of great ensemble episodes coming up. We go to Marsh’s house for his surprise birthday. There’s an episode where Chuck gets this house of the future and chaos ensues. It’s a lot of brilliant physical comedy with Kelsey kind of reacting to the chaos of this house that is all automated. There’s a lot of tension in the work place. There is a new boss who comes in who right off the bat makes some very dramatic decisions that will change the landscape of the network. It’s a pretty great series of episodes that are coming up and I feel like I can safely say that the show is hitting its stride.
Why should someone who hasn’t watched yet, and has some time, watch the show?
I think it’s like a warm blanket. That’s how it was once described to me by a fan. It’s certainly a throwback. To a lot of people that’s a negative. “I don’t need to see traditional comedy anymore, I don’t need laugh tracks telling people when I should laugh”. For me, and for people who discover the show, not only is it a joy to see that, it really is a format that works so brilliantly when it’s done right that it’s hard to imagine why there aren’t more shows on the air anymore. And I think just the verbal sparring between Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton is reason enough to watch the show, to watch two icons of the medium going at it with each other. There also is an amazing supporting crew that they’ve gotten together to bring out more of the comedy. And you know, the creator and the director are all people who have worked on everything from Cheers to Frasier to The Mary Tyler Moore show, so I think that there is a level of sophistication to the show that you don’t find on a lot of other shows right now.
Switching gears a little bit, who would you like to work with in the future?
I’m a huge, huge fan of Sasha Baron Cohen. I think that he is our generation’s Peter Sellers. I am fascinated by his movies. I love him. I came close to working with Ben Stiller, so I hope to one day work with him in the near future. And the Apatow crew. They’re really creating a new mold in the comedy niche that is so exciting and as a fan of film, I can’t wait to go see the next Apatow film, I’m the first one on the line for those movies. You know, the past year has been so magical, I’ve worked with everyone from Kelsey Grammer to Patricia Heaton to Kevin Spacey and Harrison Ford, Rainn Wilson, Christina Applegate. I really don’t know when the ride will end, but I feel like so many of those “God, if only I coulds” have been answered.
How did you get into acting?
It’s one of those things, really truly, as clichéd as it sounds, I knew from the age of three years old that this is what I wanted to do. I remember going to see a show in the Catskills that my parents took me to. Awful, just God awful. Even at three, I think, I had the discretion to know that what I was watching was filthy, but for whatever reason. The entire audience, and my mom remembers this, kept looking back at this little kid because I had this huge laugh, and I would just start guffawing at these jokes, because I was so inspired by the entertainment that I was watching, by the idea of entertaining an audience that it was just a visceral response, even at that age, that I was having. So I pretty much always knew.
Also coming up – you have 21 in theatres right now. Tell me a little bit about your character in that movie?
Miles Connoly is kind of the conscience of the movie. He’s the Jiminy Cricket to Jim Sturgess’ Ben. He’s the backbone in the story of Ben’s dual life. For me, I got to play the comic relief, but I also got to bring, hopefully, a level of pathos that was a nice counterpart to the chaos of Vegas. It was a very fun character to play. This geek who aspires to the cooler lifestyle that his friend has, but also realizes what’s important in his life.
Tell me about The Rocker.
The Rocker is an unbelievably funny film. It stars Riann Wilson, Christina Applegate, Emma Stone, and just a supporting cast that would let any comedy person let out a sigh of glory. It’s a story of Rainn’s character, who in 1987 is in a band with Will Arnett, Fred Armisen, and Bradley Cooper, and he’s the drummer. And he gets fired as they explode onto the scene, because their manager at the time feels that he is not the right fit for this band. Cut to 20 years later, he’s out of work, he’s down on his luck, and he comes to live with his sister and brother-in-law, played by Jane Lynch and Jeff Garlin, and his nephew, played by me. I’m his 17 year old nephew, and basically, we lose our drummer for the prom, and I convince him to play this one gig with us. He does so, one thing leads to another, and we start getting all of these opportunities and we start getting record deals and this and that, and we start to blow up, and the story, as it unfolds from there, involves what happens now that we’re all exploding but Rainn is still looked at by some as not being the right fit. It’s a great comedy. It harkens back to the 80s comedies that I love. And it’s going to be great. I saw a rough cut, I loved it.
Josh is an incredibly nice guy, and I absolutely hope that good things keep coming his way. Tune in to all new episodes of Back to You on FOX Wednesdays. Check out 21 in theatres now, and The Rocker, in theatres this summer!