Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Film Intuition Interview: Ed Helms -- "It's Just Such a Fun World." -- The Hangover & Office Star on Comedy as a Fan & Entertainer

The Film Intuition Interview:

Ed Helms -- "It's Just Such a Fun World."

The Hangover & The Office Star on Comedy
As a Fan & Entertainer

By Jen Johans

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Former Daily Show correspondent and current banjo-playing Office cast member Ed Helms visited Scottsdale, AZ recently in order to help spread the word about his new Todd Phillips comedy, The Hangover.

In a breakneck series of interviews, photo ops, and Q&A sessions with temperatures here in the southwest moving from mild to boiling as he joked he's glad he doesn't live here since it's "pretty fucking hot," Helms proved to be in person the polar opposite of his Office character Andy Bernard. And, in fact, he is actually an individual whom-- after a few minutes-- you realize seems far more suited to play John Krasinski's Jim which is proof of his talent to go to the dark (or obnoxious) side to make us laugh.

By the time I caught up with Helms-- literally thirty minutes before he was set to leave Arizona (and a heat that would climb into the triple digits soon after), he graciously relaxed into a roundtable interview, relishing the chance to salute his fellow Hangover cast mates (including Zach Galifianakis and Heather Graham) along with the director throughout.

However, having missed the press screening of his movie and as a sheer comedy geek, I was more interested in learning more about his take on the literal "funny business." And in doing so, it was thrilling to see how candid and enamored he still is in regards to the process of comedy itself with an enthusiasm and energy that hearkens back to those SNL cast mates like Phil Hartman and Eddie Murphy that inspired Helms in his youth.

Jen Johans:
Who makes you laugh?

Ed Helms:
Oh my gosh, so many people make me laugh. I mean if I go way back to some of the initial reasons I decided I wanted to get into comedy, it was really those SNL shows back in the '80s. When I was a very little kid I started watching Saturday Night Live and I was just so enamored with the energy of these shows. I didn't even get it at the time, I don't think but I just wanted to be a part of that energy like Eddie Murphy was hands-down one of the reasons I ever wanted to do comedy...

And Phil Hartman was one of my all-time favorites and I still get misty because I always wanted to meet him and it breaks my heart I'll never get that chance. He just meant so much to me and I was really devastated when we lost him.

So really-- Saturday Night Live was like a big thing and everyone that came through even people that weren't as prominent on the show I always loved... so many great moments and such a fun world.

Outside Saturday Night Live, I was a huge Bill Cosby fan-- as a little kid I had a bunch of his records and I got super into Jerry Seinfeld who I still just adore. A lot of comedians make me laugh.

Jen Johans: I was wondering about the banjo-- if you were a fan of Steve Martin's?

Ed Helms: Yeah, Steve Martin... I mean come on! He's just... he's the man. He's an idol of mine on many fronts. He just seems to be a guy who just leads his life in a very upstanding way and has maintained an incredible career as a comedic actor and then of course, he's an insanely good banjo player. I love a lot of the songs he's written; I've learned a bunch of them.

God I could go on forever, in the world of stand-up there's this guy Brian Regan. God, he's just... he's it-- he's one of my favorite comedians ever.

It's a long list; it's a lot longer too. I literally could go on-- I love the business, I love comedy, and I love comedians. It's just such a fun world.

Later in the interview, Helms started to discuss the process of moving from stand-up to improv and the ways it has influenced his approach and work in movies including The Hangover.

Ed Helms: I love to do lots of takes just because I love to play around. Even when you do lots of takes you want to keep it fresh. You don't want to talk about it too much because it just doesn't help. Just throw it out there because in the time it takes to discuss whether or not something's funny you could've done four takes and tried it four different ways.

You also get momentum when you do a lot of takes or when you don't stop to talk; the stopping and talking just puts the brakes on your process as you're trying to stay in the moment. It's fun to whittle something down over a series of takes like you get a little kernel of an idea and you riff on it and you start going... but then it's too long and you didn't quite get it right so you do it again and there's lots of little moments like that in the movie [The Hangover].

(After he references a specific joke...)

Ed Helms: We must've done that ten or fifteen times and it was different and there were all kinds of like little riffs and tangents thrown in there but over a series of takes Todd [Phillips, the director] would say, "you know what, take that out," or "do this" and our own discretion would kind of filter in and we wound up with a really quick little exchange that has a couple of great beats in it.

While discussing the move from stand-up comedy to improv:

Ed Helms: Being incredibly present in a scene or as an actor listening to the other people in a scene-- that's what improv is all about. There's something bigger than the individual, there's like an energy.

A good improv scene is bigger than anyone in it-- something's happening that everyone's contributing to. It's like jazz, I guess. I mean, people make that analogy a lot but it really is good jazz.

Everyone's doing their own thing and putting a little spice and flavor in different places and then you step back and it's like-- holy shit, how did that come together?

No one could've created that by themselves and it's a real sort of celebration of communal effort and that's something certainly as a stand-up [comedian] you don't ever learn. It's what informs great comedy and when you see it on film and you see it in guys like Ben Stiller and Seth Rogen who are so generous with what's going on around them with the other actors.

It's not about owning a moment, it's about sharing a moment. And to the extent that I can, I try to bring that to my work too.

Jen Johans: Bigger diva: Colbert and Stewart?

Ed Helms: [Laughs] I would say Colbert is a huge diva but a lot of it's ironic and adorable. God, I'm just so lucky to have been around him at that time because he and Carell-- all I did was copy them. I showed up on The Daily Show and was like, 'these two guys have cracked it; they are doing it right.' And they are very different-- like Colbert and Carell had very different M.O.'s on that show.

And I just sort of was like, "they're doing it right"; I'm just sort of going to try to do what they do and over the course of five years I think maybe I found my own voice a little bit but it started out like, "I gotta do it the way they do it because they are so good."

And Colbert was so supportive and he had a lot of seniority when I joined the show but I always would go to him for advice and he was really generous with it. And it's so cool... Stephen's so quick and he's so smart and he's always like a step ahead of you but there are moments after awhile when I think he began to get to know me and trust me as a friend where you would get these fleeting moments of real sort of genuine interaction with him and it's incredibly gratifying.

He's a really smart and generous guy and how fuckin' funny is his show?! And I can't believe it-- I e-mail him from time to time and am like, "that was genius!" It was just pure him-- I mean obviously he's got a great staff and I don't want to take anything away from that but his brain is something that is extremely rare.

The Hangover Photo Slideshow

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