My audio recording from last night's PaleyFest panel honoring the acting and producing talent of NBC's hit sitcom, Community, is pretty much nonsensical. Between the raucous laughter from the audience, creator Dan Harmon's long, rambling stories, and star Chevy Chase's Christopher Walken-like way of answering questions, everyone had a ton of fun but it became incredibly clear that the show is even more remarkable simply for managing to get scenes shot, despite the crazy off-screen behavior!
Prior to screening "Physical Education," tonight's episode which features Joel McHale in butt shorts, a "white Abed," and an amazing Abed/Troy tag at the end referencing Sesame Street's own Bert & Ernie, an early clip was shown of Chevy Chase explaining the only way he would go back to television would be when his money ran out and his film career was dried up. Cut to Chase taking out a wad of cash on stage and throwing it at his producers. "I laugh all the time...on my way to the bank!" He joked.
Harmon shared that the idea from the show came out of his own experience when he was about thirty-two and taking a few classes at a community college in Glendale as basically a way to bond with a girlfriend. "I was taking biology and basically acing it because I had nothing else to do, and all these kids with full course loads who were also working at Jiffy Lube or whatever would see my As and say, 'Man, we want to study with you!' And I was really against it actually because I figured there was nothing for me to get out of it...but then I got to know them, and I realized that I actually liked these people that I would never be friends with otherwise or probably wouldn't talk to if I had met in a bar."
McHale was the first actor cast, and Harmon admits that "Joel is Jeff now; it doesn't matter what he started as." Ken Jeong is quick to point out that the actor's natural charisma and good nature sets the tone for the show. "He's as cool as you think he is, and he's as nice as you think he is!" He gushes.
Gillian Jacobs was thrilled to get the role because she enjoys getting to be "prickly" and was also fresh off "the lowest budget independent film I had ever done...and for me, that's saying a lot! Seriously, you can check IMDb!" She was eager to jump into a role that she felt she could play exactly as she was on the page without "having to worry about cutting of this or that part of my brain."
Donald Glover's character was originally written as the typical cornfed (read: white) dumb jock. "That's okay, I'm pretty white!" Glover joked, pointing to his shiny white shoes and big black framed glasses. But Harmon was quick to jump in that Glover is such a comedic genius that once he took a look at some of the videos he had been working on, he knew he'd do amazing things for the character. "Plus, Nick Cannon said no, right?" Glover added, referencing why he may have really been hired. "I mean, he was too busy with Mariah so you guys settled for me."
Slightly more seriously, though, Glover's experience was primarily in the world of improv comedy troops and homemade sketch video. "I come from YouTube!" He said completely seriously, bringing on the typical onslaught of jabs from co-stars about how that makes him sound like he's from the future or a distant planet. Now he shares the small screen with comedy legends and greats and is fast becoming one in his own right, though.
Ken Jeong was the most animated all night, clapping strongly, cracking up, and graciously translating questions for Chase, who was all the way at the opposite end from the moderator. When asked how the cast felt about learning Jeong would be playing their infamous spanish teacher, being introduced episodes after the pilot, Glover admitted that his first thought was "Oh man, I saw that dude naked!"
Chase drew the biggest laughs, though, especially when he would make faces or pretend to fall asleep behind the back of his seatmate Jeong who attempted to tell some detailed stories about antics on set. I guess 'antics' is the key word! And regardless of the question, it proved to be a task in and of itself to get a real answer out of Chase. "I once had a relationship with Mick Jagger and Tina Turner," he said when a fan in the audience asked for him to share an "infamous" story. He thought she said "intimate." That pretty much sums it up.
The cast is currently having fun not only bouncing off the energy the others put out but also with upcoming guest stars like Katherine McPhee ("I nailed her!" Chase yelled out) and plot twists that have Chase thinking he's a wizard in one episode and are turning another into a mini action film. McHale laughs: "It's The Warriors meets Battle Royale..." "Meets Die Hard!" Jacobs pipes in.
Perhaps most importantly, though, Harmon gave a clear-cut answer on whether or not Abed (Danny Pudi, who was unfortunately not present due to their production schedule) is autistic: "My lawyer says no." Harmon then shook his head and addressed the issue for real: "You know, some people think I could be based on something they read in New York Magazine," Harmon adds. "So we're treating it like it is in life where you're kind of like "I think this guy might be...is he...?" It's not going to become an after school special where suddenly we're like Abed has Asperger's; deal with it!"
And if there's one thing Harmon is most adamant about, it is that his show is not just another after school special! Though he is a traditional sitcom fan, he has made it a very clear and conscious point not to take Community down the road of a Saved by the Bell: The College Years, for example, where every episode had to be punctuated on a Very Special Issue. "These people are real," he emphasizes. And most that reality comes from seeing just who these characters are when you get them out of the classroom, when they come alive thanks to some very gifted comedic talents both on-screen and off!