Here’s an intimidating prospect for an up-and-coming-actor: play a jerkier-version of yourself as a young upstart comedian opposite Billy Crystal, who is also playing himself.
Well, Josh Gad wasn’t afraid to take on the idea as evidenced by FX’s newest show The Comedians, premiering April 9. In the über-meta romp, Josh Gad and Billy Crystal are staring on a sketch show and trying to come to grips with working together. We sat down with the Tony-nominated, Frozen-famous star to discuss how daunting it was to improv with Billy Crystal, and why he hopes you’ll think he’s nicer than he seems on TV.
How did this show come to you? What did you think when you heard the premise?
I was performing at an event honoring Billy Crystal, and afterwards we met up and immediately hit it off. A few weeks later, I received a copy of a Swedish show called The Comedians that was to be the foundation for a show that Billy was going to adapt for the U.S. He said he was looking for the younger comic to play opposite him, and after watching the first ten minutes, I thought it was one of the most inspired premises I had ever heard. The idea of playing ourselves in this very meta way was immediately exciting and terrifying.
How is it working with an icon like Billy Crystal? Were you intimidated?
First of all, Billy truly is an idol. Whether it’s The Princess Bride, Saturday Night Live, City Slickers, or Comic Relief, I have always admired the hell out of him and been an avid fan of his work. So, working with him was nothing short of a dream. As for being intimidated by him, I sort of still am, which plays perfectly into our relationship on screen.
What is it like to work on such a meta show like this? Is there a lot of room to improv when playing yourself?
It is very surreal to play a version of yourself that’s not quite you but shares enough similar traits that the audience is going to not quite be able to pinpoint where reality ends and fantasy begins. That’s a little scary, in that my character does some things that I would never in a million years do or say. I hope audiences don’t immediately look at the version on screen and say, “Man that Josh Gad is a dick.” I’m a really nice guy, I just don’t play one on TV! With regard to improv, how do you do a show with Larry Charles and Billy Crystal and not improv?! Every take, we would try stuff.
Have you done a lot of sketch comedy in the past? How does shooting the “bits” in this show differ from shooting the show itself?
I have had a sketch comedy troupe for years now called “The Lost Nomads.” We have done a lot of stuff in the digital space, so for me it is and has been an integral part of my creative life. Doing the “bits” on the show alongside Billy is incredible because it lets me flex different muscles, and it lets me play alongside one of the great sketch comedians of all time.
What’s your favorite sketch comedy show (or sketch itself) of all time?
Having dreamt of being on Saturday Night Live since I was a kid, I would have to say SNL. As for my favorite sketch—hands down Chris Farley’s “Matt Foley” sketch. “I live in a van down by the river” may be the most blissful delivery ever muttered. And although it’s not a sketch show, I also have a very special place in my heart for Jon Stewart, who gave me my big break.
When you have time, what do you watch on television? What are some of your favorite current shows?
I am both grateful and miserable that we are living in the Golden Age of TV. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up. Right now, I’m watching The Walking Dead, The Fall, Orange Is the New Black, Transparent, Veep, Louie, Fargo, and, of course, Game of Thrones!
The Comedians premieres Thursday April 9 at 10/9c on FX (Ch. 248) .