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Katie Antoniou interviews Ben Schwartz. Sort Of.

Ben Schwartz might not be a household name yet here in the UK, but anyone who follows American comedy closely will know him well. After the last series finished and before we knew there would be any more made, I was left with a gaping Arrested Development shaped hole in my life. Then along came Parks and Recreation, an equally brilliant comedy that showcases genius writing (by Nick Offerman who also stars in the show) as well as some of the finest comic actors in the States creating unforgettable characters. Ben Schwartz plays Jean-Ralphio- a role that evolved from a single paragraph into a character that's well, pretty hard to describe. So here's a clip.

 

So imagine my joy when it was leaked that Ben will soon be joining the comedy royalty that is the cast of Arrested Development for their new, long awaited series. Unfortunately this was only leaked on the day I interviewed Ben, so I didn't get the chance to ask him about it. We do, however discuss his new voiceover for the character of Randy Cunningham- 9th grade ninja, a new Disney show that launched last week. Now, normally as a journalist, I try and maintain the illusion that interviews are just casual conversations that flow effortlessly. Not this time. I've tried to figure out how to transcribe the chat I had with Ben and his co-star Andrew Caldwell in a remotely professional manner, and it's just not going to happen. I was the last interview of the day and Ben, who is obviously a comedy genius, happens to have the attention span of a golden retriever, so what follows is one of the most haphazard interviews I've ever taken part in. I say 'taken part in' as I don't feel I was giving the interview, or really remotely in control.

We begin by talking about the fact that Ben has never been to London. Highlights of his trip so far include feeding a swan in Richmond Park. He then proceeds to tell me how much he loves the 'Fenton' video. I'm surprised as I guess I'd have assumed that's quite a British joke. This is where you join us.

Katie Antoniou: Do you feel like theres a big gap between British humour and American humour?

Ben Schwarz: I'm such a fan of British humour, I watched Alan Partridge, everyone's seen the UK version of the Office; when I watched it I felt so connected to it.

KA: I actually really like the US version of the office too.

BS: I think Steve Carrell is brilliant in his role- he didn't win an Emmy and that was one of the weirdest things for me because he's so strong. I was a huge fan of Spaced, I think Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright are genius and anything Armando Iannucci does. I've always been a big fan of British comedy and of course Monty Python- if you're into comedy- it's like your history lessons.

(Somehow we end up talking about dinosaurs for about ten minutes. See how professional this is?)

KA: How did you come up with the character for Jean-Ralphio in Parks and Recreation?

BS: It was written on a piece of paper and I read the words off the piece of paper. OK, so this is how it really worked- you've seen the show, so I can actually talk to you about this! Then we're going to talk about Randy Cunningham- actually let's do that now then we can talk about Parks and Rec later.

Randy Cunningham is a 9th grader which is like 15 years old, and he's just an everyday guy, an awkward kid in high school, but he has the ability to turn into a ninja cos he has this ninja mask. I love the show cos I grew up on cartoons

KA: What did you grow up on? Can we mention non- Disney things or will we get into trouble?

BS: Whatever you say we can turn it into Disney, no problem

KA: OK- I just watched the whole new series of Thundercats, which I think came out last year

BS- Man I loved that show growing up. I also used to love this thing called Disney afternoon which I actually don't have to lie about cos I genuinely did love it- Gummy Bears, Tailspin, Duck Tails, did you ever watch that? Me and my friend David Fernandez from the Bronx, when we were growing up, everyday- I've plugged David Fernandez like 3 times today- he's a doctor from New York- can we make a point of talking about him? We would go to school then come home and watch these shows- you know Andrew's going to be good at this part so why don't we get Andrew in here? Let's go back to your other question.

KA: What was my other question? 

BS: About Parks! So what happened originally was Mike Schur had a meeting with me and said I've seen your stuff, it'd be cool if we could get you in this role and they were casting- do you remember season 2 or 3, Louis was in it as Amy's love interest, is Louis CK big here yet?

KA: Nope, no-one knows anyone off Parks and Rec except the West Wing cast cameos

BS: Oh man, Louis is amazing- you have to watch Louis' show, it's genius. Please. Watch that. He's also one of the best stand-up comedians we have in America. So I was too young for the cop role he played, but Mike was like, we'll find a way, and Jean-Ralphio started as just a paragraph, where he's interviewing to be Ron Swanson's assistant and Mike Schur comes into the room and I do it as a read through and he goes, we'll be bringing you back! That character is so fun to do, SO fun.

KA: The whole show looks like you're all having a blast.

BS: It feels like playtime- like someone's said, alright here are your friends, go play! And the director knows exactly what to do with each person, cos these are huge characters. I'm very, very happy you watch it.

KA: I'll be completely honest with you, I got through the first series and I was like, I'm enjoying it, but I'm not blown away, but by the time the 2nd series started I was completely hooked.

Andrew Caldwell (who provides the voice for Randy Cunningham's sidekick) comes in and we start chatting about what cartoons he watched as a kid. He's 21, but humours us by pretending he knows some of the cartoons we're talking about. Meanwhile, Ben picks up my flipcam which I have on the table just as a back-up for my dictaphone. From here on, he's filming us the whole time. I mention that Peter Serafinowicz guest-edited for us a few weeks ago as I think Ben might know him from Spaced- Ben is a huge fan-' Peter's a genius' and recommends Running Wilde which Serafinowicz stars in alongside his pal, Arrested Development star Will Arnett. It's a crazy, small world in comedy. We're hurried for time by Ben's 'handler', so we try and get back to Randy Cunningham.

 

BS: The core of this comedy is it's a buddy comedy

Andrew Caldwell: I play Howard, Randy's best friend, the sidekick; not the best sidekick, usually he gets into more trouble than he does help, but the show's really about two best friends going through high school, finding their identity.

KA: How did you guys get on in high school, were you the cool kids?

AC: I was the coolest kid

BS: You were not the coolest! What was your nickname at high school?

AC: Boogerface

KA: Did you go out with a cheerleader?

AC: No I was too cool for that.

We're told to wrap it up.

BS: So let us pitch the show to you- it's action and comedy, written and voiced in America, produced in the UK and animated in Ireland, so it combines 3 countries..

AC: It's 3 different sets of brilliant people combining their talents- it really shows in the show. We're getting to use all these brilliant minds from all over the world.

Gemma teaches Andrew and Ben the way of the Ninja

 

Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja will be broadcast from 15th November on Disney XD

 

You can also see all Ben's news on his site Rejected Jokes. Follow him on twitter here.

Catch him on TV in

Parks and Recreation

Arrested Development

House of Lies

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