Interview by: Jeff Sprick
Since his debut with comedy troupe Broken Lizard, comedian Jay Chandrasekhar has gone on to write, act and direct in both film and television. Fans know him as “The Brown Clown” and as part creator of cult comedy hits like Super Troopers, Beerfest and Club Dread.
In addition to his feature film work, he has directed various TV shows, including several episodes of the Emmy Award winning “Arrested Development”, “Up All Night”, “Happy Endings”, “Community”, “Royal Pains”, “Psych”, “Chuck”, “Undeclared” and more.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Jay recently about his upcoming stand-up engagement at the Son’s of Herman Hall on June 25 – and about his upcoming projects as well as how he keeps his comedic skills relevant even after enjoying Hollywood success.
Jeff Sprick (Jeff): Hey Jay how are you?
Jay Chandrasekhar (Jay): I’m good. I’m just working on a new draft of Super Troopers 2 right now.
Jeff: Oh, I’m looking forward to seeing that one
Jay: Well let’s hope we don’t blow it.
Jeff: Don’t worry it’ll all come together.
Jay: I hope so. It’s looking pretty good. We’re on draft 12.
Jeff: Are you looking at the same cast coming back together?
Jay: Well definitely the highway cops and their Chief, but beyond that I’m not really sure. We’re trying to make another film that can stand on its own. So it’s not a reunion story. This is a new story.
Jeff: I hear you’re coming to Dallas on June 25th at the Son’s of Herman Hall. Looking forward to seeing you there. Since you’ve come out as a comic you’ve been blessed with a lot of opportunities that you’ve fearlessly taken on. Has there been anything in the past that you’ve been afraid to take on?
Jay: You know, not really….wait I take that back. I was asked once to star in a sitcom that would have had a live studio audience and a laugh track. They called me up and I went in and met with them and a high power producer who wanted to give me the lead but I was like….yeah I don’t think I can be funny in that way. It was on NBC too and I realized that it was an amazing opportunity but I believed that not only would I not be happy doing those kinds of jokes but that people who are fans of the films I’ve made would be think of me as a lousy sell-out. So, I wasn’t able to get my mind around how to do the show and still keep my integrity and feel good about it. So I didn’t. Obviously “Seinfeld” was a phenomenal show but I don’t think this opportunity would have been like that.
Jeff: I’m glad you mentioned staying true to yourself and your integrity. It’s good to see you’re still out there on the circuit. Standup definitely seems to be a passion of yours. Why do you stay active on the comedy circuit?
Jay: Well, number one… it’s fun. Number 2, there are all sorts of young guys coming out behind us and you want to be a part it. If you’re on the comedy circuit all sorts of things happen. You make friends with people late night at clubs in Hollywood or New York or wherever and all of the sudden they’re doing movies and then suddenly you’re playing a little part in that movie. It helps things grow if you keep at it.
Plus, there’s nothing quite like going out on a stage and talking for an hour and 15 minutes. It’s sort of like instant show business in a way. So much of what we do when we’re making films and television is writing and then convincing someone to give you a lot of money…I mean millions of dollars. Then you gotta release it, promote it and put it out. Stand up is…I think of a joke this week and can be saying it in Dallas next week. And nobody can stop me. It’s very satisfying you know. And at the end of the night, they cut you a check and you walk out of there and you’re like…alright, I told those jokes and got paid and that’s the end of the game and it’s very satisfying as opposed to all the really tricky lawyer and accounting stuff going on out here in the film world. It’s just pure.
Jeff: As you said that there’s something about getting out there on stage. Depending on the audience you never know what reaction you’ll get but that’s your show and your audience. That’s why I love seeing comics go back out on stage. It’s like going back to the core and a lot of the greats have done the same thing.
Jay: It’s certainly very satisfying. There are all these great filmmakers and other filmmakers respect them but you know other comics are like…well you haven’t really been able to master what stand up is. Sure you can make a movie but can you walk in front of a room and do that?
So to a certain degree it’s sort of like climbing mountains. I have certainly done some stuff in the film world that I’m happy with and I’ve done a lot of stuff in the television world that I’m happy with but I would like to be known among stand-ups as a good stand-up. It matters somehow.
Jeff: What steps do you take to keep your perspectives fresh on the stage and when you write your shows or movies? Has success stifled your creativity in any way? And if so, how do you break out of that?
Jay: In terms of staying relevant you never know how big you are. I can tell you how big Craig Robinson is or I could tell you how big Seinfeld is but I couldn’t tell you how big I am. I have no idea.
And so, we all feel this sort of weird insecurity and are wondering does anybody even know who the fuck I am? And of course, a lot of people saw Super Troopers and know me from that but …for example I can go to a Dodger game it’s a big deal because of so many fans but then I can go to Whole Foods and I’m anonymous. Except for the bag checkers.
So staying honest and true to comedy is really a matter of staying insecure. Because the one thing you probably don’t ever want to do is reach the top of the mountain because then you end up telling jokes about your private jet.
Jeff: (saracasm)…uh yeah, I can identify. I have a jet at home.
Jay: Oh yeah?…doesn’t it suck when they spill Grey Poupon all over your jet seat covers? (laugh)
Jeff: I know you’ve directed some TV episodes for shows like “Community”, “Happy Endings”, and “Arrested Development”. How did you get involved with those?
Jay: Well I got involved because we had originally made a film called Puddle Cruiser that got us some attention. Because of that film we made a deal with NBC and shot a pilot for a show that was going to be a college based show. It was very close to getting on the air and then it just didn’t happen. They didn’t have the guts to puts something as unorthodox as us on the air and so my friend Judd Apatow saw that pilot and he figured he could make another version of the idea work.
He had a college show called Undeclared and called me up said “… you know this a version of the show that you guys did but on Fox.” And he said well why don’t you direct some of them? So, I directed four of them. And that was the first time I had really done television. So later on, when Fox had the show “Arrested Development” they remembered that I had done well for them on “Undeclared” and they had me come in.
Mitch Hurwitz had also seen “Super Troopers” at the time. And that’s kind of how it works. You go into a certain network and you do a show for them and you succeed in terms of tone and comedy and then get done on time and they just keep funneling you as many shows that they can get you to work on.
They kind of treat you like a working hammer and are like hey grab the hammer and put him on this show or that show and so that’s how you end up doing all these shows. Sometimes writers will end up working on other shows and then they’ll pull you in to work on that show.
The truth is…it’s very fun to direct other people because you come shoot, edit and then you’re done. I have written my own show which has been going through negotiations for about nine months now but if we can get that going then I would love to start working on my own TV show. I’ve written something I think is a very dirty single camera “Seinfeld” type show.
Jay Chandrasekhar will be performing on June 25 at Sons of Herman Hall in Dallas, Texas.
For ticket information got to: http://www.ticketfly.