BY: Lynn Elber
LOS ANGELES – The punch lines are flowing on the set of ‘Community,’ and that’s between scenes for NBC’s freshman sitcom about an oddball collection of community college students.
Yvette Nicole Brown, who plays divorcee Shirley, is recounting a recent first date that proved less than stellar.
“He told me he’s getting out of a relationship. Uh huh,” she said, dryly. “That means you’re still IN a relationship.”
Donald Glover, asked whether he had a nickname growing up, shakes his head.
“Being a black kid with the name Donald was enough,” says the actor, who co-stars as former football star Troy.
And then there’s Chevy Chase, as droll and deadpan during an interview as he was three decades ago delivering the news on ‘Saturday Night Live’ or in a string of film roles including “Caddyshack” and “Fletch.”
Does ‘Community’ summon memories of his Bard College days in New York?
“College? No,” Chase says, mischief clearly afoot. “If anything, it brings up my prison stint.”
On-camera quips are the work of series creator Dan Harmon and his writing staff, but Harmon knew the actors delivering them would be key. Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Gillian Jacobs, Ken Jeong and Danny Pudi co-star as members of a study group at the fictional Greendale school.
“Casting was 95 percent of putting the show together,” said Harmon. “This is an ensemble comedy. These are the choices that either make the show or sink it.”
So far, critics have given ‘Community’ high marks while viewers still are discovering it. ‘Community’ drew 5 million viewers last week compared with 8 million for NBC’s “The Office” (and more than 14 million for CBS’ “Two and a Half Men”), but is seeing growth in its advertiser-favored age 18-to-49 audience.
Harmon, who worked on Sarah Silverman’s brash Comedy Central show — “funny because it would make your mom blush” — said he’d long dreamed of doing a sitcom with mainstream appeal for NBC’s once-dominant Thursday lineup.
‘Community’ was inspired by the “emotional punch” of Harmon’s experience at Glendale Community College, north of Los Angeles. Enrolling four years ago at age 32 to study Spanish with his girlfriend, he found himself drawn into the lives of fellow students as he helped them with classwork.
In the series, that’s the fate of McHale’s cocky Jeff, a would-be lawyer. The 66-year-old Chase, playing a man made wise by experience, was an unexpected bonus, Harmon said.
“I quite literally moved from Milwaukee to Los Angeles for the express purpose of impressing my parents, who were focused on this box in the ’70s that this guy (Chase) was the king of,” Harmon said.
Chase returns the compliment, in his fashion. He says the closest he ever got to a sitcom “was not turning them on,” and he was perfectly content in East Coast semiretirement. But he was won over by Harmon’s work.
“Speaking with him, you can see that he’s very articulate and thoughtful and confused” — here, Chase pauses the proper number of comic beats – “about anything outside of himself. But his writing was so funny.”
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