Chevy Chase is a comedy legend but he also had something of a reputation for being a difficult man to work with in the past. This is why one of the more interesting aspects of the fantastically smart and funny NBC show Community is that Chase is now working as part of a sharp ensemble without being the “star.” How is he adjusting to this? I sat down with Chase, his co-star Don Glover and Community executive producer/showrunner Garrett Donovan recently, and I was very curious to see how the formerly disagreeable actor has responded to the watershed moment of his disastrous Comedy Central roast where he realized how he was perceived and started to change his tune.
“I used to say I’d never work on a sitcom ever,” Chase said, “until I saw the first script which was the pilot. Now, yes I do. I’m on a sitcom. I’ve done pretty much everything, so why not? I love it because I think it’s a great cast and also the writing is good. But I think it could be funnier. I really think it could be funnier than it is. Don’t you think so?”
That last question was directed at his colleagues sitting next to him, and Glover replied “Of course! Everything can always be funnier. I was just laughing because that’s like saying, ‘I think Mad Men could have more drama.’”
“I’m saying I could be funnier. And I’m going to be funnier,” Chase then added to qualify his statement. “That’s all I can guarantee this year. When I do something, Donald will laugh.”
That said, the grind of the weekly sitcom is still a bit much for the veteran actor. “Having done this a long time, I can get pretty grumpy after 12 and a half, 13 hours,” he admits, offering some more constructive criticism of his own show. “I remember once we were getting directed by Justin Lin. There were like 11 takes of the simplest thing. On the twelfth take, I was like, ‘How many bad ones do you have?’ He looked at me and he went, ‘None.’ So I said ‘You like the direction we’re going in? Because I’d like to get home for breakfast.’ It’s funny. I really think there are things that are gonna be patched up a little more this year, where directors and producers and writers will make it a little tighter and know that usually your first or second take is the best for this group. Unless they f*ck up a line. I know, you have too many people looking and making a choice, therefore each one has to have another perfect take for them. But the actors are the ones doing the work, and I think we can clear that up a little bit more.”
Lest you think this is the kind of critique to which the younger folks would just nod politely and ignore, Donovan actually agreed. “We’re settling into more of a rhythm. I remember last year we had our first table read maybe a couple days before we actually shot it. So hopefully, now that we know each other and we know the process that each person has, we’ll be able to get things going a little faster.”
Glover and Chase are going to be working closely together for season 2, since we saw in the finale that Glover’s dumb and weird ex-jock Troy is going to be living with Chase’s dumb and offensive ex-CEO Pierce. But that seemed to be news to Chase at the roundtable – which lends credence to a joke Glover made that Chase doesn’t read the scripts. Yet, once he thought about it, Chase was happy with that direction. “I like that,” he said. “We’re the two probably who improvise the most anyway. Not to downplay anybody else, but I know Donald does all the time.”
How much improv can you actually do on a deftly scripted comedy like this, though? “Occasionally, there are improvs that work,” Chase noted, “but it is a 24-minute show or whatever it is, so we are confined to a tightness. It’s a confining kind of show, [but] the characters are the ones now starting to carry the show as opposed to the story. If the story itself gets too complicated and they edit it accordingly, you lose a lot of the laughs. People are starting to know who these clowns are, so there might be a little more room for that kind of thing.”
Glover, along with castmates Joel McHale, Alison Brie, Yvette Nicole Brown, Danny Pudi, Ken Jeong and Gillian Jacobs, are all active Twitterers and they appear to be a very tightly-knit group – but that may or may not be separate from Chase, who admits to being completely technologically ignorant.
“I do not keep up that much with, let’s say life?” he admits. “I was gonna say ‘popular culture,’ but apparently it’s a little more than that. I’m beginning to realize that even as I descend under the wave of early onset Alzheimer’s.”
“That is the funniest and realest thing I’ve ever heard,” Glover concurred, also noting that Chase “thinks his internet is in New York. He said that.” The elder actor sheepishly agreed that “It’s that bad.”
After reading about Chase’s relative disconnection and how he critiques his own show so casually, one might think that his old reputation might still carry some weight, but he insists otherwise. “There are no battles,” he stresses. “I just say ‘go for laughs.’ I don’t care. The laugh is it. No laugh, you’re legally dead. Just like sneezing. It’s the best thing that can ever happen. All preconceptions go out the window.”