Chevy Chase has had a new lease of life as Pierce Hawthorne on the set of Community, the Emmy Award-nominated comedy set in school attended by a lawyer whose education has been deemed void.
Chevy Chase has found a new comedic home in TV's Community
In an interview he gave in February this year, the comedic natural behind hits such as National Vacation and Fletch, expounds on the art of ad-libbing, blowing money, making telly not film, who's funny these days... and what hanging out with Dan Aykroyd means...
Q: So here you are on set today, so Pierce must be back for season three?
CC: No. I just love these guys. I'm just having such a good time, I am going to fight my way back in.
Q: Because we are here for the season two DVD release (in the UK), and it seemed like, during season two, there was a plan to have Pierce kicked out of the group!
CC: Ostracized? Out of the show? Too old? I was kind of worried about that too. I had to actually ask when I looked at the last script. But then I started acting, which took all the humour out of it!
Q: As you are a comedy genius and writer yourself, is there much improvisation on this set?
CC: Donald (Glover) likes to improvise. He's very funny when he does. The issue with a show that's 23, 24 minutes long is that you can't really get up and out of your light and start improvising, but words-wise you can, as long as you don't do it for too long, because then you're screwed later in editing, and putting it together. There are areas you can. Donald is very good, for instance, in taking something and in the same amount of time, making it funnier with his words. I am good at improvising in another kind of way - I'm very facial and whatnot - so there is a good amount of improv but it's all based on a very set storyline and idea, that Dan, who has never slept in his life, came up with.
Q: Some of my favourite episodes of season two have to be the paintball episodes. Did you enjoy them?
CC: Well, I have to say that one of the things that bothers me about our show is that it is placed in that study room all the time, with the same light, the same colour - that's not interesting to see a lot. It's just joke after joke after joke around that table. It's hard to shoot it all the time in the same way, the same thing. So we did these other episodes, which shows depth, which showed colour, which showed movement. But it's a tough show to do because by necessity, it's in a school. We have a biology classroom, we have other classrooms, but sitting and making jokes is not an easy thing to write. The more movement the better, I think, personally. I think you can then get a little more differentiation of colour, of light and dark, etc. I don't necessarily mean a paintball one. But we do have those hallways where someone can get angry and chase someone.
It's an eclectic school Piers Hawthorne (Chevy Chase) belongs to
Q: Your character on Community is a millionaire, is there anything you have ever blown a lot of money on?
CC: Anything I have blown a lot of money on? Well, I have three daughters and a wife - that's four women, and I'm working on a sitcom, so you could say that I am just trying to stay alive!
Q: So have you blown it all? Is it all gone?
CC: No, no. I did very well when I was younger and I am fine. But I have blown a lot of money on them, yeah. That's what it is there for.
Q: Why did you decide to do a TV show after doing so many movies?
CC: It was a big mistake! I saw this pilot script, thought that it was funny, and I went into the room where they were casting and said, "I would love to play this guy." Then they mulled it over. Then they hired me and I just sort of hung around because I have three daughters and a wife, and I figured out I might as well make some bread, every week, so I can take care of them in the way they want. My wife has just been in the Antarctic, and Cuzco in Peru, and Lima, and Machu Picchu... she likes to travel. That was about a month of travelling, and that will take about a year of work.
Q: Do you enjoy doing TV?
CC: Well, what else have I done, besides a lot of movies? I prefer movies because the money is better and certainly because you really know where you stand when you are making movies, and I have made a lot of them: 50 something, I don't know. The hours in this kind of show are not commensurate with the actual product.
The hours are hideous, and it's still a sitcom on television, which is probably the lowest form of television. That's my feeling about it. I think the reason I have stuck around is because I love these kids, the cast - they are very good. It's not like I am working with the great innovators of all time, but at the same time, they are my friends and I am out, and one of my daughters is out here, and wants to be in the business, so she is living with me. I will have some time off and I will be looking for a film, which I think will be my next thing, my next move.
Q: Do you approve of your daughter wanting to get into the business?
CC: Approve? I am just happy that I have children. I don't care what they want to do! I will approve of anything she wants to do. I think to the extent to which she may have expected a nepotistic rearing, but she knew going in that that wasn't going to be the case. That I think she's going to learn on her own. Where I could help, I would, and I have on occasion, but for the most part, this is something she wants to explore, and she's young and that's fine with me.
Q: Is there anyone you haven't worked with yet that you would love to do a movie with?
CC: Oh. Albert Brooks. I would love to do a movie with Albert Brooks; we're so different but I find him so funny, and I can be just as seemingly narcissistic as he comes off, the 'it's all about me' kind of thing. I think it would be a lot of fun. I don't know how or what type of movie or how that would go, but I always enjoy him because I think he's got a wide perspective on human behaviour that a lot of other comedians don't have, and quite frankly, there aren't too many comedians who make me laugh.
Q: Have you seen Louis CK? Do you think he's funny?
CC: Yes, I've seen Louis CK. I wouldn't in any way make a degrading remark about Louis CK, but the question is do I think anyone is funny? And the answer is not too many people. He might fit right in there.
Q: Who does make you laugh? What were your comedy inspirations?
CC: Who made me laugh when I was growing was Chaplin and the Marx Brothers, and then moving on, there were so many that I was a writer for for many years: I was a writer for the Smothers Brothers, Lily Tomlin, then I started on Saturday Night Live as the head writer, the first year we started it. So then I was in that, and that made me famous more as a performer. I must say that the funniest people I ever worked with were John Belushi and Gilda (Radner) and Dan Aykroyd, and that first cast.
Q: That was a long time ago.
CC: Yes is it. Two of them have died, as you know, which is tragic, particularly in the case of Gilda, but there are still others that are around that are very funny. Those days are gone, but if you ask me who the funniest people I have worked with, I would have to say they were. Any good actor has to have a good sense of humour too, they have to be able to manipulate people.
Q: What do you think about the writing of SNL now?
CC: Now? I don't watch it all that much.
Q: What about the writing for Community?
CC: For this one? As I said, it's completely different. That kind of show that I wrote for, that style of show, which is a variety, comedy, sketch show, and the fact that it's live and late at night, allows you to do so much more than you can ever do in a sitcom. I don't know much about how I would change the situation comedy world, but it is exactly what it says: it's situation comedy, and the situation can get old, and sometimes the ones that are at the very top, which just have three people in them, The Big Bang Theory or whatever it is - it's three people, that's basically what the premise is, and we can do that day and night. None of that really interests me. What interests me is being alive and being with friends that I care about and being as creative as I can given circumstance.
Q: Do you have any regrets?
CC: I have many. Don't you? If we didn't have regrets, we'd have nothing to look forward to.
Q: I try not to have regrets because I think, "I guess I had fun while I was doing that." But do you have any professional regrets: things you didn't do, or did do?
CC: That's a hard thing to answer. I turned down Forrest Gump, I turned down American Gigolo, there are many films - like Ghostbusters - that I turned down... the first one I did was Foul Play with Goldie Hawn, but I turned down Animal House - I turned that down. So all those I regret only because they made huge amounts of money and I would be very wealthy, but I don't regret working with Goldie, I don't regret the projects that I did do. And at the time, I felt like I had lived Animal House, I had been to college and high school, and believe me, Animal House didn't come close to some of the things I was doing! That's the way I looked at it, rather than as an intelligent businessman. I'm not that way, I'm not very good about judging according to the pay.
Q: Do you have a favourite role in the past that you played?
CC: I think Fletch, in the movies, is probably my favourite, because I was allowed to do whatever I just did. The director, who's no longer with us, Michael (Ritchie), allowed me to just go, and so I pretty much improvised throughout that movie, and that was the most fun I had, and that was most like me, because that's the way I am. Then I think the Vacation movies, because I can't think of anybody funnier to work with than Beverly D'Angelo. She is just brilliant and I love her dearly - we are still great, great friends, and I see her as much as I can manage. I don't think those were particularly great achievements in cinema, but they were what they were, and I had great fun.
Q: What do fans say to you? Do they still talk to you about Fletch?
CC: People on the street? They just say, "Love you on Community!" So the fact that they know the show... I don't know much about ratings and TV and all that - I did mostly movies - that's terrific.
Q: Don't most people still quote Fletch and Caddyshack to you?
CC: Yeah, but the fact they add Community to that is what I am trying to say. It used to be, "Oh, I loved Fletch," or, "I loved Vacation," or whatever, but now it's, "I love you on Community." Which means that they love Community.
Q: Is there an age where you are going to stop?
CC: Right after this interview.
Q: You have talked a lot about your family, who are obviously very important to you, but what else do you like doing when you are not working?
CC: I mean, of course my family is the most important thing to me, I think that should be the same for everyone. But I play jazz piano, and I think I will probably go to that next, stay with that a little more and maybe play a few more clubs; I have played Carnegie Hall a couple of times. I played drums early on, I've been a musician all my life, but I have put it way back in second place to what I do as a performer, but probably more as I get older, I will concentrate more on that between projects. I don't think you will see me doing any more of this kind of thing. I have done it, I can see what it is, and now it is time to find out what else I can do.
Q: Do you still hang out with Dan Aykroyd?
CC: Well, the idea of 'hanging out' with Dan is... [
Q: Like what?
CC: Oh, he's majored in UFOs and ghosts and all kinds of stuff. On the other hand, when you get to know Dan, you know why.
Just to clarify for US fans of the series, Chevy Chase was speaking in February this year, with this interview held for the DVD release of Community Season 2. This is now available to buy on DVD in the UK. Watch the sneak peek for Season 3 below...