By Jonah Bayer; photos by Jason McDonald on May 11, 2012
The first thing Jason Sudeikis does when we sit down in his office on the 17th floor of 30 Rockefeller Plaza is pull out his own digital recorder, a high-tech looking microphone that wouldn’t look out of place in a recording studio. “You gotta get one of these jobs,” the clean-cut comedian says in his Midwestern drawl. “This is what you need right here; you gotta ask Vanessa for one of these for Christmas.”
I should probably mention that my younger sister Vanessa Bayer is one of the featured players on Saturday Night Live so I have some insight into the long hours and amount of work that go into putting the show together—but you wouldn’t know that talking to Sudeikis, who is extremely upbeat and refreshed despite the fact there’s a good chance he was working on sketch ideas in this very room until 4 a.m. this morning.
In addition to his weekly roles on SNL, Sudeikis has been branching out into the movie world in the past few years with starring turns in films such as Hall Pass, Horrible Bosses and, yes, A Good Old Fashioned Orgy—and that was just 2011. You’ve also probably spotted Sudeikis’ recurring cameos on 30 Rock and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and seen him with inventive facial hair on the new season of Eastbound & Down as Kenny Powers’ equally enthusiastic teammate Shane.
After some more small talk, I tell Sudeikis I’m ready to start our interview and, to show off, pull out a hidden USB port on my aforementioned gadget. “I can’t do that, no way,” Sudeikis admits, his eyes transfixed on the undersized recorder. “That was great, it’s like a Transformer! Jonah just whipped out his USB port.” He laughs loudly before suddenly getting serious. “So yeah, what do you want to know?”
I just saw a new episode of Eastbound & Down and I was so impressed you were able to match that level of absurdity with Danny McBride because everything on that show is so…
Heightened and rude? [Laughs.] I’m a big fan of the guys who put that show together and I would have been friends with them when I was 15, so it just sort of felt like goofing around when I was doing it. They’ve done such a good job of making that show so specific in tone that you just get swept up in it. There’s so much care and intelligence to it that you feel OK being awful because it’s so well protected by the way they go about doing it.
You also seem like a well-rounded person, which is so opposite in real life from Shane. Is it fun for you to step into a character like that?
It is, because I know those people. When I was taking classes in Chicago, one of my teachers encouraged me that when you play people you don’t like, you shouldn’t comment on them. One of the characters that I played early on was “Two A-Holes” with Kristen [Wiig] and they’re guys that you see out there in the world and you can’t believe they have no filter. There’s something kind of amazing and impressive about someone who doesn’t care about what people think of them—or at least doesn’t appear to. I appreciate the thinly veiled compliment in there, too. Let me say that right off the bat.
The format of SNL is really unique. Is it strange going from there to a show like Eastbound & Down or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia where you’re not also writing your own material?
I’ve been lucky because you’re allowed to give ideas on both of those shows. I’ve yet to work on a set where that wasn’t the case; whether it’s the Farrelly brothers or Seth Gordon, there’s no one who has been militant to their words. I’d say we’re probably more strict here at SNL because, since you’re editing live, you don’t have time to indulge. You can do little things when you’re doing blocking or maybe make a choice at the [writer’s] table, but for the most part I’d say we’re a little more on the book here. Or on the cards, I should say.
You were a writer on SNL for almost two years before you joined the cast. Does that give you a different perspective on the show?
It’s like being redshirted, to use that sports metaphor. As a writer, I heard 45 sketches times 20 shows times another 17 shows, so you just learn by being around these smart, funny people who know the form really well. I mean, you can’t help but accidentally get better when you’re sitting at a rewrite table with Tina Fey week after week.
Speaking of sports, you’re playing basketball in your intro sequence for SNL. Do you still find time to play hoops?
I do, but not as often as I would like. Last year, the staff here tried to get me to play on Monday nights but I didn’t make any of them because I was just really busy. I miss it and it’s definitely something I enjoy doing, probably more so half-court now because I get winded and then I start pushing my shot instead of shooting it. Unfortunately, the only cardio I get these days is when I’m doing [SNL breakdancing sketch] “What Up With That?”
I heard that you’re a big Kansas Jayhawks basketball fan, too, right?
Kansas University basketball is the only thing I pay attention to on a week-to-week basis when it comes to sports. People always assume that I went there, even people who I’m friends with. I bet if you asked half the staff here, they’d think I went to Kansas University. I didn’t, I went to community college for a year and a half and that was it, although it was in Kansas. I really want to get that honorary degree and make my parents proud. You know, get to walk in and shake hands with the president…or is it the dean? I don’t know exactly how college graduation works.
You do so many other projects during your off time despite the crazy hours. I feel like I would just want to zone out and watch TV at home when I didn’t have to be at work.
The first two weeks of this season I did jack shit, like I didn’t even call anybody back. That was the first time I stopped in 2011. I felt bad about it and had to send a lot of apology emails when I came back up for air around Halloween. I think the work ethic just comes from having enthusiasm for what I get to do and the joy of getting to work with amazing people. I’ve been really blessed with everything I’ve worked on; sometimes not even realizing in the moment, but in reflection realizing how fortunate I was…but I’m better at that now.
SNL cast members have a history of heavy partying but it seems like everyone on the cast today is so focused and driven. Would you agree?
Yeah, but we’re also the last to leave a lot of places, too. We go the distance and we’re a big group that enjoys each other’s company, which is nice. Especially over the past five years, there’s a good chunk of us you’ll see closing out the after-after party after the show. There’s a great deal of spontaneity that this city and these hours allow because the earliest we have to be [at the office] is usually noon.
This may be a bit of a non sequitur, but do you have a Google Alert on yourself or do you try to avoid seeking out what people are saying about you?
I do have a Google Alert for SNL and various movies when they’re going on. The simple answer is: If my mom is Googling me, then I’d like to know what she’s going to see. I don’t find myself being affected by what appears in the press professionally and personally, though; you sort of live your life and as long as I’m working on something that I believe in, I know I’ll do my best. I go into a relationship with the same sort of thought process in the sense that if it’s the best version of myself, then I can’t beat myself up too much for people construing it the wrong way. But certainly there are times when you wake up Sunday around noon after you think you had a good Saturday night and you read some reviews and you’re like, “Oh, man, why so mean?” [Laughs.] But it’s not mean, it’s just one person’s opinion.
Especially at SNL, it seems like everything is so comparatively based since the show has such a long history.
Honestly, if a review criticizes me I’m like, “All right,” but when people write that something Bill [Hader] or Kristen [Wiig] did wasn’t funny, it’s clear that that’s wrong and these people don’t know what they’re talking about. But that’s sort of more watching out for your friends and probably seeing more in them than I guess I do in myself in regards to the specific show and usually in a moment-to-moment basis. I think it would be an excellent episode of The Twilight Zone if there was a red phone in your home that was always blinking and any time you wanted you could pick it up and, unbeknownst to the people out there, you could hear what they’re saying about you. How would you change the way you lived your life based on the things you heard on that phone?
I think that’s actually a really great idea.
I agree. How do we get The Twilight Zone going again? If this ends up in the interview, make sure you take the transcription and email it to yourself so that we have a copyright of this idea because once this thing is out in the ether and they take it, we could lose out on literally hundreds of dollars. F
This article is from FILTER Issue 47