On the set of TBS’s new comedy Clipped, premiering tonight, TV veteran George Wendt (“Norm!”) talked about his character Buzzy, the manager of a Boston barbershop where he — like the actor himself — is the elder statesman among a group of emerging talent.
Clipped, the brainchild of Will & Grace creators David Kohan and Max Mutchnick, features an ensemble of improvisers from every major comedy troupe in America (Upright Citizens Brigade, The Groundlings, Second City, Steppenwolf Theatre Company), along with High School Musical star Ashley Tisdale. It’s a workplace comedy, inhabited by the many eclectic personalities one would expect to find at a place called Buzzy’s, and zeroes in on that no-longer-a-student-not-quite-a-grown-up phase of young adult life. And then there’s Buzzy — an older, gay compulsive gambler who once owned the shop, but had to give it up to pay off a debt.
Wendt discussed all these things at a press roundtable, just in time to prime you for tonight’s premiere.
What’s it like to be the elder statesman in an ensemble like this?
Wendt: It’s weird. I remember Nick Colasanto on Cheers was. God, he seemed ancient to me, and I’m practically 40 years older than some of these kids; it’s nuts. I worried that I would be some kind of old blowhard, you know, “Back in the day…” but it’s just so much more fun to sit back and listen to these kids. The way they riff — they’re just so fast and funny — chops for days, all of them. It’s so energizing to be with young performers that are just so on top of their game. I almost feel I got vampire fangs sucking their energy.
Hopefully, they feel the same way — that they’re working with someone who has so much experience in this genre?
Wendt: Well, hopefully, yeah, but they really don’t need my help. But I think Max and Dave expect me to keep them in line a little bit, but everybody’s just completely cool… Next year when they all get big heads, then I’ll need to keep them in line.
Is there any learning curve when you’re on a multi-cam sitcom like this? Or do you just arrive and you’re like, “I already know what this all about?”
Wendt: It’s remarkably similar. The jokes just keep coming fast and furious from Max and Dave [who] rewrite on the fly. There was a lot of that on Cheers and these kids — you can’t throw them. [Max and Dave] just hand them a completely new attitude and they just turn on a dime and we roll cameras and they’re there; it’s really fun.
Obviously, Max and Dave have a lot of experience in creating gay characters from Will and Grace. What, in 2015, what does it mean to play a gay character and what kind of advice did they give you from what they’ve learned?
Wendt: I kept wondering that myself early on. I was doing press for something else and I said, “Doing all this press, if this comes up, what do I say?” [and Mutchnick] goes,”Meh.” You know? He kind of takes all the gay out of it, Max. Like one time I was doing something like [flipping my hands] and he goes, “No gay hands.” I think his feeling is it’s no big deal these days… I’m a pretty shallow performer at the end of the day. Really, it’s just me and I’m gay. Sorry, I’m probably not doing myself any favors.
What would be your advice to young performers on career longevity — how to keep getting hired, which is tricky enough?
Wendt: Honest to God, the best thing I could say is, “Have fun.” Just make every bit of it fun — the rejection, the audition process, the preparation, all of it. One of the truest notes I ever got was from my first improv teacher, Josephine Forsberg at Second City in Chicago. I was so green. I was just a complete idiot, and she yelled up, “When you’re having fun, we’re having fun.” Over 42 years, that’s probably the truest note I ever got.