Josh Gad Discusses ‘The Comedians’ and Billy Crystal

Josh Gad Interview on The Comedians
Josh Gad and Billy Crystal in ‘The Comedians’ (Photo by Ray Mickshaw / FX)

Billy Crystal and Josh Gad star in FX’s new half hour comedy, The Comedians, which is now airing season one on Thursday nights at 10pm ET/PT. Both Gad and Crystal are playing twisted versions of themselves in the new comedy series, with The Comedians playing out like a behind-the-scenes documentary that follows Josh Gad and Billy Crystal as they team up to co-star in FX’s The Billy & Josh Show. Sounds confusing? It’s not, actually. All you need to keep in mind while checking out The Comedians is that both Gad and Crystal are poking fun at themselves and neither are like their characters on FX’s new comedy.

Gad recently participated in a conference call to discuss The Comedians and said he’s trusting his fans and the audience in general to understand he’s not like the Josh Gad on screen in this new series. Check out what else he had to say about partnering up with Billy Crystal and starring in The Comedians:

What was your first impression of Billy Crystal?

Josh Gad: “My first impression was, ‘Oh my God, I’m in the midst of not only a brilliant comedian, but an icon who I’ve looked up to my entire life.’ I can vividly remember wearing out the VHS tape of Princess Bride growing up and City Slickers. And watching Comic Relief as a 10 year old and being like, ‘Oh my God, this is one of the greatest performers I’ve ever seen.’

So, you’re awestruck. But at the same time, you just jump into it because you want to leave a good impression on an idol and you want to be worthy of sharing that billing with him. And so for me it was […]a master class education in comedy. But also the foundation of a friendship that I’m beyond honored to have, and to be able to call Billy Crystal your friend is a dream come true for me.”

Is it fun or scary or both to play a version of Josh Gad that’s vain, needy, self-loathing, and as screwed up as the one we see in The Comedians?

Josh Gad: “Absolutely terrifying, probably the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. Anybody who knows me will hopefully tell you that I’m much more modest in real life that I am on the TV series. And for somebody like Billy, I think it’s slightly easier to play on preconceived notions about him because he has such a story to history with audiences. I’m sort of newer. I’m a younger guy. I’m just developing that relationship with my audience, with my following. And so to trust the audience enough that you figure they’ll be in on the joke is something that requires a leap of faith, especially when you’re playing some of the ugly colors that I get to play on this series.

Having said that, it’s also exhilarating to keep the audience guessing as to what’s real and what’s not. I like to joke around that there’s probably like 8% to 10% of similarities that fake Josh Gad and real Josh Gad share, and those 10% are absolutely heightened beyond belief. So what you’re seeing is a very meta-heightened version of who I am really am in real life, and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying.”

Do the writers conjure up all of these character flaws for fictional Josh Gad or do you sometimes go to them and ask them to work your shortcomings into the show?

Josh Gad: “I think it’s a mixture of both. The creative team came up with the foundation for what they wanted this character to be in order to service a relationship with the heightened version of Billy’s character, and to give the show enough conflict that it wasn’t just two guys kissing each other’s a** for 13 episodes. In doing that, a lot of times I’ll get a script and I’ll be like, ‘Wait a second, is this really what you think of me?’ You don’t have the safety net of having a different name, you’re literally getting lines as Josh Gad and you’re like, ‘Wow, these guys must really think I’m an ***hole.’ And that is always a terrifying thing because you’re not sure what their perception is of you, or if they’re just creating these conceits from scratch just because this is what’s going to service the show best.”

What have you learned from Billy Crystal since partnering with him for The Comedians?

Josh Gad: “It’s an interesting question. I definitely have learned to listen and watch, I mean that’s what I’ve basically learned. Billy is a master at a lot of things. So one thing that he’s really adept at, is he transforms into these characters. In the series we have the luxury of doing a series within the series where we get to do sketch comedy. And watching this guy, who I think is one of the most brilliant voices to ever come through the halls of Saturday Night Live, it’s an amazing study developing characters, and character comedy that is so distinct. To create characters that are able to have catch phrases like, ‘You look marvelous,’ and have that become a pop cultural touchstone, that’s an enormous feat. I think the most enlightening part of this process is just getting to see him do what he does best in creating all of these amazing characters and distinct voices in his approach to sketch comedy.”

What really sets The Comedians apart from other comedies?

Josh Gad: “I think that there’s a number of reasons. First and foremost, I happen to think it’s hysterically funny. And, yes, I’m subjective. But there is, baring my bias, I’ve had an opportunity now to watch screenings of it with audiences and it is laugh out loud funny. I think that the return of Billy Crystal to television is an event worthy of viewership in of itself. But I think above all else, even though the show uses the backdrop of industry and the inside machinations of creating the show, as I said, a backdrop, it’s about a generational disconnect that exists between an older guy and a younger guy. I think that’s a universal theme that people can get behind. I think that people can get behind that universal idea of people who have the same goal in mind, but are approaching it through their generational experiences, the colors of whatever’s gotten them there and the eras that they’ve grow up in. I think that’s what makes the show so relatable, so human, and ultimately, so funny.”

You did a great impersonation of Billy Crystal. Was that something you always had in your bag of tricks that you could just pull out every once in a while? Or was that something you just put together when you started working with Billy?

Josh Gad: “That was something that when they said, ‘Cameras rolling,’ literally came out of thin air. I mean, it really was. The beauty of getting to work with Larry Charles, who of course is the mastermind behind Borat and Bruno, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Seinfeld, the beauty of getting to work with him is that he keeps the cameras rolling long after the scripted pages are done. And so you arrive at gems like that where you’re sort of stuck with each other in a car or whatever the situation may be, and all of a sudden that will come out.”

How much of the show is actually improvised compared to scripted?

Josh Gad: “You know, the scripts pretty much always come in very strong, so that’s always a great foundation to go off of. Having said that, I can’t really think of a situation where there’s been more leeway to improvise. Like I said, given Larry Charles’ direction, he sort of set the tone in the pilot and the subsequent episodes that he directed, nine of which he directed, that the cameras stay rolling long after the scripted material is done. He was a part of Curb Your Enthusiasm which has built their entire series around the nature of improvisation. So for us it always comes down to has the scene run its course, or is there more story and more relationship to discover by allowing us to explore without any scripted pages? And, usually, in more cases than not, we’re given that freedom and that opportunity to explore.”

You’ve been a big song and dance man in the past. Are you going to show off any other skills?

Josh Gad: “Oh, absolutely. Look, as ironic and strange as it is to say, by virtue of the fact that I’m playing Josh Gad on this series, and a heightened version of Josh Gad, you will be seeing a side of me that I don’t believe you’ve ever seen before. There is a cynical prism that I don’t usually do in my work that is sort of the foundation for this bizarro version of myself. He’s a guy with a healthy ego. He’s a guy who is absolutely clueless when it comes to certain social behaviors. And I’m excited about showing let’s just say a somewhat uglier side of myself. It’s dangerous, it’s tricky, but it’s also enormously rewarding. I do think it’s going to afford viewers definitely the opportunity to see me in a different light than they’ve seen me previously.”

Do you have any fun on-set stories that you can share about your co-stars with us?

Josh Gad: “You know, I will tell you that my first day on set with Billy was a very strange, surreal one because not only am I acting alongside this guy who’s an idol of mine, but I have to sort of insult him to his face without the safety net of calling him by a different name. And so on the very first day of shooting the pilot, we had to have a conversation and just be at ease with each other and tell each other, ‘Okay so now I, Josh Gad, fake real Josh Gad, am going to say things as fake Josh Gad that are going to be a little bit insulting to fake Billy Crystal, but I want you as the real Billy Crystal to be okay with it.’ So it was a very surreal first day where we had to make a pact and come up with the rules of the game.

I remember we had this scene that takes place in a restaurant where I come in and I’m sort of like, ‘It’s so great to meet you.’ And I said to him usually when you meet each other, you’re not sure what the other person is going to look like, but I’ve been seeing you a lot on Starz Family lately. It was this quick zing that wasn’t scripted or anything and I’m like, ‘This is going to set the tone. He’s either going punch me in the face right now or he’s going to go along with it.’ And once he went along with it, I knew that I was in a safe zone and that the sky was the limit in terms of what we can do. The fact that we were going to sort of Thelma and Louise style, take a jump together down this rabbit hole and go all the way.”

Can you talk about your role in Beauty and the Beast and whether or not your kids are excited about it?

Josh Gad: “Look, I’ve worn out the Frozen welcome in my house, so I needed something to win back their affection. And Beauty and the Beast, it’s funny, because it’s just as much for me as it is for the kids. It was my Frozen, I like to call it. I was kind of that age when I first saw that movie, it was everything to me. And like Little Mermaid and Aladdin and Lion King, it was one of those movies that I saw over and over again in the theater and was memorized by the songs, by the storytelling. And so to now bring those characters to life in a way only Disney can do, I’m really excited about it and I’m excited that it’s going to give me the opportunity to do my first live-action musical, which I haven’t been afforded before.”

-By Rebecca Murray

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