So after you’ve been nominated for a Tony for singing and dancing to the profane lyrics of Trey Parker and Matt Stone, what do you do for an encore? If you’re Josh Gad, you create your own sitcom.
After the 31-year-old actor wowed theatergoers with his stint as Elder Cunningham in the original Broadway production of “The Book of Mormon,” earning that Tony nom as best lead actor in a musical, he took his personal show on the road back to Hollywood where he teamed with former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett to conceive “1600 Penn” for NBC.
The sitcom chronicles the dysfunctional family dynamics of the Gilchrist clan, the patriarch (Bill Pullman)of which just happens to be the President of the United States. Gad takes the centerpiece role as the exuberant but embarrassing eldest offspring Skip, whose antics often upend decorum at the Oval Office.
What do you want to say with this show, given that it’s not at all about politics?
I think when we set out to do this, we really loved this idea of ordinary family, like any other family, in an extraordinary circumstance. And I think as the episodes start to come out, you'll start to see this family become a very fun, cohesive unit that has their foibles but is absolutely in love with each other and absolutely teaching each other lessons week after week…I think that there's something very unique being done on this show, and I think that if you stick with it…I know that we make some bold choices up front. I'm very aware of it. It's self-evident, and some people will respond positively, and some people will respond negatively. What I can tell you is if you stick with this show, you will be amply rewarded. I've seen 9 of the 13 episodes. There's some extraordinary writing going on. Some of the best on network TV, and I stand by that statement.
Beyond the setting up of the premise and characters, what are some of the upcoming highlights?
We have the brilliant Hannah Simone from ‘New Girl’ coming on the show to do a role as this princess who goes on a date – she plays a literal princess of Andorra who comes to visit the White House. She's fascinated by Skip, absolutely, like in love with the idea of the chaos that is this character.
Why do you think viewers will be interested in a fictional First Family?
I think that it speaks to something in all of us. I think that we all have that wish-fulfillment of wondering. For me, that's what attracted me to that idea. It's like, ‘God, what would it be like to live in the White House? What would it be like to be my family living in the White House?’
In the writer's room, working with former presidential speechwriter Jon Lovett, what real life stories from behind the scenes at the Oval Office have you heard?
Man, I had a chance to go to the White House, and I spent two hours! I got a private tour with one of the higher-ups there – whose name I won't mention, because I'm not sure if I'm allowed to. It was addictive. What you're so fascinated about is, if you've been to some of the grand palaces of the world – if you've been to Buckingham, if you've been to these places – there's a grandeur. There's a depth to them that doesn't exist in the White House.
The White House is a very small, intimate setting for one of the most powerful people in the world, and yet the history there is so unbelievably fascinating, so unbelievably lengthy that really, you need to spend three days there. And I keep bothering Jon. I'm like, ‘Get me back in there!’
In the world of comedy, what does it mean to you to embody this archetype of the lovable, bumbling guy?
There's something that keeps drawing me back to these roles – there's something that draws me away and inevitably back to them. The danger in them is that people sometimes have a hard time embracing an off-the-wall character. They just do. It doesn't speak to their sensibilities of wanting things more subtle, wanting things more intimate. And when you play a character like that, it's inevitably polarizing. At the same time, it's what draws me to it. I love polarizing people.
Have you studied the larger-than-life guys who can still hit you in the heart, like John Belushi, Chris Farley, John Candy, Jack Black…
Absolutely. A lot of people say as a criticism that I behave in the vein of Farley and Belushi. To them, I would say, ‘I'm sorry that you feel that way. I consider it an honor.’ If you're looking for another insult, I'm happy to listen, but that's not going to do it. Those guys are truly my idols, as well as Charlie Chaplin. I think historically there is something fascinating about being big and being that grand archetype, going back to Falstaff in Shakespeare. I love it, and I think that unfortunately, a lot of criticism comes from this idea of being overweight as a means to an end for critics to just put you in that little bracket, and be like ‘Oh, you're like this,’ or ‘You're like that.’ Whereas if somebody were doing the same thing I was doing, and they looked like fill-in-the-blank, I don't think that criticism would be there. So that's frustrating.
You get serious for “Jobs,” playing Steve Wozniak to Ashton Kutcher’s Steve Jobs.
I'm extraordinarily proud of the movie. I’ve seen some of it, and I can tell you that Ashton is truly remarkable in it. And I think it's going to blow a lot of people away. My take on Wozniak is based on literally sitting and watching hundreds of hours of footage, literally sitting and listening to hours and hours of interviews and reading autobiographies, reading biographies and just trying to do my take on what I discovered about him.
What was the fascinating thing about that story as you got that deep into the research?
The love affair between the two of them creating this unbelievable product, this revolutionary product came out of – watching the limited footage that I've seen – it's almost a love story between these two guys. And I think we all know the ending. It's a little brutal how it all went.
Have you had your eyes on all of this since you were a kid?
When I left college, I was out of work for three years. I had this dream of being on ‘Saturday Night Live.’ That was all I could imagine doing. I was really flailing about, and I had this amazing opportunity to take over for Dan Fogler in ‘25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’ on Broadway and it changed my life. Since then, I've had a lot of ups and downs, and my mom taught me a great lesson: she said, ‘Never get so high that you can't come down, and never go so far down that you can't get back up.’ And I think that if you have that mentality, you're just truly playing the numbers. You're just trying to stay the course, and you never know if something's going to hit or it's going to fail, but you try to do what you do best and stay true to yourself, and that's it. I know that sounds a little romantic, but that's my philosophy.
Did you audition for “Saturday Night Live?”
I sent four auditions to Lorne Michaels, and Lorne Michaels never invited me to audition. Recently, I had a run-in with him though where he was very kind and very generous. And he saw me in ‘Mormon’ and was very complimentary. My prayer is that one day I'll get a chance to go on and play with those guys. I just think that it's a testament to the quality of television that they're on the air still after 30-plus years.