by Kasey Caminiti | March 11, 2019 2:30 pm
Following DuJour’s photo shoot with Thomas Middleditch, the actor and comedian jokingly reveals that he’s heard rumblings about it being one of the best shoots of the year. “Trying to look handsome is funny for anyone like me who is constantly taking the piss out of things,” he adds. His sarcasm shines throughout our conversation in varying shades, offering moments of self-deprecation along with genuine modesty. Middleditch recently nabbed a role in Godzilla: King of the Monsters but, in true form, admits that he is assuming he’s been cut out of the movie until he sees it. “There are a lot of stars in it and also a huge monster. I’m tangential at best,” he decides with a laugh.
Since moving from Chicago to New York City to Los Angeles, Middleditch has worked on all forms of comedy, including commercials, web series like Jake and Amir, and the online outlet CollegeHumor. Though he has scored roles in hit television shows like The Office, You’re the Worst, and, most notably, HBO’s Silicon Valley, as Richard Hendricks, Middleditch celebrates improvisation as his comedic nucleus. With a history of improv dating back to the eighth grade, Middleditch says what he loves most is its off-the-cuff nature. Improvisation requires spontaneity and a touch of absurdity, which is exactly what he provides during his two-person long-form improv set with Ben Schwartz (Parks and Recreation), dubbed “Middleditch and Schwartz.”
The duo began performing together at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in New York City, founded by the famously funny Amy Poehler, Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, and Ian Roberts. Starting with eight-minute sketches, the two graduated to 30-minute slots before locking in two shows a month at Largos Theatre in Los Angeles. Middleditch says that once they “clicked into a groove,” he knew they should tour together. After slight hesitation from Schwartz, Middleditch and Schwartz hit the road in early 2018.
Since then, the pair have performed across the country at theaters including the iconic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, and sold out New York City’s Carnegie Hall this past February as well as the Chicago Theatre in Chicago in April. “Personally, a goal of mine would be to have the show be brought anywhere that would have a home for it as a comedy special. It could be a miniseries. Since it is improv, you could shoot 10 and air six episodes. These are the things that are the aspiration for me,” Middleditch says.
Going completely off the cuff adds layers of storytelling to the duo’s set, from intimate moments between a father and son to a dreamworld filled with time travel through butts. “I would say it’s controlled absurdity. You end up watching a play, in a way. I don’t want to say that, because anyone who is an ultra comedy dork hears ‘play’ and goes, ‘Yikes, no way, save that for Broadway, pal!’” Middleditch says.
Although Middleditch and Schwartz is a hilarious success, the Silicon Valley star admits he has ulterior motives. “Personally, I would love for people to understand that I’m not just Richard from Silicon Valley or the Verizon guy that’s on the television every two minutes. It’s the tale as old as time in Hollywood.” Middleditch adds that the success of his improv tour would also translate into praise for the specific breed of comedy overall that he says has been seen as second tier to other forms in the past. “I truly believe that just because I make up an hour of comedy as opposed to write an hour of comedy, I don’t think that disqualifies any prestige allotted.”
While Middleditch and Schwartz heads back out on tour in early 2019, Middleditch will resume filming season six of Silicon Valley. Since 2014, he has portrayed the character of Richard Hendricks alongside a cast of Martin Starr, Kumail Nanjiani, Josh Brener, and other comedians. “In the first season, [Richard] is this skittish little mouse that just dares to dream about his little code he’s building, and now he’s desperately trying to bring that into the world of titanic technological industry. He’s learning that he has to be cutthroat and be a boss and that his morals might be compromised at every turn,” Middleditch says of the character that garnered him an Emmy nomination in 2016.
“I view Richard as a character. He’s got mannerisms, speech, and body language that I don’t use in real life,” Middleditch adds. “There are also some similarities. I’m not going to say I’m Rico Suave, but he’s a character that I’m playing. To try on anything new is the fun in being an actor.”
Going into the show’s sixth season, the cast has developed chemistry and a level of trust in one another, allowing Middleditch to incorporate his love of improv into scenes. “It’s a symbiotic relationship between the actor and the writers. We’re very fortunate that we have beautifully written scripts that are intricate and have incredible jokes to them already,” he explains. “But we’re always looking for alt-jokes, another stab at it, or a piece of color. I think everyone feels that they can trust fall into each other’s arms.”
While reaching new heights as a professional, Middleditch also earned his pilot’s license in order to expand his repertoire of hobbies. He tells me that he recently flew himself, his wife, and his dogs to his hometown in British Columbia. “I used to sit across the lake in my house watching the tiny little planes land in this airport, thinking, One day, I would like to fly there. And it finally happened at 36,” he says proudly.
With his comedy tour, upcoming movies, and television shows all on the horizon, Middleditch is ready to soar through 2019 with sarcasm and wit. But, at the end of the day, he reassures me that he still has his feet planted on one stage in particular.
“Even when there is no more Verizon, there’s no more HBO, there’s no more movies, there’s no more anything, I’ll still be doing improv. When I am down and out or am struggling to find my creativity, I get onstage and I perform, and that’s everything I need.”
Comedians who, like Middleditch, were turned down for Saturday Night Live:
Steve Carell: Auditioned in 1995 and moved on to star in the television show The Office as well as films like Anchorman, The Big Short, and Battle of the Sexes.
Lisa Kudrow: Auditioned in 1990 before joining the cast of Friends and starring in films like Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion and The Opposite of Sex.
Kumail Nanjiani: Auditioned in 2012 and ended up becoming part of the cast of Silicon Valley, alongside Middleditch, and cowriting and starring in the film The Big Sick.
Jennifer Coolidge: Auditioned in 1995 and wound up winning roles in films including American Pie, Legally Blonde, Best in Show, and A Cinderella Story.
Zach Galifianakis: Auditioned in 1991 and then appeared in films such as The Campaign and The Hangover, and his own web series, Between Two Ferns with Zach Galifianakis.
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