Dan Levy, Kumail Nanjiani & More Talk About The ‘Duty’ Of Being Funny In New Comedy Roundtable

Being funny is serious business.

For its new Comedy Actors Roundtable, The Hollywood Reporter brought together Dan Levy, Ricky Gervais, Kumail Nanjiani, Ramy Youssef and Kenan Thompson for an open and frank conversation about the state of TV comedy.

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“There comes a point where you go, ‘Listen, the joke is there, the joke is gettable, most people get it, if there is one person that doesn’t get it, I can live with that,'” Gervais says of people who don’t always get the irony in his comedy. “That someone might take you at face value doing an ironic joke or a satirical joke, well, yeah, some people try to inject themselves with bleach. There are stupid people in the world.”

Dany Levy. Photo: Austin Hargrave for The Hollywood Reporter
Dany Levy. Photo: Austin Hargrave for The Hollywood Reporter

Levy talks about “Schitt’s Creek” and bringing non-mainstream narratives to mainstream audiences.

“I think any time you tell stories that are not part of the mainstream narrative, you’re going to affect people,” he says. “In my case, I really [made] an active choice to tell a gay love story that felt authentic to my own experience in a way that I hadn’t seen depicted on TV before — as a viewer, you [often] end up watching yourself distilled into a version of what people want you to be or what network executives consider to be a palatable version of who you are.”

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Kumail Nanjiani. Photo: Austin Hargrave for The Hollywood Reporter
Kumail Nanjiani. Photo: Austin Hargrave for The Hollywood Reporter

Nanjiani opens up about being cast as the firsts Pakistani-American cast in a Marvel superhero movie.

“It was very significant because it was something that I really, really wanted to do. Now on top of that, there’s this other pressure in that I’m the first. But that stuff is a little harder to negotiate because I can only represent myself,” he says. “So, I do feel the pressure, but the only way to relieve it is just to have more people have these opportunities. I, one person, cannot represent a whole group of people because all of our experiences and backgrounds are completely different. That said, when I got that part, I was like, ‘I want to look like someone who could take on the traditional Hollywood-looking superhero — someone who could take on Thor or Captain America.’ To me, that was an important part of getting to play the superhero, and for me it was important because I was the first one.”

Kenan Thompson. Photo: Austin Hargrave for The Hollywood Reporter
Kenan Thompson. Photo: Austin Hargrave for The Hollywood Reporter

Thompson, meanwhile, talks about the importance of comedy given the state of the world at the moment.

“A lot of the responsibility of doing comedy is to make people try to feel good through bad times, but it’s definitely very tip-toe-ish at the moment, so it might be a little harder,” he says. “I don’t know if it would be worth it if it’s not going to be funny, because everybody is so sensitive about everything right now. At the same time, with 9/11, [the ‘SNL’ season opener premiered as planned in 2001, 18 days after the terrorist attack]. So, it’s kind of our duty a bit.”

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