Ben Schwartz is busy. That’s not a commentary on who he is, or his life, or anything else. He just is. And that’s perfectly fine. The House of Lies star is constantly pushing forward, trying new things, and working on his next idea.
If J.J. Abrams calls him up to do voice work for a Star Wars robot, he doesn’t bat an eye. If Vulture asks him to interview Paul F. Tompkins, the result is illuminating. And if a hotel brand thinks it’s a good idea for him to write, direct, and star in a series of ads where he interviews athletes, that’s perfectly fine with him, too.
Uproxx caught up with Schwartz recently, and the conversation was equal parts dizzying and hilarious as the man who played Parks and Recreation‘s Jean-Ralphio bounced from subject to subject, often embarking on tangent after tangent before returning back to the start.
You do a lot – between acting, writing, directing, doing podcasts, improv, voice acting, the late-night hosting from a year ago, even the Star Wars stuff. Is that just how you are? Do you need to stay busy?
Ben Schwartz: I think it comes from a place where, at the beginning of my career, I kind of tried to do every single thing that I could because you’re hoping you have a career in that. I’ll write jokes, I’ll try to get on a staff for writing, I’ll do improv, and you’re just hoping that someone grabs you and holds onto you. My parents were workers, too, so the idea of me not working hard all the time is… [Pauses.] This is just instilled in me. If I have a job, why not have five jobs? If I’m working Monday through Friday, I’ll write at night, or do something else. There is a thing, a big drive in me to keep trying to do stuff.
It’s been around a year since that late-night show with Adam Pally. What was that like? I’d forgotten how much anarchy it really was, and you joked at the very end of the show that it was an “absolute nightmare.” But you guys looked like you were having a blast.
We’ve been doing stuff for, like, 12 years together, so it was just Adam and I pretending the cameras weren’t even rolling. Every now and then we’d look at each other, and realize this was going to be on TV, and we’d be like, “What the fuck are we doing? This is going to be on TV.” It blew our minds every now and then. I remember just saying, “I have no idea what that’s going to be like.” We had no idea if people were going to like it or not. We were just messing around. There was no audience, so we’re saying jokes, and two cameramen were laughing. We didn’t even know if it was funny, but we kept doing it because that’s what we do when we’re together.
Could there be a future in that, late-night shows with no audiences that just force you into this surreal environment?
I don’t know. I have no idea. I do not have the answer to that question. [Laughs.] I don’t know if that show would have been better or worse with an audience. It feels like it worked pretty well without it. Especially because we’re both performers on stage, so to not have anybody in front of us, we’re just looking at the other person trying to make each other laugh. And we’re hoping that people would laugh with us. Especially on the Internet. By the way, the Internet really grabbed onto it which was kind of lovely.
You never know what the Internet is going to like, even if you’re an Internet person.
Out of all the different things you have done, what’s your favorite thing to do? And what haven’t you done that you still want to try?
Ooooooh. Umm, I don’t know if I have a favorite, so I wouldn’t say I have a favorite. I really still like performing improv, so I’ll do improv with Adam and Gil [Ozeri], I’ll do improv with Thomas Middleditch, I’ll do improv at a show called Shitty Jobs in L.A. I really love acting in TV, House of Lies and Parks and Rec. But things I still want to do are, like, I’ve written a bunch of movies for studios, but I’d love to write a move where I’m the lead. It seems like it’ll hopefully someday happen.
But to work with J.J. [Abrams] or an Adam McKay, or do scenes with Tom Hanks. There’s so many people I look up to, and want to learn from, and want to be in the same room with. Those are the kinds of things you look forward to. All these little things that come along, it’d be fun to have my own show, all these things you can dream about and see what’s possible because you end up taking on so much. Something I’ve always loved is collaborating with people I look up to, whether it’s peers or someone I’ve never met before, but the idea that I can connect with that person.