Rob Huebel On The Joys Of Improvising On Set, And The Changing Perspective Of Television

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There’s no shortage of projects where you might recognize actor/comedian Rob Huebel from. He’s appeared in everything from The Office to The League and Children’s Hospital, as well as big screen roles in Key & Peele’s Keanu, How To Be A Latin Lover, and Baywatch. This weekend he’ll be appearing in The House, starring Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler, where he plays small-town cop Officer Chandler. We got a chance to talk with the Upright Citizens Brigade-veteran about the improv-friendly set of The House, as well as his work in Amazon’s Transparent, and his newest project, Do You Want To See A Dead Body?, set to debut on YouTube Red later this fall.

What can we expect from The House?

It’s hilarious. It’s Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler and what else could you possible need? The cool thing about that, for me, was that so many of the people in the movie I’ve known from the improv world. There’s a lot of people from the Citizens Brigade world. Just a ton of super funny improvisers that I’ve been performing with for years and years. So to get to do a movie all together was just a blast because Will and Amy were shooting just to let other people be funny. That’s what they did. They’re hilarious, but then they also let other people improvise and so it was just a really special experience.

Does having an ensemble cast of improv veterans like that help accelerate the humor of the script?

I think that’s obviously becoming more and more of the way to shoot a comedy movie, depending on who’s directing it and who’s in it, but yeah, something like this you really have a dream team of improvisers, just tons of people you already know from the comedy world. But then when you get to see them in the movie, you just have a dream team of people.

That’s now becoming such a valuable component with movies is, casting improvisers that can improvise. You already have script that’s already really funny, but then why not hire people that can give you tons of back up jokes. That’s the value of getting people like that, [and] it’s a really cool way to make a movie.

I spoke with your co-star Andrea Savage last year, and she described the experience similarly. An environment that just let funny people be funny, since that’s what they do best.

And the comedy world is a pretty small world. So many people know each other, so you sort of know what that person is going for. Sometimes when people are improvising you have to figure out. ‘What the hell are we doing? What are they going for?’ But we’ve just known each other for a long time and you know what’s funny with that person. I know how Andrea is going to be funny. I know how Lennon Parham is going to be funny, I know how Nicole [Chauvet] is going to be funny, so you can set them up for jokes and they can set you up for jokes. It’s pretty cool that way.

And you play a cop who may or may not be involved in a casino heist?

All this happens in a small little town and basically what happens is, Will and Amy, they need to raise money very quickly for their daughter’s college tuition so they open an underground casino, an illegal casino. And I’m like Barney Fife. I’m a dumb cop, and everyone’s making fun of me behind my back all the time. But I think I’m a really smart detective, and I’m really going to crack this case and figure out what the town is doing, because all of a sudden you can tell in the town that everyone’s acting really suspicious. It’s because they’re all doing this totally illegal thing, going out and gambling at night and going crazy, partying and strippers and all that. So, I think I’m really hot on the case and I just don’t have any clue what I’m doing.

Is it fun to play an oblivious character like that?

Yeah it’s the most fun type of character to play. I love playing either assholes or fools. I guess you have to plan people into categories, [and] those are some pretty good comedy categories. Assholes, I think, are really funny types. I’ve played a lot of those. And then just someone that’s a total fool, a total idiot, that doesn’t know that they’re an idiot. Like a high status idiot, [that’s] my favorite comedy type.

It intersects a bit with your character from Baywatch.

A little bit, yeah. I think I’m more of an asshole in that one. I think I play a lot of the detective characters probably because I am a total stupid idiot, I’m so stupid, I’m really fucking stupid, and everyone’s always making fun of me behind my back [Laughs]. I do have a soft spot for those types of characters, those kind of people just make me laugh. [I] realize whenever I see someone, you know, [when] you see someone around town who just has no clue what they’re doing? I live in L.A., and there’s just so many clueless dum-dums here and I think it’s hilarious. I think it’s a really funny type of person to draw comedy from.

Can you fill us in a little bit on your new project Do You Want To See A Dead Body?

It’s a new TV show that I’m shooting for YouTube Red, [which] is now making original TV shows and content just like Hulu and Netflix and Amazon. So, a long time ago I shot sketches for Funny or Die, [where] I would take a famous person out with me on an adventure to go find a dead body that I knew about somehow. And it’s never really explained. Like, “Wait, how do you know where the body is? Why do you know where these bodies are?” That never comes up for some reason. I’m actually using Stand By Me, where the little kids go and they try to find a dead body by the train tracks. It’s based on that. It’s just a kind of a fun adventure that you would have with your friends on Saturday afternoon, but the kind of fucked up thing is you’re going to find a dead body.

So we do different ones with different guests, a different dead body every episode. And it always starts off going in one direction and then things go off the rails and nothing goes as planned and we get into a lot of trouble. But it’s not a reality show, it’s totally scripted. And I just play myself and the celebrity guest plays themselves.

So it’s like Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee, except scripted, and instead of getting coffee you find corpses?

There’s still cars. Well, sometimes there’s cars. The dead bodies are real. Totally real. [Laughs] So many people have asked me that. We’ve been getting people to come out and do the show and the number one question people have before they come do it is “I have to know am I going to be looking at a real dead person”? And I’m like, “How would we do that? In what world would we be able to arrange that”? I’m not sure, I think people think that are going to go do this, I think they’re really trying to prepare themselves emotionally for what they’re going to be looking at. Yeah it should be super fun. We shot a pilot awhile ago with Adam Scott and Terry Crews and those guys are both just electric. It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done so I’m really excited about it.

How is it working with YouTube Red just as they’re starting their own foray into original content?

I think you have to time it right, [and] I’m getting really lucky with this YouTube situation because what happens is, all of these places start off being really cool and letting you do whatever you want. But then their business evolves and they become a big, normal organization. They can’t help it, it’s just the function of making television. You have to be fully aware of exactly what’s happening all the time on all of your shows.

Back in the day with cable, you could just do just whatever you wanted. Then, over time, they evolve and become more organized. Now it’s sort of like the Wild West a little bit at YouTube Red, which for me it’s fantastic, because they are really allowing creators to create whatever they want as long as it’s true to their own voice, so creatively, it’s been fantastic.

They’ve literally been telling me “Yeah whatever you want to do, just go and do, make a super funny, insane, hilarious show. And get some really cool comedy superstars in it with you”. Now, who knows what will happen over time, whether they’ll start wearing suits and having all of their meetings in the top level conference rooms, everyone will have to wear ties to work and call each other by their last names. But right now you go down to YouTube Red and everyone’s on a hoverboard and walking around with tank tops and flip-flops. They’ve been really generous with me to allow me to make the kind of show that I want to make.

Is that kind of vibe still there with Amazon when you work on Transparent?

Transparent is one of my favorite shows too just because it doesn’t fit into your normal categories. There a lot of shows out there that are kind of forced to either be a one hour drama or you’re going to be a half hour sitcom and there’s nothing in between. But Transparent sort of breaks all those rules and it is what it wants to be. I think sometimes it’s really funny and sometimes it’s super sad, sometimes it’s really serious. I think the comedy on Transparent comes more from just a real, grounded place.

This season was my fourth season, and on a show like that, there’s not too much room for the straight white guy perspective, as it should be. There’s a lot of that bullshit on other shows. But they figured out something really cool to do with me in our marriage. So I get to do a lot more this year and it was just a blast. The way they make that show it’s just, it’s not like any other show that I’ve worked on. Everything about that show [is] different. The writing is different, they way they shoot it is different, their attitudes are different, they way the edit the show is different, just the whole style that they attack that show is just totally unlike any other show that I’ve worked on.

It seems like networks across the board are starting to allow a little bit more freedom and invite in some different perspectives when telling their stories now.

I think that’s where this whole thing is headed. People start to realize it’s a pretty big world and there are people that are really different. It’s really cool when a show goes, ‘Okay, you know, you got that, you guys did that pretty well, so here how about this?’ And they do something totally different. I think that audiences have started to figure that out, too. ‘Oh this show is something that I’ve never seen before. This show is something that didn’t even occur to me before.’ But when you start watching something and you see characters that are recognizable, and believable from your own life, you start to really connect with the show in a different way. It’s just such a cool time for television right now.