Yes, Topher Grace knows that practically everyone who’s familiar with him is so largely due to That ’70s Show, the sitcom he starred in from 1998 to 2006. Since then, the actor has pursued smaller independent projects with critically acclaimed writers and directors, like Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and It Follows filmmaker David Robert Mitchell’s Under the Silver Lake. And he’s now starting his own podcast under fellow podcaster Anna Faris’ banner.
In Minor Adventures, which premieres Sunday, March 31st, Grace and his guests embark on a variety of surprise journeys into the worlds of lie detector tests (Whitney Cummings), telemarking (Paul Scheer) and getting hypnotized (Tony Hale). The actor turned podcast host hopped on the phone with Uproxx to discuss the new venture, as well as the art of the celebrity interview — be it on talk shows, podcasts or websites — and his penchant for editing down the likes of Star Wars, The Hobbit and Seinfeld.
In the first press release and the preview episode, you self-deprecatingly joke about how there are a billion other podcasts. All jokes aside, however, I get the sense that you’re genuinely having fun with this.
I became a new father about a year and a half ago. Not that this is possible for everyone, or really anyone besides someone like me, but every new father should have at least one hour week to themselves. That’s what this became for me, especially since I was doing it with my friends. People like Whitney Cummings, who’s the first guest. I mean, we hooked ourselves up to a lie detector, but it’s given me the opportunity to do so many other things. We’ve done telemarketing. We had a DJ come on and teach us how to do that. Paul Scheer and I did a telemarketing competition together. We were just calling random people all over Los Angeles, and if you got their email, that was one point. If you got a $10 donation to the charity we were doing it for, you got two points. If you got them to commit to come to an event, it was three points.
So it was a break for you, then?
Yeah. I mean, it was a lot of fun to do, but it’s like, that’s what you want when you are trapped in the house with a new baby. Sometimes an excuse to get out and learn something new can do you some good. You can say to your wife, “Hey, I have a professional reason to leave the house for one hour this week.” But it was great because I got to go and experience these different things I knew nothing about. When you’re stuck at home with parental duties, that’s not always the case. So I feel like I’m in a weird kind of liberal arts college scenario, where you can try anything. It really is the most fun I can have at this point in my life.
Minor Adventures is sponsored by Anna Faris’ podcast Unqualified, which you were on last summer. How did this come about? Did you go to them with the idea, or did they come to you?
I’ve known Anna for years. We’ve worked together. She’s one of my favorite human beings, so I went on her show to promote BlacKkKlansman. I’d been dying to go on it and hang out with her, and at the end of the episode, she basically explained to me what the secret sauce was for when you’re talking to someone in a podcast setting. Like, when you’re doing a panel on a talk show, that’s something that almost any celebrity can do or has done before. They’re trained to do it. They know how to do it. But on Unqualified, Anna and her guests take callers and try to help them with their problems. These celebrity guests start talking about love or loss or all kinds of subjects. They’re listening to the caller and responding to them. Anna says her audience gets to see this really different angle on whoever the celebrity guest is because the focus is no longer on them. It’s on someone else.
A lot of times, you go on these talk shows and it’s all about you. For many celebrities, that’s what they want to talk about 24/7, but for people like me, it’s not. I had such a great time on Anna’s podcast for this very reason, so Sim Sarna, her producer, asked me if we could have lunch. So we went out to lunch and he said, “I want to do your podcast.” I told him I wasn’t interested in doing a podcast because I didn’t think I’d be any good at it, but he said, “Let me get back to you with a couple of ideas.” We ended up just talking about possible formats but I just couldn’t imagine one in which I would feel comfortable. I didn’t want to be a talk show host, an announcer or anything like that. I didn’t want to go too deep into my own life because it’s so incredibly boring. But Sarna came back with this amazing idea.
Learning about totally random things with your guests?
Do you know what it’s like? It’s like being on a date. Some of these people I know very well. Some of them I’ve never met before. Either way, it’s really intense. I have a lot of respect for people who can just start talking to someone for two hours, but that’s not my jam. So what’s great about this is, we get to know each other, or we already know each other, while taking the focus off of each other and making it all about this shared learning experience doing something else. Like beatboxing with Chrissy Metz and stuff like that.
Plus, it probably doesn’t feel like yet another iteration of a press junket to promote something. I imagine it lifts a lot of the responsibilities therein off of your shoulders.
There are people who do the hosting thing really well, but I am not one of them. I like being on a movie set. I like supporting the greater thing, whatever it is. I really love being in great ensembles. That’s what feels natural to me as an actor, and similarly, that’s what this format allows me to do. I get to be on a team with another person. It’s also like filmmaking in that you can have this experience together. It’s totally unpredictable and you’re capturing it all, or in our case, at least the audio of it.
Is there an episode that stands out?
One of the great ones we had was Lewis Howes. He comes from the sports world and he’s a really confident guy. When they announced we were going to work with the biggest pop song writer in the world — this woman who’s written for Beyonce and Miley Cyrus — and help us write a pop song together, the look on Lewis’ face was so great. I mean, he was pretty game for it all, but that was not what he thought he was going to be doing that day. It was great. We were a little rocky at the beginning. We knew very little about writing a pop song, but this woman was an amazing pop song writer. She came in with her guitar and everything. It’s moments like that, when the temperature in the room changes so drastically, that I find the most interesting. It was one of the first episodes we recorded and it was amazing.
How involved were you in the process of coming up with and selecting the various activities that you and your guests do? They’re always surprised with the task when you’re recording, but do you know what’s coming or not?
Yes and no. I’m involved, but I tried not to involve myself too much. I’m involved in the sense that, I guess if it were necessary, I could say no to whatever Sim was surprising us with. I do know about them beforehand, unlike the guests, but I haven’t nixed one yet. I think there’s something about people being outside of their comfort zones, myself included, that’s so entertaining. Or, at least I think that it’s more interesting to listen to in a podcast setting. So I’ve been trying not to interject and say no to something.
Has there been an instance when you almost said no to something?
I don’t know. I don’t think so. I guess the closest I came was when Tig Notaro and I were learning about auctioneering, though it wasn’t that I wanted to say no to it. It was just that, as we got further and further into it, I realized how bad I was at it. I probably could have guessed before we’d started that I wasn’t going to be very good at it, but we went ahead and did it anyway. Though the whole time we were doing it, I thought, “This is just horrible.” But I’ve never thought that it was a bad episode, just because I was terrible at the task. If I’m terrible at something, then it’s probably going to be a great episode. But seriously, auctioneering is really hard. You think they’re just saying things fast, but you quickly realize that they’re actually counting. You have to prepare for years to be good at that. I don’t even think I got a good one out during the entire recording session.
No. Editing something that you’re in is masturbatorial. I could never do that. We only tweeted that Star Wars thing a couple of times. I think we only did two tweets, but all of a sudden, it was a thing. [laughs] Sometimes, I find myself in a meeting with a director and I’m explaining to them that it’s just a hobby. “I don’t want to be in the editing room of this movie,” I’ll say. “You’re an expert, I’m just a hobbyist.”
It has taught me a lot about filmmaking, though. I think it made me better as an actor, too. But when it comes to something like this, I try to really not give any notes or get in there because there’s a process, and depending on what your role is in that process, that’s what you should be doing. We have a fantastic editor on the podcast. Sim’s done this many times before. Many times more than I have. So I’ve just been trying to show up and be present. I’m just trying to do my job and experience it in the most real way possible, and then let them do their jobs. Plus, if I were editing it, I might want to cut out the stuff that makes me look foolish. My wife is always laughing at the stuff where I’m being the biggest idiot.
Of course, but when it comes to editing, you’ve always talked about it in terms of it being a hobby. I think the comparison you’ve made before is something akin to editing being your version of doing carpentry in a woodshop.
Yeah, my dad did a lit of woodworking out in the garage, and I’m always like, “I wish that what I loved doing was something outside of the entertainment industry.” But editing is really such a different thing than what I do on a set. I really do enjoy doing this. Frankly, it’s something I’m surprised not more people are doing, but I guess the technology has only been available to people outside of the industry in the last 10 years or so. But, it’s really fun. To me, at least, it’s the same thing as doing woodwork. You’re whittling it down.
I’m not actually that much of a Star Wars fan, to be honest. I just did it because I gave bad notes on a thing that I was producing. I’d never been in an editing room before, and as an actor, you sometimes assume there’s nothing to it and start wondering what’s taking so long in post. Most assume you’re just putting together what was filmed, but it’s way more than that. Every frame is a conversation. If you take one frame out, it can change the entire flow of the thing. I mean, what you’re going to do with this interview is very similar. There’s a kind of editing that’s done in everything. Hopefully, you’ll only leave in the parts that sound the best.
‘Minor Adventures with Topher Grace’ premieres Sunday, March 31st. Listen to it here.