Patrick Warburton On ‘Crowded,’ Family, And The Enduring Appeal Of ‘Seinfeld’

Telling people you’re interviewing actor Patrick Warburton is a good way to determine their age and what kinds of entertainment they prefer. Hence why I was able to immediately divide those I told into three groups — the oldest (Seinfeld), the youngest (The Emperor’s New Groove) and the “inbetweeners” (The Tick). It’s not a perfect system of identification, of course, but it proves just how wide a range of work Warburton has produced over the years. That, and the breadth of his appeal.

The 51-year-old performer has a lot on his plate at the moment. His latest effort, a multi-generational sitcom called Crowded, premiered on NBC in March. Around the same time, news broke that Warburton and Neil Patrick Harris would star in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events, which just started filming. And then there’s that little bit about The Tick reboot at Amazon, which he is producing. Yet, as busy as he is, the actor was gracious enough to chat about all these things and more with us.

Ahead of Crowded‘s premiere in March, you talked a lot about how the plot mirrored your own home life in many ways. How has your family responded to all the attention you’ve given them in the press?

You’re the first to ask me that. We have a very private life, and this show isn’t based at all on it. It’s just a coincidence really that this show, to a degree, ended up mirroring my own life. We have the in-laws living with us, four kids, four dogs… Oh yeah, now my daughter wants a puppy because she thinks one of our dogs has really great maternal instincts. So we need to get a fifth dog now, because four dogs is not enough. I know about crazy cat people, but are we becoming crazy dog people? This is becoming not a reasonable number of dogs. Four you can get away with, but five? No. It’s a big, odd number of dogs.

My parents have four big dogs, but they have enough space to accommodate them.

We’ve got the room for it. They’re all rescue dogs. But yeah, the show is just so relatable. I think the kids get a kick out of the show. I think they enjoy it.

Your character Mike isn’t a strict father, per se. All these things are happening to him and he just suffers through it.

[Laughs.] I think that’s the common plight of the married man and father. Once it all happens, that’s how you navigate it all. Part of your soul is ripped out, you know? It’s like, “Where do you want me to stand? What do you want me to do? What’s this insane shit happening in my life now?” You see your daughter get away from you, like Stella (Mia Serafino) on the show. All you can do is shake your head.

My father has all boys and sometimes he’ll joke, “If I don’t read about it in the paper, it’s fine.”

[Laughs.] Yeah! There’s other things, too, like “I’m still breathing, I’m still eating food, but I have given up.”

One of my favorite scenes is when Mike discovers the pregnancy test before they head to the movies. He just slumps his shoulders, gets his wife Martina’s (Carrie Preston) purse and moves on.

It’s devastating, and then it turns out to be nothing. That was a fun one. I loved the interaction with Stacy Keach. He’s a lot of fun to work with, and I think there’s a great father-and-son dynamic between Keach’s character, Bob and Mike.

I’ll always remember him as the father on Titus, where he played an angry father. He’s an angry grandfather in Crowded, which seems like a natural progression.

Sure, sure. He’s a bit of an old crabapple, but he’s still got a heart. Keach shows a lot of that as Bob with Alice (Carlease Burke). They have kind of a sweet relationship, though it doesn’t always make for such a great dynamic with Mike. They butt heads and attack things from different angles. It makes for some interesting conflicts.

The prospect of a Crowded-like situation is something most parents with adult children aren’t too fond of.

We love it in our house and wouldn’t have it any other way. We love having everybody around. The way I see it, in this day and age, things are much different. If you’ve got the space and you can have them at home, your kids who are young adults now, then why not? Instead of them getting menial jobs and working their asses off just to pay rent for their own place, while they’re just spinning their wheels and not moving forward career-wise… If you can still keep a roof over their heads and they’re comfortable at home, then they can really focus on the things they want to do. If your kid’s a 24-year-old who’s just living at home, getting high in the basement and not doing anything, then you’re not helping them. But if they can live at home, pursue career goals and try to find opportunities for themselves, it’s not a bad thing.

It’s nice to hear that, because our modern culture tends to look down on young adults (i.e. “millennials”) who move back in with their parents. More often than not, these criticisms cite examples like the 24-year-old stoner in the basement as the norm.

You know, I’m a great parent. [Laughs.] I’m one of those special dads. “Live here forever, kids.” I know other parents who have their young adults living at home, too, and they wouldn’t have it any other way. We were thrilled when our eldest kids got into really good universities that were local. So they could actually go to university and live at home.

Which is a good deal since the cost of living on most college campuses is so high.

Yeah, it really is.

Speaking of family, news broke in March that you and Neil Patrick Harris would star in the A Series of Unfortunate Events series for Netflix. How’s that going?

We started shooting about a week and a half ago. That’s what I’m doing now.

You play Lemony Snicket, the narrator and pen name used by Daniel Handler. Are you simply narrating the series, or are you actually in the episodes?

It’s both. He narrates the show, and the audience will actually see him on screen. Snicket is anywhere and everywhere, though he doesn’t interact with the other characters. He’s simply the storyteller. Handler’s involved, and Barry Sonnenfeld is directing and producing the series. It all should be pretty wonderful and remarkable. Bo Welch is doing all these amazing and gorgeous sets. They’re really putting a lot into this and it really looks pretty fantastic. The material is so special, and it’s a great opportunity to be a part of something that’s timeless and classic. It’s a bit genius, really. A great experience so far, but we’ve got a long road ahead of us this year.

This is a reunion of sorts for you and Sonnenfeld.

Yeah. We did The Tick together, as well as Men in Black II and Big Trouble. It’s great to be working with Barry again.

I remember his appearance on the NPR quiz show, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! when he talked about filming while wearing a cowboy hat.

[Laughs.] He’s a lot of fun, and he’s got an amazing eye. Just such brilliant comic sensibilities and instincts. It’s been a long time coming, this opportunity to work with Barry again. I just love it.

I’m sure you’re asked about playing Puddy on Seinfeld all the time, especially by adults who watched the show when it originally aired. What about teenagers watching it for the first time on HuluFriends is all the rage with teens these days since it’s available on Netflix.

There’s this whole new generation that’s seeing this stuff for the first time on streaming. It’s great to see it happening, but with shows like Seinfeld and Friends, we knew they were going to have legs long after they ended, but we just didn’t know what the format was going to be. They would be around, of course — even if it was just with syndication on television. So there are kids who are streaming it, but there are also kids who see it on television late at night. It’s out there in circulation, so it definitely brings in younger fans.

I’m in my 30s, but I never watched Seinfeld when it aired or in syndication. I was always more of an X-Files guy. But my Yankee girlfriend was raised on the show, and I won’t say she forced me to watch it, I finally got around to it recently.

[Laughs.] That’s fantastic. It’s strange to think that time has swung by, especially when you’re raising kids and having a family. To think back on it now, ’98 was the last year of the show. Wow, that’s 18 years ago, you know?

Crowded airs Sundays at 9:30 p.m. ET on NBC. Until then, here’s a preview…