We Talked With Ed Helms About The Little Things That Bring Us Joy

There’s something soothing about hearing the voice of Ed Helms on the other end of a phone call. Yes, it’s a voice we all know very well – an often frantic voice when it belongs to Helms’ Andy Bernard from The Office – but the actual Helms is such a calm, cool and just plain doggone nice customer, well, it’s just a much needed pleasant and calming experience.

Helms is promoting Coffee & Kareem, his new Netflix movie which premiered this past weekend and is, frankly, pretty insane. Helms plays James Coffee, a Detroit police officer who teams up with a 12-year-old kid to help bring down a drug ring. (I know this sounds like a movie “for the whole family,” but it is most definitely, let’s say, not that.

Also, it’s been five years since Helms starred as Rusty Griswold in the Vacation sequel, reboot, a movie that wasn’t received favorably at the time, but since has found a bit of a new life, especially after its directors (John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein) hit big with Game Night. Helms is still immensely proud of Vacation (as he should be, because it’s hilarious), and has a theory about what happened and the shift we saw in comedies around that same time.

And we discussed that scene from The Office when he and Rainn Wilson have a guitar/banjo duel to John Denver’s “Country Roads” for the affection of Ellie Kemper’s Erin. (This scene is mostly brought up because I’ve been watching a lot of The Office lately and anytime this scene comes on it puts me in a good mood no matter what.) Helms says he and Rainn Wilson still talk about this scene quite a bit and are thinking about recording a new version. I tried to implore with him that, yes, right bout now would be a great time for that.

Ed Helms: Hey, how are ya?

I don’t know how to answer that anymore. It’s a complicated answer these days.

Well, we got time. Go for it. Just dive in. Yeah, it is complicated. It’s too complicated.

Well, I live in New York City…

Well, yeah, let’s get into it. And it is a crazy time. I mean, thankfully I will say that the people in New York are modeling a level of heroism and just badass energy that I’m in awe of and so grateful for. Because it’s keeping me going and feeling okay about things. Like when I saw those firemen cheering for all of the medical workers? I mean, that’s what we need more of right now. That stuff, that’s the human spirit stuff that’s going to get us all the way through this.

It was weird the first day everyone started cheering at 7pm for the medical workers out the window, because it’s kind of weird just to hear screaming coming from everywhere down your street. I now find it comforting.

Yeah, totally. And honestly, in my neighborhood in Los Angeles, the same thing started happening and the first time I heard it I thought there was a riot starting or something. And then as soon as we caught on, we just went out on our back porch and started screaming with everybody else. Yeah, now it’s a nice weird communal experience that we’re all sharing for a good cause.

What have you been doing to pass the time? Other than doing press, which I guess is something to do. If I’m you I wouldn’t like doing press, but I might not mind it right now.

Yeah, that’s true. I think most of what I’m up to is press, for Coffee & Kareem. And then I’m also in regular writing meetings with the writing staff of my new show, Rutherford Falls, that’ll be on Peacock sometime in the future. It was supposed to be in production this week, but obviously that’s punted and we’ll just see what happens. But we’re still writing and meeting regularly. And then of course, we have a two-year-old, so that’s a lot.

Yes, you have your hands full.

So we’re trying to be there for our child and each other and also give each other some space. I mean, you know what, all things considered, it’s going well. We just don’t have a lot to complain about given what so many other people are going through.

So Coffee & Kareem is nuts. For me, it came along at just the right time. I was all in.

And all I can say is yeah, we’re just so proud of it. And I think, when you work on something like this and then a global pandemic happens, there’s a part of you that feels like, well, what on earth is funny in the world right now? There’s nothing funny in the world right now. I mean, it’s hard to feel, it seems hard to enjoy a lot of things right now. And then the other part of it is, well, we want to find these distractions or things that we can talk to our friends about and laugh about. And I just hope, my biggest hope for this movie now, is just that it brings people some bit of relief and some laughs and distraction from all the insanity out there.

Well, it’s weird because I agree with what you said, what’s funny right now? But this isn’t like past tragedies where it’s only about trying to get your mind off of it. In this case, it actually serves a purpose of keeping people inside. And I don’t want to say it’s specifically watching this movie, but it is a new movie out this weekend. And doing anything inside is actually doing your part to help.

Yeah, that is a great take on it. It is all of our social responsibility or moral responsibility to stay home and to socially distance and things that make that easier are good. And yeah, that’s a good way to look at it.

At what point when you were filming this were you like, “This movie is insane?”

Obviously the script was insane from the get-go. So there was never any illusions that we weren’t making a completely insane movie. But it always gets more real and amped up once you’re on the set. And you’re doing these big crazy stunts and you’re screaming at each other and just fully committing to these big crazy jokes, and praying to God that they work. And the other thing was that as insane as it is, and even edgy and trash talky and whatever, the movie itself is not mean spirited. It actually has a pretty sweetheart to it. And there’s a good, I don’t know, life-affirming morals that come out of it.

Well, it made me happy.

I’m really glad to hear you say that. It means a lot and, again, the place where we’re at in this moment, it’s the best I can hope for is that it gives people some brief escape from whatever they’re dealing with and dwelling on. Yeah.

Are you aware of the reassessment of your Vacation? It started after the same directors did Game Night. People went back and watched Vacation and are coming around on it.

That’s really awesome. I am not aware of this. Where can I find some Vacation affirmation? I love that movie so much. I’m so proud of it.

I’ve written about it. I know Bilge Ebiri at New York magazine loves it. If I mention it on Twitter people start replying with “faucets.”

Man, that really, really warms my heart. I’m so grateful for all of that. Everyone involved in that movie was so proud of it and just thought, this is a really fun movie. It came out in a moment where it was one of the first comedies that hit about $15 million box office its opening weekend, and it was considered a bomb. But it was basically, that was a bellwether because very few comedies since then ever made more than that. So, it was actually, I think unfairly, compared to everything that came before it as opposed to measured on the new yardstick that was affecting the comedy box office overall. And so, I do hear from a lot of people after the movie came out. I would be on airplanes and see over people’s shoulders that they were watching it and I could just hear them laughing really hard. It really was gratifying to see people enjoying it.


We just had so much fun making that movie.

Finally, people are listening to reason. This is a hilarious movie.

Well, that’s so good to hear. I remember thinking, “Man, if I could just play Rusty Griswold for the rest of my life, I could do a lot worse.” But now we’ll see what happens with James Coffee.

Obviously a lot of people are watching The Office right now. One of my favorite scenes is the one with you and Rainn Wilson dueling on John Denver’s “Country Roads. It’s pure joy.

Well, that is awesome. And you know what, Rainn and I talk about that scene all the time because it also is something that I think a lot of fans latched on to, that moment. And we talk about maybe trying to do a special version of it or something, but just because we connected with that, too. That’s one of the scenes that we as a cast love just as much as the fans for sure. And it’s a great song. I mean, John Denver!

Well, if you’re going to do a special version, pretty soon is a good time. I suspect people would like that.

Yeah, you’re right. You’re right! People are starved for anything.

You’d have to do it over FaceTime or something. But it would still be great.

Hey, I really want to thank you for the positive energy and reinforcement on this, and Vacation. Oh and The Office. It’s really nice to hear. I really appreciate it.

You know what, I’ll throw in Cedar Rapids, too. That was on cable the other night. I watched it. Good movie!

Awesome. Well, thanks so much.

You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.