Actor Jim O’Heir is known for playing a lovable oaf, a role he perfected as Jerry Gergich across seven seasons on NBC’s Parks and Recreation, and one he played even more recently as a guest star on Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But that doesn’t mean we’ve seen everything O’Heir can do. He breaks with that type in his new film, Middle Man, where he stars as Lenny, a man who wants nothing more than to become a stand-up comic, despite the fact that he’s a terribly unfunny guy. After his mother dies, leaving him nothing but debt and her 1953 Oldsmobile, Lenny decides to follow his dream, and heads out to Vegas to make it big on a stand-up talent competition. On the way, Lenny meets Hitch (Andrew J. West), a hitchhiker (hence the name) who takes his quest for fame in a much different direction.
Currently making the rounds on the festival circuit, Middle Man recently had two screenings in Austin, Texas as part of the Austin Film Festival, and we got the chance to chat with both O’Heir and the movie’s writer/director, Ned Crowley. Together, the two of them discuss their shared history, the sensibility of dark comedy, as well as that notorious season-ending cliffhanger from The Walking Dead.
Where did the story of Middle Man come from originally?
Ned Crowley: We met in ’87 in improv class, and we formed [our own] group, so Jim and I have been friends for 30 years. We had a sketch comedy troupe, and we did shows for about 10 years in Chicago. And then he and my writing partner at the time decided to make a go of it in Hollywood, and I stayed in Chicago, I had a family and I was working in advertising. So, with no one to do stage stuff with anymore, I turned to writing. I wrote a ton of stuff over the years, all of which goes out into Hollywood, land of “soft yeses,” where nothing ever quite gets produced and nothing quite gets picked up. Then, after the Parks thing, Jim was ready to do something, and I was ready to take a little break and try something new, so I took a sabbatical from work and we went out to the desert for four months to create this thing. It’s a long history but that’s how we got here.
Jim O’Heir: My involvement was that Ned has pictures that I don’t want released, and I had no choice. That’s my involvement. He has stuff on me that would make Trump blush. [Laughs.]