Fred Melamed On ‘Lady Dynamite,’ Voice Acting, And Sexism In The Industry

Fred Melamed is the consummate character actor, the ultimate “that guy from that thing.” With his deep baritone voice and a warm presence, you’ve definitely seen him in something over the course of his long career. He’s worked repeatedly with directors like the Coens and Woody Allen, and Melamed has also carved out quite a niche on television, popping up on shows like Casual, New Girl, Benched, and The Good Wife.

His latest project is Lady Dynamite, the new Netflix comedy about the life of Maria Bamford. As Bamford’s hapless agent, Bruce Ben-Bacharach, Melamed plays against type as the ultimate bumbler. UPROXX recently spoke with Melamed, about his new show, the cut throat business of voice acting, and the undeniable talent of Bamford.

I’ve seen the first couple episodes of Lady Dynamite, and it’s so unique and really surreal, and I really enjoyed it. What was it that drew you to the project?

I’m delighted. I actually was brought in sort of through the back door. I had been a huge fan of Maria’s, just as a person. I didn’t know her. I’ve only lived here in LA for three years. Prior to that, I lived out in East End of Long Island with my wife and kids. I just happened to be friends with Patton Oswalt. I had done a movie with him a long time ago, and he told me about Maria. He had just done a tour with her and he made a movie with her. This is probably nine, 10 years ago or so. He told me about her, and I just looked her stuff up on YouTube and I thought she was so funny. I thought she was so great. I think she’s an elite … I hate to start up this interview by delivering this hagiography of Maria, but I really do think she’s in the league with Richard Pryor and the true greats of comedy, in my book. But anyway, I was just a fan, I loved her. I never met her or any of that stuff.

And then, when I moved to California, I was on a show, a sitcom called Benched and so was she, so we became friends. And I was so chucked because I adored her as a comedian and then I got to be friends with her as a person. And I was even more enthusiastic about her, knowing her as a woman. And we just really liked each other and worked well together, but I had no idea that there was anything in the offing.

Then, one day about a year ago, I was doing another show, and I got a call from my manager saying “Mitch Hurwitz,” whose name I had known, as everybody does, from Arrested Development … “Mitch Hurwitz would like to meet you about this project with Maria Bamford.” And I knew nothing about it. I said “Okay, great.” And the day that I was supposed to go in and meet Mitch Hurwitz, I got this horrible stomach flu and I was really ill. I could hardly get from my bed to the bathroom, it was really pathetic. So I called him up and I said “I’m so sorry, I’m just really ill. I can’t come in like this.” Oh, and I thought that’s the end of that. They’re going to audition people … I didn’t know what it was for … You know how Hollywood works, they’re going to fall in love with somebody and that’ll be that.

Anyway, in a couple of days I was better and they called back and they said “No, no come in we’d like to meet you.” So I went in to Mitch Hurwitz’s office, I saw a casting director whom I knew, who had been the same casting director that had cast me and Maria in Benched. And she said, “Do you know what this is about?” And I said, “No.” She said, “Well I don’t know either, I was just hired an hour ago, so I know nothing. You and I are going to find out together what all this is about.” And I had prepared all these nice things to say about Maria because I really do think so highly of her, so I walked into the room and there was Maria sitting there so I said, “Oh. I had all these nice things prepared to say about you, now you’re sitting here. I feel kind of embarrassed.” She said, “Oh no, go ahead, go ahead.”

So I said how great I thought she was and Mitch said, “Well we have this show that we have written and are working together on. It’s already sold. Thirteen episodes have been sold to Netflix. It’s all about Maria’s life.” And of course, being a friend of Maria’s, I knew something about Maria’s life. And he said, “And we want you to play Bruce.” Bruce is Maria’s manager, and Bruce is a real person. My character, Bruce, is modeled rather liberally, loosely, but based on a real guy who I actually knew.

Really? I would not have guessed that.

Yeah, so he said, “We want you to play Bruce.” I said, “You do?” I said, “That’s great.” He said “Yeah, we’re not auditioning anybody, we’re not seeing anybody else. From the beginning of it we always had you in mind for this.” That was extremely … That’s something you don’t hear so often. And I was extremely excited about that prospect, especially because I really love Maria and I think she’s so great. And also Mitch and his partner in this project, Pam Brady, was one of the head writers of South Park, had a rather impressive reputation.