Next to former Daily Show correspondent Wyatt Cenac, Oscar Nuñez proved to be one of the most popular panelists at the 2016 New York Comic Con’s People of Earth panel. That’s because nearly every person who stepped up to the mic with a question (or three) prefaced it by saying, “So I’m a really big fan of The Office.” To his credit, Nuñez embraced the fandom and gifted his questioners with free gag gifts he’d brought onstage. And when those ran out, he offered his fellow cast members’ water bottles and name placards instead.
Aside from being funny in person, the man who gifted America with the hilarious kissing scene from “Gay Witch Hunt” is also quite good in People of Earth. Nuñez plays Father Doug, a Catholic priest whose parish hosts the alien
abductee experiencer group StarCrossed. Such a character would seem a fish out of water in a show like this, but the comic actor brings Doug’s struggle with belief to life as beautifully as Cenac’s Ozzie Graham and the others ensemble members. It’s quite the tight-knit troupe, and according to Nuñez, viewers have fellow The Office alum Greg Daniels to thank for that.
How did the role of a Catholic priest in a show about alien abductions come to you?
I think we got a call from Greg Daniels, and we spoke. He told me about it, about the show, and then I discussed it with my wife briefly, and that was pretty much it. I wasn’t already busy, the opportunity was there, and Greg Daniels was like, “Well this is a good show! I’m involved with it and this is what I think of the show.” He described the part for me and I thought, “Yeah sure, that’s fine. I get it.” At the time is was a small part, possibly recurring, so I said yes. It was basically a no-brainer.
I assumed we wouldn’t see too much of Father Doug since he’s not a member of StarCrossed. Having watched the first four episodes, I stand corrected.
There have always been good shows with ensembles. You know, things like The Mary Tyler Moore Show and certainly The Office. And so in an ensemble piece, I think the best approach is just to do your thing, play it close to the vest and let the writers discover you. Eventually, if the show is successful and has more and more episodes, they will get to all the characters. Yeah, so that’s kind of what’s happening. It has to happen organically.
“Organic” is a good word to describe it.
I think David Jenkins has a hold on that. It’s nice to be able to go back and forth between the aliens, the people experiencing the aliens, and the relationships between ourselves — small town stuff, neighbor stuff, personal stuff. I think it’s nice to be able to do that. To go beyond the shows we sort of reference, like The X-Files. It’s nice to be able to go back and forth and not be completely overwhelmed by the aliens and the science-fiction. It feels like anything can come out of left field, and that’s a good feeling.
The rest of the cast talked about researching alien abductions and chatting with abductees at New York Comic Con. How’d you prepare yourself to play a priest?
I went to Catholic school — Catholic elementary school and part of high school for two years, so I know the Catholic Church. As for those who did a lot of the research as far as abductees and alien stuff are concerned, I think Wyatt did the most. He really called people up and interviewed them and all that stuff. But me? I play the priest, so I did not. I watched every episode of The X-Files and a bunch of similar stuff that’s out there, so I felt fine just playing the priest straight on.
I take it you were raised Catholic, then?
Yes. You’re what your parents are. You’re little and they’re like, “Hey this is our club.” So that’s your club. My parents were Catholic, and they wanted me to go to private school — both me and my sister. Just like every other family in the neighborhood who could afford private school, they all sent their kids to Catholic elementary school. Yeah, that was the deal. We went to St. Michael’s in Union City and I loved it.
I went to a Catholic all-boys high school for two years, but I should have gone to the coed school. The Catholic all-boys school was Hudson Catholic, and there were two of them — Hudson Catholic and St. Peter’s — in Jersey City. And I should have gone to St. Joseph’s with most of my friends but I didn’t. I chose Hudson Catholic, and after two years of that I just went to public high school to finish it off. I did not like the all-boys high school. I liked the elementary school because it was coed.
How did your experiences there inform Father Doug’s relationship to the group?
He wants to accommodate them. A few rough spots come up and he’s bending over backwards to try and help them, but there is a limit to how much he can help them.
People of Earth presents one of the most diverse comedy casts in recent memory, though the show doesn’t drive this particular fact into the viewer’s mind.
It shouldn’t enter anyone’s mind. We shot in Toronto and I kept texting my wife, “Tell me again why we don’t live here?” And she would text back, “Well you spend the winter there and then get back to me and tell me.” My wife’s from Los Angeles. She grew up in California. She does not like the cold, but I like Toronto. We were there for the Toronto Film Festival. They would close the streets off. There would be security guards everywhere, and half of them were women. And half of the women security guards were Muslim women wearing full religious headgear and everything. No one cared, and no one should! Who cares? No one would make a big deal out of it.
Here in the United States, it would he headline news and everybody would have to put their two cents in over and over again and just not let it go. Everyone has an opinion. It just shouldn’t be a thing. That’s what civilized society should look like. A bunch of mixed people, and every single one of them is treated — and this is not hard, but it seems impossible for the Republican Party — like a heterosexual white man. If this happened there wouldn’t be any problems. Just treat everyone the way you treat a heterosexual white man. It shouldn’t be a deal. It’s not a big deal. Who cares? When they make it a thing, that’s when it gets weird. Anybody that goes around saying, “I’m great for women! I love women! I love the blacks!” If you have to keep saying that over and over again, what is wrong with you?
Your last point dovetails with something else entirely I wanted to ask you about — judging the 2010 Miss USA pageant, when Donald Trump still owned it. You asked Miss Oklahoma (Morgan Elizabeth Woolard) a question about Arizona’s controversial immigration law, which earned you lots of boos from the Las Vegas crowd. What do you remember about that experience?
I got asked to judge Miss USA by Donald Trump and his people. This was back before he said anything about birtherism (so he was just a regular douche businessman back then), and I said yes. If he had said anything about birtherism, about Obama and requesting his birth certificate, we never would have done this. Never. But this is before that, so I said, “Yeah I’ll judge Miss USA.”
So my wife and I went to Vegas and they put us up. We were having a good time and I met the other judges and whatnot. And then they said to me, “Do you mind asking the contestants a question?” I think one of the questions was something about illegal immigration, and whether illegal immigrants should be kicked out of the country. Something like that. I said, “Well that’s kind of a hard question because now you’re putting the girl on the spot. If you’re asking, ‘Should they get kicked out and what should be done about it?’ That’s a whole thing. She’s got to really think about it and come up with policy.” I said, “I’ll ask the question but you have to give her an easy way out. I’ll ask the question if you give her a choice.” So I said I’d ask a question like, “Do you think immigration policy should be left to the state or to the federal government?” That way she can just say “state” or “federal” and move on. I said I’d do that because it’s not fair to ask a 19-year-old this heavy political question, but if you give them a way out, that’s fine.
Now the audiences got in free for those things. So we’re in Vegas and the audience gets free admission and a lot of them are drunk. I started asking Miss Oklahoma the question and once it got political they started booing, and I just said “I haven’t even finished the question. Will you shut up and let me finish?” In hindsight, a lot of those people are probably voting for Trump. Those are the type. At the second debate, he kind of said to Hillary “Oh you think my people are deplorable?” and she kind of apologized. I wish she hadn’t. I wish she would have said “You know what? Go to a Trump rally and find anyone. Find me a person who is not deplorable. Bring them to me and I’ll apologize to their face. Find me one. Find me one who’s not deplorable.” From what I see in those rallies, those people are batshit crazy.
So you’ve said similar things many times on Twitter. Your mentions must be a garbage fire of fun. Do you actually read all the responses, or do you avoid them outright?
You have to! My wife’s like, “Get off Twitter! It’s making your crazy!” And I’m like, “You’re right! I’ll get off after this. After the election I’ll cool off.” It just makes me crazy.
Sort of makes you want to move to Toronto.
Canada is wonderful because there’s only 34 million people there. That’s partly because of the weather. And we have, what, 350 million here? It’s a big difference.
People of Earth premieres Monday, October 31 at 9 p.m. ET on TBS. Check out our review here.