“I am speaking to you from my dressing room in Wyndham’s Theatre, and that interruption just now was the stage management calling the half an hour,” cautions Patrick Stewart during a phone call with Uproxx. “In 30 minutes, I have to be on stage in front of a full house, so I’m afraid I am going to have to end this. Oh by the way, while we’re talking about influence…”
This is what speaking with the 76-year-old veteran actor is like: a complex, coherent rush of information sparked by a single question, a stage manager’s warning about a forthcoming live performance, and stories about how comedy shaped his career in theater, television and film. One would think that, since this career includes pop cultural behemoths like Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Men, Stewart wouldn’t be inclined to speak so freely while doing press. Yet here he is, about to join frequent collaborator Ian McKellen onstage, but unable to stop talking about an unlikely array of British and American comic legends whose work paved the way for his titular character in Blunt Talk, British newscaster Walter Blunt.
“There have been comedy influences my entire life. When I was very young, I was obsessed with Laurel and Hardy. They were my heroes, and they were great influences,” Stewart tells us. “I have to say as comedy actors, there is an element of comedy communication in so many American actors, even in dramatic actors. It seems to be more present here than in British actors, and so there have been many influences. For instance, another influence in my life was Danny Kaye. My brother and I worshiped Danny Kaye, whose work was a little bit more sophisticated than the Laurel and Hardy routine. And Lucille Ball, which may surprise you, was a heroine to me as a comedienne. I adored her work, as I did Joan Rivers, who was also brilliant.”
Created by Jonathan Ames (Bored to Death) and executive produced by Seth MacFarlane (Family Guys, American Dad), Blunt Talk follows its chief protagonist as he navigates the ins and outs of the cable news industry while battling alcoholism, rampant sexual behavior, and post traumatic stress disorder. Stewart arrived on the project long before Ames entered the picture, as it began with MacFarlane’s desire to put the actor in a live-action, half-hour comedy series. “Of course, since I think he’s well known,” Stewart reminds us, “it is only because of Seth MacFarlane that Blunt Talk exists.”
The resulting first season was decidedly mixed. As Mike Hale wrote in his New York Times review, Blunt Talk was principally “an amusing showcase” for Stewart “as we haven’t seen him before.” Yet this is MacFarlane we’re talking about, so the show’s reliance on shock humor should never have — and didn’t really — come as a surprise to anyone. Even when viewers were doing double-takes after watching Blunt do lines of cocaine with his valet, Harry Chandler (Adrian Scarborough), or asking a prostitute if he could “nuzzle” her breasts.
Blunt Talk isn’t all shock. Scarborough and the rest of the supporting cast, along with a mix of hilarious recurring and one-time guest stars, bolster the show significantly. Especially in season two, which features the likes of Documentary Now!‘s Fred Armisen, Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre alums Paul Scheer and Rob Huebel, and countless others. As Stewart puts it, “day after day on the set is, for me, a masterclass in playing comedy.”
“We have a variety of guests who are all immensely experienced,” he continues. “I have come quite late to the world of humor and comedy, and it has given me enormous satisfaction. I never thought that I would wind up in a half-hour comedy show, but it is giving me so much pleasure. A lot of that pleasure derives from the people that I am working with. Our regulars of course are all brilliantly funny and talented and gifted people.”
Anyone who watched season one can attest to this, but like all good comedies, the occasional one-offs are sure to stir things up. Like Armisen’s Larry Simon, a water expert with a cold sore whom Blunt invites onto the program and — despite his staff’s hilarious protests — shares a drink of recycled water with. Or, as Stewart and Ames both mentioned in separate conversations with us, the great Stacey Keach’s two-episode role as the head of Blunt’s network.