A few years ago, NBC made the wise decision to greenlight Superstore, a workplace comedy set in a Big Box department store. The show followed the formula of fellow NBC comedy hits like The Office and Parks and Rec, recreating an environment everyone’s familiar with and mining bits of humor from the mundane. But the series elevated the genre a bit by addressing real-world issues like employer-provided healthcare, immigration, gun control, and abortion and it’s continued to do that in its third season, finding that perfect blend of serious and silly.
Colton Dunn plays Garrett, a wheelchair-bound employee with a love for sarcasm and a disdain for pretty much everything else. Dunn served behind-the-scenes for years, writing on shows like Key and Peele, performing at the Upright Citizens Brigade, and guest-starring on Parks and Rec before landing a recurring role on the network TV series. Now he’s in a new comedy film, Blockers, with John Cena and prepping for the show’s fourth season. We talked to Dunn about being called the “Black Seth Rogen,” the controversy behind his casting, ad-libbing menstrual cycle jokes, and, yes, his resemblance to Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
You’ve been in the business for a while, but a show like Superstore probably means you get recognized on the street a bit more.
I do. Obviously, a lot of my work had been sort of behind the camera as a writer, so I would be out to eat with some of the actors that I would work for and see them deal with getting recognized in public places. Now I’m kinda doing it. It’s a little bittersweet. There are days when it’s great. It’s always fun when somebody comes up and says that they love the show and they think you’re funny. But sometimes there are days where you just want to walk around Target in some sweatpants and an old shirt and maybe not get recognized.
You’ve got to stay fly all the time now.
Yeah, it sucks.
You came up in the Upright Citizens Brigade – a theater that’s given us Amy Poehler, Donald Glover, Aubrey Plaza, and a ton of other talents. Did that kickstart your comedy career?
It completely helped facilitate me working in comedy. I’ve worked with them since ’98 in New York, when we were in a really small theater in Manhattan and I was actually one of the office managers there. And back then it was not very organized. At the end of the night, we would just put all the money in an envelope and put it in a locked drawer. So it’s been really nice seeing the theater grow to the size it is now.
Did you just walk in every day hoping the money would still be there, that you hadn’t been robbed?
[laughs] Well, there wasn’t that much money.