Actor Josh Gad has plenty to be happy about these days. He’s starring on Broadway in The Book of Mormon, the sweetly sacrilegious comedy from Trey Parker, Matt Stone, and Robert Lopez, which opens on Thursday. And today marks the debut of Gigi: Almost American, Gad’s wonderfully weird new web comedy on My Damn Channel about a clueless yet endearing immigrant who desperately wants to assimilate. Yet, like anyone, Gad still finds a reason to feel rotten on a cold, wet Monday morning in New York.
BlackBook: How are you feeling on this first full day of spring? Josh Gad: Betrayed, like this is some kind cosmic joke. And there’s snow in the forecast.
What’s it like to be about to put on a big Broadway show? It’s pretty crazy. Things are heating up over there [at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre]. It’s so exciting.
I’ve never heard Jon Stewart gush so much about something. He absolutely loved The Book of Mormon. I’m honored that Jon loved it. It’s been that way for the past four weeks. People are going crazy for it. In a way, they’re coming in with preconceived notions and surprised at what they’re finding. It has a lot of heart and that has been the key. It opens on Thursday, and it couldn’t come at a better time. This thing is ready, let’s just get it up there. During previews we change things every day, so I’m happy that process is over. We just finally locked the show two days ago.
Tell me about your character in The Book of Mormon, Elder Cunningham. He’s the complete opposite of what a practicing Mormon usually is. He’s read more Lord of the Rings than he has the actual Book of Mormon, and tends to exaggerate everything in a big way. He’s paired up with a perfect Mormon specimen [Andrew Rannells in the role of Elder Price] in an Odd Couple sort of way, and they’re sent to dark, dreary part of the world where people have lost faith.
Your new web comedy on My Damn Channel, Gigi: Almost American, premiers on Wednesday. How did that come about? We had been meeting with the BBC for a while, and they wanted to do something in the digital world. They had seen some shorts from The Lost Nomads, my comedy troupe, and wanted to collaborate. One of the shorts we had done was about this foreigner in a bathtub trying to learn English. They kept going back to that one saying they wanted to develop it. We were like, ‘I don’t know if there’s much there to develop.’ Then we thought about it and realized there are immense possibilities. I’m always fascinated with physical comedy. There’s a push toward dialogue comedy in an Apatow sense, but I also think there’s an opportunity to go back to something more physical and universal, in the vein of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. So Gigi is from some unnamed country, speaks a language nobody knows, and we’re never going to find out his backstory? Nobody, including us, can know where he’s from. It’s funnier that we don’t know. It’s bound to get comparisons to Borat that I don’t want. What Sacha did so brilliantly was lampoon a certain part of the world. With Gigi, it’s not about where he’s from, but where he’s going and how he’s going to get there.
And he wants to become American more than anything in the world? It’s that simple. He’s fascinated with all the things you and I take for granted. To him, everything is so unique. He’s like a kid in a candy store. We really do take our liberties for granted, but even the little things are so unbelievable to this guy, so eye opening.
I love the show where he’s in the bathtub trying to learn English from a radio DJ with a really affected voice, as if that’s how real Americans talk. He just assumes people talk like that. That scene started in such an innocuous way, I was just joking around. I thought, let’s put him in a bathtub, because why not? I just wrote it off as a silly little thing that nobody was going to see.
How did you wind up on My Damn Channel? We had teamed up with BBC and they introduced us to Rob Barnett at My Damn Channel. The second I sat down with Rob I knew it was a perfect partnership. He has been the key to all of this.
Looks like the web is finally becoming competitive with TV for entertainment. We’re on the precipice of full integration. I’m a huge supporter of the web. There’s a lot more creativity that you can get away with without the suits looking over your shoulder and the studio saying you’re over budget. And the episodes are so short. There is, to me, this unbelievable freedom on the web that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. I don’t know what the potential of this character is, but I can explore that. I can do the funny and then get out. I don’t have to fill in 30 minutes of material that’s not good. As long as it’s funny, great. Less is more. There are benefits of the web. You’re seeing it more with Dr. Horrible. And Zach Quinto just produced a movie for the web. So we’re figuring out what this world is.
With so much stuff online, it’s nice to have some place like My Damn Channel with certain quality standards. Because anybody with a camera can get away with anything, eventually there’s going to have to be a way to exploit the best of the best and not give us the crap of the crap. That’s the difference between this and Funny or Die, whom I’ve worked with. Funny or Die is kind of the Youtube of web comedy. At My Damn Channel there is premium content. They’re paying for a product.
Where is Gigi filmed? We did them in LA on a soundstage we rented. There were a bunch of setups, like a hospital room, a room we converted into a space ship. It was shot over the course of five days. More bang for your buck. We shot ten episodes in five days.
And you’re never going to give much context to Gigi’s life? I don’t want it to be answered. At the core of Gigi, there is something a little greater. In this case, an example of unrequited love, played by my wife [actor Ida Darvish]. It’s exciting to see what happens when somebody falls for somebody so far out of their league.
Where are you from originally? From near Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Now I’m a California guy, but I moved to New York for the show.
Where do you like to hang out in New York during your leisure time? Serafina and the bar above the Time Hotel have been my second home. They’re both so amazing and so gracious, I have to give them a shout out. I love the pizzas at Serafina, especially the prosciutto pizza. It’s so good it makes me giddy.
What else do you have going on in your life right now? CBS bought a comedy I wrote, but that’s kind of on hold right now. Everything other than The Book of Mormon is on hold. There are potentially a bunch of things in the works. I’m just so happy to be doing a show that everyone seems to love. I’m really honored. I don’t want to do a disservice to the show, but it might be one of the funniest things ever. Beyond that, I’m busy taking care of our newborn daughter.