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A chat with ‘Community’ star Danny Pudi

GMA News Online was able to chat with Danny Pudi about his character and what surprises await fans in the fifth season of 'Community.' Photo by Ricardo Malit
“Community”, the sitcom built around the misadventures of a community college study group, hasn’t had the easiest of journeys on its road to becoming a critically acclaimed cult comedy. Since debuting in 2009, the show has weathered more than its share of highs and lows, not the least of which were the surprise departure of creator/executive producer/head writer Dan Harmon (last season) and his even more surprising return (this season). When one takes into account the quirky characters, gimmick/theme episodes and mainstream-audience-defying inside jokes layered upon inside jokes that comprise it, the fact that we are about to welcome Season 5 (on Fox Philippines) is nothing short of miraculous.

While far from snobbish, a large part of the show’s appeal is its refusal to pander to its audience – pop cultural nods and references aren’t dropped into dialogue for the sake of it. Indeed, what Harmon and his cohorts regularly deliver here are some of the slyest, most concentrated doses of satirical skewering since the heyday of Mad Magazine and National Lampoon.

More important than any number of gags, gimmicks, or punch lines, however, are the characters, and it is in this department that the program shines. “Community” is about seven flawed people banding together to try and make something of themselves, a premise that speaks to a lot of people, as evidenced by the show’s passionate online following. Ultimately, having characters that people care enough to invest in emotionally goes a very long way towards accepting things like school-wide paintball fights and fast food-themed space simulators.

The razor-sharp writing, talented cast and direction by the likes of Anthony and Joe Russo (“Captain America: The Winter Soldier”) and Justin Lin (“Fast and Furious” series) are just the icing on the cake.

To promote the new season, Fox International Channels invited star Danny Pudi to the Philippines for an exclusive meet and greet session with media and fans.

Following a rousing introduction that had everyone cheering, and after taking the time to give a round of high fives to the front row, Pudi gamely fielded questions and posed for pictures with the excited crowd in Fox’s Fort Bonifacio office.

GMA News Online was able to chat briefly with the Indian-Polish Chicago native about his character and what surprises await fans in “Community’s” fifth go-around.

Pudi: This is my first time in the Philippines, my first time in Manila, my first time in Asia! I didn’t know “Community” was so popular here – it’s amazing! I think I’m treated better here than I am with my real family [laughs].

How surprising was it, for you to find out that people halfway across the world watch your show?

Very much so! I mean, I heard it was popular, because I’ve gotten a lot of tweets about it, a lot of Tweets from Filipino fans, and I was like, “This is interesting,” because I didn’t know it was so popular here, and then I got here and, wow, people are really into it. It’s cool, it’s a nice surprise and great to see the show connecting with people across the world; It’s obviously tapping into something, so I’m happy.
Pudi (far left) and 'Community' castmates Yvette Nicole Brown, Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie and Donald Glover. Fox International Channels
As Abed, you’ve become something of a geek icon. Are you ever worried about being typecast?

Oh, I am [typecast], I think I’ve always been, I’ve played five Sanjays! [laughs]

Not as an Indian, dude – as a geek!

[Feigning offense] Why are you saying that? You don’t think I look like a man? You don’t think I can be a warrior? I was the first choice for “300”, but because of scheduling conflicts – I had to go to Target that day – I couldn’t do it!

All those hours in the gym, wasted, eh?

Someday, they’ll pay off! [lifts sleeve to flex a slim bicep, before letting loose a Spartan battle cry]

One of the best things about the show is how we, as viewers, never know what to expect with any given episode. Is it the same with you whenever you open up a new script?

I think the great thing about our show is that it is so unexpected. Every week is very different, and every episode is its own unique story, so that’s something special. You probably need to watch a few episodes just to get the show, but you don’t need to watch six episodes in a row to get to something. If you watch one episode, it’s its own little story.
It’s been something of a roller coaster for fans the past few years, never knowing if the show is going to be renewed for another season. How does season 5 compare?

Oh this is a great year…I always tell people that my favorite season of “Community” is Season 2, [but now] my second favorite season is 5 because we go through so much. Dan Harmon is back. He was gone for season 4, now he’s back for season 5, so we were starting all over. It almost felt like we were starting from the beginning and learning about our characters and why they’re at Greendale. Donald Glover leaves in season 5, which is tough, but there’s some great episodes coming up with Troy and Abed in the first part of the year. And then you see some girls entering his life – I think Abed changes more in season 5 than he’s ever changed.

Will we be seeing growth in the other characters as well?

You also see a lot of that, especially in Joel McHale’s character. We really go back to what brought this group together and who these people are, so you’ll see a lot of “back-to-basics” for these characters. It’s a really good season, the writers Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna are back, and it’s really fun. And there’s an animated “GI Joe” episode!

Are we any closer to getting the oft-referenced (and hoped for) “six seasons and a movie”?

You guys probably know more than I do! [laughs] I mean, I always find out if our show’s picked up from Twitter or Facebook, or who’s guest-starring in upcoming episodes. I found out about [“Breaking Bad” creator] Vince Gilligan, [“Arrested Development” creator] Mitch Hurwitz, [“Castle” star] Nathan Fillion via Twitter that they would be on the show before I found out from anyone on the set!  

Last season saw the exit of Chevy Chase’s character. How has it been to work with the new cast members?

It’s amazing. I mean, Jonathan Banks joins us this year from “Breaking Bad,” and he’s amazing. John Oliver is back for a little bit this year, who’s one of my favorite people in the world – he’s so funny! That’s another great thing about our show, we’re constantly adding new people, and they’re different types. The drama types seem to work well, like Vince Gilligan, oh, and Brie Larson is back – she’s incredible – so that’s a lot of good, strong actors, and it helps me step up my game, be a better actor.

Speaking of exits, Donald Glover [who plays Abed’s best friend Troy], shocked fans with his decision to leave this season. Seeing as the friendship between these two characters has become a cornerstone of the show, how is this handled?

Troy and Abed kind of have an ending, but not a real, total, bad ending – there’s five episodes before Troy leaves, and the one where he goes is one of my favorite episodes. It’s a good goodbye.

The fifth season of Community premieres exclusively on Fox on April 23.