COMMUNITY Q&A: Danny Pudi on Abed's Growth, Losing Troy, and All Those Frisbees

Michael Schneider
hris Haston/NBC/GettyImages

Danny Pudi

Community fans are still mourning the loss of "Troy and Abed in the Morning," as Donald Glover's departure last year broke up the best friends. But without Troy, Abed (Danny Pudi) has been forced to grow up and become a little more independent. "Last year with Troy leaving, it was huge in his emotional development," Pudi says of his character. "I think we truly had to face the fact that Troy and Abed are no longer together. So what is Abed like with other people again?"

Pudi spoke with us on the set of the Community cafeteria (where creator Dan Harmon and co-star Gillian Jacobs dropped by) to talk about the show's evolution. As cast members move on, what happens to Community? Here's an edited version of our chat.

How's it going so far on Season 6?

Can I talk about this episode? I was literally buried in Frisbees all morning, and I couldn't be happier.

Photo by Joel McHale

So Frisbees are an ongoing theme this season?

Apparently. Well, I think we probably had like 40,000 Frisbees that we ordered, so they were like, "We need to make more episodes about these Frisbees because they're not going anywhere. They are here. They're part of the campus." Took a couple Claritins this morning, so I felt good. They're pretty dusty. They're vintage Frisbees.

I also witnessed you on set bro-hugging Joel McHale all morning. There was a lot of bro-hugging in that scene.

Yeah, there was. It was really, really nice. He's got some very defiant abdominals.

Have you adjusted to your new surroundings? You guys have been here at the CBS Studio Center for a while now.

Yes. We were just talking about this yesterday, how there are two things that happened. One, I'm able to figure out or learn the dialogue here. But what happens with the other side of my brain is I'm not able to figure out where I am. So I'm the only cast member that still has no idea where any of the sets are located.

So you keep getting lost.

Yeah, I keep getting lost because it's so compartmentalized and it's different. I spent five years learning exactly where the study room is, versus the cafeteria, versus the Dean's office, and now everything is just jumbled around. This is one of the things my wife likes to make fun of me about. There are things that I'm good at and there are things that she's great at. She would know day one where every part of the set is, and the quickest way to the set so that way you could maximize your time going to the bathroom and getting a snack. I have no idea where I'm at. It's the same thing if I go to the gym and I put my clothes in the locker, and then I go to the gym and I come back to the lockers, I have no idea where the locker is. Same thing when I park a car in the parking garage.

[Dan Harmon enters the cafeteria set on a Segway]

[Laughs] That's what I'm talking about! Dan Harmon enters on a Segway. And he rides the Segway around the cafeteria BECAUSE HE CAN! This is what we do on our downtime, to kind of like keep the creative juices flowing. I watch Dan. That's normal. It's hard to surprise us now.

You definitely need to talk to [Yahoo CEO] Marissa Mayer about getting a Segway.

Does Yahoo have Segways? Does she own a Segway? I'm sure she owns one.

[Gillian Jacobs now enters the room, dressed as an alien]

Again, what surprises you anymore? I'm not capable of being surprised anymore. Dan Harmon drove through here on a Segway and at this moment right now, Gillian Jacobs is entering in a jumpsuit of sorts that is shredded with I think aluminum foil on her head. And she's definitely reading a book that's an NPR favorite. And she's wearing Uggs. So, Community is going strong.

Episode 8 is a big Abed episode, right? This is his movie that the gang is filming.

Yeah, I think so. I love this episode. For me, it sums up many things about the show and its struggles and its highs and its lows. It's an evolution, and it somehow keeps going. That's really the theme of this episode too. It's all about making this movie, and there are some highs, there's some lows. Abed has to make this movie, and I think there's moments where he doesn't really want to and doesn't necessarily believe that it's creatively or artistically appropriate. But we keep going and we keep making it and we discover new things in the process. I love this episode; it's great, really funny.

In the episode, Jeff Winger laments, "Everyone's leaving me. You know I'm going to be the last man standing." That kind of feels like what's going on with the show. Ken [Jeong] just booked a pilot, Gillian has a new show and obviously Yvette [Nicole Brown] left. [This interview was conducted before Pudi was cast in the NBC pilot Strange Calls.] There's constant change. Is that distracting or is that the circle of life on the show now?

It really is circle of life. It's the way it's been from the beginning. Really, Season 1 and Season 2 were the only times where we were all together and in a consistent way. But the show was always on the bubble. We never really believed that this was going to last forever. I think we knew right away, we were like, "I don't know what we're getting away with here. Is this really going to make it on air?" There were multiple times we were all preparing for going back out for pilot season because we weren't sure what's going to happen. I think with Dan, I think going full out with every episode because it might be our last has been such a great philosophy for our show. In some ways it's terrifying but in other ways it's really great because it prepares us for all these departures. And we address them. It's very real life. I like that about our show that we recognize what is actually happening. It's nice that we can talk about them openly and not feel like it's weird and are they going to recast Abed with another lanky, pterodactyl-looking guy?

How much do you guys talk about this openly?

The good departures and the good stuff we're always talking about, and that's because we are really close as a cast. We're all friends. It's nice to have a group of people that you've kind of grown up with and been here with. We talk about it all the time. There have been so many moments here where all our lives have changed because of the show. My children were born here. Joel's children have grown up here. This show for me has really just changed my life in the best possible way. And it's nice to have a group of people who actually recognize that we're all a part of something that is special and unique, and it's just really fun. I can't determine what is more fun: off-set with the cast or the actual scenes. They're equally fun and entertaining. And I think that's why we're able to share with each other our successes and highs and stuff. And then we're all very aware of the lows [laughs].

I know you guys got together for dinner when the show was canceled by NBC. Take me through what the mood was like. Did it feel like a farewell?

We did have a goodbye dinner, but not like a "Goodbye, we're never going to see each other again," because I think we're all in contact, we'll see each other again. But it was definitely like, we're never going to see each other like this again, where we're on set wearing pajamas and blanket forts for 16 hours. That's a once in a lifetime opportunity, or twice [laughs]. So there was a little bit of mourning that this is it. It was actually really nice for all of us to get together and truly celebrate the show and bury it a little bit in our hearts. It helped us cope with it. And as much as we don't ever expect coming back, I don't think we were expecting to truly be canceled. That definitely came as a little surprise because we did five seasons of coming back. More than anything it was hard for us to face the fact that we wouldn't see each other for four, five months a year. So yeah, the dinner was great; we all got drunk, cried a little bit, laughed a lot, talked a lot about our lows [laughs]. Now I can't believe I'm back to practice more high fives.

You had moved on, and then suddenly you got the news that it's coming back.

That's why it was so weird because I think I made peace with the show after the end of Season 3, truly, with Dan leaving. And then getting another chance with Dan in Season 5, we got that. We're very thankful that we got five seasons to do that, to get Dan back. The show has been very therapeutic. We've been able to go on the rollercoaster of life and see the birth of an idea, the birth of all these new friendships and this amazing creative project and have it end and have multiple chances to face that. We've had five years to face the fact that this might not be here forever, and I think that's why this year it feels calmer than ever. I think we're all like, "Whoa. This is great. We get to still do this? This is awesome." But we're all very conscious of the fact that everyone's moving on. We're comfortable with that more than ever, because we were canceled and now it's like, "Let's just do this for us."

So it turns out Community doesn't leave you. You leave Community. Community will always be there if you want it to be. So it's going to be up to you, Danny Pudi.

[Laughs] It might be up to you. You might be on Community next year if it keeps going. I'm so happy that Yahoo came in, so excited. That's another amazing part of the journey this show is on. They brought new life to the show, which is cool and it's exciting to be part of this new endeavor where every day I'm telling people what Yahoo Screen is and how they can watch Community. Literally today a guy was like, "Are you still doing that one show?" That's pretty much the standard question I get when someone sees me, "Are you still doing that little show?" Sometimes it's "little" or there's another adjective like "that weird show." "Are you still doing that little weird show?" Little weird show is probably the most appropriate. And now we're little and weird in the best possible way.

You don't take offense by that, right?

No! I embrace it. We are not on a big normal show. We are on a very little, weird show. And I think that's what's made us survive, because all the people out there who responded to us really connect with this.

How do you explain what Yahoo Screen is?

I'll just go through the whole thing. I'm like, "Yeah, we were cancelled." And people are like, "I thought so." Then I'm like, "But now we're back!" They say, "What?!" So, I take people on the emotional journey. In 30 seconds I take them on the ride that I've been on for the last six years.

I say, "Totally man, our show is crazy. We did paintball."

"That's right paintball!"

"You remember paintball?"

"Yeah, it is crazy. And then the guy got fired, right?"

"Oh yeah, then Chevy Chase –" "He's not there with us."

"He isn't?"

"And Troy and Shirley…"

"Wait, those guys aren't there?"

"No, but we're back!"

"Wait a minute. Weren't you guys canceled?"

"Yeah, but then we got picked up again by Yahoo!"

"Yahoo's doing TV now?"

"I know, it's crazy man. Changing times, man. Get with it."

"How do I watch Yahoo?"

"Well, it's on your computer. Yahoo Screen. There's a tab for it. It's also on Apple TV and Roku."

"Apple TV?! What's Apple TV?"

An hour later we're still here [laughs]. We've had such a crazy journey that it's almost impossible in one conversation to explain what the show has gone through, but we're still here.

What's going on with Abed this season. It feels like a much more aware Abed, he's in tune with his emotions in a way we haven't seen before.

Yeah, I think you saw a little bit of that in Season 5, especially after Troy left. It really even started before that with Dan. We started exploring alone time with Abed, which isn't a web series. Just seeing what Abed would be like and how does he handle relationships. I think the great thing about Troy and that relationship with Abed is that he really brought out this ability to have a relationship in Abed. There was something so genuine, because it was just friends being friends and allowing each other to be as weird as they want. And then from that, Abed has gained confidence and also realized that it is OK to be himself with other people. I think that maybe there was a little bit of a fear of acceptance. I'm sure prior to Greendale Abed wasn't accepted unconditionally as he is here with the group. And I think the group has helped him gain that confidence. I think studying film here has helped him practice being an adult. And that's really what Greendale is; it's practicing being an adult, and I think more than ever he's facing that. He is probably going to leave here too, just like everybody else, and I think he has to face that.

And we saw him in a romantic relationship last year.

Yeah. We saw him doing other things. There have been moments where you saw him partnering up with Jonathan Banks [who played Buzz Hickey in Season 5] for a little bit, and that's kind of what it is now. He's partnering up with people as normal humans do [laughs]. In many ways the show has returned to exploring the characters again like we did in Seasons 1 and 2. A little more back to who we are and what makes us tick.

So how about for you? Can you see yourself continuing beyond this year?

I don't know. I never know. I think the show has trained us to not think too far in the future. The uncertainty, in some ways I kind of thrive in that; as stressful as it is and can be, and as difficult as it can be on your relationships and your life and your skin [laughs], I enjoy being a part of an environment where we're not really sure what we're doing. I've become more comfortable with that just overall. I'm not really sure what I'm doing next, but I'm hoping it can be in some ways strange or creatively innovative like Community. That's the main thing. That being said, beyond this season I have no idea. We'll see.

Check out all of our Community Q&As:

Dan Harmon & Chris McKenna
Dan Harmon &
Chris McKenna
Ken Jeong
Ken Jeong
Allison Brie
Alison Brie
Gillain Jacobs
Gillian Jacobs
Keith David & Paget Brewster
Keith David &
Paget Brewster
Jim Rash
Jim Rash
Joel McHale
Danny Pudi
Joel McHale
Joel McHale


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