Scene Stealer: ‘I’m Dying Up Here’ Star Jake Lacy Proves to Be a Stand-Up Guy

Lacey Terrell/SHOWTIME

HE PLAYS Stand-up comic Nick Beverly, who claims to be two years sober but shoots up smack right before his crucial appearance on The Tonight Show. “We’re set in the ’70s, when a comedian’s career could literally explode overnight if Johnny Carson liked your routine and invited you over to the couch,” Lacy says. Alas, Nick’s set goes well—even though he’s fighting through an opioid haze—but not well enough. Johnny does not wave him over. “And now Nick doesn’t know what to think,” Lacy says. “Is he just not talented enough? Or could he have gotten the couch if he hadn’t been high?”

WHERE YOU’VE SEEN HIM BEFORE On The Office, Lacy played customer service rep Pete Miller, better known as “Plop” due to his constant need to go No. 2. And on Girls he was history teacher Fran Parker, who was dumped by Hannah (Lena Dunham) during a hellish RV trip. Lacy was also unlucky in love in the Oscar-nominated Carol, where he struggled through a crumbling romance with Rooney Mara’s character—a blossoming lesbian.

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WHY WE LOVE HIM Lacy plays Nick’s pain with heartbreaking poignancy and pathos, but he’s also funny enough to hit it big in comedy clubs. “Jake makes brilliant, unexpected choices,” says executive producer Michael Aguilar. “[Veteran comedian] Tom Dreesen, one of our technical consultants, was in the room during Jake’s audition and he said, ‘That guy could go on the road right now.’”

NO LAUGHING MATTER Lacy has worked his way up from the bottom rung of showbiz—his first job back in 2008 was literally one word (“No”) on the soap opera Guiding Light—but a career in acting is looking easy-breezy compared to the harsh realities of I’m Dying Up Here. “Comedy is a brutal business,” Lacy says. “You can be a champ one night and a miserable failure the next and, because you create your own material, you are personally responsible. Actors can blame a screwup on pretty much anything—the script, the director, their costar. There are no excuses in stand-up.”

I’m Dying Up Here, Sundays, 10/9c, Showtime