MAN SEEKING WOMAN on FXX: A chat with Jay Baruchel

Jeri Jacquin

If the name Jay Baruchel seems to ring a little bell, perhaps his voice is something you recognize more. In 2010, Jay lent his voice in a little film called HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, I bet now you know who I’m talking about!

But let us digress back a tad further as, Baruchel began his career in 1996 with a role in the television series My Home Town and he hasn’t looked back since. Several more series would follow until his big screen jump in 2004 with Million Dollar Baby, 2007 in Knocked Up, and 2008 with Tropic Thunder.

Baruchel returned and will return again to the HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON franchise (and why wouldn’t he? I mean no one else is Hiccup…ever!) Until then fans have the opportunity to see him return in the new FXX series Man Seeking Woman that begins January 14th at 10:30 p.m.

The series follows Josh Greenburg, a young man in search of love. This is more than a search, it’s a quest filled with all the slip ups, horrors and pitfalls associated with that very search. This is a series that goes straight to the heart of it all. So talking with Baruchel about his new series he shoots straight with honesty and what we like to call some ‘truth tellin’.

Thanks for joining us today Jay. You have started off the new year with a hilarious new series!

Oh, thank you so much. Thanks for the kind words.

How did the series come to you?

It was just one of those really fortuitous things. I got a call from my manager and he said, there’s this really awesome dude called Simon Rich and he wrote an amazing pilot based on his book of short stories and they think you could be the guy. I read it and it was one of these things where, the best way I can describe it is it had the sort of too-good-to-be-true kind of vibe to it. Sort of like when you meet, you know, or I should say when I meet a girl that I find attractive, I just right away assume that there’s got to be something more to it.

When I read it, it made me laugh out loud and that doesn’t happen very often. I had this burning urge to be a part of it. It was just like when you read something really good, the clock starts ticking. As soon as you read it, you’re just like oh, no, okay, alright; I’ve got to get this going. Let’s find a way to do this. So, I’m just so bloody grateful that it found its way to me because it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of in any medium. So, yes, it was just randomly a script that got sent to me. They were cool enough to have faith and belief that I could do this and we made something pretty funny, I think.

Your character is such a straight man to what goes on around him.

Yes, I think that the more sort of grounded and real or naturalistic, whatever word you want to use to describe it, the more that we keep our reactions in that realm, the crazier stuff we can do. I think if everybody was firing on all cylinders and constantly acknowledging the insanity in front of us the whole time, there would be no place for this show to go and it would wear itself out pretty quick.

I also think those two tones, kind of, they play defense against one another as well as heightening one another. I think our show can go all the crazier because of how sort of small and intimate and real it is and vice versa as well. So, yes, I think there is a massive benefit and I think the show would be way less funny if everybody was going crazy all the time.

Where you actually seeking a television project?

I wasn’t looking for anything. I really wasn’t. I’ve been sort of really fortunate enough to have been kept quite busy with my other gig, which is writing stuff with my friend, Jesse. I had sort of told my people, we don’t need to hunt stuff down because I’m quite busy as it is. That being said, if awesome stuff comes to us, or finds its way to us, then I’m not an idiot. I’ll go out to read it.

So, yes, like I said, I wasn’t jonesing to do anything in particular and I just read this awesome script and that was that. Yes, I loved how strange it was and how truthful it was and how definitive and unique it was. You know, the sort of highest compliment that can pay [indiscernible] is that it felt like something that came out of my head. As [indiscernible] as that sounds, it’s just like you don’t often get to read stuff, as an actor, that feels like it’s something you would have thought of and this felt like that to me. So, yes, I leapt at the chance.

The women on the show, do you see it as ‘feminist-friendly’?

Oh yes. I mean, listen, I think all of the characters, regardless of their gender, are pretty interesting and well-defined. There is obviously – because of the nature of our show, and how strange it is, there are some archetypal characters at different times but, yes, I think 100%, I think that as you will see, if you keep watching, the title even becomes malleable. Man Seeking Woman, it happens to be the story of a man, but I think the stories are pretty universal so it could very easily be Woman Seeking Man.

Without giving too much away, it might turn into that at some point. But, yes, to answer your question, 100% feminist-friendly. I think it’s just friendly to smart people, I like to think. And, yes, like I said, I think all the characters are pretty well-defined.

Do you see any similarities between you and your character Josh Greenberg?

Oh, always. Not just for him, but, ideally, for every character I play. I think if I don’t find a way to see part of myself in any character I play then I’m sort of not doing my job completely. But yes, no, and with some guys I play, it can hit closer to home than others. I made it through the minefield that is being single in your 20s somehow. So I have, let’s just say, I have plenty of experiences to draw upon for this. A lot of, yes, a lot of victories, defeats, ambitions, malaise, all sorts of – I have the whole panacea of living experiences I’d like to think that I can mine for this. But, yes, hopefully, any part I play has at least a part of me in him.

Do you see the show as a myth buster about dating or exposing truths?

I think it probably leans more to the second than the first, although we do try to sort of hit the nail on the head with some stuff. That being said, it’s not meant to be a guide of any sort so much as it is meant to be, you know, when you’re sitting amongst friends at a party and everyone just starts sort of venting and comparing bad experiences. It’s meant to be that, but it’s also meant to be a celebration of the beautiful stuff, too.

So it’s like romance for lack of a better word – this whole stupid thing, there’s nothing like it. You’re happier than you’ll be ever be. You’re sadder than you’ll ever be and, often, stuff in the middle. It’s something that applies to each and every single one of us and so I like to think that when people see this thing they will see at least one thing they went through. Ideally, a whole bunch of things they went through because I this show is about human nature and what it is to be single and to be one of these social animals we call humans.

Have you had any input with the show or working with writer Simon Rich on character development?

To answer the second question, if we shot the entire show word perfect, it would be every bit as funny as it is now, I think. But I think that’s part of Simon’s genius is that anybody who has ever read anything he’s written is that he slaves over his choice of words and his choice of punctuation. That being said, he knows that this is a collaborative medium, so he always wants us to find our own way into stuff, too.

So what you have is, I think, a pretty lovely balance of pretty strong, structured storytelling with some pretty incredible jokes, fused with our riffs, a bunch of which make it into the finished product. So, but, this is Simon’s baby. My job on set is to help him tell his story and to do my best to breathe life into this character he wrote.

I’m always chiming in. Whether or not they’re just humoring me, or actually listening to anything I say, I always chime in on any set I have. I just can’t help it. It’s the way my mind and my mouth work, so I’m always pitching ideas and pitching jokes for myself and for other people. Again, this is whether or not they get used and whether or not they’re just humoring me is another question. But, no, we have a pretty amazing staff of writers on this show so we’re well covered.

Do you see an arc for your character outside love seeking?

Without giving away sort of the stuff that we know, also they keep me in the dark about certain stuff, too. I think Simon Rich is the only person who knows exactly the complete arc of the show right now. But yes, no, we kind of know where we want him to get to but the other thing is living and dating.

These are cyclical things, right? Whereas a movie ends in three acts and a lesson is learned, and that’s very finite, you sometimes have to learn the same lesson. You sometimes find your place and think you’ve got it, only to realize that it wasn’t meant to be and all these different things. So, yes, without sounding too much like it’s a cop-out answer, really both. Yes, definitely both.

So far is there anything that stands out for you about Man Seeking Woman?

Oh, geez, yes. I just don’t know how many of them are appropriate for this conversation, but I’ll say I got to be around some pretty talented, pretty funny people for three months, including Eric Andre. He’s just a force of nature and I basically got to see him do – I mean, the man is just, he’s devoid of shame and has just a surplus of courage and will do anything. This includes walking around downtown Toronto in -10 Celsius weather completely naked, running from our set to the craft truck and everywhere in between. Again, I don’t know that favorite is maybe the right word to use to describe that anecdote, but definitely most memorable.

How do you compare working on a film that is on a big screen with now working on a smaller screen with Man Seeking Woman?

I hadn’t actually thought of that. Yes, I guess maybe it just sort of speaks to my taste and what I find interesting and the generation I was a part of, or I am a part of, I should say. Yes, I don’t know. I love cartoons, I guess. The Simpsons is pretty much one of my top three favorite things ever, in any format, and so, to me, Man Seeking Woman, at times, feels like a live action version of The Simpsons.

It was neat when my mother, I showed her some episodes and, she said that of her own accord, and I told her that, well, one of our writer/producers is a fellow called Ian Maxtone-Graham who worked on The Simpsons for 17 seasons. So, yes, I think I love it.

The answer to your question, what’s it like is, I adore it. It’s just– you never get bored. There’s always something new and interesting to find a way to play with and all acting professional, or otherwise, seem to come out of, seem to be born out of play acting when you’re a kid, whether you play house, or cops and robbers, or whatever. When you get to find a way, in adulthood, to show up to work every day with monsters, and aliens, and Hitler, and all sorts of crazy nonsense, yes, you feel like a kid again.

Have you mixed in a few of your own dating experiences for the show?

I’ll say that this first season, there’s stuff that happens to Josh that happened to me, but without Simon knowing that. I think that’s kind of part of the fun and part of the point of the show is that we find a way to distill these kind of universal experiences and truths into these really messed up little half hours.

Yes, you can’t be on the set of our show and not join in the complaint fest at some point, right? Just given the nature of what our show is about, there is definitely a bit of group therapy to it where, yes, considering the subject matter, everyone can’t help but chime in with all their own experiences, some of which are funnier than others and some of which we hope to find a way to make fun of next year.

You have several of your own projects going on like The Ten O’Clock People and a project with Cameron Crowe, can you talk about those?

Yes. Sadly, The Ten O’Clock People, we could never find a way to – I shouldn’t say we never, we have yet to figure out a way to make that all work, like, you know most movies fall apart. Most movies people will never hear of. It’s a miracle when any of them happen and so I really, really think that would be a cool one to be a part of. I just hope we can figure out a way to do it, but the Cameron Crowe movie, I’m only in like one or two scenes.

It’s basically just; Cameron’s the first guy I ever worked for in the States. I’m in two scenes of his movie, Almost Famous; I did when I was 17 and so I’m obviously incredibly indebted to Cameron and proud to know him. We’ve kind of kept in touch over the course of that time since then and he was one of the first people [AUDIO DISTORTION] This Is The End and he reached out to me and just sort of told me how much he liked it and how proud he was and that really meant the world.

He said I’m going to put a part in this new movie I’m making for you. It’s not a big part, but it would be real fun to have you come out and do it and I was like, oh, sh**, yeah, that would be great. So, yes, I get to play Bradley Cooper’s stepbrother, which is very interesting, but, yes, really most of this stuff ahead of me are various writing obligations, trying to get the sequel to Goon going and off the ground. We finally have a script that everyone is psyched about and so we’re trying to find a way to get that going.

Then there’s this movie we wrote called Random Acts of Violence, which is based on the comic book of the same name that we adapted into this kind of, what I think is a real cool horror movie that if we can get all of our resources together then I might actually, finally, get the chance to direct something, so that would be pretty dope. So, yes, a bunch of fun stuff going on.

There are crazy elements of the show, how was acting those out?

Oh, it was so much fun. So much fun. You just really get to use your imagination, although you don’t often have to on our show because we have a genius called Paul Jones who designs and builds all of our crazy monsters and all of our special effects makeup. So, like I said, you use your imagination, but you really don’t actually have to all that much because these things are so real and so alive and so beautiful to look at.

You just kind of, you can’t help but remember all the stuff that you’ve loved throughout your life like Dune, or Star Wars movies, or Lord of the Rings. Take your pick. You know, or The Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, for God’s sake, any of these things, and you get to see that you’re interacting with these creatures. It’s just like, yes, it’s real special and weird and kind of fun and exhilarating and, yes, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

You are working with Eric Andre, how is that comedy wise for you getting along?

I mean, it just, more than anything, I’m just a huge fan and I find Eric very, very funny and he’s someone [indiscernible] harder than most people, so it was very easy to feed off of that. I think fairly quickly he and I kind of developed a shorthand and you’re either on the same frequency or you’re not or you’ll find the frequency that you guys will share, but sometimes it’s just not there.

We found ours quite quickly and it got to the point where we were just like, yes, whether they said action or cut, he and I were just always talking sh**. Sometimes we had to – sometimes it’s just a question of focusing it, or aiming it to the story at hand, but yes, no, he’s an incredible improviser, incredible actor as well. Just a really gifted performer and so, yes, you can’t help but be awesomer around him.

So far do you have a favorite episode?

Oh, yes. There are some that I think are – I mean, obviously, I have an affinity for all of them, but my favorites– obviously, not only yet to be aired, but, have yet to even be mentioned. So I don’t want to give away anything, but I’ll just say that, yes, my favorite moments of the whole series come a bit later into the season. That’s not to say that there aren’t beautiful things the whole time that make me laugh but, yes, I definitely have some favorites and I can’t wait until people see those.

The show is very different, are you concerned because describing it to people is a challenge.

Yes, I have the same problem. Yes, but I have that same concern on any gig I do because I have yet to figure out the metric, the formula, to what is going to be successful and what’s going to connect to people or not, you know, because there are movies, or TV shows, that are resounding successes that really just don’t speak to me at all and, conversely, there are things that everyone hates that I seem to like. Then there is some stuff that everyone likes that I like.

So what I was saying is I have no clue. I did wonder if, yes, it might be too specific for some people, but I think that’s a good thing. That’s a cool thing. I think when you try to make something for everyone you will ultimately make something for no one. I think we have been very definitive and specific and we’ve been true to our vision and our ideas and we’ve done the best show that we could do and whether or not the degree to which it becomes a success, I have no clue, but that’s beside the point. You want to do cool stuff and you hope that people dig it. I know that whatever happens, we did something pretty spectacular.

Are you ready for the live Tweeting aspect of your show?

I like Twitter a great deal. The live Tweeting thing, I’m not sold on it. I love interacting with people. My problem is I don’t know how people have time to actually watch the show when that stuff is going on.

I just think that our show is so rich, and moves so quickly, and it’s the kind of thing, like anything good, where you have to watch it more than once because you will keep on picking up on jokes that you missed the first time. I’d hate for people to miss even one of those because I was Tweeting some stupid hashtag at them. But whatever gets people a chance to watch and enjoy it, then I’m fine with it.

Are you excited to get feedback from viewers?

Yes, man, really. I can’t wait for the world to see it in everything that means. So that means, hopefully, they find themselves surprised at how much they end up caring about the plot and the characters. I am really excited to see the world react to, yes, how weird everything is.

Yes, I’m so thoroughly convinced that there’s really nothing like it on television and I think it will find its own little spot because I don’t know that any of the promos that we’ve aired yet, or anything we’ve shown about our show, I don’t know that any of it does it justice. It’s the kind of thing that you won’t know what it’s like until you watch it.

So prepare yourselves for something totally different, and yes I’m still in love with his animated Viking-dragon-riding-self nonetheless, but take time to check out Jay Baruchel on the new FXX series Man Seeking Woman. The series begins January 14th at 10:30 p.m. on FXX.

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About the Author

Jeri Jacquin

Jeri Jacquin covers film, television, DVD/Bluray releases, celebrity interviews, festivals and all things entertainment.