Ben Schwartz is best known as the most loveable douchebag on TV, aka Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Recreation. (Check out a compilation of his greatest hits here.) But the recurring role is only a fraction of the 32-year-old performer’s repertoire. As Clyde Oberholt on Showtime’s House of Lies, the Bronx native plays very different kind of asshole, and on the popular Disney XD show Randy Cunningham: 9th Grade Ninja Schwartz proves to be a talented voice actor. Besides acting, the comedian also writes movies and shorts, contributes to College Humor, and hosts and performs improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles, where he has a show called Snowpants. We recently caught up with Schwartz to talk about life as a guy who is funny for a living.
You seem to be constantly working. What keeps you going?
Oh, man. This is like a real interview, I can tell. Okay, so for me it’s all about the writing. Parks and Rec is just so fucking funny, and House of Lies has great writing as well. It’s really also about also surrounding myself with inspiring people.
What is it about writing and acting that you enjoy most?
I get different things from different avenues. In House of Lies, I fucking love that it’s just the four of us, and this season I get to be even more intense: there’s a dramatic storyline coming up and that’s exciting for me. Parks and Rec is like playtime. It’s like all your friends are there, and I’m at liberty to just be a clown. Writing is just me and getting my ideas out. It’s what I do when I’m not sure what to do. I think when I’m not acting I get nervous, about finding my next job; what I’m going to do. So writing keeps me going.
What’s the thing that gets you the most excited right now?
I get a huge amount of joy from the UCB shows I do. We bring together old school improvisers and some great actors and people who might not have ever done improv in their lives. We’ve had Helen Hunt, Jake Johnson, we just had Blake Griffin [Los Angeles Clippers basketball player] and god, that just made me extremely, extremely happy. Just seeing people killing it. JJ Abrams! Fucking JJ Abrams did the show. The fact that he did the show, I was, just, eternally moved.
Who have you not worked with that you want to?
Oh my God, I could name like 1,000 human beings. Me and Tom Hanks. Me and Bill Murray. I could get into a whole different world with a Coen Brothers film, Judd Apatow would be insane. You could probably name anyone, director or actor, and I would say yep, they’re on my bucket list.
Do you have an actual bucket list?
I do have an actual bucket list. Are you ready? 1. Be a voice on The Simpsons. 2. Host SNL one day 3. Be a guest on Letterman. I was a page for Letterman, so it would be awesome to go back as a guest.
The season 3 premiere of House of Lies is in January. What can fans expect from Clyde?
It’s him working through the explosion of everything that happened. I think he starts to realize how empty he is. I think that’s what fans are waiting for. At least, I hope that’s what fans are waiting for.
What’s the writing process like for you? How does it differ from performing?
The writing process for me is terribly lonely. I think that’s why people go to coffee shops or something, so that they’re around people. But for me, really, the process is about getting something out; getting something down and going back. I go back and keep circling things, but when it’s all set, when I’ve sold the pitch, then it’s just me and the final draft and that cursor is blinking in front of you. And that always seems the best time to go watch a ton of Netflix. But yeah, it’s a different reality. I think I get why people write with a partner.
What advice do you have for others who are trying to write?
The biggest thing is to write every day. It’s hard. But when I was submitting jokes and freelancing, especially early on, I would force myself to. I used to submit 15 jokes a morning to Letterman and 10 a week for SNL. Having that mindset has helped me exponentially. Sometimes, if I’m writing a movie or a scene, and it comes to a big moment, a big epiphany, or when someone is saying something really emotional, I can’t do it at first. I get flustered. So I’ll just type random letters. Or I’ll even write myself a note, saying “Ben you fucking idiot. Write something here.” But I’ll come back to it, sometimes after I do something else or even write on a different thing. It’s just important to get something down.
What have you yet to do that you want to do?
I really want to do a voice for The Simpsons. I’d love to write a movie and then act in the movie that I’ve written. I’d love to really collaborate with a director who has a great background in writing on something that I’ve written–then we could make something even better. I wouldn’t be precious about my words.