Icing: DAVID EBERT is Comedian, Actor and Master of All
How do you transition from doing a light beer spot to a nuanced, dramatic performance opposite one of the best stand-ups/comedic actors around? Apparently, quite easily! If you watched the first episode of Aziz Ansari’s Master of None you will, no doubt, remember DAVID EBERT as the defeated dad Kyle trying to inspire Aziz’s Dev Shah into the world of child rearing. One minute he’s delivering an epic speech about the wonders of fatherhood and the next he’s shattering poor Dev’s life course. Well, did you know David is equally talented at making folks laughter heartily? He’s a member of the UCB NY Maude sketch Team One Idiot, you’ve see him on MTV2’s Not Exactly News, Joking Off and Guy Code, a plethora of TV ads, and he performs stand-up anywhere they’ll allow. Get to know this multi-talented gentleman a little better in our illuminating interview.
CAKE: Let me start off by saying you were absolutely brilliant as Kyle in Aziz Ansari’s Master of None. What was the process like landing the role and then playing a more serious character?
DAVID EBERT: Oh wow, that’s very kind of you to say. Because I came up through comedy most of the roles I go out for are very fun but pretty thin. Especially with a guest spot. A guest spot you drop in on the main character and give some piece of information that effects a change in them while your character goes back into the nothing void from whence you came. It’s a testament to the writing of this show that a day player gets to have an entire arc that the main character reacts to. That’s probably my favorite thing about Master Of None, everyone gets to have a life beyond their time on screen. Monroe Martin has, like, 3 lines as the guy who recognizes Dev from the GoGurt spot, and I can totally picture what that guy’s like when he’s hanging with friends or reading in the library. Alan Yang and Aziz make strong, believable characters in super short exchanges.
As for the process, I wanted this role bad. I was taking a Bob Krakower class at the time which was great because Bob happens to be the best on camera acting teacher in the world. I had already done the homework with the script so the day before the audition Bob and I just fine tuned the read. At that point most of the work was done. The audition was super comfortable because I was solid on my lines and who I thought this dude was. The casting director, Cody Beke, is very good at creating a comfortable room for auditions and reading for the role was nothing but fun. There was no callback, just direct casting from tape. Actually performing it on set is even easier than auditioning because now I’m in wardrobe and there are other actors to look at and cake to eat and a baby to hold so it doesn’t feel quite as silly as bearing my soul to a camcorder on a tiny tripod.
And playing with Aziz was awesome. They shot my entire role in one day. I think it might have been 13 hours? I did my first scene then took a 4 hour nap (which is no longer a nap, it’s a nights sleep) in my trailer all while Aziz kept shooting, so when I got him to shoot our last scene I was fully rested while he had been working all day. Didn’t matter. Our last scene was also the last of the day and it’s this beautiful single shot with a slow push in so we had to A) Nail it in a single take with no cuts and B) do it in 15 minutes. Aziz didn’t give a bad take. Performance-wise, all of them could have made it in the show, and even after the director was happy Aziz looked at me and said “you wanna do it one more time?”
We did and I think that was the one the used.
CAKE: Was comedy always your passion or did you always have an eye on serious acting roles?
DAVID: Both? In a crazy dream world I get to have a Robin Williams or a Bryan Cranston career, where I cut my teeth and grind it out in comedy, then Hollywood lets me do all sorts of crazy and messed up drama’s and I get to play troubled dads and creeps and powerful men with inexplicable accents. I don’t think comedy and serious acting are mutually exclusive. A lot of times you play comedy and drama the exact same way but emotionally comedy lets you off the hook and drama twists you on it.
CAKE: Aziz is a serious foodie. Are you equally a food connoisseur? How delicious was the catering spread on set of Master of None? I’m hungry now just thinking about the sandwiches from the first episode.
DAVID: I love food but it would be very hard to equal Aziz in being a foodie. Here, in my memory, is my opening exchange with him.
Aziz: You live in New York?
Me: Yes. Astoria Queens.
Aziz: Oh where do you eat out there?
As for the food, definitely one of the better catered sets I’ve been on but I didn’t eat much. I actually hate eating on set. Being a little hungry keeps me sharp which is a sad irony because set food often the most plentiful and delicious food you’ll ever have and I, when not on set, am a food monster who needs seven meals a day. When they put out the spread I get some black coffee and trail mix and I hide in my trailer like I’m waiting for the Build-Your-Own-Omelette Hurricane to pass.
CAKE: What other comedians would you like to work with in the future?
DAVID: Most of them. Louis C.K. Bob Odenkirk. Paul F. Tompkins. Tina Fey. Amy Schumer. Paul Feig. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glaser. I’m very drawn to comedians that I think have strong ideas about comedy not only for how they deliver lines or what they say but for how their material looks and edits. The idea that their comedy as presented to a viewer is an entire piece so the editing and sound design and wardrobe and props and script are all their business and all opportunities for them to tell a joke. But everyone impresses me and I love working with a very wide range of different people. OH THE MUPPETS. I WANT TO WORK WITH THE MUPPETS.
CAKE: Congrats on your Maude sketch team, One Idiot, becoming the official sketch team of UCB NY. How would you describe the team to the uninitiated?
DAVID: Imagine a sketch team that wrote shows so seamless you mistook them for one act plays.
CAKE: What do you enjoy most about performing sketch?
DAVID: A sketch has a beginning, middle, hopefully an end, and a very clear game. A good sketch establishes the joke or the game almost right away and gets the audience on the same page as you. As an actor, if your audience is already on your side within two lines you kind of get cart blanche to play it however big or small as you want. You can inhabit these bizarre, larger than life characters for 5 minutes, own every second of their existence on stage, then run out a door, switch ugly wigs, and be someone completely different. The suspension of disbelief in sketch is the largest in theatre, surpassed only by standup. If I put white electrical tape on my upper lip and a use a horrific and nondescript southern accent and tell you I’m Mark Twain, the audience completely excepts it. Mostly because the expectation for sketch is so low. Audiences expect bad acting, bad props, clunky dialogue, and broad jokes. So, if the performer or writer puts in even a modicum of effort; they spirit gum a real looking mustache on, they attempt an accurate accent or play a character who actually has wants and desires, or they write some pithy dialogue within the larger joke they are trying to sell, they are greatly rewarded. Audiences think you’re brilliant and your theatre gives you your own special time slot.
CAKE: One Idiot is currently performing a parody of a Tennessee Williams play, ‘What the Horse Saw’ at UCB Chelsea. Tell us how you came up with the idea of the spoof, which already entertained at the New York Comedy Festival.
DAVID: I love this show so much. This show is everything I think a show at the UCB can be. One Idiot had been trying more unified themes for our shows for awhile. We had done a show a few months earlier where all the sketches took place during the running of a single marathon and we liked it. We tried and even more unified show, the theme was a teenage make out party, and some actors played the same characters throughout, which on Maude night was a pretty rare thing. We enjoyed the way these shows made us feel and the way they were received and we wanted to write an even more connected sketch show, where everyone played the same characters throughout. I think it was Carrie McCrossen, one of the actors on our team, who came up with the initial pitch of a Tennessee Williams play, but everyone loved the idea. Many of us had theatre background, and were excited to maybe pull out some of our less used skill sets. Each writer on the team wrote 5 pages, most of them getting to write complete sketches with thorough premises while the writers who got the first 5 and the last 5 got boned with setting up and wrapping up the story. We all love theatre so the show came out a pretty even balance of clever Tennessee Williams send ups and standard dick jokes. “Gaiman Sanders”, the Brick Pollitt character of the show, is, in Williams fashion, deep in the closet, so sex jokes and Williams homage go hand in hand.
CAKE: You’ve had a strong presence on MTV2, being a part of “Not Exactly News” and “Joking Off.” Do you ever have to edit your performances when performing for a very young demographic?
DAVID: Nope. Not one bit. If MTV2 has kept me around for any reason, I’m guessing it’s because I tell my dumb jokes they way I tell them and I don’t try to fit to what I think the demographic might be. My humor is in no way intelligent or elevated. It’s just weird. So weirdos of any age can get on board. It might fit anyway because at times I’m suspicious my humor is stuck at a 14 year old level, but specifically a 14 year old who loves Jim Henson and reads Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.
CAKE: What’s been your favorite experience working on these shows?
DAVID: Meeting and working with a hugely diverse group of people. Having people like Charlemagne the God and Aquafina as coworkers is a pleasure. A lot of comedy is white guys in plaid shirts and beards going down a rabbit hole of alt standup and getting other perspectives is huge to growing as a comic. And the common ground in comedy is huge. Desus and Miro are two of the funniest voices in comedy. Not in “Black Comedy” or “Urban Comedy” or, I don’t know “Bronx Comedy” but just comedy. Follow them on Twitter. You won’t be disappointed.
Also, MTV has never told me no. They might not include something in the edit but they encourage me to try anything I want. They are great to collaborate with and I really enjoy my time with them.
CAKE: You’ve done a bevy of commercial work, but the stand out one for me has been the Lime-a-rita ad. I can’t get the song out of my head! How many takes did that take? Would you be interested in more singing roles?
DAVID: Well, it depends which spot you’re talking about. We shot seven of them. Eight, actually, but one of them never came out. The whole thing moved pretty quick, though in the one with the crazy street dancing or the Lemonaderita one on the roof we had to do about a million takes because they were single shots. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t initially a singing role. I auditioned to perform a spoken word version of the song. Which was fine by me, because as my friends and family will tell you, I cannot sing. When I arrived to LA to shoot the spot the director Matt Piedmont said “oh by the way, we might try some of these sung. No big deal.” I said “Oh man, I am so sorry for you because it is not that I sing poorly, it’s that what I do is unrecognizable as singing”. And I can’t. We shot them on set and I sang like a poor, sad, baby whale. Then they brought me into the studio to try to sing it in post. Then they hired a Broadway singing coach to give me lessons for a week. Then they hired the coach to come into the studio with me and we spent 20 hours piecing together 3 lines of sung dialogue to be in tune. I can only imagine how much they spent on convincing you I can sing. When they decided to bring the campaign back they hired another coach to prep me before shooting. Then they hired the first coach to continue to prep me. When I once again couldn’t deliver on the singing, and lord knows I tried, they hired a voice double to sing for me in post. He has a beautiful voice and half of the Limearita commercials are his dulcet tones. That being said I would take more singing work without thinking twice. I’m no longer embarrassed about how badly out of tune I am.
CAKE: Can you tell us about any upcoming projects you’ve have in the works?
DAVID: I made a short film called “Ghost Story Club” over the summer. I’ve submitted it to SXSW and hopefully it will get in. I’m very proud of it. It’s the first thing I’ve written and produced that I feel belongs in a film festival. A ton of great people are in it. George Basil, Alison Rich, Arturo Castro. It’s loaded with talent. Season 2 of Joking Off comes out December 16th. If you’re a fan of jokes based less on sex and more on high concept puns then you’ll rejoice the times I win. If you are not then you will rejoice when I lose. Above all, treating this questions as a plugs section, I’d like to plug What The Horse Saw. It’s the project I’m most proud of in my UCB career and anyone that enjoys comedy or theatre will like it. I also spend about an hour getting into wardrobe every performance so I might be a little biased about how special I think it is.