Danny Pudi has been mentally preparing to live in the DC Universe for most of his life.
Already a fandom favorite for his endearing and wholly original portrayal of “Community’s” meta-media-immersed Abed, Pudi’s now putting directly in the DCU, or at least a multiversal variation thereof. On the new NBC sitcom “Powerless,” Pudi plays a leading R&D star at an offshoot office of Wayne Security in the parallel world of Earth-P, where Superman, Batman and other superheroes save the day in the background and the office’s everyday occupants go about their daily dramas.
It’s world Pudi’s eminently qualified to inhabit, as he reveals to CBR that he’s been regularly journeying to comic book universes since he was a kid, and the unique “Community”/Comic-Con bond have prepared for an even longer-term residence.
CBR: I know that you have your own not-quite-Abed-level pop cultural interest. What was the spark for you with this project and bringing some real comedy to this rich world of genre superhero material that we’ve been enjoying for the last several years?
Danny Pudi: I grew up a fan of superhero worlds — DC Comics, and other comics as well. I still do enjoy a lot of comics. I’m loving “Saga” right now – it’s my favorite ongoing; amazing! Specifically within this world, I think that I was drawn to the fact that it’s the first DC comedy. I thought, “That’s exciting, it’s new, it’s different — it’s high-risk.” I think I’m very familiar with working in an environment that I don’t know what’s going to happen. I was drawn to that.
At the same time, I love the idea of exploring something new within the superhero universe. I think that we’re aware of all the different superhero movies and franchises out there right now, and to me it was exciting to see what’s up with the real people that are dealing with all the rubble. Trying to figure out how everyone has such nicely tailored outfits flying above them. So I was definitely drawn to that.
The kid in me has always been a fan of Batman and the DC Universe, so I can’t help but get excited when something like this came up.
Tell me about getting your arms around your character – figuring out who he was and how he fit, both in the office world and in the bigger superhero world around them.
It’s been interesting. I play Teddy, who is the chief design officer at Wayne and their R&D unit. Teddy takes himself very seriously. He’s this very creative genius, has impeccable style, is a person who appreciates good art and design aesthetics. I think he’s also a realist. He comes from a family of high achievers. Also, he understands his limitations.
It’s been interesting finding a balance of someone who can be very realistic at times, and a little jaded by sort of the superheroes in the world, and his place in the world, but at the same time, someone who understands the reality of the fact that a superhero might at any moment come crashing through the office windows. Also, someone who really does have dreams of doing something great and heroic.
I think that’s the whole thing with Teddy. On the outside, he comes across as very confident and secure in many ways, with his job, and his role socially in the office. But inside, I think he’s dealing with a lot of insecurity. With his family, and also just his frail nature. It’s been kind of fun to find that balance.
When you’ve created a truly memorable and unique sitcom character once, as you have on “Community,” what’s it like to come and try to figure out how to create a second one that feels fresh and distinctive, but is still outwardly you?
Yeah. Thank you, first of all. I’m very lucky that I was able to do that in the first place, and I got to work on an incredible show. I’ve been given chances, and I think that’s the thing. I’m lucky that I get another chance to do something else different.
It’s a challenge. Every day on “Community” was a challenge. I think this is no different. It’s challenging, but it’s exciting. I like digging into a new world and finding the moments here that these are very uniquely Teddy moments. So I think a lot of it just comes with time and given chances. I’m lucky I’ve been given good writing and good opportunities to work on stuff and explore stuff.
At the same time, I’m hoping that I do my best. I’m just trying to find the moments here that are very Teddy, truly Teddy, and bring as much as I can to it. That’s really it. Surrounding yourself with good people, and hoping that you get enough chances, and enough cracks at it where you can find something cool and different. A lot of it starts with my excitement, and this is a project that I was excited about.
On set, given that you are a fan, what have been some of those fanboy moments for you, in the way that you get to interact with the DC Universe?
There’s an episode where we have a fantasy superhero draft, and I draft The Flash. I’m very excited about that because I would draft The Flash in a fantasy superhero draft, based on his speed and overall ability, all that kind of stuff. I would definitely draft The Flash, and I think that was exciting for me.
There’s an episode where we get a Batarang, we find a Batarang. That was exciting for me, as Danny as well as Teddy. Specifically with Teddy, Teddy is very interested in materials, in design, and just the craftsmanship of products. He appreciates good craftsmanship. The Batarang is perfectly crafted. I think that has been very exciting, to kind of see — I would love to, someday I would love to work for Batman. That would be a dream. Don’t tell anybody else. Don’t tell anybody else in Wayne Securities. But yeah, I think Teddy might have a secret dream of being the product designer for Batman. That’d be cool.
A lot of times we see these TV characters get incorporated into the actual comic books that DC and Marvel publish. What would it mean to you to see Teddy turn up as a character in DC Comics in some sort of continuity?
It’d be amazing! I’m not going to lie: it would be amazing! It would be so funny, and bizarre, and exciting. There again, one step closer to making my parents proud of me. So I need all these things. Just like Teddy. I need to prove to parents that I’m doing something positive and taking advantage of all their sacrifices.
There was a lot of fan crossover from “Community” with the comic book fan audience. You guys went to Comic-Con many times. You’ve been in an actual serious comic book movie yourself with “The Winter Soldier.” Tell me what you love about that fanbase, the folks who is almost certainly are going to be the first ones tuning into this show.
From day one, we were embraced and loved, and that, to me, meant everything. It was shocking. The first Comic-Con I went to with the cast of “Community,” we were in such a bubble. Everything was so new to me: really, the industry and that role. I was so uncertain at what was going to happen with the show. Every season it was like that. But to see how we were embraced by an audience, and to see how much it meant to people, and how I connected with people, it was surprising.
First of all, because I’m used to my mom telling me “good job,” but it was weird because I’d meet strangers that were like quoting lines from Abed for me, and wanting to do the “La Biblioteca” rap with me. That to me is still shocking and amazing. It’s a great reminder that we have a chance to connect with people in a fun, special way. And I think in many ways the reason “Community” survived six seasons, and waiting on the movie, the reason is largely due to the fans and how they embraced the show and quoted the show.
I bought some fan art. I bought some art that some fans made of each of us as one of the “Wizard of Oz” characters from the “Community” art show. I’ve been to Comic-Con multiple times, talked to people. All the people out there wearing Inspector Spacetime outfits. All the people out there building Dreamatoriums. I appreciate you, and thank you for tuning in and making me realize how lucky I am to do what I do.
Tell me a little bit more about your personal love affair with comics. When did it start? Give me a sense of your relationship with the medium over the years.
As a kid, I first got into it I think with my brother and my cousin. My cousin gave us a big box of tons of X-Men comics and some Batman comics. As a kid, I was really into Batman; my brother was into “Superman.” It was sort of just naturally there. As I got older, I kind of drifted away. I was aware of them, but I wasn’t as much into it.
Over the last few years, more and more, and especially because of “Community,” I’ve gotten much more back into comics. Every now and then I kind of go back. Now I’m reading a bunch regularly, whether it’s Saga or The Sandman or DC titles like Kingdom Come, or some of my favorite Batman ones like The Long Halloween, which is incredible. [Batman:] Year One, all that kind of stuff.
Over the years, I’ve gotten back into it, and it’s been fun, so now it’s pretty regular. I read a lot of graphic novels. Now that I have kids too, it’s fun, because I’m reading Tiny Titans to my son right now. It’s pretty hilarious. There’s a lot of fun stuff in there. It’s been fun introducing him to that world softly. Comics have kind of always been in my life.
Just like “Community,” and just like with this show, there are fans that are going go know some of the characters we throw out there and some of the references way better than I do. That’s where the lines are split a little bit. Just like with “Community,” people would be quoting episodes of “M*A*S*H,” or they’d be quoting episodes of, whatever, “Firefly,” anything like that with me, and I’d be like, “I’m sorry: I know some of this, I don’t know as much as Abed.” It’s going to be the same thing here.
I definitely have familiarity with DC Comics. They were influential when I was a kid. But at the same time, it’s such a huge, huge canon and a huge library, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to reference as many as some of our fans will be able to.
You’re already going to be a major answer to a trivia question when it comes to actors who have appeared in both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC universe in film and TV. Is that a very proud distinction for you?
I’m excited! I think that’s kind of cool! All this stuff – I’m just still surprised that I’m doing this, to be honest. I had a day job until I booked “Community,” where I was an actuarial recruiter. I think part of me is surprised that I still get to do this. I feel very lucky.
Yeah, it’s nice to be an answer for a trivia thing that is something positive. I’ll say that. I think my family would be very happy that it’s not like someone who has been arrested for stealing baseball cards multiple times, or doing whatever I was doing, breaking records for detentions. I think my family would be very happy that it’s that trivia question/answer.
Is there a special perk? Is DC hooking you up with free graphic novels now?
Yes, they are! I’m being transparent about it. I’ve got a whole box of them I haven’t started. I’ve got “Kingdom Come” — what else? I got “Super Friends” comics. “Tiny Titans,” that was a gift from DC. They may have given me “Arkham Asylum.” I can’t remember. I love Grant Morrison – his stuff is good!
They’ve been so awesome about stuff like that. They’ve been just like, “Let us know if you need anything.” So I got “The New Frontier” from them, “Identity Crisis” from them – “Identity Crisis” was great, too! Love that comic. That was really cool. That’s my favorite one. I think Elongated Man is my boy, right there!
Maybe he can do a cameo on the show too.
I’d love it, man. Me and him could do some office stretching. I could teach him some office stretching exercises. Actually, he’d probably teach me.
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