The Arty Semite

David Wain Is Back Again

By Curt Schleier

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David Wain is a co-founder of two sketch comedy troupes, The State and Stella. He is executive producer and occasional star of the Emmy-winning Adult Swim series, “Children’s Hospital.” He also has his own online show, “Wainy Days,” about his (mis)adventures with women.

But certainly his greatest claim to fame is his 2001 cult classic, “Wet Hot American Summer.” That is, until now.

Wain’s latest, “They Came Together,” will soon claim top billing. It’s a hilarious spoof on the romantic comedy genre that opens in New York, Los Angeles and other markets June 27.

The film stars Paul Rudd as Joel, the typical romantic comedy lead — i.e. “handsome, but in a non-threatening way; vaguely but not overtly Jewish.”

Amy Poehler is Molly the klutzy but cute potential girlfriend. They meet in a bookstore where they discover that they both like — wait for it — “fiction books.” But problems ensue when she discovers he works for Candy Systems and Research, the company hoping to put her little store, Upper Sweet Side, out of business.

Still, they fall in love. They fall out of love. There are complications, but — spoiler alert — there is a happy ending, with shout-outs to everything from “You’ve Got Mail” to “Crossing Delancey.”

“They Came Together” is so funny you don’t need an entire funny bone to find laughs here. A few funny cells are more than enough to see the humor.

Wain spoke to the Forward about his complete lack of preparation for this interview, the low brow-ness of his jokes and how he’s not Pagliacci.

Curt Schleier: Have you prepared enough one-liners to make me look creative and funny to the readers of The Forward?

David Wain: I have prepared no one-liners so by comparison you will look creative and funny.

In the movie, Joel and Molly are greeted by a waiter so snooty Joel suggests he put a stick up his tukhes. When the waiter turns around he actually has a long pole sticking out of his backside. My question, therefore, is would you insulted if someone suggested you had low-brow humor?

I would be flattered and grateful. I believe my humor hopefully, is low brown, high-brow and just brow.

Well, then, would you be insulted if someone said your comedy was particularly Jewish?

I think the adjective Jewish in reference to comedy can mean a wide range of things, but depending upon the definition of course it’s Jewish, in the sense that my comedy has elements of particularly Jewish traits, such as neuroticism, over-analysis, intelligence and good looks.

Do you ever wish that reporters would ask you regular questions and not try to be clever in the hope of landing a gig on one of your shows?

No, because of all those [regular] interviews are carbon copies of each other. This is much more fun.

When did you realize you were different from the other kids?

Oh my God, I was aware early on. I always wanted to be the exception. I didn’t want to play sports; I wanted to sit on the bench and be the team manager. I always wanted to be the kid who didn’t have to play the same games other kids did. I wanted to play my own games. That may come from the fact that I was the only boy in a family with three much older sisters.

Do we have a kind of Pagliacci thing going here? The clown laughing on the outside and crying inside?

I don’t think I’m much in that mode. I did have a pretty happy childhood growing up.

But there were some bad times. This movie took, what, 10 years to get out of development? You must have been discouraged.

Yes, very much so. Right after “Wet Hot American Summer” there was a period of about four years where [my collaborator] Michael Showalter and I developed so many projects together and individually. I was trying to get hired as a director, a writer and an actor, and I’d come very close to things and they just fell apart. I remember one year there were 32 projects that came close before they fell apart. I definitely became despondent and discouraged. After a particularly hard blow where I lost a job I thought I was going to get, I realized I was committed to what I’m doing, there was nothing else I was going to do and that realization was very liberating. Now, for 10 years, I’ve been gratefully busy.

You’ve created an interesting repertory company: Paul Rudd, Amy Poehler and Michael Ian Black are Wain regulars. Does that make the process easier?

The idea of having a group of people you continue to work with over the decades is an incredible gift. These are people who are my friends, who I know can be amazing and we all have this shorthand together. It’s just invaluable and makes going to work every day that much more enjoyable. Part of the formula also is to bring in new blood and change up the chemistry for each project. That prevents the mix of collaborators from becoming stale in any way.

What was your upbringing like?

My father grew up in an Orthodox house and my mother grew up Reformed. I grew up Conservative.

That sounds like the start of a joke.

It does. We all belonged to the Park Synagogue, which I think at the time was the largest Conservative congregation in the country. I was pretty involved in all Jewish activities. I went to Jewish day camp, I went to Jewish sleep awaycamp all my teenage years. I had a very nice suburban upbringing, and I have particularly fond memories of helping with fund raising on Super Sunday.

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