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Playing Greendale’s resident pop-culture enthusiast gave the actor the opportunity to step into the shoes of everyone from Don Draper to Han Solo to various members of the show’s central study group.
Season 5 in particular, though, saw Abed dealing with an onslaught of changes, including a death in the college, the departure of his best friend and even the start of a romantic relationship, but Pudi rose to the challenge, grounding each reaction with a real sense of heart.
And that’s why TVLine included Pudi as a Dream Emmy Nominee for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. Because after years without hearing his name called come nomination morning, we feel the need to ask: Donde esta la Emmy nod?
TVLine caught up with Pudi to discuss Community‘s five-season run, his impression skills and his feelings about so many of the show’s tags becoming internet-famous.
TVLINE | How was it playing a character like Abed for five years?
Playing someone smarter than you, who looks at the world differently, it’s a great learning experience. I’m just so lucky because of Dan Harmon and the writers constantly giving me new challenges. Any time I thought it was going to be an easy day on set, they would be like, “No. You’re gonna be Christian Bale today, or Nicholas Cage. Good Luck!” It was always exciting for me. Abed is such a tremendous character because he is very complicated. Though on the surface it looks like there is a very blank canvas to him, I think he is dealing with so much in his head and trying to figure out ways to cope with what’s going on, like being a pop-culture expert or looking at the different ways the study group interacts. It was an opportunity for me to look at the world and human interaction very differently. I feel like I learned so much.
TVLINE | To me, it seemed like you played Abed as if he feels too much rather than that he feels nothing at all. Was that your intent?
I guess that’s a good way of looking at it. I don’t know if I ever specifically set out with that intention, but I believe part of that is true. I always thought he was full of emotions, he just didn’t know how to display them or didn’t know how to deal with that in certain situations. To me, Abed has always had a different approach to emotion than other people — his [feelings] were just more internalized than most.
TVLINE | Playing Abed sometimes required acting within acting. Did that get easier over the years?
This was one of the most challenging parts of playing Abed. It always scared me because I don’t consider myself a great impressionist, but it was a great way to see other sides of him. I would practice a lot, and it got easier over time. My wife would often find me hiding in a bathroom working on my Batman voice as Abed, which is something no one should have to witness.
TVLINE | Did any of the impression stuff come easy to you?
No. I’d get a text message from [writer] Chris McKenna with a link to Nicholas Cage freaking out on YouTube, and it’d be like, “Hey, take a look at this, we got a thing for you.” And immediately I’d be like, “Here we go! I have no idea.” Or he’d ask me how’s my Boston accent; I’d be like, “I don’t have a Boston accent.” I really enjoyed it, but it wasn’t like I was an impressionist. I’m not. But I did come from a sketch-comedy background, Second City in Chicago, and doing a lot of improv coming up, you’re used to playing a lot of different characters.
TVLINE | I feel like Abed really grew over the course of Season 5.
He grew more in one season than he did over the entire series. And a lot of that had to do with all the obstacles that he had to face. [Donald Glover's] Troy leaving was a huge one, because as the show went on, that friendship became very special. It’s the first time Abed’s really experienced a deep, unconditional platonic friendship with someone who just accepts him for who he is. There was a nice yin and yang to that relationship. Losing that was definitely heartbreaking. It was hard for me too, just because I love hanging out with Donald. Dealing with that obviously led to Abed trying to find other people in his life he could interact with — like Hickey, when they’re talking about Kickpuncher and Jim the Duck. I was always finding someone there who was filling that movie void. Because [Abed] doesn’t have that fall back, that partner, to just go back and just watch Kickpuncher with, he has to put himself out there. And because he has to put himself out there more, he gets to change and grow.
TVLINE | Is there anything you wish you could have seen for Abed that never came to fruition?
This past season, Abed and Hickey partnered together on a cop script. If I had to pick something fun to see, that would be it. But overall I’m very grateful. I was able to do way more than I ever imagined thanks to Dan and our writers.
TVLINE | Community is one of those shows that generated a ton of YouTube clips and launched a ton of memes. Did you ever envision that happening?
That’s just the fun thing about our show. We really couldn’t predict what we were doing week-to-week. Dan was just so great about capturing whatever was in the moment, whatever people were feeling in social media, and adding that aspect to our show — especially with the [end-of-episode] tags. It became something that Donald and I looked forward to. It was a chance for he and I to really explore an idea and not really worry about tying it to story or really making sense of it. Our show really cherished those opportunities where we could be as weird as possible. The internet and YouTube obviously love that. Anytime people are doing really, really strange stuff, there’s an immediate “Did you guys see that?” I never imagined they would become popular or become viral, I just thought it was just a chance for us to do something weird and fun. But I’m so glad that people enjoyed it.
TVLINE | Given your Captain America: Winter Soldier appearance, could you possibly be appearing on Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.?
Anything is possible. I never thought that Captain America was possible. I also never thought that being on Cougar Town was possible. So… why not? No one’s contacted me about that. But please tell everyone that I am available and interested!