Jay Baruchel on Romance, Eric Andre and Man Seeking Woman

MAN SEEKING WOMAN - Key Art

Jay Baruchel may just be a “man seeking a woman” on television, but he’s so much more in real life.

Some may know him as part of the Judd Apatow/Seth Rogen crew, appearing in Knocked Up and This is the End (or as I call it comedy gold) — but he is so much more than that.

He’s had the chance to be the lead in hit films like the successful How to Train Your Dragon animated series and the cult favorite She’s Out of my League. He’s also a talented and in-demand writer. He’s penned (and co-starred in) the excellent hockey comedy Goon and he has a number of other projects in the works including an adaptation of the comic book Random Acts of Violence.

Now, he’s here to take on the world of television with the new FXX series Man Seeking Woman, which premieres tonight.

I had the opportunity to listen in and have a brief chat myself with FXX’s Man Seeking Woman star Jay Baruchel thanks to a roundtable provided by FXX. It was amazing to hear, despite how much writing, filming and promoting he’s got on his schedule, that he was not only ready for everything thrown at him by various writers, but he was so excited to answer them. His infectious excitement and down-to-earth nature resonated with just about everyone in attendance.

In our interview, Baruchel’s humor shined throughout as he poked fun at the similar experiences he shared in his own life with his hapless romantic character Josh Greenberg, crazy happenings on set thanks to co-star Eric Andre and everything we’ve ever wanted to know about his new series Man Seeking Woman.

Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/FXX
Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/FXX

Is this series something you stumbles upon this or is this something you developed?

No, no, no. It was just one of those really fortuitous things. I got a call from my manager and he said, there’s this really awesome dude called Simon Rich and he wrote an amazing pilot based on his book of short stories and they think you could be the guy. I read it and it was one of these things where, the best way I can describe it is it had the sort of too-good-to-be-true kind of vibe to it. Sort of like when I meet a girl that I find attractive, I just right away assume that there’s got to be something more to it.

When I read it, it made me laugh out loud and that doesn’t happen very often. I had this burning urge to be a part of it. It was just like when you read something really good, the clock starts ticking. As soon as you read it, you’re just like; I’ve got to get this going. Let’s find a way to do this. So, I’m just so bloody grateful that it found its way to me because it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever been a part of in any medium. So, yes, it was just randomly a script that got sent to me. They were cool enough to have faith and belief that I could do this and we made something pretty funny.

You said this show was randomly pitched to your manager. Were you looking for a TV project? Were you looking for something that was sort of obscure, sort of non-standard? Is that why this appealed to you because it’s just so off-the-wall?

Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX

Well, yes. That’s definitely part of why it appealed to me but, to answer your first question, I wasn’t looking for anything. I really wasn’t. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been kept quite busy with my other gig, which is writing stuff with my friend, Jesse [Chabot]. I told my people, we don’t need to hunt stuff down because I’m quite busy as it is. That being said, if awesome stuff comes to us, or finds its way to us, then I’m not an idiot. I’ll go out to read it.

So, yes, I wasn’t jonesing to do anything in particular. I just read this awesome script and that was that. I loved how strange it was and how truthful it was and how definitive and unique it was. You know, the sort of highest compliment that [I] can pay is that it felt like something that came out of my head. It’s just like you don’t often get to read stuff, as an actor, that feels like it’s something you would have thought of and this felt like that to me. So, yes, I [jumped] at the chance.

What are your thoughts on how the women are portrayed on this show, besides the women who are actually trolls? Do you think this series, for lack of a better term, is feminist-friendly?

Oh, Jesus Christ, yes. I think all of the characters, regardless of their gender, are pretty interesting and well-defined. There is obviously – because of the nature of our show, and how strange it is, there are some archetypal characters at different times. I think 100%, I think that as you will see, if you keep watching, the title even becomes malleable. Man Seeking Woman, it happens to be the story of a man, but I think the stories are pretty universal so it could very easily be Woman Seeking Man.

Without giving too much away, it might turn into that at some point. But, yes, to answer your question, 100% feminist-friendly. I think it’s just friendly to smart people, I like to think. I think all the characters are pretty well-defined.

When you’re playing Josh Greenberg, do you see any parts of yourself or any parallelisms between you and your character?

Oh, always. Not just for him, but, ideally, for every character I play. I think if I don’t find a way to see part of myself in any character I play then I’m sort of not doing my job completely. With some guys I play, it can hit closer to home than others. I made it through the minefield that is being single in your 20s somehow. I have plenty of experiences to draw upon for this. A lot of of victories, defeats, ambitions, malaise, all sorts of – I have the whole panacea of living experiences I’d like to think that I can mine for this. Hopefully, any part I play has at least a part of me in him.

Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX

Do you think the show uncovers the myths of dating or is it wanting to explore awkward truths or a little bit of both?

I think it probably leans more to the second than the first, although we do try to sort of hit the nail on the head with some stuff. That being said, it’s not meant to be a guide of any sort so much as it is meant to be, like when you’re sitting amongst friends at a party and everyone just starts sort of venting and comparing shit experiences. It’s meant to be that, but it’s also meant to be a celebration of the beautiful stuff, too.

It’s like romance for lack of a better word – this whole stupid thing, there’s nothing like it. You’re happier than you’ll be ever be. You’re sadder than you’ll ever be and, often, stuff in the middle. It’s something that applies to each and every single one of us and so I like to think that when people see this they will see at least one thing they went through. Ideally, a whole bunch of things they went through because I this show is about human nature and what it is to be single and to be one of these social animals we call humans.

You’ve done a lot of work as a writer. Have you had a hand at all in shaping the show? Have you given notes? Have you polished scripts? Have you worked with Simon on developing the characters? Also, is it a timely scripted show or is there some leeway to improv?

To answer the second question, if we shot the entire show word perfect, it would be every bit as funny as it is now, I think. But I think that’s part of Simon’s genius is that anybody who has ever read anything he’s written is that he slaves over his choice of words and his choice of punctuation. That being said, he knows that this is a collaborative medium, so he always wants us to find our own way into stuff, too.

So what you have is a pretty lovely balance of strong, structured storytelling with some incredible jokes, fused with our riffs, a bunch of which make it into the finished product. But, this is Simon’s baby. My job on set is to help him tell his story and to do my best to breathe life into this character he wrote.

I’m always chiming in. Whether or not they’re just humoring me, or actually listening to anything I say, I always chime in on any set I have. I just can’t help it. It’s the way my mind and my mouth work, so I’m always pitching ideas and pitching jokes for myself and for other people. Again, this is whether or not they get used and whether or not they’re just humoring me is another question. But, no, we have a pretty amazing staff of writers on this show so we’re well covered.

Picture: Comedian Eric Andre, Baruchel's co-star on Man Seeking Woman. Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/FXX
Picture: Comedian Eric Andre, Baruchel’s co-star on Man Seeking Woman. Photo Credit: Matthias Clamer/FXX

Are you looking forward, or excited, to hear about people’s reactions when they realize how insane or hilarious some of these sequences actually are?

I can’t wait for the world to see it in everything that means. So that means, hopefully, they find themselves surprised at how much they end up giving a shit about the plot and the characters. I am really excited to see the world react to, yes, how fucking weird everything is.

I’m so thoroughly convinced that there’s really nothing like it on television. I think it will find its own little spot. I don’t know that any of the promos that we’ve aired yet, or anything we’ve shown about our show, I don’t know that any of it does it justice. It’s the kind of thing that you won’t know what it’s like until you watch it.

What were some of your favorite moments on filming Man Seeking Woman? Do you have any memorable moments that stand out?

I just don’t know how many of them are appropriate for this conversation, but I’ll say I got to be around some pretty talented, pretty funny people for three months, including Eric Andre. He’s just a force of nature. He’s devoid of shame and has just a surplus of courage and will do anything. This includes walking around downtown Toronto in -10 Celsius weather completely naked, running from our set to the craft truck and everywhere in between. Again, I don’t know that favorite is maybe the right word to use to describe that anecdote, but definitely most memorable.

How does it feel playing with this version of reality in Man Seeking Woman on the small screen after just having played with surreal things in reality on the big screen and This Is The End?

I guess maybe it just sort of speaks to my taste and what I find interesting and the generation I was a part of, or I am a part of, I should say. The Simpsons is pretty much one of my top three favorite things ever, in any format, and so, to me, Man Seeking Woman, at times, feels like a live action version of The Simpsons.

It was neat when my mother, I showed her some episodes and, she said that of her own accord, and I told her that, well, one of our writer/producers is a fellow called Ian Maxtone-Graham who worked on The Simpsons for 17 seasons. So, yes, I think I love it.

Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX

The answer to your question, what’s it like is, I adore it. It’s just– you never get bored. There’s always something new and interesting to find a way to play with and all acting professional, or otherwise, seem to come out of, seem to be born out of play acting when you’re a kid, whether you play house, or cops and robbers, or whatever. When you get to find a way, in adulthood, to show up to work every day with monsters, and aliens, and Hitler, and all sorts of crazy nonsense, yes, you feel like a kid again.

Have any of your own experiences been incorporated or are there any that you hope will, should there be a future season?

Oh, yes, definitely.  I’ll say that this first season, there’s stuff that happens to Josh that happened to me, but without Simon knowing that. I think that’s kind of part of the fun and part of the point of the show is that we find a way to distill these kind of universal experiences and truths into these really messed up little half hours.

Yes, you can’t be on the set of our show and not join in the complaint fest at some point, right? Just given the nature of what our show is about, there is definitely a bit of group therapy to it where, yes, considering the subject matter, everyone can’t help but chime in with all their own experiences, some of which are funnier than others and some of which we hope to find a way to make fun of next year.

You were talking about how there are a lot of crazy elements in the show like, you know, there’s a troll and all that stuff. How was it acting out those more mystical crazy scenes of the show?

Oh, it was so much fun. You just really get to use your imagination, although you don’t often have to on our show because we have a genius called Paul Jones who designs and builds all of our crazy monsters and all of our special effects makeup. So, like I said, you use your imagination, but you really don’t actually have to all that much because these things are so real and so alive and so beautiful to look at.

You just kind of, you can’t help but remember all the stuff that you’ve loved throughout your life like Dune, or Star Wars movies, or Lord of the Rings. Take your pick. You know, or The Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, for God’s sake, any of these things, and you get to see that you’re interacting with these creatures. It’s just like, yes, it’s real special and weird and kind of fun and exhilarating and, yes, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX
Photo Credit: Michael Gibson/FXX

You work with Eric Andre in this show who is a very seasoned improviser who tends to kind of take the lead with his projects. Did you see yourself giving him a bit of a challenge in terms of improv? Did you guys get a good rapport going? Did you find yourself building off of those moments throughout production?

We found ours quite quickly and it got to the point where we were just like, yes, whether they said action or cut, he and I were just always talking shit. Sometimes we had to – sometimes it’s just a question of focusing it, or aiming it to the story at hand, but yes, no, he’s an incredible improviser, incredible actor as well. Just a really gifted performer and so, yes, you can’t help but be awesomer around him.

Are you concerned at all that it might not – it might go over the head of some general viewers because it is so, just different. It’s really hard to pinpoint what the show is when describing it to people who haven’t seen it yet.

I have the same problem, but I have that same concern on any gig I do. I have yet to figure out the metric, the formula, to what is going to be successful and what’s going to connect to people or not. There are movies, or TV shows, that are resounding successes that really just don’t speak to me at all and, conversely, there are things that everyone hates that I seem to like. Then there is some stuff that everyone likes that I like.

So what I was saying is I have no clue. I did wonder if it might be too specific for some people, but I think that’s a good thing. That’s a cool thing. I think when you try to make something for everyone you will ultimately make something for no one. I think we have been very definitive and specific and we’ve been true to our vision and our ideas and we’ve done the best show that we could do and whether or not the degree to which it becomes a success, I have no clue, but that’s beside the point. You want to do cool stuff and you hope that people dig it. I know that whatever happens, we did something pretty spectacular.

Jay Baruchel stars in Man Seeking Woman which premieres tonight on FXX at 10:30pm.

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Laura Dengrove is the one of youngest members of the Pop-Break staff and is a critic for television/movies of all types on Pop-Break. She’s in her first year at college where she will be studying to obtain her bachelors degree at Rutgers University for Journalism/Public Relations. She was the editor for the Arts and Entertainment section of her school newspaper, runs her own blog (Pop Culture Darling), and interns for Design New Jersey. She also has an in-depth knowledge about all things True Blood and an avid Eric and Sookie shipper.
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Hello! My name is Laura Dengrove. I am currently a Junior at Rutgers University, double majoring in Journalism/Media Studies and Cinema Studies. I am a film critic and interviewer by choice, professional Linda Belcher impersonator by birth.