Ed Helms: An 'Office' Drone Takes To The Big Screen Actor Ed Helms, co-star of the new film The Hangover, studied improvisation with The Upright Citizens Brigade and got his start in comedy with numerous sketch comedy groups. He currently plays Andy Bernard, the salesman who loves a cappella, on the NBC comedy series The Office.
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Ed Helms: An 'Office' Drone Takes To The Big Screen

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Ed Helms: An 'Office' Drone Takes To The Big Screen

Ed Helms: An 'Office' Drone Takes To The Big Screen

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, filling in for Terry Gross.

Our next guest, comedian and actor Ed Helms, is known to TV audiences as a former correspondent for "The Daily Show," and for his current role on the NBC comedy "The Office," where he plays the jocular and clueless Andy Bernard. But Helms is also on the big screen these days starring in the new comedy "The Hangover." It's about four guys who go to Las Vegas for a bachelor party and wake up to discover their hotel suite trashed, the groom missing, and their memories of the evening blank.

Starring with Helms are Bradley Cooper, and Zach Galifianakis. In this scene from the film, the three are at breakfast. Helms character, Stu is wondering why he's missing a tooth and can't bear the thought of Jagermeister, the booze they'd been guzzling the night before. The three friends are trying to figure out what happened, and where the groom, Doug, is.

Mr. ED HELMS (Actor): (as Stu Price) I looked everywhere, gym, casino, front desk, nobody's seen Doug. He's not here.

Unidentified Man #2: Okay. All right let's, let's just track this thing.

(Soundbite of cough)

Unidentified Man #2: All right, what's the last thing we remember doing last night?

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu Price) Well the first thing was we were on the roof and we were having those shots of Jager.

(Soundbite of cough)

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu Price) And then we ate dinner at the Palm. Right?

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu Price): That's right. And then we played craps at the Hard Rock, and I think Doug was there. That sounds right.

Unidentified Man #2: No. No. No. He definitely was.

Unidentified Man #1: What is this?

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu Price) Oh my God. That is my tooth. Why do you have that? What else is in your pocket?

Mr. COOPER: (as Phil Wenneck) No, this is…

Mr. ZACH GALIFIANAKIS (Actor): (as Alan Garner) It's a good thing. No. No. No. Check your pockets. Check your pockets. Do you have anything?

(Soundbite of coins falling)

Mr. COOPER: (as Phil Wenneck) I have an ATM receipt from the Bellagio, 11:05 for eight hundred dollars.

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu Price) What's on your arm? Phil, you were in the hospital last night.

Mr. COOPER: (as Phil Wenneck) I guess so. Yes.

Mr. GALIFIANAKIS (Actor): (as Alan Garner) You okay?

Mr. COOPER: (as Phil Wenneck) Yes Alan, I'm fine.

Mr. HELMS: (as Stu Price) What the hell is going on?

DAVIES: Ed Helms, welcome to FRESH AIR.

This film, "The Hangover," is about four guys going to Las Vegas for a bachelor party, or at least a, you know, a guy's night out before one of you goes for a wedding. Have you done the bachelor party thing? Is this a familiar experience to you?

Mr. ED HELMS (Actor): I, sure, I've been on a few bachelor outings, and I don't know, it's funny. A lot of people ask, what's the craziest bachelor party you've been to? And I've never been on a really crazy bachelor party, and I think that they're mostly not crazy. Even if all the intentions are to get crazy, you just have a disparate group of guys that don't know each other and it usually winds up being a little bit anti-climatic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right. Right. Well now your character in this, Stu, is kind of the nerd of the group. He's a dentist. Can't even - no?

Mr. HELMS: I resemble that remark.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Okay. Do you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: That's more like Ed Helms would be at one of these things?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: Yes. No that's fair to say. He's the archetypal sort of nervous Nelly of this movie.

DAVIES: In the film, you four guys get an overly, extravagantly expensive suite atop Caesar's Place in Las Vegas, and then wake up in the morning remembering nothing. But the scene of the hotel room is just - well, the suite - is just hilarious. Do you want to just describe a little bit of what the wreckage that you and your friends awaken to?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: Thank you. I love that scene too and it really is I think a production designer's dream come true. It's - somewhere the assignment was given out, figure out as many ways as possible to completely mess up and destroy a hotel suite. And the details, if you really pay attention and look around sort of in the backgrounds of the shots as we wake up that morning, you just see such glorious detail. For example, there is a bowling alley set up with champagne bottles…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: …which cannot end well. There's a card house, miraculously. Somehow in this insane party there's - we managed to erect a very delicate card house. There's just a lot of fun little details.

DAVIES: Well, and you look up and then you see a chicken walking around.

Mr. HELMS: Yes. Of course. Chicken, the universal sign of chaos…

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right. Right.

Mr. HELMS: …the chicken. Anywhere you see a chicken, it's chaos.

DAVIES: And then, of course, and this is not giving away too much because this is in the trailer, but when Zach Galifianakis goes to the bathroom to relieve himself, first thing, he looks up and sees a live man-eating tiger. You actually used a real tiger for these scenes, is that right? What's it like working with a tiger?

Mr. HELMS: Yes, we used a real tiger and it is crazy to work with a tiger. I feel like you're just buying time. When you're working with a tiger, it's only a matter of time before something horrible happens. And there's a little voice in the back of your head that's just saying, stop doing this. Leave. Get away from the tiger.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Were there any particular instructions you got on working around a tiger?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: The first day that we worked with the tigers, we got this whole long safety speech, you know don't be - don't hide behind things because then the tiger will perceive you as prey. Act confident. Act like, you know, don't turn your back on the tiger. Be sure of yourself around the tiger, which is sort of like asking you to fly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right. Right.

Mr. HELMS: It's just like you know, and then a lot of sort of just protocol about how the trainers will be handling the tiger, this, that, and the other. Cut to like a half hour later, it was all pretty much out the window. Like everyone…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: …was just, everyone just got comfortable. Once the tiger hadn't killed anyone for about a half hour, everyone just got too comfortable, and you had to sort of constantly remind yourself that this is a man-eating creature, and it is a wild animal. So I - overall the tiger was exciting, exhilarating, but I still can't shake this feeling that we just got away with something.

DAVIES: You're a dentist in the movie and when you wake up in the morning you're missing a tooth. And it looks like you actually stick your tongue into the whole. It looks so real. How do they do that?

Mr. HELMS: Dave, it is completely real. I had an implant when I was a teenager, I lost a tooth and I had an implant put in, and I hadn't touched it in 20 years. It was perfectly healthy. And when we started to kind of try to figure out how to give me a missing tooth, because it was always in the script, we tried a couple of things. We tried to black it out. We tried to - they made a prosthetic for me that sort of looked like a gap in my teeth and, but it actually made the rest of my teeth look like a donkey…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: …mouth, so I vetoed that very quickly. And then very reluctantly, I admitted well I do actually have an implant here. And Todd was like, oh great, then we can take it out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: And I was like well, I don't know. And I called my dentist and he said you know what? I think we can actually do that. So my dentist, who's a great guy, and actually came to the premier…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: …took it out. And I was toothless there for three months while we shot the movie. And then I got a nice new implant.

DAVIES: Wow, you really were made for this role weren't you?

Mr. HELMS: Yes.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Ed Helms. His new film is "The Hangover." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us our guest is Ed Helms. His new film is "The Hangover." You're now a regular on the NBC comedy "The Office." You play this character, Andy Bernard. And I thought we'd listen to a scene from "The Office." This is you and Oscar, who is the accountant, and you're away on a business trip. You have proposed - you surprised everyone by proposing to Angela, one of the characters who's a particularly sort of severe person. And Oscar, in a moment of kind of inebriated candor is asking you about that relationship. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Office")

Mr. OSCAR NUNEZ (Actor): (as Oscar Martinez) If you don't mind me asking.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) Anything. You can ask me anything.

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) Okay.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) I'm your wingman.

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) It's just that I sat next to Angela for a very long, very long time.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) Right-o.

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) How could anyone stand that woman? What, what do you see in her? What do you see in Angela?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) What do I see in Angela?

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) I want to know?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) I see through a hard exterior to a little jelly in the middle. She is teaching me to be a better person. She's working really hard on that. And she has the softest skin I've ever seen and I can't wait to have sex with her.

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) You haven't had sex?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) No.

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) Are you guys waiting to get married or…?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) Honestly, I don't know what we're waiting for.

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) Andy, something is wrong with that woman.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) What is wrong with her?

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) I'd like to know. You should call her and ask her. I'd like to know what's wrong with her.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) Honestly, I should call her and ask her, what is wrong with her?

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) Do it. It's a - call her. Oh my God, don't call…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) …don't call, Andy. Andy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) It's too late.

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) Oh my.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) It's too late. It's dialing. Now it's ringing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ANGELA KINSEY (Actor): (as Angela Martin) Hello? Hello?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) What is wrong with you?

Mr. NUNEZ: (as Oscar Martinez) Why won't you do Andy?

Ms. KINSEY: (as Angela Martin) What?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) That's Oscar and he wants to know why you won't do me and I think it's a valid question.

Ms. KINSEY: (as Angela Martin) Are you drunk?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) This is Andy Bernard.

Ms. KINSEY: (as Angela Martin) I know who this is.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) I want to take you to sex school.

Ms. KINSEY: (as Angela Martin) What?

Mr. RAINN WILSON (Actor): (as Dwight Schrute) Who is that, Monkey?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) Is somebody there?

Ms. KINSEY: (as Angela Martin) Are you drunk?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) I have needs.

Ms. KINSEY: (as Angela Martin) We'll discuss this later.

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) Naked.

Ms. KINSEY: (as Angela Martin) What?

Mr. HELMS: (as Andy Bernard) We'll discuss it later, naked. I want to see you naked.

DAVIES: That's our guest, Ed Helms, from "The Office."

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Speaking of Oscar Nunez, who plays the accountant, Oscar speaking with Angela. And then the whispering voice there was the other character Dwight, who Angela is actually cheating on Andy with. It's all so funny and complicated.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Tell us about this character. He's kind of a hard guy to figure out, Andy Bernard, your guy in "The Office."

Mr. HELMS: Yes. He's a bit of an enigma. He's actually pretty simple when you think about it. He's desperate to be liked. He's eager, very eager to impress. A little bit hot-tempered, but ultimately, very earnest and eager to love, and wants to share himself with other people.

DAVIES: You know you did a lot of years of standup and sketch comedy where you have an audience and the feedback is live, and you know what works and what doesn't. I mean, "The Office" is so different. I mean, A, because you're in a TV studio and you're not in front of an audience, but it's also that the humor is sort of often in these sort of awkward spaces and silences. Is it kind of harder to know when you've nailed it with that kind of a show?


(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: It's funny, because nailed it is one of Andy Bernard's sort of…

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Trademark.

Mr. HELMS: …trademark lines. But you know we laugh a lot on that "Office" set and usually the shots, the scenes are pretty quick. So even if there's no laughter in an actual take, if it's a great take, people are laughing right afterwards. And a lot of times people are laughing during takes, myself included.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: I'm pretty bad at ruining a lot of takes. So there is a lot of laughter. And you can tell on the page when something - when the writers have nailed it and all you got to do is say it. There is instantaneous feedback even on a TV set or a movie set.

DAVIES: The other thing that's interesting about Andrew Bernard is that it uses another tool in your kit, which is your music. I mean, you sang a cappella and you play the banjo. And there are various points…

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: …in the series at which…

Mr. HELMS: The two most annoying musical forms on Earth.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: How did that get into the show more? Was that something they just kind of saw you had or did you ever improvise, just break in at song?

Mr. HELMS: Well, yes, well it, though that's a great - one of the great things about "The Office" set is the - it's so open to improvisation. You really don't need to very often because the writing is so good. But if you're inspired or want to, it's just an open field and you can kind of mess around. So those first eight episodes, the writers endowed Andy with such fun, funny little traits, one of which was being an a cappella singer and obsessed with a cappella music. It just so happens that I too, Ed Helms, am kind of obsessed with a cappella music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: And so, I just sort of messaged that character trait and kept bringing it up - just inject little pieces of music here and there into my lines in very inappropriate places. And so it became this fun sort of symbiotic feedback loop with the writing staff of, I would give Andy some trait and then they would play with that and expand it in some way. And with regards to the banjo, the showrunner, Greg Daniels, was just so tickled that I played the banjo…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: …and wanted to stick it in the show. What I love about that is that it doesn't make any sense. My character, Andy Bernard, is a preppy, Connecticut, yacht club kid. Why on Earth would he play the banjo? But for some - it's just one of those fun mysteries about Andy Bernard, I guess.

DAVIES: Right. Don't think about it too much.

Mr. HELMS: Right.

DAVIES: We should give the audience a taste, here. And I thought we would share this moment from "The Office" where you're in the break room with Dwight, one of the other characters. And you're - Dwight has his guitar, you have your banjo, and you're trying to impress the new receptionist. Let's listen.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Office")

(Soundbite of song, "Country Roads")

Ms. ELLIE KEMPER (Actor): (As Kelly Erin Hannon) (Singing) Country roads, take me home, to the place…

Sorry. I like the song.

Unidentified Woman: You're good.

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) You're good.

Ms. KEMPER: (As Kelly Erin Hannon) Thank you.

Mr. HELMS: (As Andy Bernard) That was great, but it's just sort of - it's still a little choppy, like - but don't worry. It's hard. It took me a while, too. It's like…

(Soundbite of song, "Country Roads")

Ms. KEMPER: (As Kelly Erin Hannon) Wow.

Mr. HELMS: (As Andy Bernard) What? Oh, my God. You heard that? I'm so embarrassed. I'm so, like, rusty.

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) Good. You're really coming along. It's really technically proficient, but, you know, there's really no heart or soul in it.

Mr. HELMS (As Andy Bernard): Really?

(Soundbite of song, "Country Roads")

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) Hey, you want to sing with me?

Mr. WILSON and Ms. KEMPER: (As Dwight Schrute and Kelly Erin Hannon) (Singing) Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River…

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) In German. (Singing in German)

Mr. WILSON and Mr. HELMS: (As Dwight Schrute and Andy Bernard) (Singing in German)

Mr. WILSON and Mr. HELMS: (As Dwight Schrute and Andy Bernard) (Singing) Take me home, country roads, to the place I belong, West Virginia, mountain momma, take me home, country roads.

Mr. WILSON: (As Dwight Schrute) Take it, Andy. (Singing) Take me home.

DAVIES: That's Ed Helms in a scene from "The Office." His new film is "The Hangover." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, our guest is comedian and actor Ed Helms. His new film is "The Hangover." You grew up in Atlanta, right? And went to…

Mr. HELMS: Yes.

DAVIES: …school at Oberlin in Ohio?

Mr. HELMS: Yeah. That is correct.

DAVIES: Were you the kid breaking up the class in school? Was comedy always a big part of your life?

Mr. HELMS: Comedy has always been a huge part of my life. I was not particularly funny, I don't think, in school. I wouldn't consider myself the class clown, by any means. But comedy just was always something I was obsessed with, comedy television and movies. And, you know, when I was eight years old, I started watching "Saturday Night Live," and it was Eddie Murphy and Joe Piscopo and Martin Short and all those guys. And I didn't even understand it. It was just an energy that I wanted to be a part of. I really think Eddie Murphy's stuff is what sucked me in. I just really wanted to be a part of that.

DAVIES: And you went to New York after college, right? And started just doing sketch comedy and stand up?

Mr. HELMS: Mm-hmm.

DAVIES: How hard was it to get started to make a living, to know that you could do this?

Mr. HELMS: You know, it was hard logistically, but I never questioned it. It was always sort of like just what I had to do. And I was so excited to be in what I thought was sort of the center of the comedy universe, and, you know, going to comedy clubs and there's Jim Gaffigan right there, you know, one of my standup sort of heroes. Or there's Dave Attell. And before a long, you know, after a few years, I had had sort of carved out an actual place for myself in the New York comedy community.

And, you know, looking back, they were may be sort of lean years and a little tough, but it was so fun and such an exhilarating, optimistic time. And the stakes were very low - no agents or moviemakers or dealmakers were coming to shows. It was just a bunch of really eager, young comedians trying to impress each other and support each other.

DAVIES: So, there came a point where you got into a tryout and became a regular on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." And I thought we would listen to a cut from one of your field reports. This is about a small town in Texas that changed its name to get a commercial benefit. I don't know if you remember this one. It was called…

Mr. HELMS: Of course.

DAVIES: It was the town of Clark. And in this case, you are interviewing Bill Merritt, who is the mayor of this town of Clark, population 125. And I'll just mention for reasons that'll be clear in a minute that it's hundreds of miles from any coast. Let's listen to you interviewing the mayor.

(Soundbite of TV show, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart")

Mr. HELMS: In recent years, rural communities have suffered as residence have left in favor of places that offers things like stimulation, or (beep) to do. In the north Texas town of Clark, a sleepy backwater with 125 residents, it has become a matter of survival.

Mayor BILL MERRITT (DISH, Texas): When I first moved here, this town was not a place that people were inclined to move to. There were very few positives, and it was pretty sad.

Mr. HELMS: Really? It looks like you did a great job cleaning up after the hurricane.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mayor MERRITT: No hurricanes hit here.

Mr. HELMS: I looked around. It looks like…

Mayor MERRITT: Uh-uh. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: Any mayor could mask a town's flagging appeal by courting industry or tourism. But Mayor Bill had a more innovative solution.

Mayor MERRITT: I bought everybody who lives here free satellite service for 10 years.

Mr. HELMS: And all the town had to do in return was change its name from Clark to DISH.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: As in DISH Satellite TV.

Mayor MERRITT: You know, this is very progressive. There's - as you're aware, there's very few people and towns out there that have ever done anything like this.

Mr. HELMS: And while NFL Package, Wisconsin and Adult On Demand, Missouri might take exception to that, it's clear Bill's initiative has revived the town.

DAVIES: That's our guest Ed Helms on a piece from "The Daily Show." And this brings up something that I've often wondered about in these field reports, where you're going out and you're doing a comedy piece on somebody who feels very strongly about whatever they're doing. In this case, he's the mayor of a small town. It might be somebody who has an attachment to a fringe political cause or some obscure product they've invented. And you're there, really, to poke at them. And I'm wondering, do you tell him before hand, look, I'm going to kind of make some fun of you here? Or do you just do it and apologize afterwards? Or what - how does that go?

Mr. HELMS: Well…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: …first of all, I want to contextualize that clip a little bit, because the mayor of that town actually sold out that town and was a pretty cynical character. So I would always approach those interviews with - it wasn't as much about making fun of a person as much as trying to kind of expose some hypocrisy somewhere or make myself look stupid. But to answer your question, no. I mean, we would not prep people for the interviews in any way. But that said, a lot of people obviously are familiar with "The Daily Show" and had some sense of what we might be up for. This particular guy was just happy to get some publicity for his town, so he would have done anything.

DAVIES: Before we let you go, Ed Helms, I wanted to ask you a couple other things. You do voice work - voiceover work for commercials, or did do it. Do you still do that for - I mean, you did Burger King and Doritos and stuff.

Mr. HELMS: Yeah, I did a - when I was doing standup in New York, that's - that ultimately became how I supported myself, was just doing voiceovers for TV commercials and radio commercials.

DAVIES: Do you have a favorite pitch?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: You know, I did hundreds of them, and I can't - they just all sort of blurred together.

DAVIES: It's interesting, because in a lot of your characters, you are often sounding all knowing and authoritative, but in a way that's kind over the top and self mocking.

Mr. HELMS: And ultimately not knowing of anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Right.

Mr. HELMS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: And I wondered if it's ever tempting when you're selling the Whopper to - I don't know, just throw a real little irony in there, like, do you really believe this?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HELMS: No, Dave. I'm a professional. If I'm recording a commercial voiceover, I try to make it sound like I believe in it, whether or not I do, I guess.

DAVIES: All right, all right. I also read that you've sold a comedy pitch for a movie about Civil War re-enactors. Is that right?

Mr. HELMS: Yeah, yeah. I'm very excited about…

DAVIES: Yeah. What's your experience with them?

Mr. HELMS: Well, I just, you know, I grew up in the South and Civil War nostalgia is just sort of more present there than elsewhere in the country. So it's always been something that fascinated me. And my writing partner and I just got this idea about Civil War re-enactors who get sent back in time to the actual Civil War and have to find their way back. It's sort of a big, crazy "Back to the Future," "Monty Python" kind of kooky, fun movie.

DAVIES: Well, I look forward to it. Ed Helms, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. HELMS: My pleasure. Thanks for having me.

DAVIES: Ed Helms - you can see him Andy Bernard in "The Office" and starring in the new film, "The Hangover." You can download podcasts of our show at freshair.npr.org.

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