If you're a fan of Community, you're well aware of Abed Nadir, Greendale Community College's enigmatic, socially awkward genius with an unmatchable talent for remaining calm and keeping his brain clicking under the most dire situations—paintball wars, pillow fort fights, etc. In many ways, Abed is the study group's rock, their Dungeons and Dragons gamekeeper, and their figurative Han Solo.
But, as far as for the man who plays him, Danny Pudi, almost spazzing out in testy situations are admittedly his forte—just ask him about the time he unwittingly teased a colorblind guy. That's why he's teamed up with Speed Stick for their HANDLE IT campaign, which asked guys to tweet their "keep cool under pressure moments" for the chance of having it turned into a video starring Pudi as its narrator. After numerous submissions, a winner was finally chosen and the video, which is featured on Speed Stick's YouTube site and after the interview below, was launched on September 26th.
Complex got a chance to speak to the actor about his own HANDLE IT moment, his inspiration for playing Abed, and what fans can expect from the next season of Community without its original showrunner Dan Harmon.
As told to Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
On the Speed Stick HANDLE IT Campaign:
I think Speed Stick knows that I have been prone to these uncomfortable moments in my life and they were looking for some way to make me feel better about myself. I thought it would be nice to celebrate these uncomfortable moments with people, that way they don’t feel so alone and also we can collectively learn from them.
We asked guys a couple months ago to submit their uncomfortable sometimes-hilarious situations they’ve been in where they have been able to handle it and were cool under pressure. We put together a video, and I narrated it. Given my inner freak outs, I take on their inner freak outs. It's fun to play someone’s inside voice. [Laughs.] You can go to Speed Stick's YouTube channel to see that video, as well as some other "handle it" moments and examples of other stories that we were given.
On his own HANDLE IT moment:
On the set of Community, I had to dress up like Jaime Lee Curtis, in drag. This was a huge discovery; the minute that they started calling me brown Jaime Lee Curtis on the set of Community, it kind of took on a life of it’s own. So I was dressed as her in True Lies for an episode, and that day, my mother-in-law chose to visit the set, which I thought was fitting, of course. She wasn’t coming to visit me on set when I was dressed as Han Solo.
So, I was showing her around craft services, eating baby carrots with her—we didn’t make a lot of eye contact, but we bonded in new ways. We talked about how comfortable women’s shoes were; we talked about how long it takes to get into makeup—that kind of thing. I like to tell people that we learned more about each other that day.
On his inspiration for playing Abed on Community:
Everything—I sort of start thinking about his world. One of the first things I did when I first read the pilot for Community was Abed’s first words. It was a long monologue where he was talking about his family and his dad being angry, not angry America, just angry at his mom for leaving him. It’s this entire quick monologue, and then I think Jeff Winger’s response was something along the lines of, “What about that other question I asked you?” And then I say, “Oh, whatever time it is.”
And I thought that was so fascinating; a character was just asked what time it is by someone and next thing you know he gives his life story. And I thought there is something to explore there—obviously an urge to connect with someone, and the ability to talk about very complex and complicated things quickly and effortlessly. That is one thing I really started to think about, "Well what kind of world does someone come from who thinks like that?"
On understanding Abed's idiosyncrasies:
In terms of his movie analogies and pop culture, all of it makes sense, none of the references that Abed is making are made for just the sake of making them. He's making them because it’s a way of him connecting into the world that he is currently in and the relationships that he is in. And I think that’s the way to study and prepare; I do my best to watch as many of the movies and films that Abed has become an expert in. But more importantly, I look at the relationships and the world around Abed, and try to see what I am trying to communicate through that lens.
I think you see certain things one-off. One person might be like, “Why is Abed doing his Batman impersonation here?”—that kind of thing. Yes it is a love for Batman, but it is also one way of connecting what he is trying to go through at that moment. Through Batman, he is able to become this heroic person that can save the study group, or save Jeff and Pierce from a chair fort in the study room.
On Community's loyal fanbase:
It is incredible; it shows me that it is important. I love our show and I am such a fan of it, mainly because I feel like it gives a voice to people who haven’t had a voice before on television through a lot of its characters, especially Abed. That to me is just really exciting, and I think the biggest gift out of all of this, for me, is to be able to talk to someone who says, “Me and my friend are totally like Troy and Abed,” or, “I can totally relate to Abed." That kind of stuff I think is really special because we have such a good time on set and sometimes we forget just how much the representation or how much connecting with someone who doesn’t think someone can connect with them really can help that person. I think our show is so specific, and for certain people, it is a chance to celebrate and embrace their individuality that maybe has never been seen before.
On people on the street confusing him for Abed:
It happens constantly. When I’m ordering coffee, trying on a shirt, or going for a run—“Hey Abed is running!” or “Hey Abed’s ordering coffee.” So yeah, it happens all the time. But I mean, I also get confused for other people all the time, like the guy from Parks and Rec, or the guy in Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle.
On his fear of Community's cancellation:
I've worried since season one. I am not used to anything but being worried; I guess that is the good thing. But I don’t know if we have a better chance or a worse chance—I’m just glad we are back. And I think that every episode we are on, and every episode that makes it to air, I am both relieved and also hopeful that there is still a chance. I am excited we have done five episodes thus far. I still feel like there is definitely more places we can go with Community, which excites me, but at the same time, I don’t think I have ever expected that we were going to keep going.
On how the show has changed without Dan Harmon:
I love our show and I am such a fan of it, mainly because I feel like it gives a voice to people who haven’t had a voice before on television through a lot of its characters, especially Abed.
It is obviously going to change a little bit because Dan was, in many ways, the inventor of our show in terms of finding these characters and bringing them to life. I think some of it is going to change a little bit; we have largely a new staff and crew. But I think the one thing that has remained true and steady is this cast and the spirit of our show. I think that right now there is a bit of an adjustment period where we are trying to figure out how everyone operates, but we are just a few episodes in and I am hopeful. We are going to miss Dan, but with the new writers, we are going to embrace this new opportunity to kind of take this show and run with it.
On what we can expect from the next season of Community:
I don’t know yet, and I think that has been the great thing about our show. It is senior year so I think we have to address that. Things seem to be coming to an end, at least things that we have known. The study room and this group of people that are about to graduate may or may not have to move on from Greendale, so I think Abed has to come to terms with that.
In addition to that, we get to meet Jeff Winger’s dad early on in the season, which I think people have been waiting for a long time to get a better idea of what shaped Jeff Winger’s character. And we go to an Inspector SpaceTime Convention, finally, so I think people will love that.
As told to Tara Aquino (@t_akino)