We had the pleasure of talking with Jack McBrayer (who plays Kenneth) and Robert Carlock (executive producer, writer) from NBC’s 30 Rock. Check it out below!
Jack, you’re so closely identified with Kenneth now and it’s such a great role, on your hiatus when you’re doing other things are you really trying to get away from that type of role or what are your thoughts on just other roles outside of Kenneth?
Jack McBrayer: Well unfortunately, I’m not that great of actor so pretty much I can lose the navy blazer but that’s about it. No I know what I can do and I know what I like to do and they’re pretty much along those same veins so until people are kind of tired of seeing that then I might flex some other muscles. But right now I’m real happy with where I am and what people are asking me to do.
Robert, one of my favorite parts of the show is, you know, the 30 Rock writer’s room. And I just wanted to know does a lot of that inspiration come from the real writer’s room for 30 Rock?
Robert Carlock: Oh we try to keep it a little – a little more high-brow than… We try to exercise a little more than they do I suppose. I guess that 30 Rock writer’s room is our id. And then fortunately not entirely the reality. I think it’s in our best interest to stay away from that version in our real lives as much as we can.
Now on the show you see kind of the games and stuff that the writers play in there and like things that they do. Now is there stuff like that going on in the actual writer’s room for 30 Rock?
Robert Carlock: Yeah, not so much that. You can get punchy though, you need to fill the time. You spend, you know, so many hours in a room literally with these 11 other people and, you know, some people going in and out and they have different tasks and there’s always production going on.
But, there – you know, what is – occasionally you do devolve into something. For some reason we had these two like paddle pads that you put on your hands for boxing, I don’t know why they were even in the room. And then we – for some reason we had these marbles that were Star Wars marbles, again, I try to keep the room pretty bare just to limit distractions because these people can be very child-like and easily distracted.
But somehow they invented a game where you would wear this paddle on your hand and then throw the marble to someone who was also wearing the paddle. And I had to put an end to that I think.
Jack McBrayer: Oh no.
Robert Carlock: I think it’s called paddly-marbly so there’s a lot of… There’s a lot of creativity in the writer’s room as you can tell.
Jack McBrayer: A lot of law suits now too.
Robert Carlock: Yeah. So stuff like that does boil up sometimes but hopefully usually there’s just too much work to do for people to actually be enjoying themselves.
And how’s the relationship between kind of the actors and the writers? Is everyone kind of mixed in and writing their own stuff and everything or is it pretty separated sometimes.
Robert Carlock: I think it’s good. I mean, McBrayer is looking at me like no…
Jack McBrayer: Can we talk about this later?
Robert Carlock: You know, like, yeah, you answer that one.
Jack McBrayer: Well I was going to say what we have learned is just that these writers know so much more about how this show works than we do that it would be in our best interest just to trust them.
So it’s not like we’re writing our own stuff or tweaking our own stuff but one thing that is kind of impressive is the writers do know us as individuals as, you know, actors and so they do incorporate a lot of our own quirks or talents or whatever into the what the characters do and that’s always fun.
Robert Carlock: And of course we’re just spoiled with this cast. We have, you know, people who can do absolutely everything and, yeah, among the interesting things – and from Jack’s life that we’ve – Jack does a lot of interesting things in his personal life like eat chickpeas out of a can.
Jack McBrayer: This is true.
Robert Carlock: But…
Jack McBrayer: And wear a nametag at all times.
Robert Carlock: Yeah. I think there’s a good – some very good working relationships and production is so long and the days are so long that it needs to be. And, you know, we’re very, very lucky to have these actors.
Jack have you become kind of like the actual pages hero in NBC studios? Are they like extra nice to you? Do they just kind of love you even just a little bit more than everyone else?
Jack McBrayer: Well I do get a little special attention every time I’m in the real Rockefeller Center. In fact I was just over there last week and one of the real pages was showing me the page handbook which now has a special section in each chapter that says, “Tips from Kenneth.”
Robert Carlock: Thanks for writing that by the way.
Jack McBrayer: I know, I didn’t think they’d notice it’s handwritten. But they do just give a little shout-out there. Although I did hear that a couple of the pages have kind of set their tour groups straight by going it’s not really like that at all. We are real people. We are not a cartoon.
Jack McBrayer: I know, so I’ve single handedly brought that program down.
Robert, this first episode has a lot of satire of kind of aiming for the lowest common denominator of the show’s frustration for the fact that it has high pace and has to aim lower to get an audience. Does some of that kind of click in real life? I mean here you guys have won three straight Emmys and yet you’re in the middle ground as far as ratings. Does some of that kind of surge into that for a script?
Robert Carlock: You know, we write what we know I guess is the simple way to put it. And I think if it does make it into the script it’s only because it’s sort of an interesting tension that the people in our fake world live with too of, you know, we want to please as many people as we can and we also want to please ourselves and we’ve been very, very lucky in terms of pleasing ourselves and in pleasing, you know, the Emmys which is all very, very gratifying and rewarding.
And sure it’s a conversation here about we wish we were the Number 1 show in America but – and maybe we’ll get there this year. And to the extent that it’s a conversation that we have and that it – the people in our show live in that world it sometimes makes for story but it certainly doesn’t come from, you know, a place of bitterness.
Jack I wanted to ask you, you know, you talked about how the writers write so well to your characters. And more than anyone else Tina Fey has said she created the character for you knowing you and made Kenneth a lot like you. As you play him, I mean, what are the things that you share with him? What are the things you have in common with him?
Jack McBrayer: Well I think just very generally, you know, kind of being a people pleaser and always wanting to do good at my job. And, you know, I will be the first to admit sometimes I’m not exactly sure how this big world works. But I just try to cope with it as well as I can.
In what town did you actually grow up? I mean they list you as born on Macon but what town did you grow up in?
Jack McBrayer: Well I lived in Macon until I was 15 and then I went to high school in Conyers which is a little suburb right outside Atlanta.
I’m fine. I just – this is a somewhat parochial question but I just spoke with Donald Glover whose NBC show Community and he worked with you guys.
Jack McBrayer: Absolutely.
It’s funny, he actually is from Stone Mountain. Is that why you’re character is from Stone Mountain and not from Conyers?
Jack McBrayer: Well I think, I mean, Robert might know this better than me but I think they didn’t want to make it completely autobiographical making Kenneth from Conyers. But I didn’t know if it was a just a happy coincidence of Donald being from Stone Mountain?
Robert Carlock: I think it might have been if I remember correctly. We just liked the sound of Stone Mountain a little better. And I think it was a little bit of a coincidence that Donald is actually from there.
Jack McBrayer: For the record it was just like two towns over so it’s essentially the same place.
Yeah. I mean overall, what was Donald like as a writer there and what’s your take on him joining Community?
Robert Carlock: I mean as a writer he’s just one of the funniest guys I’ve ever worked with; I’m sorry he’s not a writer anymore. But we kind of always knew that this is a good looking kid who was just so funny and winning should probably be an actor. So I remember when he went with me and Tina to say, you know, I think I might think about moving on. It was like oh of course.
Jack McBrayer: …I was like I can’t believe we’ve had you this long. In fact I knew him as an actor first at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York. And so it was just such a wonderful surprise to have him as a writer. I was like oh I didn’t see this coming. But thank goodness.
Jack, what continues to challenge you about the role?
Jack McBrayer: Oh well I’ll tell you – and it sounds like I’m complaining but if this is the worst part then I’m doing all right. Sometimes I just have to have a lot of caffeine to be that peppy, you know, un-Godly hours in the morning or at night or anything. Sometimes I’m like oh daddy needs a nap. That’s where the Diet Mt. Dew comes in and all is well.
You have great comedic timing. Is it something that you find comes natural to you or have you had to work at it?
Jack McBrayer: Well I always did enjoy making people laugh just growing up and being in school and stuff. But I spent several years at the Second City in Chicago and Improve Olympic and that’s kind of where I honed my skills. And – but also I’m telling you the writing here on 30 Rock makes it so easy even if I had the worst timing in the world these guys will make you look funny and they do week to week.
Why do you think people continue to tune in and watch the show?
Jack McBrayer: Well I think it’s pretty – what we found is just that – it is – it’s so relatable just as a workplace comedy. And anybody who’s had a job has had a, you know, a domineering boss or, you know, very needy coworkers or just crazy people around. And so I think in that sense people can just relate to that a bit. But…
Robert Carlock: But, yeah, I mean, I think that’s very well said. I mean, we do try to always think of it as a workplace comedy just in a slightly exotic workplace. And…
To say the least.
Robert Carlock: Yeah. And, you know, so at the core our stories do try to be, as Jack was saying, relatable. And at the same time I think we have a tone in the show where I hope viewers are open to being surprised. I hope that’s part of the appeal is that, you know, sometimes Jack Donaghy is showing up playing Thomas Jefferson in a green sequence for Tracy and at other times, you know, we’re having sort of more emotional scenes say between Liz and Jack.
So I hope that part of the appeal is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Jack McBrayer: Lots of surprises.
Robert, I’m wondering what makes you and Tina Fey click so well. She had a very moving acceptance speech in (unintelligible) didn’t she?
Robert Carlock: That was, yeah, very, very nice of her. You know, Tina and I have worked together for a long time, we worked together for five years at Saturday Night Live when she started doing – we were writers together there when she started doing Weekend Update.
I was the producer of Update for her first year there before leaving to go try to get experience doing this kind of show. And so it made a lot of sense for us to come back together. But we’ve always – going into this project we knew that we shared a sensibility and we knew that we shared a work ethic which is a big part of getting this thing done every day week to week.
And so we’ve been friends and kind of coconspirators and co-religionists in the temple of comedy at least for a long, long time. So stepping into doing this – that was one of the best things of it was knowing exactly what she can do ad having a shorthand already with her. So we’ve been doing it for, well, 12 years so.
The Dana Carvey Show is notorious for the way integrating product placement into the show and 30 Rock has taken flack for the way it’s sort of done the same thing.
Robert Carlock: Right.
So what sort of considerations do you and the other writers and producers make when writing jokes about sponsors?
Robert Carlock: Yeah, it’s funny, yeah, I was on the Dana Carvey Show as you probably know.
Robert Carlock: You know, we do – it’s funny because the show – a lot of our jokes are – we want to write jokes a lot of times about products and – because our tone and our characters sort of – we try to make them live in the – in the sort of pop culture so much.
And, you know, to that end like a lot of times our jokes and references are just things that we want to do and are not product placement… we had sort of a thing with McDonalds last year where people just assumed it was product placement and I guess why wouldn’t you in this climate but it was actually just a creative choice about two characters finding common ground…
Jack McBrayer: Loving the…
Robert Carlock: …loving the McFlurry. Bringing together Hispanic women and Republican men since forever… So, you know, we do have the luxury as we’ve played a few times of when we do have legitimate product placement of really calling it out in hopes of letting the audience in on the joke and in on the fact that we’re doing this to try to help the bottom line and keep the show going.
So we do – when we are doing it – really doing it we are – we try to be very careful because it can, you know, and we’ve drawn – we have drawn flack and some praise for it at the same time. You know, it can come off in the wrong way and so we try to play with that luxury of being in this world and talking about this world and being able to call out the joke.
Have there been any jokes about products that the network has made you guys cut?
Robert Carlock: I don’t think so. I mean one of the amazing things is how great they’ve been about the fact that this is a show about a GE NBC show.
Jack McBrayer: That we are owned by Shineheart Universal…
Robert Carlock: The Shineheart Wig Company. I honestly can’t think of one. They’ve been very good about it.
Jack McBrayer: Yeah.
With the new season starting what kind of – there’s usually an overarching arc for Liz, last season it was the pregnancy. What kind of arc are we going to see for this year?
Robert Carlock: Yeah, you know, we did sort of a lot of as you said we touch on a lot of personal stuff for people last year and we’re kind of starting off the season getting back into the office stuff and continuing where she left off last year with this sort of little potential brush with fame with this sketch that she had that turns into a book and maybe she tries to turn into – with Jack’s help – into a TV show with this deal breakers thing.
And kind of asking the questions of, yeah, always asking the question with Liz of what is next for her and can she take that next step and both with personal life and with work. And so the beginning of the season concentrating on work with that and then hopefully getting back into her quest for elusive happiness in general.
Robert, I wanted to ask what can you tell us about the reports of Cheyenne Jackson joining the show? Is he going to be a regular and what’s his character going to be?
Robert Carlock: Yeah, he’ll be hopefully coming in and out. He’s a busy guy. And we’ve had him in for one. And the idea is someone who is in our world, you know, one of the sort of workplace arcs in the beginning of the season is Jack and his effort to appeal to a broader audience and to what he keeps calling real America to Liz’s dismay.
Wants to bring in a new cast member to TGS and Cheyenne ultimately – excuse me – fills that role. And he’s great and we’ve all seen him on Broadway and stuff. So he’ll be appearing from time to time but who lives in the world if that makes any sense.
Are we going to get to Cheyenne do any singing?
Robert Carlock: Boy I hope so. We haven’t hit that yet. We’ve got to get a duet with him and Jane and we’ll be…
Jack McBrayer: …a big waste if we didn’t.
Robert Carlock: Yeah. We would be – right we’ll walk up to the bell and fail to ring it. But hopefully, yeah.
Robert, I noticed during the Emmys a lot was written online about Robert Pattinson. Is there any talk of actually getting him on the show?
Robert Carlock: Boy I don’t think I’ve even heard that rumor. I mean, that would certainly drive teenage girl viewership wouldn’t it? I don’t think that one’s even crossed my desk. That’d be great. He should – we’d love it. But we hear a lot of rumors about people and I hadn’t even heard that one.
Okay. Well actually speaking of guest stars ‘Kidney Now’ probably had the most.
Robert Carlock: Yeah.
Jack McBrayer: Yeah.
Are you guys looking to try to top that?
Robert Carlock: Oh my golly. I think after that we – more cautionary tales. That was such a fun week. That was one of the – my favorite experiences in my time in television…
Jack McBrayer: That was nuts.
Robert Carlock: …it was so awesome. But I think topping that might be hard.
Jack McBrayer: Yeah.
Robert Carlock: We’ll equal it someday.
A little bit of a logistical nightmare was it?
Robert Carlock: Not even. Everyone was so great it was just, you know, you’re towards the end of the season and are we really going to try to pull this off. And the amazing thing was so many people said yes and so many people just rolled in.
Jack McBrayer: I didn’t even have to work that day and I showed up and put on my page uniform just so I could get a…
Robert Carlock: So they’d recognize you.
Jack McBrayer: So they’d recognize me.
Along the same lines, you know, there have been stories that said that Betty White is going to guest star and I’m wondering who else? Obviously you’ve got a lot of ink last season for a lot of high profile guest stars. And is there a sense that they’re scaling back on guest stars this season or who can we talk about so far that’s going to – that are going to be on the show?
Robert Carlock: Who do we talk about?
Jack McBrayer: Well I know that you all have already seen Episodes 401 and 402 so you all do know that like Steve Buscemi and Will Arnett are coming back to join us… so we’re excited about that .
Robert Carlock: Yeah, it’ll be a lot of fun. Among the fun things about the show is we’ve got this sort of people in our world like Will and Steve and like Chris Parnell and Elaine Stritch who are part of our recurring characters on our show and we think of as guest stars – don’t tell them that or it might affect their self image.
But who do we have coming up? Oh we’ve got this guy Jeff Dunham who’s a standup who has a big – has a big part in 403 that – sorry the Halloween episode which is our third episode.
And we’ve got some stuff coming down the road but nothing that we can – has been made official on our end yet so we can’t really announce it.
Can you think of any McBrayer.
Jack McBrayer: Well, I mean, we are allowed to say that Betty White will be joining us… but I think for the most part too we’re just kind of focusing on just our usual cast of players a little bit more which is always fun. So we’re happy with that too.
Can you talk about who Betty White is going to be playing? Is she playing herself or is it a character or…
Jack McBrayer: I think she’s playing herself.
Robert Carlock: She’s playing herself…
Jack McBrayer: Yeah.
With NBC possibly being purchased by Comcast… will we see this on the show? Will Jack Donahue be nervous this season or…
Robert Carlock: Yeah, I mean, hopefully that’ll, you know, if that were to happen or – it would provide us a fun arc for him, him having to keep his position in the new regime. I don’t know where Shineheart Wigs fits into the new organizational chart.
Jack McBrayer: Shineheart Wigs fits anywhere.
Robert Carlock: But we do try to use the real world as – in as much as we like so we’ll see. But, yeah, that’ll be interesting.
Now Shineheart Wigs – no relationship to Shineheart Revelry right or Shine Revelry?
Jack McBrayer: Oh I don’t know.
Robert Carlock: Yeah. Oh right because Shine bought Revelry, no, no, I think Shineheart Wigs – it’s been in existence since the 19th Century.
So I was wondering as writers and as people who are working on the show do you have any preferred late night food that you like to pick up while you’re working and while you’re writing because there’s a lot of food that gets eaten on 30 Rock. You know, I love Tina Fey’s I want to go to there. But, yeah, your own preferences is you will.
Robert Carlock: Well, yeah, McBrayer’s got his Mt. Dew.
Jack McBrayer: No, my go to is Diet Mt. Dew but you’ve got to be careful about late night stuff so you’re going to be awake for a long time. But then for like food I’ve got to recommend a good old fashioned bowl of cereal because it’s good for you, it fills you up and depending on what kind you get, you get a dose of bran in there too.
Robert Carlock: Yeah so it’s good just to get a little – you’ve got to avoid that going for the sugar late night, right, you get that crap.
Jack McBrayer: Oh I’m telling you.
Robert Carlock: That’s always the easy thing falling in that trap.
Robert, do you have a preferred food or no?
Robert Carlock: A preferred thing? I more try to resist the temptation. It’s so easy there’s all this just…
Jack McBrayer: I’ve never seen Robert eat before.
Robert Carlock: I live on comedy.
Jack McBrayer: Oh God.
Robert Carlock: I’m eating your youth. I’m living on your youth McBrayer what’s left of it.
Jack McBrayer: You must be starving.
Robert Carlock: Yeah, you know, you’re surrounded by all this junk food and I’m more – I take sustenance in…
What do you think of Community joining your Thursday night comedy block? Do you like that show? Have you watched it?
Jack McBrayer: I have. I’m a big fan of it. I like it quite a bit. And also one of the actors on the show was one of our writers, Donald Glover, who plays Troy on Community. And so I’m just real happy. And honestly I’m just happy when NBC gets anything, you know, fun and enjoyable on there because, you know, TV is just a very tenuous area right now. So I’m like let’s go with anything that might stick for a while. Help us out guys.
Interview By: Emma Loggins