Straight Talk with Adam Pally
Although it may look cloyingly familiar at first, Happy Endings has updated the classic sitcom formula of six close friends to include a gay man who aggressively defies traditional stereotypes. His buddies describe him as “a straight dude who likes dudes” and “the worst gay husband ever,” but Max Blum has happily emerged as one of the most unexpectedly refreshing gay characters on television. Straight actor Adam Pally plays the scruffy, schlubby slacker on the series, which returns September 28 for a second season. The 29-year-old Upright Citizens Brigade alum and FunnyOrDie.com regular tells The Advocate why, no matter whom his portrayal inspires or offends, his primary goal is to be as funny as possible.
The Advocate: What kind of response have you gotten from gay viewers?
Adam Pally: Sometimes it’s stuff like, “Send me your shirtless pictures,” but I’ve also had a couple kids tell me on Facebook that Max gave them the courage to come out. That was really cool. So it runs the gamut from creeps to genuine adoration, and I like it all. The thing I get the most is that every gay guy thinks he’s Max.
Is that really something to brag about? He’s kind of a mess.
Yeah, he’s a total mess. He’s in debt, he’s a slob, he’s overweight, and he’s a borderline alcoholic, but it seems like almost every gay man wants to be him. I think the gay community has latched onto him because it doesn’t matter what his sexuality is. He just happens to be a gay man.
But Max’s sexuality is an important and visible part of the character. One of your very first lines in the pilot was, “Even I think rollerblades are gay, and I had sex with a dude last night.” A later episode focused on Max’s coming out to his parents, and between the many gay-related punchlines and comments about his various hookups, the show never lets the audience forget that Max is gay.
Yeah, you wouldn’t forget, because that’s who he is. I think that’s pretty true to life. In a group of friends, everybody talks about that stuff, so why wouldn’t Max?
Were you ever worried about how the gay audience would react to Max?
I’m a good Jewish boy; of course you guys were gonna love me. No, I wasn’t worried going into it, because I really didn’t think that much about it, to tell you the truth. Maybe that was naïve of me, but I just thought it was a really a funny role, and it didn’t even cross my mind.
Now that you’ve heard from gay people that the show has impacted, do you feel more of a responsibility to represent the gay community respectfully?
No, I don’t. Hopefully I’m not alienating the only people who like me right now, but I don’t even think about it. I feel like once you start doing that, you lose your comedic edge. I would hope that there are times that I do offend the gay community. I would hope there are moments where I offend everybody, because that’s what I think a good comedian does. George Carlin has a famous quote: “I think it’s the duty of the comedian to find out where the line is drawn and cross it deliberately.” I’m not looking to make friends. I just want to be the funniest that I can be.
That said, you recently showed your support at a gala for the Point Foundation, which offers academic scholarships for LGBT students.
Oh, that’s very important to me. I really believe in the Point Foundation, because it’s got to be hard to be out at a young age and still striving to achieve the same things as everyone else. There’s persecution all over the place, so any time that I can get involved with something that helps on that level is great. But once you start thinking about that stuff in your comedy, you lose your edge.
Whether or not you think about it, you may have the power to influence or even change conservative viewer opinions on gay issues. Modern Family, your show’s lead-in this season, has certainly done that.
Sure. But I’m an actor who gets to play this awesome part, and it’s so great to go into work every day, so if that changes peoples’ minds about gay issues, then it’s a bonus. I’d hope that those peoples’ minds would be changed because they’re stupid. But I really try not to get too deep about that side of the character, because it’s out of my control anyway; I don’t write the show. I just try to make Max the funniest, most real person that I can.
Max is unlike any other gay character on television, but do you have any favorite gay TV characters that inspired your performance?
Chandler on Friends was one of my favorite gay characters. Newman on Seinfeld was a great gay character. I also loved Adam Brody’s character on The O.C.
Max’s closest TV cousins might be overweight stoners Brian Posehn and Steve Agee from The Sarah Silverman Project. It’s not spelled out on Happy Endings, but I feel like Max is also a total stoner.
Well, Adam is, so I feel like some of that probably bleeds into Max. Those guys are like heroes of mine. They’re so funny.
My gay friends are less like Max and more like Stephen Guarino’s Happy Endings character Derek, the type of gay guy that Max calls the “stereotypically flamboyant, cartoonish Sex and the City gay.”
My best gay friends are a couple who just got engaged, and both of them are just like that character. They’re super-fun.
Do you look to your gay friends for any insight to help flesh out your character?
When we hang out, I might pick up little things here and there — mannerisms and stuff like that — but I don’t really like to talk about it that much. It’s like my job, so I don’t like to bring it home.
A running joke in the show is that Max’s only stereotypically gay trait is that he sleeps with men. Was that part of the original plan for the character, or was that at all influenced by how butch you are in real life?
Oh, I definitely don’t think I’m as butch as Max. I like sports and stuff like that, but I like to check out the fashion world every now and then. And I enjoy a good musical. Max way out-butches Adam. Max is actually based on a friend of [series creator] David Caspe. I’ve met the guy, and he’s a super-nice and really funny. When we met, we were wearing the same shirt, actually. It was like a ratty, used flannel that I had got at a flea market, and I guess he had gotten his at a separate flea market somewhere. We were both like, “Oh, weird.”
As a somewhat hairy guy with a bit of a belly, do you mind being sexually objectified by the bear community?
First of all, I don’t mind being sexually objectified by anybody. But I don’t think I’m quite a bear. I think I’m probably more of a cub. You have to be a little bigger than I am to be a bear, but hey, we all have goals.
You know the terminology and everything.
Yeah, well, I’ve gotten a lot of gross tweets sent to me.
Have you gotten any homophobic feedback about your playing a gay character?
I split my time between New York and L.A., so I haven’t been put in a situation where I’d be around idiots like that, but believe me, there’s a bar fight down the road for me. I see it happening.
I hope you win.
Oh, I’m going to lose, but it’ll still be a fun bar fight.
Have you learned anything about gay people that you didn’t know before playing Max?
No, because I don’t really play Max with any sort of homosexual intuition at all. It’s hard to learn anything when you’re playing an idiot.
To borrow a Happy Endings term, you weren’t one of those “gaycists” who think that all gay people are the same?
Coming from a liberal Jewish background, there were gays in my life since I was four years old. It was just part of the way I grew up, so I never thought twice about it. I never thought it was odd, weird, or even out of the ordinary. So most information about gay people, I already pretty much knew.
Max has talked about dates, hit on guys, and even made an offhand comment about his “spank bank,” but we haven’t seen him enjoy a lot of physical intimacy. Has that been a conscious decision to make the gay character more palatable for conservative viewers?
Maybe on the network’s part. Disney [ABC’s parent company] happens to be a very conservative brand. I know about all the fuss that was made over Modern Family’s kiss, so that’s probably part of the network’s decision. But again, it’s really out of my control. I try not to think too hard about the politics so I can just go in there and be as funny as I can.
Will we see more intimacy for Max this season?
Naturally, you would, right? Going into another season, I think you’re going to see them all in places and situations that they haven’t been before.
One episode originally included a kiss between Max and his date Ian, but it was inevitably cut. Some viewers worried that the network was neutering the gay character. Were you surprised that people were watching the show so carefully?
I’m always shocked when anyone says they watch the show. Not that I don’t believe in the show, but it’s just such a new thing for me. As far as the kiss goes with Ian, I think they cut it because they didn’t need it. When the character Dave dates a new girl, you don’t see that much affection there either. Affection on television can be overrated, especially in a comedy, when you’re mostly just going for the laugh. That kind of thing just takes up time when there could be a joke.
To be fair, you did get a smooch from your costar Zachary Knighton. Was it good for you?
I wouldn’t say good. It’s always weird when you have to kiss a dude because your facial hair interlocks. It’s like Velcro.
Was that one of your first same-sex kisses?
No, it wasn’t. Coming from the Upright Citizens Brigade, I’ve kissed my share of fat, hairy dudes.
Some fans of the show want Max to get a boyfriend this season, but I prefer to see him do the walk of shame and talk about his hookups with confused college students.
Yeah, Max is single right now, so that’s what he’s into. It’s fun to get to play that.
If you could choose which actor played your next love interest, whom would you cast?
Cedric the Entertainer. That’s my type.
Will Max get a job this season? I don’t fully understand how Max pays his bills.
Before season 2, his friend Brad kind of supported him. A lot of season 2 centers on how he’s going to pay the rent.
Max dressed as Snooki for a Halloween flashback last season. Was that fun or miserable?
Oh, I hate dressing in drag. It’s the fuckin’ worst, man. I don’t know how women put eyeliner on. If I never have to put eyeliner on again, I’ll be happy, but something tells me I’ll probably have to. People want to see chubby Jews in drag.
Happy Endings airs Wed., 9:30 p.m. EST, on ABC. Happy Endings: The Complete First Season is now available on DVD.