Brett Gelman Dishes On Inside Job And Conspiracy Theories – Exclusive Interview
When you think of the phrase “conspiracy theorist,” your mind might immediately shift to Brett Gelman’s “Stranger Things” character Murray. Now the actor is back at it again with another conspiracy-heavy series, “Inside Job.” Unlike “Stranger Things,” however, the animated “Inside Job” takes place in modern times — albeit in a world where almost every conspiracy theory you could possibly dream of (and then some) happen to be real. What does that mean for its human, humanoid, and interspecies characters? A few cabals run the country — and keep the truth (poorly) hidden from civilians. Gelman takes on the role of a sentient psychedelic mushroom named Magic Myk who happens to work at a cabal called Cognito. And as anyone can imagine, it’s shenanigans galore.
Before his stint on “Inside Job,” Gelman appeared in films such as “Lemon,” “The Other Guys,” and “A Very Harold & Kumar Christmas,” and was heard in the animated outings “American Dad!” and “Jeff & Some Aliens.” Beyond his role in “Stranger Things,” Gelman has also been seen in series including “Fleabag,” “Love,” and “Twin Peaks.”
During an exclusive interview with Looper, Gelman dished on his role in “Inside Job,” conspiracy theories, how he feels about a “Stranger Things” crossover, and which A-list stars he’d love to see on “Inside Job.”
The Inside Job conspiracies
The show is a hilarious satirization of real conspiracy theories that have been floating around for decades and some that we’ve seen pop up in the past few years. But this isn’t your first foray into conspiracy adjacent characters, as your “Stranger Things” character embroils himself into similar shenanigans. So what draws you to these kinds of roles, and what are some of your favorite conspiracies that the show tackles?
I’m drawn to these roles because it’s always interesting. Conspiracy provides a lot of drama and comedy, and satire. And it’s also, once you delve into a conspiracy-type world, it’s kind of never-ending. It’s the gift that keeps on giving because you can just keep creating more and more insane things that we believe. And it’s also a great way to show the underdog coming up because nobody believes them. But in the case of this show … That’s more of the case, I’d say, of Murray in “Stranger Things.” But in the case of this, it’s like the whole world — that’s their reality.
I love how the show, in general, just tackles the anxiety of this time, where it feels like we’re constantly living in a conspiracy theory. And it’s almost now that it almost feels at times like the things that are just normal are the conspiracy. That’s how omnipresent conspiracies are in the zeitgeist. And that there are huge numbers of people worldwide, let alone Americans, who believe in conspiracies as fact. So I really love that we’re making fun of that. And I hope that some of these people will watch the show and be like, “Yeah, oh, this is insane. Maybe the things I’m reading are insane.” Or at least think about it. You know?
Somebody who thinks that certain theories that have been buried are not true. There are definitely things going on that we’re not aware of in the general public, but we’re also not aware of them.
Conspiracy meets religion
It’s like, I liken the conspiracy theories to … It’s like a religion. It’s like you’re seeing that something you’ve thought up and you believe to be true is fact. Now, if you want to believe that and live your life according to that, okay, but don’t push that onto somebody else. Don’t expect your government and your society to function in conjunction with that. But you’re allowed to believe whatever you want to believe.
So it is pretty wild that conspiracy is the new religion in a lot of ways. It’s right up there with Christianity in terms of popularity in the United States right now. And then, a lot of time, they go hand in hand. And no shade on Christianity at all. I think every religion is beautiful, and it has a way … There are forms of every religion, where people really do use it for spiritual connection and personal growth and things like that and healing.
But with every religion, if taken too far, it’s bad. It can separate us and divide us. And you give into those at the top, who are the not-so pure people who are top officials of that religion. I’m saying this very articulately. There are people who are at the top levels of certain sects of every religion that are only interested in power, but I’m saying the obvious right now.
So anyway, I like that the show makes fun of all of that. I mean, I love the whole idea of a robot president, and I love that they take these huge conspiracies and then dumb them down to the point of an office comedy — make the conspiracies just so ridiculous, even though they are real. I mean, that’s really my favorite aspect of the show — normalizing conspiracies and thus pointing out how ridiculous they actually are.
What was it like working with Lizzy Caplan, Christian Slater, and Clark Duke? And did you film this in person, or did you have to take things digital because of the pandemic?
No, we all had to record separately because of the pandemic. We all did our own recordings. However, before the pandemic, we were doing table reads a lot, and that was really great. It was really fun.
I, unfortunately, didn’t get to meet Christian Slater. But Lizzy and Clark and everybody, and Tisha Campbell … I mean, it was crazy being at a table read with Tisha Campbell, who I grew up wanting to marry. And as an actress, she’s such an icon. So that was really, really amazing. And it was really fun to hear the magic of the hilarity of the writing live like that. I’m glad that we got a lot of that out before we weren’t allowed to be around each other anymore. Hopefully, that’s coming to an end soon.
Hopefully. The show has a plethora of hilarious celebrity cameos. Are any of those scenes voiced by the stars themselves?
You know what? I have no idea. I don’t know. It’s like, I mean, you have to understand how these things get made. There are so many people involved, especially the actors, that I don’t really get told, “Oh, we actually got…” I mean, they could slip that to me sometimes, but I think most of the time, though, they probably got actors to portray those famous people, I would think.
Happy birthday, Mr. President
You did a play on Marilyn Monroe’s performance of “Happy Birthday” for President Kennedy. What was that experience like? And did you research that historical moment at all prior to the scene?
You know what? That is really one of my favorite things that I got to do. I mean, I didn’t have to research it because I knew about it. It was something that I had seen multiple times growing up.
I’ve always had a good sense of history. And that’s just an amazing moment. I mean, I recommend for everyone to look up when she does that. It’s really powerful and so intense and kind of dark because of what happened to her. And hey, those conspiracies of how she died, they might’ve had her killed. I mean, the Kennedys might’ve killed her. They might have, I don’t know. But she also had serious drug problems.
But the fact that she was there, singing to him and that they were having an affair, did Jackie know about it? Just who Marilyn was, who JFK was, who Jackie was during that time. These were some of the most famous people in the world, who defined not only their positions of actor, first lady, president, they defined culture in a really intense way. So it was great to do my own little rendition of that and get really Monroe sexy.
Your character is pretty bonkers as a psychedelic sentient mushroom. What do you think viewers will appreciate most about Magic Myc? And what is your favorite part about voicing him?
I have one answer for both of those questions. I mean, I think he’s the jerk of the sitcom. He’s this classic archetype that I grew up loving, whether it was Danny DeVito as Louie De Palma, or Jason Alexander as George Costanza, or John Larroquette as Dan Fielding in “Night Court.” And then Louie De Palma is from the show “Taxi.” George Costanza is from “Seinfeld.” But they’re just the most fun characters. They’re jerks, and they’re kind of scumbags, but they’re also the voice of reason and truth at times and are telling it like it is and are sort of these commentators that are critiquing what’s happening as they’re also involved in it. And I just think that people love that. It’s like, they love somebody who has the … I think there’s something freeing about somebody watching a character who feels free to be a jerk.
Murray meets Magic Myc
I could totally see your “Stranger Things” character Murray fitting into this universe and showing up at Cognito with a handful of accusations about lizard people and robotic presidents. And “The Simpsons” does stuff like that all the time. Given that the show airs on Netflix, is this something that you’d like to see happen? And where do you think he could possibly fit in into this world, along with some of the other characters?
It’d be amazing. It’d be fun if Murray and Myc teamed up. Myc is a way worse person, even though Myc’s technically not a human being. Murray has a much higher sense of morality and isn’t a pervert like Myc is, but it would be amazing to see them team up or to have that sort of moment.
It would be like when I was a kid … And I know I’m dating myself here, but when I was a kid, I remember watching “Sesame Street” as a little kid and then seeing R2-D2 and C-3PO coming to that set. And I was just like, “That’s so cool.” It’s like, my favorite guys over here, and my guys over here, coming together. It would be pretty wild that if Netflix … No network has ever done that, really. No, probably “The Simpsons” has with other Fox shows. But it would be cool to see Murray guest star in a couple episodes.
How do you think he could fit into that world?
I think he probably stumbles on conspiracies that they’re making happen. And then they try to stop him from figuring it out. But in the meantime, a bigger problem arises that he helps them solve. You know? Easy.
Voice acting vs. live action
You’ve done a significant amount of voice acting work. How does this experience compare to some of your other voice acting work on projects like “American Dad!” as opposed to live action?
It’s just really fun. It’s something that is really immediate in its process. I mean, you get there, and you figure it out, a lot of the time in the booth, how it could be funny. And then I’ve been really lucky to work with brilliant writers like Shion [Takeuchi]. I mean, she’s a total genius.
And this has been the longest run of an animated series that I’ve done. I also did this show for Comedy Central called “Jeff & Some Aliens” that was really good, that was created by Sean Donnelly and Alessandro Minoli. And that was really fun. And with this, though, it’s like … There are a lot of really tight, tight jokes in “Inside Job.” And that’s fun too. And being who I am and the nature of my character, I get to, like, blow that out sometimes.
And so they gave me a bunch of alts and stuff like that. So it’s fun to just see the most perfect way that Myc can be a jerk. And this is the really … It’s so great playing this character. I really feel like he’s just the most fun. And so, with “American Dad!,” that was doing little guest spots and stuff like that, I had a blast, but getting to do … I’ve never done a character for this long with animation — getting to really rehearse him and record him a lot has been really rewarding.
An A-list cast on Inside Job
Are there any actors from some of your previous projects or anyone in general that you’re dying to work with that you’d love to see on the show?
Oh, like who would be like who I’ve worked with in live action?
Yeah, or anyone you just want to work with that you think would be a good fit?
Well, let’s get Robert De Niro and Jack Nicholson, and Meryl Streep. Viola Davis, I think, would be great. Denzel Washington. Did I say Pacino? He’s great. John Malkovich. It’d be amazing. I mean, if they got gigantic actors to be on it, that’d be incredible. It’d be cool to get some voiceover royalty, too, to come on. It’d be cool if we saw Dan Castellaneta or Hank Azaria for some episodes, who have done some of the best cartoon work of all time. I wish Mel Blanc was still alive. That would be amazing.
What kind of characters do you think that they would tackle in this universe?
I have no idea. I don’t know. They’d have to pitch that themselves. You know? That’s on them. It’s not on me to figure out what role an actor should play. I’ve got enough on my plate. I don’t need to pitch out other actors. If they want, they can come on, and they can pitch what characters they’re going to do. [Jokingly] I don’t need other actors. It’s all about me. It’s all about me. I’m an actor.
A writer at heart
You have a fair bit of writing credits for projects like “Lemon” and “The Eric Andre Show.” What have those experiences been like? And have you been able to lend your writing talents to “Inside Job” at all?
I mean, those are very different. I mean, with “Lemon” and … But that’s writing with Janicza Bravo, who’s one of my main collaborators, so that’s a really immersive, intense experience. So I have certain writing … her and my Adult Swim specials that I wrote with Jason Woliner, my “Dinner” specials. So that’s sitting at the computer every day, tearing your hair out, hating it, thinking it’s so terrible until it’s not, until you can either like, “Okay, this is ready to be shot.”
So I mean, writing is really … Yeah, it’s a grueling process, because you’re guaranteed when you first are writing, whatever it is that you’re writing, that it’s going to be bad. So you have to just try to be at peace with that as much as you can and then be honest in the rewriting of how to make it better and not settling.
And so, in the case of Janicza and Jason Woliner, it’s people who are very honest about that and aren’t … The worst thing to do would be to have writing partners who were desperate for … It’s like, “Oh, that’s great.” And they’re letting their fragile egos play too much. Basically, they’re bad. I mean, basically, it would be bad to have writing partners who were bad. But Janicza is the one I’ve collaborated the most extensively with. And that’s amazing. Plus, just working with somebody who is a true artist — that inspires me.
Life in the writers' room
In terms of writing on a thing like “The Eric Andre Show,” I mean, that’s pretty … You show up, and you’re at a table. And you’re just shouting things out for a couple hours. And what they like, they like. And what they don’t, they don’t. I can’t really say that I was a major part of the creation of Eric’s thing. As proud as I am to have maybe contributed a half of an idea, and that I was very touched that Eric and Kitao Sakurai brought me in to help write on that, it’s not similar. It’s not at all the same thing. The fact that I get credited at all for Eric Andre is insane because it’s just like, I was there for a day. But these other things, it’s intense.
It’s intense. You’re writing from yourself and from what you feel and what your issues are and all of that. So that can be grueling and rewarding, plus the frustration of it being bad. So it’s all like a lot. Writing’s very hard. Writing is hard, and yet then it’s easy. Then all of a sudden, it’s just easy.
Tweaking the joke
With this, I mean, at times, we would be coming up with … We’re like, “Maybe that joke can be better.” And we would be coming up with that together in the room.
But I didn’t really have to. I only did that when Shion wanted me to. The writing is so brilliant that writing was very little of what I did. I didn’t do very much. And I’ve been improvising for a great number of years, too. So at times when she wanted me to, when it warranted it, I would improvise. And mostly, it was just to entertain her. A lot of times, I would improvise in the booth, and I’d make her laugh.
And we would laugh really hard, but it would be like, “We can’t use that.” A crazy monologue that would never fit in the timeframe that we had to record. And so it’d really just be for messing around in order to loosen it up in there. Because you’re in a booth, you need to do things to get everybody … make everything feel immediate. So when you are doing the writing that’s there, it feels really alive. You know? So at times, I’ll improvise to sort of cause a little bit of trouble to make her laugh.
Laughing through the pain
Can you tease anything about the upcoming season of “Stranger Things”?
An unsurprising answer, but I had to try [Laughs]. Where do you hope the show goes?
They’ll kill me. Do you know there’s a person outside watching me at all times to see if I … it’s only monitoring “Stranger Things.” What were you saying? I’m sorry. What did you say?
Oh, no, you’re fine. I was going to ask where you hope that “Inside Job” goes in a potential Season 2.
So much of it was written before the pandemic, and as the world went crazier, so I hope we are able to deal with that. It’ll also be … I don’t know. I hope we stick it to the idiots and the jerks even more. I’m down to do it. I mean, Trump was still in the White House when this was being written, and we were recording it. And it’s like, great that he’s gone. And we can sort of, I think, look back on what was happening and have a little bit more of perspective in retrospect. You know?
In terms of, we’re out of the immediate trauma of seeing this guy every day in our newsfeed. I don’t know. I don’t want to … Whenever you see any news, I’m like, “Hey, give it up, CNN.” Don’t post about him. Don’t give him any more attention. Whatever’s going to be dealt with is going to be dealt with by the higher-ups. Let’s just stop, please, giving him air time. It just was so awful. It’s also boring at a certain point. It was like Trump is boring. It was just like, “Ugh, this again?” So I think I’d like to see us …
I think it’s important to see what is, but then also have hope. I’m not like a pessimist. There’s hope that we’re able to laugh at all of the horrible s*** that is constantly going on, can give us hope, and we’re thinking critically about it. And that’s a good thing.
Bringing the juice
I think that’s what I love about this show — you’ve got all of these dark storylines, but it’s presented in a way that will make people laugh but also reflect. And I think that’s unique.
Yeah. And that’s important, I think. I think you have a lot of people who are just such downers, constantly being like, “How do you be funny right now?” I’m like, “You can easily be funny.” You can be provocative. You just need to be … I think through education and representation, we can do that if people are not lazy, and they make the extra effort, and they even challenge themselves. And it is harder to integrate ourselves from what our natural everyday automatic thing is. So if we can do that, then we can make people laugh.
A woman of color is the showrunner of the show. She’s got the juice. She’s got the go-ahead. And that’s a good thing. So in representation, we can do this. We’re talking about a bunch of straight white guys being able to continue to say whatever they want without having to check with anybody. Yeah, no, that’s done. And that’s fine because that wasn’t the height of what we could have reached.
The fact that we’re looking at yesterday as the best we could do comedically is wrong. Not even out of a sociopolitical context, it’s wrong in an artistic context that we can’t … Anything that doesn’t grow dies. We’re either moving forward, or we’re moving back, so that’s my take on it.
I love that take.
Yeah. I get so upset when people are like, “How do you be funny right now?” And I’m just like…
Right. What else are you going to do?
I love this show because it’s edgy. It’s still funny, but it’s edgy. And it pushes the envelope, and it does it in a responsible way.
Fans can stream “Inside Job” on Netflix beginning October 22.