Well, geez. I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, and I’ve been acting since I was in junior high school. I’ve been on everything from SNL to 30 Rock, ANCHORMAN, HOT ROD, I also do a show called Rick & Morty, and lately I’m doing the voice of Cyril Figgis on FX’s ARCHER, airing Thursday nights at 10 PM ET/PST.
I’m here to answer questions, and Victoria is here to help me (over the phone, that is).
Why the hell aren’t you wearing a sweater vest?! Also, what is your favorite Archer episode?
Hahaha! I don’t wear sweater vests because I get overheated easily.
But my favorite ARCHER episode is probably the one where I impersonated a -gosh, I don’t know what country it was – maybe a Columbian leader? It was one of the first ones I was an agent in the field, and i pulled it off pretty well.
Dr. Spaceman was one of my absolute favorite parts about 30 Rock, how much of that character did you get to create?
I didn’t really create any of it, beyond just doing it onscreen. But I do think the writers wrote it with me in mind. And that helped a lot.
Did you film the original bit as Dr. Spaceman in Season 1 knowing he would be a recurring character, or was that decision made after the fact?
As far as I know, the decision was made after the fact? But I wouldn’t be surprised if there wasn’t some… I guess I don’t honestly know the answer to that question. I think they might’ve hoped that it would work, and they could bring Dr. Spaceman back. That wouldn’t surprise me. But I don’t know that they had any definite plans to do so.
What are the chances Dr. Spaceman getting his own spin off? But it follows the exact plots and story lines of “Joey”?
Well, I think they’re pretty slim, at this point.
But that would be pretty cool.
Did you hear that Dan Aykroyd named you as one of his favorite SNL cast members when he was on Stern this week? Who are some of yours?
Wow! I did not know that! That is wildly flattering.
Jesus, that is so cool.
I guess my favorites would be… Mr. Aykroyd (and I would’ve said that even if he didn’t say that about me), Dan and Bill Murray for sure, and I loved Chris Farley and Phil Hartman, and I loved Mr. Ferrell. But there’s been so many greats. But those would be my standouts. Also Horatio Sanz.
I know you guys don’t actually record together but who on the Archer staff is the funniest in person?
The funniest in-person? Oh wow… I guess I’d have to say Jon. I mean, Jon really tickles me. They’re all funny. But Jon probably tickles my funny bone the most.
You make me laugh in almost everything you’re in. I especially love Dr. Leo Spaceman. What’s your favorite/funniest memory of 30 Rock?
Oh, that’s so nice, thank you!
I guess it would probably be the episode where I ran into the operating room, covered in blood, and proceeded to explain why I was covered in blood – it had to do with killing a dog, as I remember.
Andy Samberg has always said that he was heavily inspired by your rapping skills. What were your best raps before you two teamed up for Lazy Sunday?
Well, I did some raps on WEEKEND UPDATE on SNL – with Britney Spears, and Kirsten Dunst, and Jennifer Garner, and even Ashton Kutcher.
How much of Lazy Sunday did you write?
Well, it was me and Andy and Jorma and Akiva writing it together. You know, I wrote maybe… 15% of it? Yeah, probably 15%. I think the rest was split amongst those guys. Andy came up with a lot of the best stuff.
I feel like whenever I see you in something you are alway rapping and do a pretty good job. Who’s your favorite rapper and where did you learn to flow?
You know, I just sort of… it came naturally, I guess? But keep in mind, it’s just for comedy. I don’t consider myself a real rapper.
But I quite liked the Notorious B.I.G.
Can you tell us anything about the second season of Rick and Morty? The show is awesome by the way!
It’s gonna be amazing. I think I was even more amazed and dazzled reading the scripts for season 2. I don’t remember that many specifics, other than that I know the animators really have their work cut out for them, because there are some really complex things happening with multiple dimensions being depicted onscreen. I’m excited to see it! I forget a lot of what I do after I do it, so that when I watch it, I’m also seeing it for the first time because I’ve forgotten a lot about it.
But it’s gonna be great.
You once said that Will Ferrell saved you from being fired on SNL. Can you share more about what happened there?
Yeah, sure! You know, as I understand it, both Will and Kattan went to bat for me to Lorne. And I think it certainly helped. And I know one of the writers T. Sean Shannon, he wrote a scathing sketch that was read (at the table, I understand it) that condemned my firing, and took everyone to task about it. Yeah, I never knew exactly why I was fired? I heard from somebody it might have been an NBC executive who didn’t care for my stuff? But i think Will and Chris went to bat for me, which definitely helped.
It was crazy. It was a very difficult time. But I was very glad to go back to the show.
It seems like everyone who attended the the SNL after party on Sunday night has a crazy story to share from it, so what’s yours?
Um – Kevin and John Farley, Chris’ brothers, were pretending to hump me. Not for real, but just pretend. And they were just being really silly. And also just seeing Prince get up on-stage singing and playing the guitar. He was standing near me for a while, and people were saying Prince is behind you and I was like yes, I know. And I think Bill Murray got up there, and Debbie Harry, just a lot of people singing and performing. But it’s when Prince got out there that people got their camera-phones out and were shooting it on their phones. That was pretty cool.
SNL at 40, favorite and least favorite moment?
My favorite moment was Bill Murray singing the “love theme to JAWS.”
My least favorite moment, I guess, was Eddie Murphy coming out and not doing anything but saying “hi.”
Who do you think would win in a rap battle between Cyril, Dr. Spaceman, and Jerry?
Gosh, that’s a tough one! I guess… I don’t think we’ve heard any of them rap?
I think they would all lose. But if I have to pick one – maybe Jerry? I don’t know why, but Jerry.
What is the biggest mistake Cyril has ever done?
Oh, the biggest mistake Cyril has ever made… well, I guess letting Lana go, probably!
Walk Hard is one of my favorite movies of all time. What was it like working on that one, specifically how was it working with John C. Reilly?
It was really fun doing that. John is fantastic, and he was a big contributor to the creative aspect of the film as well. He bought so much to it with the singing. And even though I’d work with Tim Meadows on SNL, it was a brief stint, and I really got to learn a lot more from Tim doing WALK HARD, and I got to know Matt Besser on the set as well, and I got to learn how to play the bass.
If Comedy Central called you up and said that they wanted you to pick Jon Stewart’s replacement, who would you choose?
Gosh, I don’t know! He’s a tough one to replace, obviously. I don’t think Tina would do it, but I think Tina would make a great replacement. And Amy Poehler, for that matter!
How did you get involved with voice acting? And how much fun do you guys have when recording?
Well, my dad is a voiceover guy, back in Memphis, in Germantown. So it’s a little bit of a family thing, although he’s from the more traditional announcer mold, he was a disc jockey and all that sort of thing. But he had a recording studio with a partner, so when he would need the voice of a little boy, he would use me, and if he needed a little girl, he’d use my sister, but it wasn’t until I got on SNL that I was able to use that as a foot-in-the-door for the voiceover world in New York, and got a voiceover agent there.
How is it during recording of Archer? Do you record together?
We do not record together. We all do it separately, from whatever city we’re in. But I’m on the phone line with some of the guys back in Atlanta, who make the show, reading it with them, and taking their direction over the phone line, but it’s fun. Usually pretty quick. And unfortunately we don’t get to see each other, but we do get to see each other when we do functions, and Comic-Con, and Archer Live, and things like that.
The whole cast kinda looks like their character on Archer. (Except for Jon, and Amber might need some weight gain.) If there would be a real-life-action movie, would you concider to play Cyril? Who would you think should play Sterling Archer?
Thanks. My voice “sounding smart” is completely an illusion. But thank you.
And sure, of course! I would be happy to play Cyril. And I think the answer most people give for Archer is a pretty good one, which is Jon Hamm. He, I think, would be pretty good in that role. But it also might work with Michael Fassbender.
What would Cyril’s perfect vengeance against Archer be?
Oh, I think it would be to get Lana back, and maybe marry Lana, and maybe see Archer in jail, or something, in prison somewhere?
Have you thought of doing more podcasts? I loved you on the Comedy Bang Bang TV show and would love to see you on the podcast.
Yeah, you know, I do podcasts almost whenever I’m asked to, whenever it works out schedule-wise, if I can, you know? They’re easy to do, and generally pretty fun. I just did one for The Chive recently.
Big fan of your work on SNL and Archer, but especially Suburgatory. I was really disappointed when it was cancelled. How would you have liked the Shay’s story to have played out?
Oh, thanks, yeah. I loved doing SUBURGATORY and getting to work with that cast, especially having Ana Gasteyer play my wife. I would’ve loved to have seen Victor grow up with the family, and have visits from Ryan, and see how Lisa develops as a young woman, and her relationship with Malik, that would’ve all been cool to see.
What did you do to maintain your composure during sketches and make sure you never broke?
I really just… focused on the scene of it, you know, and was just trying to act it well and hopefully be funny and not be outside of it, because there was some really funny stuff, and there were times when it was hard not to laugh, but I always approached it as an actor (not to sound pretentious, but the idea of breaking character seemed bad to me).
Although I never judged those who did – i know how much the audience enjoys it when people break, and it might’ve served me well to have broken every now and then. And also I just think I took it so seriously, perhaps too seriously, the whole thing.
What’s your all-time favorite SNL skit?
Whoa, my all-time favorite? That’s tough.
But there’s one that Farley did, where he was playing an umpire, and it was about outing people that were gay, and so they would out people, sort of unceremoniously, and they would cut to Farley yelling “YOU’RE OUTTA THERE!” as an umpire. And it was …it just killed me. There were lots of them that I loved, but that one comes to mind.
I’m collecting inspirational quotes from celebrities to put on the wall of my man cave and frame! Do you have any advice for beer and life?
I would say “Drink the beer that you love the taste of, and hopefully one that doesn’t add too many calories to your diet. Drink what you love, and don’t drink what’s cool. Like, if it’s Bud Light Lime, drink Bud Light Lime.”
And then for life, I’d say: “Try to love your neighbor as yourself, and be a loving, forgiving human being.”
Who was the nicest host during your run at SNL?
I mean, Will Ferrell was always super-nice. And really fun, because we all knew him, and he’s also, of course, really funny. I also really loved Julianna Margulies too, she was really sweet and game and so funny I thought, and lovely.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
I would love to see myself on a successful, beloved, critically-acclaimed, single-camera sitcom. And doing some movie parts here and there. One that shoots in Los Angeles!
What are the best techniques for good voice acting? What were your biggest misconceptions before you started?
I just try to do little vocal warmups before I record something – both singing warmups (even though I’m not usually singing) and then also do some articulation exercises, I do a piece called “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” which I go through very quickly to work through all the different sounds and shapes of the mouth and tongue.
I started when I was a kid, so I don’t know if I ever really had an misconceptions about it? I guess in terms of doing animation specifically, I didn’t realize the extent to which you really just are acting, you know? And the need to remember to be in the moment as that character, the same way you would if you were on-camera as that character.
What’s your favorite drink?
My favorite drink… it would be a toss-up between Bourbon and Scotch and Rye and Irish Whiskey.
If you were to become a super spy right now, what skill do you currently have that would be the most useful and why?
I guess just my acting ability, whatever it is? That would probably be my main skill.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I had…a strawberry-banana-blueberry smoothie, a piece of gluten-free toast with crunchy almond butter, and a special egg dish that my wife made, and some coffee.
Favorite SNL sketch that you feel people overlooked?
Gosh, I don’t know. I don’t know that people overlooked it, but I always liked the sketches where Will Ferrell was playing Robert Goulet.
Do you realize how legendary your voice is?
Oh, oh, I do not. But thank you so much. I’m very lucky I get to be paid for using my voice like i do.
When did you first realize you were a thespian? How did your parents react and are they supportive of your lifestyle?
It was when I was in high school, doing plays. Of course, I got inducted into the International Thespian Society, which made it official…
And you know, when I decided when I was 17 that I really wanted to pursue it as a career, my parents felt the need to make sure I understood the difficulties involved with choosing such a career – when they realized I was serious about it, though, they were very supportive and always have been.
What is your heritage? Also what is the best bar-b-que in Memphis?
My heritage I don’t know, because I’m adopted, but based on information that the adoption agency got from my birth parents, they seem to think I was Irish, English and German. And the best BBQ? I tend to be more of a wet BBQ kind of guy, as opposed to the dry rub. I’m a big fan of the Germantown Commissary BBQ, just outside of Memphis.
What’s one SNL skit you never got to make that you wish you had?
Well, I did a character named Terrye Funke, I think, and although I did get to do it, I didn’t get to do it nearly as much as I wanted. It was a character who went to dress rehearsal about 3 times as much as it did on air. I only did it on air twice -once with Jeff Gordon the race-car driver, and then once with Horatio and Will Ferrell. Terrye was an effeminate southern man who lived in his mom’s basement, and I don’t think quite realized he was gay. He loved little dogs, he loved yorkies, and he’s just a very silly, flamboyant character.
What do you want to say to the entire internet?
Haha! Be nice to each other.
Love each other.
Do you have any funny story from Anchorman 2?
From ANCHORMAN 2…
I guess the moment when we were all standing on the beach, watching Ron fighting the shark. People were throwing out a lot of ad-libs, a lot of improvised lines. Sadly I’m not going to remember much in terms of specifics. But they were really funny, unscripted stuff that people were throwing around.
Would you have sex with Pam?
Would I, Chris Parnell, have sex with Pam, or would Cyril have sex with Pam?
Parnell would not, because she is not a very appealing lady. Her whole demeanor and energy and all of that – she’s not really my type.
But Cyril would, and I think he probably has.
Ok, you have to have a tag-team wrestling match against a black bear and a mongoose, nature’s deadliest goose, which of your costars from SNL, 30 Rock, or Archer do you pick to be your partner?
I guess maybe I would say Alec Baldwin, because I think he would probably be a really good fighter? He’s pretty solidly built, and I think he would give it his all, you know.
I love your voice. Can you start recording audio books so I can pretend I can read?
Thank you. I would probably do audiobooks, if somebody approached me to do them?
I don’t know why people haven’t approached me. I think they tend to get more famous actors to do them. My sense is that it’s a lot of work for not much pay. But I just really encourage you to learn to read.
Do you have a favourite videogame?
I guess sort of my old 1980’s favorite game would’ve been Centipede and Asteroids?
What else? TEMPEST! I liked Tempest.
And now I like the Final Fantasy games. And I guess my favorite would be Final Fantasy, that series, especially the early ones.
What advice would you give to an inspiring actor?
Well, the first thing I would say is: figure out what part you want acting to play in your life. Do you want to try and do it as a career? And if so, know that it’s a really tough job to make a living at. If you can let acting be something you just do for fun, and not necessarily as a career, then that’s a much easier (and different) road to travel. But you should do what makes you happy. And if there’s something else that makes you happy and that makes you feel fulfilled, I would do the other thing, but if it’s gotta be acting, then be honest with yourself and make sure you actually have some skill for it – that you know yourself and be honest with yourself. And if you do, honestly, feel like you have some acting talent, then get some training. Depending on where you are in life – if you’re in high school, try and do plays. If your school doesn’t have a good theater program, try to find a good community theater. And go ahead and go to a good theater training program and study in college, if you can.
You shouted something like “because I went to the North Carolina School of the Arts!” during one opening monologue of SNL. I was a teenager at the time and had just gotten into the high school music program there. I can’t explain how much that moment meant to me. Attending that school was wonderful beyond words and as a fan of yours I always often think of that moment when watching your work. What is a favorite moment of yours from your time at NCSA?
I have a couple of moments that stand out. One was in a mask class, and I was just improvising as this character in this mask, and other students in the class, I guess they were in masks too, some of them were asking me questions, and I was just responding, and I got really in the groove, and was just really “killing” for want of a better word, and it just felt great! I was just being really spontaneously funny, and people were loving what i was doing, and that was amazing.
Another favorite moment was with the same teacher – Jared Sachran was his name – and we were doing a play he directed, called “Woyzec” we were doing the play version of it, and i was a very different little h homunculus of a man in a mask, and my college algebra teacher came to see the play and she didn’t even know it was me. So that was the highest compliment.
The takeaway from this is: I love wearing masks.
What drew you into playing Jerry for Rick and Morty? You’ve made him easily my favorite character on that show haha!
Well, you know, it was a funny script, when I did the pilots, and it was clearly well-written, and I love sci-fi, and Jerry is a part that’s very much in my wheelhouse, and it also seemed like a part where I’d have an opportunity to do some stuff that had some heart and depth to it beyond being (hopefully) funny.
Do you drink tap water?
I’ve got a whole-house water filter, so I drink the tap water but it’s gone through my whole-house water filter. And I usually carbonate it. I like to carbonate it with my SodaStream.
Do you think AM radio will really ever really make a comeback?
Well, I don’t think it’s ever really gone away, you know?
I think AM radio – my sense of it, anyway – is that it continues to have a certain life out there, it has its place, and I think people still listen to it…some. I don’t know if it will ever surpass FM, however.
What’s your favorite ride in Disney?
My favorite ride at Disneyland… let me think…
I like the Fantasy-land rides, the kid rides, a lot. I like Peter Pan? I enjoy Space Mountain a lot. The Log Flume ride, the name of which I can never remember. And there’s one in California Adventure that i really love – I think it’s called “Soaring Over California.”
What are some of your favourite movies or shows?
Wow, let’s see.
Right now I’m a big fan of BROAD CITY, I think that’s a very funny show. I like PROJECT RUNWAY, my wife turned me onto that. I like GAME OF THRONES, DOWNTON ABBEY, THE GOOD WIFE… I love the movie DUNE and CHARIOTS OF FIRE… I recently saw GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL and it was the best thing I’ve seen in a long time. I just saw it with my wife the other day, and it is the best thing I’ve seen in a theater in a long, long time. I’m looking forward to seeing it again at some point.
How do you spend your lazy sunday in the late afternoon?
Usually hanging out with my wife or son, going out for a walk, maybe going out to the park. It is pretty chill, and lazy, generally.
You starred in Jingle all the Way. Do you have any story including Arnold?
Well, it was my first movie role, and I didn’t know how they typically shot scenes. So I had to laugh a lot, and I sort’ve spent all of my laughing energy in the wider takes, so by the time we got to the close-up shots, it was a real struggle to keep that going. But Arnold was very nice. I just remember noticing that he was a storyteller, he liked to “hold court” with the crew and tell stories, and I just remember telling myself Oh, this is how a major movie star carries themselves and does things!
I think a fair bit of it was shot in Minneapolis, but my stuff was shot up in the Valley somewhere.
Which of your characters is closer to the real Chris Parnell, maybe overall, or just an unusual specific detail that both have in common?
I guess… Fred Shay from SUBURGATORY, because he is insecure, but really loves his wife and his kids. You know.