Jim Rash’s Dean Pelton on Community was just supposed to be another recurring, quirky character. Now he’s one of the most beloved and talked-about characters on the show. Rash’s performance has been praised for four seasons now, and he keeps getting better. Even outside of Community, Rash is on a hot streak. He won an Oscar in 2011 (with Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon) and provided a terrific impersonation of Angelina Jolie while giving his acceptance speech. He has a highly anticipated indie film called The Way, Way Back due out this summer.
But most importantly his Community world and his writing world collide this Thursday as his first episode as a writer for the NBC comedy hits the airwaves. Rash spoke to a group of reporters last week about “Basic Human Anatomy” and revealed a bit about what it was like writing an episode for such a fan-favorite show.
When did the chance to write an episode first come about?
Jim Rash: I guess the discussion to possibly write was actually before this season. It just sort of came up in talks sort of during our hiatus, you know. And I—they just were curious if I had any interest. And I absolutely did if it worked out and there was, you know, a slot, you know, as far as in, you know, the order and stuff. So they sort of end up having this sort of open area where they were looking for another episode. And so they—I went up and ended up pitching a couple of different ideas, and then we obviously landed on the one that we did.
What did it feel like being at the table read and during filming?
Rash: I mean it’s weird you know, because whenever you’re at a table read—and anything that I’ve written or had a part of it’s, you know, you’re trying to also be an actor at the same time that you’re listening to the script and trying to do both at the same time. It was such a really a sort of a dream come true to be able to write on a show that obviously I’ve been a part of but more importantly have been, you know, my own sort of fan of—you know, a fan of Dan [Harmon, the show’s now-fired creator]’s vision, a fan of our writers from beginning to end, jealous of our writers from beginning to end, you know, and sort of how their brains have worked and sort of guided Dan’s initial vision and what the show has sort of evolved from year to year. So all those things that was sort of like a scary challenge really, you know, to be able to have the opportunity but also not want to let the show down by any means.
Was writing the episode pretty easy since you’ve been inside this character’s head and alongside these characters for four years?
Rash: I’ve written pilots, you know, with my writing partner Nat Faxon. And we’ve written—we’ve developed, you know, shows that were for ourselves that didn’t go past like a pilot script phase or something. So it’s certainly always been a dream to write for myself, for my voice. And although the Dean is a character that is not like me or probably what we were writing when we were writing for our voices or whatever. But it’s obviously something that I have in four years incorporated a lot of just probably my own mannerisms and stuff like that, which I think is inherent with anybody who takes on a part for that long. I think there’s something that you sort of—it’s fun to get a chance to write for yourself and do some things that you love to do or that you find that’s your point-of-view and what you find funny. And so with the Dean even though I know him based on Dan’s sort of guidance and creation, you know, I still understand that and enjoy writing his voice, you know.
What do you feel makes a great Community episode?
Rash: For me, my favorite episodes of Community are the ones that really do balance something that’s sort of in a way heightened and absurd that only Community can do. It’s Community’s version of what can happen. And Dan’s created a world where these things can happen. You know, where we can have these paintball episodes. And we can, you know, go to quote unquote “space,” you know, in our own real context. But yet there is always a way of moving the character forward. There was always a nugget—at the very least—that gave us some insight into one of them or pushed an emotional journey for them forward.
We’ve gotten to know these characters so well over the last four years, and you’ve gotten to know them working alongside the actors as an actor. In writing this episode and getting a chance to expand what we know about these characters, which was your favorite to write?
Rash: Well it’s hard, because they’re all fun to sort of write for. I mean, you know, it’s always fun to write Jeff Winger’s [Joel McHale] stuff. Because you know he pretty much just hates everything. And he’s a great person just to sort of shut people down. So he’s a great character to write for the pace of scenes, because he’s sort of usually the person who’s moving it along. But I mean this particular episode obviously I just had so much fun, because I knew that Donald [Glover, who plays Troy] was going to be playing, you know, Abed [Danny Pudi]. That it was fun just to write what, you know, Abed’s thought process is in understanding what’s happening, or like how Abed would process all these things. So it was sort of like a challenge to write sort of his brain and then, you know, subsequently obviously to write Troy-isms is fun as well. So it’s sort of hard. Because of the style of this particular episode it was more of getting into Troy and Abed’s brains and then having this sort of conundrum to figure out for the actors who’s in which body, you know, quote unquote in their bodies.
“Basic Human Anatomy” airs on Thursday, April 25. Read the official synopsis for the episode below.
When Annie (Alison Brie) and Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) learn that Leonard (Richard Erdman) is actually holding the spot as the class valedictorian, they join forces to bring him down. Meanwhile, Troy (Donald Glover) and Abed (Danny Pudi) reminisce about one of their favorite body switching films and when they inadvertently re-enact a critical scene, things start becoming a little funky at Greendale.