“Comedy equals tragedy plus time.” This venerable axiom means that, if you’re a professional comic, you usually have to wait a few years before a catastrophic event is ripe for laughs. It’s like a show business statute of limitations: Those who dare breach this law risk a public thrashing. (Take comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who lost his gig as the voice of the Aflac Insurance duck after tweeting jokes about the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.)
So when Saturday Night Live cast member Jason Sudeikis donned his Devil’s costume for the show’s “Weekend Update” segment to riff on the Penn State child molestation scandal, the audience collectively held its breath.
But no public outcry ensued. Sudeikis, who writes much of his own material on SNL, deftly turned the situation on its head by having the Devil express outrage: “I’m the Prince of Darkness, but I’m not a monster!”
When it comes to comedy, there’s no in-between. It’s either funny or it isn’t; you either laughed or you didn’t. Sudeikis embraces the challenge. “You battle it out and try to make it as good and as real and as fun as possible,” he says. “What’s funny to me is not always funny to someone else. If I don’t find something funny – even if a bunch of people laugh – I’ll maintain an opinion, because that’s what we’re paid to do.”
It’s been suggested that all actors should be athletes in order to bend their physicality to accommodate a role. Sudeikis embodies that concept. There’s a handsome everyman quality to his looks. Since Sudeikis often plays suit-wearing, middle-aged men on SNL, one might assume his body type matches his roles. But he’s obviously in terrific shape and moves with a confident economy of gesture. Like many SNL legends, Sudeikis is a born mimic with a stable full of targets, including politicians (Mitt Romney, Joe Biden, Bill Clinton) and reviled public figures (Rod Blagojevich, Mel Gibson, Donald Trump). He would have fit snugly into any of the great casts that make up the 37-year history of SNL. And Hollywood has always come knocking on their doors.
At this point, Sudeikis has already had starring roles in Horrible Bosses and A Good Old Fashioned Orgy. His next film (among others) is an ensemble flick directed by Peter Farrelly: Movie 43, which opened in theaters January 25, strives for shock value and boasts a roster of stars (including Hugh Jackman, Richard Gere, Naomi Watts, Kate Winslet, Uma Thurman and Emma Stone) performing in a series of episodes featuring outrageous, no-holds-barred comic mayhem. Sudeikis is anxious to behold the results.
“I’m as excited as anybody to see it,” he says, “because when sketch comedy is given these kinds of production values, everything is different. Like Monty Python movies – the quality of the lighting and costumes and editing all must be sharper when it gets to the film level versus a television show.”
This summer, he’ll take his game to a decidedly higher level in We’re the Millers. The film, which also stars Jennifer Aniston, focuses on a veteran pot dealer who creates a fake family in order to smuggle a huge load of pot into the US. Naturally, with a film like this, Sudeikis has piqued the interest of HIGH TIMES. But growing up in Kansas, “I was straight and narrow,” he says. “I didn’t drink; I didn’t do anything. I think I drank twice in college.”
He traces his “high” history for us. In his early comedy career in Chicago, he says he smoked a few times. And while performing with Boom Chicago, a live-comedy troupe in Amsterdam, he dabbled occasionally in mushrooms. Nevertheless, despite his early ambivalence about pot, Sudeikis did brush up against HT’s world when he attended the 13th Cannabis Cup in 2000 to see the Upright Citizens Brigade perform. But it wasn’t until later, when he became a founding member of Second City Las Vegas, that he hooked up with cannabis in a creative way.
“I guess that would have been my maiden voyage,” Sudeikis says. “I was like the kid who tries pizza with barbecue sauce and thinks he’s discovered something that no one has ever thought of before. I was that annoying kid who just heard the Beatles for the first time and tells everybody about how great the Beatles are, and everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, we know.’”
But in time, he says, pot began to play a distinct role in his creative life. “When I write,” he explains, “I usually start with an image and try to see if the image can sustain an emotional narrative. In sketches, there must be some sort of story going on, some sort of point. It’s something I was taught at Second City and still believe in.”
However, pot can get in the way of this process. “It can make it really tricky,” he says. “I mean, the world’s really wide open – and if you’ve got all those doors open in your head, you’re going to be knocking around and walking in and out of a ballroom forever. But once you’re seeded with an idea or an image, pot does allow you to blue-sky it for a while.”
Asked about the recent ballot initiatives, Sudeikis says it gives him some hope that our nation’s cannabis laws are improving. “I think it’s great. I’m not overly political,” he adds. “Some think that people who make jokes and wear wigs and talk in goofy voices shouldn’t be taken too seriously. But for me, it seemed like a no-brainer. It just seems silly – we can get drunk on Sundays. I think between marijuana laws and same-sex marriage, the next generation will look back and be incredulous, the same way we view the civil rights movement and spraying black people with fire hoses.”
As his star continues to rise at age 37, Sudeikis admits that he hasn’t been immune to feelings of insecurity and questions as to what’s it all about. Trying to stand outside your- self and understand your new reality as a successful showbiz celebrity can be a disorienting experience. Even more daunting is trying to figure out the difference between the person you’ve always thought you were and the way the public perceives you.
“If you have enough articles written about you and you read ’em – well, I’ve always had a hard time with that,” Sudeikis says. “I went to group therapy for a while trying to figure out some of that stuff. I mean, there are a couple things written about me that I could see. But, you know, we’re all pretty complicated as human beings, so I know that people are making a judgment based on only x amount of hours spent with me versus the highs and lows that we all experience. Some people are better than they seem; some people are worse than they seem. Some are better-looking than they seem, sexier than you think, less sexy than you think, hairier than you think – and whatever.”
After this digression, Sudeikis seems to acknowledge the pointlessness of the quest, instead asking the interviewer: “Is there something you want an answer to?”
Watch Jason discuss his favorite SNL musical moments on Jen’s Music Stash.