It is often unanimously agreed to that comedy is the most difficult of genres for an actor or performer to pull off. Jack Black is one of the lead actors in American who doesn’t mind making a fool out of himself to make you laugh. However, he is not a man of slapstick. Jack swears by sarcasm and honesty and it is often that glistening innocence in his eyes even while doing the most embarrassing things that makes him a crowd favourite. Youngsters would identify him as the voice of Po in the hugely popular Kung Fu Panda series, the third edition of which is almost ready for release. As Jack makes his transition into television with HBO’s dark comedy show The Brink (he is also an executive producer on the show), he talks to us in an email interview about how TV is the place to be and what one needs to keep in mind before joking about serious geopolitical issues. In the show, he plays a low-level diplomat in Islamabad, who after trying to buy weed at a marketplace, gets drawn into an international crisis.
Why television? What about this series attracted you to not just come on board as part of the lead cast but also as an executive producer?
There is no specific answer to why television. I took up The Brink because the script was a rare, crazy mix of comedy, action and politics. I had never seen something like that before. It was fresh and original. The title refers to being on the brink of a third world war. But it is still a comedy. So when the movies are stuck in spin-offs and sequels, I thought I’d take some time out and try my hand at this. Don’t get me wrong, I love movies and I am not complaining. But when it comes to trying new things, I think television is far ahead than the movies. Even personally it has been some of the latest TV series that have kept me interested as compared to the new movies. Then, there was the director Jay Roach whom I trusted a lot and have always wanted to work with. So it was not a tough decision at all.
So how did you prepare for your role as Alex Talbot?
Firstly, it wasn’t a role that required tonnes of research because Alex is your average dumb American who goes to a foreign land, is insensitive and thinks that his country is the best. Now, you get a lot of that around here, don’t you? He is a normal guy, who wants to have sex, loves to smoke weed and has a good side to him, too. What required a bit of brushing up on was the backdrop the show was set in and this new political comedy genre. So I have been watching shows like The Daily Show, the Rachel Maddow Show and yes Homeland.
Are you a political person?
I think all of us are political at some level. I may not be into these major geo-political issues but I am a big champion of equal rights for the LGBT community and for all the races. Like most of the people around, I, too, don’t like it when I come face to face with racism, bigotry and injustice in the world. But having said that I would not claim to be well versed in world politics. I think I am kind of a cliche.
You are credited as the Executive Producer on the show. So what exactly are your duties and do you enjoy producing content?
I love to produce and I have done a few things. I like all the aspects of bringing a story alive from the script to the screen. But I am a bit embarrassed about my credit in this one, because frankly I haven’t done much other than lobby to get Asif Mandvi in the show.
The Brink falls into a different genre of political comedy. Do you think comedy is more effective than drama when it comes to tackling such themes?
Definitely. Comedy always helps to keep things lighter. For instance, there was Steve Martin’s The Jerk. Even 40 years later, that movie is remembered because it brought this really absurd, hilarious and strange premise and broke down social norms and barriers. This can be done only in comedy. Tackling serious subjects in fiction seriously is one way to go but comedy is way more effective. Think Charlie Chaplin. Deep under all those slapstick moments there is some serious social problem being addressed.
And now there are a lot of taboos. Differences in cultures, religions, family structures, us and them… all that. But I hope someday we can do away with these barriers and find a common ground. I hope we can just say, “Look, your politicians are crazy, our politicians are crazy, let’s all get along.”