Film/TV

Talking Penis Monsters, Sex Aliens and the New Season of "Man Seeking Woman" With Jay Baruchel

In the most recent episode of Man Seeking Woman the titular man, played by sad sack supreme Jay Baruchel, is bummed because his work crush has a boyfriend. But because this is the dryly surreal Man Seeking Woman, perhaps the strangest yet sweetest show on television, said boyfriend is none other than Jesus Christ. Eh, it's better than that time his ex-girlfriend started dating Hitler.

Created by Simon Rich, Man Seeking Woman is a weekly tour through what modern love feels like to the perpetually single, featuring destination weddings in hell, Japanese penis monsters, and drunk Cupids. Grounding all this high-concept silliness is Baruchel, who expertly plays all the insanity as matter of fact while showing that the strangest thing of all is the human heart.

Baruchel has been a constant presence in the discerning comedy fan's life since starting in the 2001 Judd Apatow series Undeclared, and has brought his hangdog charm to films including She's Out of My League, This Is the End and How to Train Your Dragon. While his character Josh is terminally unfocused, Baruchel is not. In addition to his work on Man Seeking Woman, he wrote, directed and produced Goon: Last of the Enforcers, the sequel to the 2011 cult-classic hockey brawler film Goon. PAPER called Baruchel during a rare moment of downtime to discuss playing silliness with a straight face.

How did you first get involved with the show, and what did you think when you first read the script?

I just sort of inhaled it. I was lucky enough to have this script land in my life, and it made me laugh harder in its twenty-some odd pages than most full movies do when I sit there and watch them. Circumstances at that time dictated that I wouldn't be able to do it, so with a heavy heart, we didn't think it could work out. But everything happens for a reason, and if something is meant to be then it's meant to be. Time passed, they still hadn't found their guy, and my life had changed. So the clouds parted, and I was so psyched that they still found a way to get me in there. Now we have these two seasons of an awesome show behind us, and it's kind of the best decision I've ever made.

When you're filming scenes where your penis falls off or you're being forced to apologize to Hitler for being rude, is it tough to maintain a straight face and stick to the dry tone that's been established for the series?

Yeah, I mean it's hard to keep a straight face at any given time on our set, whether the scene involved Hitler or penis monsters or whatever. But you also kind of get used to it, and our crew doesn't even bat an eye at the snippets of conversations you'd overhear on our sets. We also know that part of the fun of those crazy situations is that they really work their best if you play it completely serious and dry and don't ever own the craziness. We think that's part of the secret formula to our show.

So something like the penis monster doesn't really raise an eyebrow?

No, nothing really raises an eyebrow -- it's amazing. And that fact isn't lost on anyone on set, either. We'll talk about the shorthand we have between sex aliens and penis monster and Hitler and Santa Claus. Our show is basically the sum total of Simon Rich's nightmares. Getting to see that every day in flesh and blood is quite something.

The show implies that your character Josh is a nice guy, but he doesn't really have that much going on in terms of a career or direction in life. In your mind, is he kind of a loser or do you like him? Do you root for him?

Personally, I have to! But I also like how little he has going on. I think playing comfort and victory and security is far, far, far less fun and far less interesting than abject failure and misery. That's funny to me. I don't know what's funny about a guy succeeding at something.

He doesn't have a lot of ambition and can be self-centered.

Yeah, I think he is a lot like most people. Most people are probably closer to him than they would like to admit. In my experience, the vast majority of my friends had no great "calling." They didn't know what they wanted to do their entire lives, and I think that's the case for most people. I also think that he falls prey to stuff that everyone falls prey to. He sort of second guesses himself and lacks confidence. He sees himself getting older and feels the moss growing underneath his feet, and it's a vicious circle. The less validated he is, the less confident he becomes. The less confident he becomes, the less validated he will be. All of this is universal and applicable to pretty much everyone at one point of their life or another. One of the things I like about our show is that we're not presenting idealized versions of who people should be. There's very little wish fulfillment on our show. Our show is more exorcising your demons. I'm out there getting the shit kicked out of me so the people at home don't have to anymore.

The show makes being single in the modern dating scene look like a surreal hellscape. Do you or have you ever related to this idea?

Yeah, I do. I don't know that it's a product or a function of our current society so much as just human nature. I think being single forces you to look at a lot of parts of yourself, and vulnerability is uncomfortable for a lot of people. All these things are sort of the bread and butter of dating. There's obviously some fun to be had -- otherwise nobody would do it -- but more often than not, it's an unmitigated disaster. I think that's why our show rings truthful.

Yeah, definitely the scene where you had to work with a government defense agency to help you respond to a lady's text message.

[laughs] Good! That's what I'm saying. We all have a tendency to blow shit out of proportion, especially when our heart decides that we like something. Our show very much traffics in that world.

Going into season two, did you and Simon want to take things up a notch and escalate the weirdness?

Everyone was asking, "How are you guys going to top last season?" I think the implication there is that our show is so crazy, so how do you go crazier? Our answer is going to actually surprise people. Don't get me wrong: it's still Man Seeking Woman, so you're still getting everything you got from last year. It's still going to be the sort of crazy non-stop cavalcade of insanity, but I think the way we up the ante this time around is by sneaking a bit of substance and emotion in. We're going to trick people into being involved and feeling stuff that they definitely never thought they would feel on our show.

Yeah, I saw the episode where you worry about getting older and start wanting to date your car. It got way more melancholy than I was expecting the show to ever get.

Yeah, that keeps coming back -- that sort of melancholy undercurrent. Don't get me wrong, this is still a show where I fuck a car, right? But I do think that this season definitely has a bit more to say about the human condition than we did last year. What's awesome is that we were able to get that in there and get people to feel what we want them to feel while still entertaining them and making them laugh.

Like you said, you fuck a car on the show. Is there something too embarrassing that you just won't do for the show, or are you pretty much game to do whatever?

I mean, you kind of have to be. Shame and humor don't seem to go very well together. I have my hang-ups and we all have our limits, but anytime that I'm nervous to do something, I'll see (co-star Eric André) rush in where angels fear to tread, and he'll make me feel like a huge pussy because he's just fearless and will do whatever he needs to do in order to serve any given moment. It's hard to not have that rub off on you. There's definitely stuff you're weary of doing, but then you're reminded of what show you're on and why you're there.

It seems like the people who saw the show last year definitely loved it, but it didn't quite get the attention it deserved. Is that frustrating to you? What's your perception of the show's popularity level?

I can't pay attention to that. All any of us can do is do something we like and hopefully be proud of it. I guess what I'm trying to say is the people who have experienced it have liked it, and that's all anybody who does anything can ask for. How many of those people there are is irrelevant to me because, last year, the people who saw our show really connected to it, and that's why we do it. Everyone is welcome. The more the merrier. But no, it's not frustrating because I get to go to bed every night knowing that I'm on the funniest show on TV.

Shifting gears a bit, I've heard that you're starting to work on the sequel to Goon. Is that true?

Yeah, we actually shot it last summer. We're literally in the process of cutting it right now in our basement -- 20 feet from where I'm talking to you.

So how did it go?

It went super, super well. I'm really proud of it. It's an epic rock show of a movie, man, and it's going to take people's heads off. I really, really can't wait. Without giving too much away, we basically started to ask ourselves a question. The first one is finding out where you're meant to be or what you're meant to do. It's a sort of love story of boy meets girl, boy meets hockey. This one will be about a boy married to girl, boy married to hockey. The question we're all faced with is, "What if what you're meant to do is actually hurting you?," and what do you do then?

Inevitably, most people don't play hockey until they're 70. Most people play hockey until they're in their thirties. Everyone has to stop at a certain point. It all dovetails with the role of the hockey enforcer being worked out of professional hockey as a phenomenon. Their era is being drawn to a close, so all of these things conspire to sort of help steer us in the direction that we think is right for these characters.

Who directed this one?

I did.

That's impressive! I didn't know that.

Thanks, man. Yeah, that's me.

Is this your first time directing a film?

Yeah, I've directed a short and an episode of Trailer Park Boys, but yeah it is my first feature.

Wow. What was it like stepping into that role?

I loved it. I started acting when I was 12, but even when I started at 12, my mother said, "You want to be a director. This would be the best film school you could possibly go to." In my life and in my mind, I've been in film school since I was 12, and I'm going to be 34 in April. But it was crazy, man. We had a lot to do. This is the sequel to Goon. It's not just two junkies kicking heroin in an apartment for 90 minutes, you know? There's a lot of stuff that goes on and a lot of moving parts. But it was exhilarating. It's the best gig in the world.

This is kind of a big job for your first time as a director. Were you intimidated at all?

I know that conventional wisdom dictates that I should probably start a bit smaller and go up, but you don't get to pick your opportunities. Being stressed out was a luxury I couldn't afford, because we had a movie to make. It was go-time. I've wanted to do this since I was nine years old, and now I have the chance. So I can either wilt in the face of all of it, or I can just go out there and give her. Hopefully, I did the latter.

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