I may not have loved "30 Rock" in the beginning, but I have always enjoyed watching Jack McBrayer, who plays hapless NBC page Kenneth on the show. Having had the good fortune to work with him at New York improv comedy hub the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, I know for a fact that Jack is one of the most endearing people you could ever hope to meet. My recent interview with him only further confirmed what I've known about Jack for a while:
- He has the admirable ability to be both hilariously funny and extremely sweet.
- He actually says things like, "Well, bless your heart" — and means them.
- He truly is like his character on "30 Rock": friendly, upbeat and very grateful for the opportunities afforded him at NBC.
Having grown up in Georgia, McBrayer retains his Southern accent and considerate manner. He's lived in Chicago, New York and now Los Angeles, performing comedy all the while. All of this has led to his current role on "30 Rock," where Kenneth's (mostly) innocent personality offers a hilarious contrast to the cynicism of everyone else. If you already like Kenneth on the show, you'll love the man behind the page uniform.
You're an awful lot like Kenneth.
He's basically Jack McBrayer with a peacock tie.
So it makes sense that I've heard Tina Fey wrote Kenneth with you in mind. How flattering is that?
Oh, my gosh, so flattering. So flattering. You know, it's just so indescribable when you have friends that you admire so much and then they want to work with you and give you a leg up... it's really wonderful.
More wonderful things if you read more
I've heard that Tina Fey also writes in little details from your real lives.
She does put stuff from all of our real lives into the scripts. Like [the episode] with Will Arnett, I walk into the hotel room to seduce him and I’m putting on chapstick — I’m addicted to chapstick, so that part was written for me. One time I was eating chick peas out of the can [on the show], and when I was living in New York I was sustaining myself on chick peas.
How do you know Tina Fey?
I met Tina and her husband, Jeff Richmond, at Second City [in Chicago]. Jeff was my director there... Jeff is kind of the reason I have the jobs I that I have. I have such a huge debt of gratitude for him.
I find it really cool how it seems like a lot of comedic actors and writers working today seem to stick together and support each other with projects.
That's absolutely right. This might be getting — I want to say 'esoteric' but I'm not sure that's right — but it’s like the basics of improv: work together, support each other... you have these people with generous sensibilities, and they help each other... I mean, if you work with good people, you want to work with them again, you trust them.
I can never refer to Alec Baldwin without saying his full name. Have you graduated to calling him just Alec... or even Al?
I would never call him Al. [Laughs] For the longest time it was "Mr. Baldwin," until he asked me to stop calling him that. Now it's Alec if I'm addressing him to his face... I do still say "Alec Baldwin" when referring to him to, like, Tina or something.
What is the most surprising thing about working on "30 Rock"?
I'm not scared of Alec Baldwin anymore! I’m not scared to look him in the eye. And I was! You know, he’s such a phenomenal actor but I mean, he also just likes to talk, he wants to share... he’s such a generous actor, he really gives you time, anything you need. I was also surprised that the scenes are filmed out of order, so if you're doing a big, emotional scene — which, for me in "30 Rock" means not smiling — you have to look and see what came before. You have to keep up on your research.
Do you feel famous yet?
People rarely come up to me, and when they do they're always very nice. My fear was that people would come up to me to say how much they hated the show, you know, to just trash it, but that just hasn’t happened. Everyone has been very nice. The NBC pages do come up to me when I'm in New York... I think they have more at stake when watching the show, seeing what’s accurate and what’s wrong, but they are always very nice when they come up to me. More I'm wondering if we're getting it right... I hope this is official name taggery!
Maybe NBC will see a spike in page applications because of you.
Or a sharp decline. [laughs]
Do you ever Google yourself?
I don’t. I did it once, and all you have to do is find one person who’s mean and saying hateful things... all it takes is one person, you know? All I care about, if my friends and family are enjoying the show, that’s all I need.
Was there a big "30 Rock" versus "Studio 60" sentiment?
No, no, no. I had no worries, no concerns. I mean, my friend Nate Corddry was on that show, so I’m not going to wish ill on them. I’m sure Tina had some feelings about it... but once the show got going, the work became the important thing, not the competition. You can’t get caught up in the comparisons, that’s just crazy. Crazy, I say!
You used to be in the skits on "Late Night With Conan O'Brien" pretty regularly. Did you get to talk with him when he was a guest on "30 Rock"?
I did talk to him... Conan was on the show right around when we were premiering, so he was really doing us a really nice thing, and he had nothing but nice things to say about it. I think it was fun for him to be on my show. I love that guy.
Do you still do improv?
I do. I do stuff with I.O. [Improv Olympic] and the UCB here in L.A. It’s as much of a social thing as a creative thing... it’s like goofing around with your buddies.
And now I hear you're off to film a movie in Hawaii!
I’m playing a newlywed with a wife, and we don't know what we’re doing. I'm going to be in Hawaii for a whole month, can you believe it?!