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Happy Together: Chris Parnell Talks About Playing A Music Manager, Improv and Comedies

Chris Parnell is back on sitcom comedy with CBS’s Happy Together.

The show revolves around a 30-something boring couple, who has their world turned upside down after a well-known pop music star moves into their household.

Happy Together stars Damon Wayans Jr., Amber Stevens West and Felix Mallard in this triangular relationship about marriage, friendship and generations.

LRM Online sat down with Chris Parnell with a small group of reporters on the set at CBS Studios. He plays Wayne, the music manager to Cooper (Mallard). During our conversation, he talked about his character, the premise of the show and his attraction to sitcoms.

Happy Together will premiere on CBS on Monday, October 1st at 8:30 p.m.

Read the interview transcript below.

Congratulations on this role. How are you feeling?

Chris Parnell: Thanks! It feels pretty new to me still. Other than the pilot, the first episode I’ve done. I think I’m supposed to be in seven episodes of the thirteen, so it’s still a little new to me. But, I feel good about it. I liked the part. I’m just sort of curious to see the shape that it takes. We did the pilot and then there were some reshoots. The part got rewritten a little bit and tweaked a little bit. I’m not entirely sure how much these sort of structure or the internal life of the character is supposed to change. But I basically just take the scripts and try to make the most sense out of them. They’re good scripts so it’s not like it’s a hard thing.

It’s fun. I liked the people I know–Austen Earl. He’s got kids that are in my son’s preschool class. He had been talking to me about this for awhile and asked me if I was interested in. I was like, “Yeah! Of course!!” Part of it, because it was a job. Austen is really nice. [Laughs] It wasn’t until I read it that I was like, “Oh, wow! This was actually really funny. This is really good.” I liked this part and I like what he has in mind for it.

Any particular parts or things that you can tell us that you liked from the script? Was it with the tones, scenes, or characters?

Chris Parnell: I liked the premise of the show. I thought that was kind of novel about this pop star going to live with this sort of ordinary couple. I liked the character because of what Austen had told me about it. He didn’t want him to be like a slick Hollywood agent. He’s a typical manager, but he didn’t want him to be a slick kind of Hollywood guy like you see so often. There are elements of that, but he’s got a greater element of being pathetic to him. [Chuckles] He’s kind of a sad and a little depressed, but he tries to make the best out of everything. It being that way and being that sort of put upon a guy is something that’s feels much more in my wheelhouse than the super slick Hollywood guy.

Did they give you some tips on how to play a manager or did you try to base it on someone you know in your real life?

Chris Parnell: I mean it’s based unconsciously on a lot of people that I’ve met and seen over the years. My manager is great. She’s like totally low-key and cool. I probably wouldn’t be with her if she worked the other way. It’s just like with most things like this–it’s not necessarily a process of thinking. Oh, who is this? Who can I model this after? It’s just more like I just read the words and try to see who he is through the text. That’s generally the way I go. Also they know me. I’ve been doing it for long enough that if somebody’s going to cast me in something without even auditioning me–they’re gonna have a pretty good sense of who I am and what I bring to the table. As long as I don’t make some wacky off-the-wall choice that doesn’t fit in anywhere else with what people know of me–it’s probably going to be okay.

With the new slate, there’s so many new shows that CBS is bringing out. For you, with everything that you’ve seen so far with Happy Together, what is it about happy together that you think is going to make it stand out from the other shows?

Chris Parnell: Damon [Wayans Jr.] and Amber [Stevens West] are a big part of it. They’re just so great playing a couple. They have such good chemistry and they’re so funny. Genuinely, they’re just very likable people and then they’re really funny on top of that. I think that’s a great combination. Then Victor [Williams] and Stephnie [Weir] who played Amber’s parents, Claire’s parents, are pretty hilarious. [Chuckles] They’re pretty amazing. They bring this whole other crazy sort of energy to their world. Felix [Mallard], who plays Cooper, is delightful, lovely and perfect. He brings a certain naivety and genuineness about his approach towards life to the character. He has just been a great comic instinct. It’s a lot about the cast. And then, a lot of it’s about the writing and the premise.

Do you do a lot of improv on this project so far?

Chris Parnell: No, not so far. I think they would be open to it to a certain extent. I mean every now and then I’ll throw in a word here or there in rehearsal to see how they respond to it. Sometimes I might pitch a joke, but I usually think about it a long time before I do. It’s easy just to, in the moment come up with something and say, “Oh, this would be funny.” For me, I have to play it out in my mind and think about it in the context of the scene. Is it really is funny as I think it is? If the answer is yes, then I might go take it to one of the writers or somebody and say, “What do you think about this?”

I think there’s absolutely the openness. They’re definitely open to that. This script is a complex thing. It’s not the kind of set where everybody’s just improvising their own thing. It’s not so strict that they’re not open to that. There’s also not necessarily a need to.

In terms of TV shows that are centered in marriages, this might be more of a general question. You get I’m Married With Children in which they hated each other with those like those couples. Or you get like Black-ish where they’re older and it’s like five children and two homes. This is like a newly wed couple trying to get their things together. How do you see marriage being like evolving on TV? How do you see that story different nowadays from probably like 20 or 30 years ago?

Chris Parnell: I think television just portrays it a lot more realistically than it did back then. Go back a long ago, far enough ago, people weren’t even allowed to be seen in the same beds with each other. So, um, so yeah, It’s become more real, more realistic. It just feels more like actual people’s lives than just something weird on television.

Obviously the premise of our show is a little out there, but given that it actually happened to one of our producers and his wife. I know that it can happen. Only difference being that I don’t think they were probably the most normal American couple either. They’re not even American or most normal couple either. I don’t know about her, but I know he’s a pretty exceptional guy. I have to say nice things about him. [Laughs] He really is. He’s a lovely man.

Their marriages is that they’re young and they’re happy to be together. In a lot of ways, they’re kind of boring. If you look at the way they live their lives, but as characters are so entertaining just the stuff they do. Occasionally, there’ll be a like a musical number, not like a big grand musical number. Just to a moment where she will sing because Amber is legitimately great singer. Damon might do a beat or something. They’re so good at coming up with stuff on the spot. I guess, musically, that is a way of improvising. It’s like the words are there. They’ll bring their own beat and melody to it.

It’s like a dorky sense to their characters as well. They’re so perfect together, but they’re dorky together.

Chris Parnell: Exactly, They’re very dorky.

Are you going to be musical in this show?

Chris Parnell: That remains to be seen. I’m trying to help Cooper find inspiration for a song during this episode. I’m basically doing that by bringing in some old albums of mine and trying to get him to find inspiration from old songs from my youth. But whether or not I will be contributing musically? I don’t know. I’m happy to. I am not a legit singer, but I can sing well enough for comedy. As long as long as I don’t take myself too seriously.

What about the genre of comedy that attracts you most about it?

Chris Parnell: Sitcoms are the world that I feel most comfortable in. It was great doing sketch comedy on SNL. That was awesome. They’re not too many places to do that. I like the schedule of a sitcom. I like working on a show where you’re just trying to be funny and make people laugh. I feel very lucky. We’re actors. We’re happy to have the work.

The cool thing about this show is that I feel there is the generational gap with Cooper. It can attract a younger audience because of him. At the same time, they can attract young couples and stuff like that. It drives different types of people and I feel like it’s a pretty cool dynamic to have for the show. Is that something that you guys already realized? Or what sort of message you want to get out to the audience with this show?

Chris Parnell: That’s all very true. I haven’t discussed it with anybody, but it’s obviously a multi-ethnic show. Who cares? As it should be. Cooper being younger and bringing in this 20-something energy into this middle 30-something couples lives. It’s a good juxtaposition. The fact that he’s a pop star and has a crazy lifestyle. That’s going to be brushing up against their kind of normal world. It got a lot of potential I think.

Source: LRM Online

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