Danny Pudi: Be honest to who you are

Chuck Smith - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - “I like playing a character that’s smarter than me,” Danny Pudi, who plays the character Abed Nadir in Community, told The STAR at a press event during his visit to the Philippines early this week.

And it seems the viewers of the comedy series also like watching a character who is smarter than them. Since its premiere in the US   in 2009, Danny’s character has been hailed by the audience and critics alike as the show’s breakout character, thanks to his awkward social behavior and his encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture.

The character is a fan favorite in the Philippines as well. During his three-day stay in the country, Danny met fans of Community at the Fox Philippines office in Taguig City —majority of whom had to miss work or school just to meet the Chicago-born Polish-Indian actor.

The 35-year-old comedian described his Filipino fans as warm and loving. “It’s like a very loving culture. I feel like the show connects with people here. I’m surprised by it, I’m shocked, but I’m happy,” he said.

Community is topbilled by Joel McHale as Jeff Winger, who has to complete his bachelor’s degree at the fictional Greendale Community College. He formed a study group with six other students, including Danny’s Abed. His character introduced to the pop-culture lexicon the phrase “Six seasons and a movie,” a joke that became a meta-commentary on the show’s often niche but extremely passionate fan base.

“It’s an amazing season. Already some of my favorite episodes that we’ve ever done are here. And you’ll never know. Two episodes here are among the Top 5 that we’ve ever done,” Danny said when asked by a fan on what they can expect from the fifth season of Community, which will air on Fox International Channels starting April 23.

He added, “There’s a renewed energy. We go back to basics. It’s a very character-driven season. We learn a lot about what’s going on in everyone’s mind.”

Danny has no trouble channeling Abed’s odd behavior and physical movements in real life, especially when asked by fans and the media. He gamely did weird handshakes and rap performances like Abed. In an interview with another media outfit, he even incorporated the words adobo, bongga and mabuhay in a brief rap-beat box performance. But while there are times when reality and fiction overlap (he claims that his favorite Indiana Jones is one of Abed’s 42 favorite movies) Danny said he is not exactly like his character.

“Everyone is something like Abed. But I think I’m not exactly Abed. I don’t think anybody is. There’s only one Abed,” he said. “But I think our show has proven that you don’t need to be exactly like Abed to understand Abed. You don’t need to be like Jeff Winger to be like Jeff Winger. There’s a part of us that’s each of these characters.”

But his cultural background plays into his comedy. Born to an Indian father and Polish mother, the comedian has used his unique life experiences to put color into his acting. It’s also something he isn’t afraid to make fun of. “I don’t look Polish. For people out there, I’m very brown; I’m a number on the scale of colors,” he joked.

“The environment was very ripe with comedy, and it was very colorful because there’s always different things happening and different people speaking and different ways of life,” he explained. “So that always informed my comedy and my art because I grew up seeing so many different things. I was very aware of the world from a very early age because I knew my mom came from Poland and my dad came from India.”

“I think someone being different from what he is from an early age made me aware of that, comically, people saw me as one thing but I was always something different. And I feel very different. So I’m always aware of that juxtaposition,” Danny added.

His advice to other comedians with mixed cultural identities who want to make it big in Hollywood?

“Be honest to who you are. All that stuff could help you as a person. I think that’s what makes us special. The different stuff is not a bad thing; it makes us special and different and unique,” Danny said.

“And bring me some of your ethnic food because I’d like to eat them,” he quipped.

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