Ken Marino has been a constant presence in film and television since his acclaimed comedy group, The State, first appeared on MTV. He's appeared in such diverse projects as Wet Hot American Summer, Reaper, Veronica Mars, Dawson's Creek, and Reno 911. Most recently, Marino was seen in the Starz series Party Down. He is Sarah Schneider's secret comedy crush.
In Childrens' Hospital, you're reprising your character from the movie The Ten, incompetent surgeon Dr. Glenn Richie. When was that decision made?
I think it was pretty late in the process. We thought it would be funny to the five people who picked up on it. Thank you for being one of the five.
In an absurdist satire like Childrens' Hospital, do you think the characters are sometimes secondary to the comedy of each scene?
I think that's absolutely true. Depending on what comedy we are playing, we adjust our characters accordingly. There's a very slight paper-thin character background for my guy, but it's basically whatever the scene dictates.
Do you think that kind of tone is sustainable at twelve minutes in a way that it might not be at a half hour?
If you had a longer show, you would have to infuse it with more, for lack of a better word, heart. You need characters you can grab on to. But because it is such a short burst of show, I think the audience can enjoy just for the humor and the comedy, and not worry about things like, "What's the arc of that character?"
That's what I found so interesting about this fifteen-minute format. You can get away with just focusing on the silly. Everybody involved cared about the show and wanted it to be the best it could be, but it's pure silliness, as opposed to really going deep into the issues of being a doctor.
You've worked on movies and huge network shows like Veronica Mars and Reaper. Is there an advantage to doing something smaller like Childrens' Hospital?
What's great about a show like this is it's under the radar, where you are free to have a singular voice. And anything you do with a singular voice, even if the voice is two to three people, it makes it more of a special experience. And the comedy tends to be better.
A good portion of our office has been enjoying the recently cancelled Party Down. How did you get involved with that show?
I had the privilege of meeting Rob Thomas, Dan Etheridge and John Enbom on the set of Veronica Mars. After that show didn't get picked up, they had this script, and Rob, on his own dime, shot it at his house on a weekend. Everyone was paid a sandwich and a Coke. That show is another example of a singular voice. We were really under the radar at Starz, so we really were able to do the show we wanted to do. I'm so proud of that of show.
Whose idea was it for your character, Ron Donald, to have that crew cut?
That was me.
It definitely makes the character.
For me, it informed who Ron was, a guy who's trying to clean up his act. I love Ron's haircut.
A lot of the shows you're involved with The State, Party Down seem to have an incubation period where they become much more popular once they're off the air.
I would agree with you. I think it grows on people, and it has to be discovered. That takes time sometimes. With The State, we were doing some really silly stuff, and nobody was telling us we couldn't do it. Some of it didn't work, but every once in a while we would get a really fresh take on something. And I think people eventually grab onto that.
You started out doing The State twenty years ago. Do you still feel connected to that sensibility?
In a way, that was my comedy college. It will always be infused in my brain. There are some aspects of it the darker things, especially that, now that I'm a father and have kids, I don't vibe with as much. Still, those guys and one girl from The State helped informed what I think is funny and molded my likes and dislikes. I don't think that ever goes away.
You went to NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. How has having a more classical theater education informed your comedy?
I could be completely wrong, but I think that Ron is a good example of what I like about it. You can be ridiculous and stupid, but if you can ground it in some way and find that person there then you achieve the best of both worlds. I don't know if I achieved it, but that is certainly what I was going for.
You directed an episode of Childrens' Hospital and the series finale of Party Down. How do you feel about directing compared to other parts of the filmmaking process?
I enjoy doing all of them. I like controlling the set and what we're shooting and how we're seeing it, but there's also something really wonderful about doing the part and then leaving and not worrying. And writing is always fun for me, especially with Dave, my main writing partner, because you spend your nights laughing. Except for when you're pulling your hair out.
It's good to have a partner. Writing comedy alone can be tough.
Yeah man, I don't know how people do it. John Enbom who wrote Party Down, did it by himself, and he wrote amazing jokes. I truly admire guys who can do that because I definitely can't.
What's next for you?
I'm at this place called Tsunami Burger. So what's next is I'm probably going to eat the burger.