You might expect that the actor who's brought Community's most idiosyncratic character, Abed, to life, with such skill and empathy must relate to him in some way. Danny Pudi admits that while he's not so similar to his encyclopedically-inclined alter ego (save one incident of lighting himself on fire as a teenager), there is one area in which the actor and the character overlap: their love of film.
When Pudi joined Ask Me Another in San Francisco at SF Sketchfest, we put that love of celluloid to the test by pitting him against Mythbusters' Adam Savage in a fiercely-competitive round of identifying action movie one-liners. With Ahhnold impressions performed with aplomb by Ophira Eisenberg and Jonathan Coulton, Pudi and Savage participate in perhaps the most giggle-filled V.I.P. round ever.
In the funny rotunda of life imitating art and art imitating life, Pudi recently completed his directorial debut with the documentary short Untucked, about the trendsetting basketball jerseys worn at his alma mater, Marquette University. It recently aired as part of ESPN's 30 For 30 series, and Pudi speaks more about it in the web extra on this page.
The actor, who is of Indian and Polish descent, grew up speaking Polish in the house, took Polish dancing lessons and sings beautifully in the language (which he demonstrated by flirting with our audience and later serenading the show's grand winner). On the other hand, he's played five different Indian characters named "Sanjay."
"As an actor, trying to find nuance, and differentiate between five different Sanjays...it's a gift," Pudi joked.
This segment originally ran on March 13, 2014.
OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:
Welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER. We're live in San Francisco. And you are listening to another hour of trivia, puzzles and word games. I'm Ophira Eisenberg and please welcome our very important puzzler, Danny Pudi.
DANNY PUDI: Hello San Francisco.
EISENBERG: We are so pleased to have you. We are huge fans of "Community" and we love your character Abed. And we sort of think actually he would probably fit in pretty well here as a contestant, no?
PUDI: He would do pretty well in this game. He's sort of an encyclopedia of pop-culture. In many ways, he's been misunderstood his whole life - very focused and very into things. And his passion currently is film.
EISENBERG: So would you say you are 100 percent different from your character?
PUDI: Not 100 percent. I mean, there's definitely things that I was doing that was awkward. I mean, I lit myself on fire, I would spend a lot of time memorizing statistics off of baseball cards when I was a kid.
EISENBERG: How did you light yourself on fire?
PUDI: It was a dare.
PUDI: I was into burning things at that time in my life. I was 14; I decided to put some lighter fluid on some bushes. They burned, it works; that's a myth that is confirmed.
PUDI: Then it progressed. And I decided to write my name, Pudi, in lighter fluid on my shorts and then light it and run through the park so everyone would see Pudi, like, on fire, like "Hunger Games" style before "Hunger Games." I didn't realize that the material that I was wearing was very flammable, and it quickly burned and it got out of hand very quickly. Stop, drop and roll doesn't work as well as you think it does.
PUDI: And then I had to ride my bike into the emergency room and told them I lit myself on fire; proudest moment of my life.
EISENBERG: So I love the spoofs that you guys do on "Community." They are bizarre and so creative - "My Dinner With Andre," Westerns and action movies, "Matrix," "Diehard," "Terminator." Did you grow up watching all this stuff so when you were given, you know, they're like all right, we're going to do this, you're like yeah, I'm on it, or did you go home and do tons of research?
PUDI: It's a little bit of both. I mean, I definitely grew up with it. I couldn't wait when I was a kid for Friday nights. Me, my brother and my sister would - we'd go to Blockbuster - oh Blockbuster.
EISENBERG: Oh yes.
PUDI: And we would stack up on all the "Police Academies" and spend 48 hours straight watching all of them while we did, like (mimicking sound effects) all those sound effects and stuff - that was great. So yeah, I would say I was into those movies as a kid, kind of as much of anybody who grew up in the '80s was.
EISENBERG: Right, and you grew up and in Chicago.
PUDI: Yup, Chi-town.
EISENBERG: Your father is of Indian descent and your mother is Polish, but you grew up speaking Polish in the house?
PUDI: I did. (Speaking Polish). We're just blowin' kisses guys, no bigs, no bigs. So yeah, it was a very strange upbringing.
EISENBERG: That was amazing. I don't know if there was love, romance, deals.
PUDI: It was just (speaking Polish) means give me a kiss, so it was like blowing kisses and stuff. It was sweet.
EISENBERG: Oh adorable. That's so nice. What did your parents think about you becoming an actor or pursuing that?
PUDI: I think they knew right away that was probably one of the only career choices for me, so...
PUDI: It really worked out. I think, you know, I had some energy that needed to be focused and my family always encourage the arts. My grandparents definitely did, and I grew up living with my grandparents too. And so I was lucky. I grew up in an environment where they were definitely open to it.
EISENBERG: You move to LA and you're going out for roles. Was Hollywood trying to typecast you based on your ethnic background? Like, were you only going out for Polish roles?
PUDI: You know, thank you for finally understanding the struggles. What's funny is that never; I've never had that. I tell everybody this is a fact that I have played five different Sanjays.
(LAUGHTER AND APPLAUSE)
PUDI: Let me tell you as an actor trying to find nuance and differentiate between five different Sanjays, it is a - it's a gift. It is. It's a gift.
EISENBERG: Are you ready to take on an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?
PUDI: I think I am. I mean, yeah.
PUDI: We have to do this, right? We have to.
EISENBERG: That would be awesome. All right, I'm going to take that as a yes.
PUDI: Yeah, yeah, let's do it, let's do it, let's do it.
EISENBERG: Let's welcome back your opponent, Adam Savage.
EISENBERG: So here's what we're going to do. Adam, from your days at Industrial Light & Magic, you build props and models for such films as "Terminator III," "The Matrix" sequels, "Phantom Menace," so your movie chops are pretty good.
PUDI: Oh man.
ADAM SAVAGE: But all those movie sucked.
EISENBERG: Good enough. And Danny, as you mentioned your character on community, Abed is a walking encyclopedia of pop-culture knowledge and knows a lot about movies.
SAVAGE: I don't see how that's going to help him.
PUDI: Yeah exactly. Character is the key word there.
EISENBERG: Well, we were just hoping and we just decided to write a game based on hope. This game is about great one-liners that you hear in action-adventure films. Jonathan and I are going to do some very dramatic readings from classic action films and all you have to do is tell us the title of the film they come from. And NPR's legal department has asked me to warn you that we're going to be using the some load sound effects, so don't panic. Are you ready?
EISENBERG: For this first question Jonathan.
JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: yes.
EISENBERG: You are a terrorist played by Gary Oldman. And I am Harrison Ford.
COULTON: You made one mistake when you killed my pilot Mr. President. No one left to fly the plane. I got parachute. Whatever happens you lose. I win.
EISENBERG: Get off my plane.
PUDI: "Air Force One."
PUDI: Now I can relax.
COULTON: You're on the board. Whatever happens now, you're on the board.
PUDI: Yeah, it doesn't matter anymore. See mom.
EISENBERG: Now I'm Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jonathan you're my wife Sharon Stone.
COULTON: That makes sense.
COULTON: Honey, you wouldn't hurt me would you sweetheart? Sweetheart be reasonable. After all we're married.
(SOUND OF GUNSHOT)
EISENBERG: Considered that a divorce.
SAVAGE: "Total Recall."
COULTON: That sound effect is like a bass drum falling down the stairs.
SAVAGE: It also happened the moment I hit my buzzer. I thought I got a new sound effect.
EISENBERG: We did that just for you, an explosion.
SAVAGE: Yeah. That would be good.
COULTON: Adam, when you push that button someone that you do not know...
PUDI: No don't push it.
EISENBERG: You've got it wired up to your opponent, brilliant.
SAVAGE: Good instincts. If you see me running - when you see me on the street and I'm running you should just try to keep up.
EISENBERG: Now I'm Sylvester Stallone and Jonathan's the supermarket killer and he's got hostages.
COULTON: Now you bring in the television cameras in here now. Come on bring them in.
EISENBERG: Can't do that.
EISENBERG: I don't deal with psychos. I put them away.
COULTON: I ain't no psycho man, I'm a hero. You're looking at a -swear word - hunter.
COULTON: I'm a hero of the New World.
EISENBERG: You're a disease and I'm the cure.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
COULTON: Deep cut. That's a deep cut right there.
PUDI: I remember "Air Force One."
COULTON: You nailed that one. You really nailed that one.
EISENBERG: It was fast, it was like right there.
PUDI: Does put it all into it.
COULTON: I mean Adam's got a lot of answers right, but not as well as you got that one right.
EISENBERG: Now I'm Danny Glover and Jonathan's an evil South African official who's just shot my partner. Drop the gun bleep-hole.
COULTON: Diplomatic immunity.
(SOUND OF GUNSHOT)
EISENBERG: It's just been revoked.
SAVAGE: "Lethal weapon 2."
EISENBERG: Now Jonathan for this one.
EISENBERG: You are at bad guy lying on the ground.
EISENBERG: I know, what you're thinking. Did he fire six shots or was it only five? Well to tell you the truth in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as is a 44 magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, that would blow your head clean off. You got to ask yourself one question - do I feel lucky? Well do you punk?
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
PUDI: "Dirty Harry."
EISENBERG: This is your last clue. This time Jonathan.
EISENBERG: You're going to be Arnold Schwarzenegger.
EISENBERG: Yes, and I'm a bunch of kids.
EISENBERG: What's the matter?
COULTON: I have a headache.
EISENBERG: It might be a tumor.
COULTON: It's not a tumor.
PUDI: "Kindergarten Cop."
EISENBERG: Let's go to our puzzle guru Art Chung for the score. Art.
ART CHUNG, BYLINE: I was so hoping this was going to happen. It's a tie.
EISENBERG: All right.
CHUNG: All right, I got to get into the role. All right. You want to play games, OK, I play games. Come on, OK, you want to play rough, OK. Say hello to my little friend.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELL)
CHUNG: That is correct.
EISENBERG: They are shaking hands. What an inspired game. Thank you both for playing. Let's hear it for our special guest Danny Pudi and Adam Savage.
COULTON: (Singing) So you think you're lonely. Well my friend I'm lonely too. Want to get back to my city by the bay. Woo, when the lights go down in the city and sun shines on the bed. Oh, I want to be there in my city. Woooh, woooh, woooh.
(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.