The sound of silence (in a phone interview)

Michael Showalter, of ‘Wet Hot American Summer’ fame, talks – albeit a little – about his new film, ‘The Baxter,’ and what’s next

by Jenna Ross

Allow me to judge Michael Showalter on a 13-minute phone conversation. Give me that liberty.

Showalter, for the most part, is funny. In fact, he’s downright hilarious in “Wet Hot American Summer” and Comedy Central’s “Stella.”

But he is less funny in “The Baxter” (see above), the film he also wrote and directed.

And in our phone conversation last week, Showalter wasn’t funny at all.

He was awkward. And I was awkward. And neither of us was awkward in the funny way he often is awkward in films.

The following is excerpted from our talk. Trust me, I excerpted for your benefit.

So what inspired “The Baxter”? It has a funny premise.
I had been watching a lot of movies for the fun of it, and I kept encountering this character. He’s the nice boyfriend who’s wrong for the girl. It’s this really funny sort of stock character – a character that I liked, that I found interesting and intriguing.

The guys with the allergies.
Yeah, they always have allergies. Or they can’t hold their liquor. They always have these strange, kind of wimpy ailments.

At this point Showalter is on the street, walking somewhere in New York. He’s asking, “Do you have an ATM machine?”

Did you always plan on playing the lead?

Did you always plan on playing the lead?
No, I certainly didn’t see myself playing the role. Basically, the script was found by a company here, Plum Pictures, who read it and liked it. And they encouraged me to direct it for them and play the role. I was more than happy to do that.

We start talking about “Wet Hot American Summer.” He co-wrote and acted in the film, which has become a sort of cult favorite among college students. I mention how much I enjoyed it. He says he’s happy people are enjoying it. And then I mess up. I offend Michael Showalter.

So how much of “Wet Hot American Summer” was scripted?
Ninety-nine percent of it. Why?

Well it just seems so loose, so sketch-like. Much of it didn’t seem scripted.
I didn’t know that.

Well, not that it didn’t seem scripted. I know you wrote the script. I guess it was just that the energy was believable Ö or that Ö

I try my best to explain. But Showalter’s pissed. He gets quiet and begins playing the answer-the-question-in-two-words-or-fewer game. Let’s skip to the end.

So what are you working on next?
I’m going to write another script.

What’s it about?
Another comedy set in Brookyn. With a good cast.

I don’t want to give away too much.

I understand. Well, thanks for your time. I appreciate it.
You don’t have any more questions?

I was told I had until 12:30.
Yeah. Well, if you have more questions you can ask them.

Great. Why don’t we talk about your friendship with the guys in “Stella”?
We were at NYU. We auditioned for this troupe. You know what? I have to go. I do have something at 12:30.

OK. That’s fine.
Are you sure you have enough stuff?

It’ll be OK. Thanks again for your time.