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Interview with Ed Helms from "The Hangover"

VIDEO: Peter Keough interviews Ed Helms

If some prognosticators are right (or if you want to believe the people at Warner Bros.), the sneak, sleeper hit of the summer will be Todd Phillip's ("Old School") "The Hangover," a crude, lewd, vomit-spewed comedy about four guys who go to Vegas for a bachelor party and wake up not remembering a damn thing.

Yes, we've all been through this, waking up with a missing tooth next to a smoldering armchair in a trashed hotel room with a chicken, a baby and a tiger in the bathroom. Best to pretend it never happened, except the groom is missing, and the three remaining half-drunken, hungover louts have to figure what happened the night before  from the tragic evidence that remains. It's kind of like, "Dude, Where's the Groom?"

Playing one of the four debauchees is Ed Helms, whom fans of "The Office" will recognize as the insufferable but oddly appealing Andy. Here he plays Stu, who is less insufferable than Andy but still appealing, as well as uptight, nerdy and gap-toothed -- none of which things he is in real life. [See the interview here in the video version.]

PK: So you're tired of people asking you about the tooth, I imagine, right?

EH: I'm sick and tired of talking about the goddamn tooth. But, no, I'm happy to fill you in. It's pretty simple.

PK: I saw Letterman last night.

EH: Oh you did? So you know. [He lost the tooth as a teenager and had it replaced by an implant which they removed for the movie]. That's all true.

PK: I kind of pieced together the entire weekend, or night, except for the chicken.

EH: Wait, have you, you saw the movie?

PK: I did, yeah.

EH. The chicken is the Great McGuffin of "The Hangover." It's never explained. But, you know the only reason it's there is because...I mean there is no rational explanation for it. Although Todd will tell you, Todd Phillips the director, when I called him on the chicken I was like, "What's the deal with the chicken?" He says that we stole the chicken to feed the tiger.

PK: That's what I thought.

EH: But I don't know where we got the chicken.

PK: It's either that or the baby. To feed the tiger, I mean.

EH: Right, right. But I just think that chickens are kind of this symbol of chaos. You know what I mean? Like, it seems like whenever you're in like, a South American market place, or like a crazy bus ride somewhere, there's a chicken. And it just sort of represents chaos. So, in that hotel room the next morning, you know, it's all about chaos, so I think you just have to throw in a chicken.

PK: Well it's sort of Buñuel-esque, right?

EH: Buñuel? Oh, wow.

PK: They have a sheep coming in and there's no explanation, at the end of "The Exterminating Angel."  It's kind of like that.

EH: Yeah, that's a great, there ya go. I'm on board with that.

PK: You've probably been asked, also, if you've ever had a similar experience? But then you wouldn't remember, I guess.

EH: "Chinatown." Sorry, I'm just thinking of sheep. Sheep, in relation to the water hearing, where he herded all the sheep in, in protest...yeah that was more premeditated.

PK: No that's good, good association.

EH: I'm sorry...

PK: Yes, have you ever had an experience that you remember, obviously, similar to what's going on?

EH: In the movie?

PK: Yeah.

EH: No, not even close.

PK: Not even close?

EH: I never...I mean, I went to college and I've definitely had too much to drink on a few occasions. But I mean, the craziest thing I've ever done is like, streaking in college or something, which is pretty mundane.

PK: That raises an interesting point. Do you think that every comedy from now on that we're going to see is going to have a shot of a naked man for comic effect?

EH: I sure hope so. I think it's damn funny. Although did you see "Observe and Report"?

PK: I did, yes.

EH: Oh my God...

PK: That's a little too much, I think.

EH: Yeah but that was sort of the, the elegance of it, I thought. It was just like -- the slow motion -- just here it is. I don't know, that made me laugh really hard, but you know like anything it's just a sort of trend where we are right now, and I'm sure it'll...

PK: But they said that about vomiting too, that a couple of times there would be vomit takes and then it would go away. But you have like four in this movie alone.

EH: Do I vomit?

PK: You do.

EH: I can't remember if the final cut has me...I mean there's obviously the picture at the end of me vomiting as part of the montage at the end, but I don't know...

PK: You haven't seen the finished cut?

EH: Well I keep seeing different cuts. Is the one -- I vomited at the breakfast table?

PK: Yes.

EH: Yeah, yeah. Come on, how are you going to sell "Hangover" without vomit?

PK: That's true.

EH: You gotta throw a vomit in there.

PK: Or at least the dry heaves, right?

EH: Right. I think there's a, if I'm not mistaken, there's a dry heave and then a vomit.

PK: Yea, it's a build up...a slow build-up type thing.

EH: Right. John Krasinski and I on "The Office" said, "fake dry heave all day long." Cuz to me that is the funniest physical comedy that has ever existed.

PK: The fake dry heave.

EH: Is dry heaving. It makes me laugh so hard, and Krasinski is amazing at it. Um, actually Carell and Colbert have this really old bid on "The Dana Carvey Show"  where they were writers together called "The Waiters..." it's something like "The Waiters Who Were Nauseated By Food." So the whole bit is Carrell  telling the dinner specials to customers, but he's starting to dry heave while he's describing it, and Carell is behind him just with a towel or whatever, and Carell starts like dry heaving behind him. And so on "The Daily Show" I use to beg Colbert to do that for me because it just made me laugh so hard. Then I got to work on "The Office," and Krasinski was like, "You gotta see Carell. He does the funniest bit." And I was like, "I've seen that!" And it is. I don't know why, it just makes me laugh.

PK: Do you miss working on "The Daily Show" and Colbert's show?

EH: You know, I miss all the people there, and I miss the kind of culture of that show, because it really is a special place, and like full of incredibly smart and fun people. But I don't miss the work, because that job was so hard and so demanding, mostly because of the travel. Like, I was on the road doing those field pieces...

PK: You were in Boston a lot.

EH: I was right here...I must've been in Boston five or six times, I mean, yeah, I did well over 100 of those things, and  I came to Boston a bunch of times. We actually camped out here for the convention in '04. We had the whole show moved up here. We did a week of shows out of BU.

PK: So you're familiar with the town?

EH: Yep, my sister lives here in Brookline. I love Boston. I grew up in the south, but I still have a lot of affection for this town.

PK: The  thing about "The Daily Show," and it still is like, probably the most reliable news source in America right now...But I'm wondering, do you think that Obama is going to kill all political comedy? Because you look at "Saturday Night Live," and, well, are we gonna have eight years of Joe Biden jokes? 

EH: No, I don't, and I'll tell you why. Because I don't think "The Daily Show" was ever about a political position. It's about rooting out hypocrisy, which, you know, no political party has a monopoly on hypocrisy. It seems to be a prevalence across the board. You don't have to dig very deep to find inconsistencies in any politician's positions, so I feel like that was always the fun and the sort of core of the satire. It's not party specific, so...I've seen some awesome "Daily Show" episodes since Obama took office, and I'm really excited. I remember in '04, when Bush won again and people were like, "You must be really excited that Bush won again, because he gives you so much material." And, first of all, I was like, "so wait, you think that my desire to create comedy trumps my desire for our nation to be run well?" So, it was ridiculous for that reason. But also, like, it gets old, you know? I think we all really wanted and relished the challenge of kind of making fun of some liberal perspectives as well, and that's finally here.

PK: So does Fox News, right?

EH: Well Fox News is conservative though.

PK: I know, but they make fun of liberal positions. Even when they're not funny.

EH: I don't know that they make fun of it. They just, yeah. They did have that little comedy news show. They had to rip off of "The Daily Show" for a little while, which was absolutely preposterous.

PK: Well this film  you could say really doesn't have much of a political subtext.

EH: This movie?

PK: Yeah.

EH: No, God no, thank god. [laughter] Yeah, I mean if it does I have no idea what it is.

PK: You have to dig deep.

EH: Yeah, you have to peel back some layers. If it does it's operating at a level that I haven't even caught onto yet.

PK: Did you do research into all the great bachelor party movies going back to "Bachelor Party" with Tom Hanks in, it was like, '78?

EH: Nah, it wasn't that old. "Bachelor Party?" It was 80s.

PK: 80s? [It was 1984]

EH: Pretty sure it's 80s, because it was on HBO when I was a kid. And I loved that movie. But here's the thing, like, those movies...that's like the perfect movie to bring up, because that movie is called "Bachelor Party" and it's about a Bachelor Party. And it all takes place over the course of the night of the bachelor party. This movie is called "The Hangover," and it's all about The Hangover. So it's the next day. You don't even see any of the bachelor party. So in that respect, no amount of bachelor party research is really relevant to this movie, because this is just all about the insane fall-out from a night that nobody remembers and the audience didn't even see, so.

PK: It's kind of like Phillip K. Dick did a bachelor party movie.

EH: Yes. Well Todd Phillips used to call this sort of the "Memento" comedy, but it's obviously not quite that complicated. But, yeah, it's got a really fun narrative trick in it, which is that the audience along with the main characters are trying to figure out what happened.

PK: You do have the pictures at the end, the photos. Am I giving away something by mentioning that there's a...

EH: Unless you say what's in those pictures, I think you're fine, just because those pictures are so insane.

PK: You guys must've had fun in Vegas judging from a lot of those pictures. [Some of which were cut out.]

EH: You know, I hate to disappoint, but every one of those pictures was posed, you know.

PK: Really?

EH: Every one of them, yeah. Even the stuff that looks like crazy party stuff, it was like the end of a long shoot day and we're all just sort of like, "ok, look crazy. look like you're having fun!" And we're like, "Ok here we go." Eh. That was it.

PK: So you spent six weeks I guess making this movie in Vegas and you never never went to the casinos or you never had any wild debauchery.

EH: We definitely went to the casinos and I think I lost more money than I care to admit, but we were shooting fourteen hours a day. You can't party, I mean you can't go out at night. The craziest stuff we did in Vegas is the stuff that we set up to shoot in this movie.

[Publicist enters room; holds up two fingers]

PK: Two minutes? Really? Wow, I was just starting to get warmed up to the meaty questions.

EH: It's time to dig deep. Let's get hard core.

Next: We dig deep. We get hard core.

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