Actor Zach Cherry describes the role improv plays in HBO’s standup comedy series Crashing, saying that although the actors are encouraged to riff, it comes second to what the writers’ room produces. Fans of the Pete Holmes sitcom will immediately recognize Cherry as the scene-stealing Chicken Wing from season 1, the low-key comedy club gatekeeper with a ubiquitous serving of, naturally, chicken wings at the ready. He was a recurring character in the first season of the show, and he’s preparing for a return in season 2.
For its part, Crashing fits into a familiar television niche, in that it comes from the perspective of a popular stand-up comedian and takes a semi-autobiographical approach to its storytelling. But given that it also features a revolving door of cameos by stand-up comedians like Artie Lang, Dave Attell, Sarah Silverman, Hannibal Buress, and more, and is executive produced by Judd Apatow, you can probably guess that improv and ad-libbing play an important part in what makes the show so funny. According to Cherry’s experience, that’s definitely true, to an extent.
A comedic actor with a background in improv, Cherry’s been making the rounds on television and in movies as of late with roles on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, High Maintenance, Search Party, The Big Sick, and, of course as the street vendor who told Tom Holland’s Spider-Man to “Do a flip!” in last year’s Spider-Man: Homecoming. Though he’s well-versed in improve, he says the show strikes an interesting balance when it comes time for the comedians to go off script. Cherry says:
“It's definitely scripted, and we start with the scripted take but then they'll let us play around a little bit or we'll kind of riff and if we find something fun then we'll go down that path a little bit longer. And also the writers will be on set and pitching jokes and riffs to kind of play off of what we discovered in the scene. So it's sort of like a fun combination. The scripts are really funny off the bat, but then we play around and find new things and they kind of write new lines for us. So it's like fun combo of unscripted and scripted, I guess.
I think there are moments in each scene where they know 'Oh, this will be a good spot for us to like riff and see if we can find something fun.' So it could be we're doing a three-minute scene or something and two minutes of it are just as scripted but then there's a moment where they know it will be fun to riff and they'll call out for riffing on that little moment.”
With the degree of comedic talent on display from episode to episode, it’s no surprise to find out that there is plenty of ad-libbing and riffing going on, which no doubt adds to the comedy’s sense of spontaneity. The first season had great success bringing on regular guest stars as Holmes’ character fumbled his way through the early stages of his stand-up career. Nevertheless, given the talent on display, it’s interesting to get a behind-the-scenes look at how the series balances the comedic instincts of stars and guests with the work of those in the writers’ room.
Crashing season 2 premieres Sunday, January 14 @10:30 on HBO.