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Interview: Jack McBrayer, "30 Rock"'s Good Guy

By Margaret Hicks in Arts & Entertainment on Mar 8, 2007 4:00PM

McBrayer3_06-07.jpgChicagoist has never been a big fan of the phrase “he/she is good people.” But sometimes you run across a fellow human being who personifies that statement. Jack McBrayer, who plays Kenneth on "30 Rock," is good people.

McBrayer is a good old southern boy with manners, a smiley face, and — most surprisingly — a wicked sense of humor. Watching McBrayer on stage at Second City and I.O. was always so much fun. Even though he seemed so innocent and kind, McBrayer could always play with the big boys, going bluer than the rest, but with a touch of class. The improv community can be filled with petty jealousies and schadenfreude, but ask anyone who knows Jack, and they will only express happiness that this fine man has made it this far.

You may have seen McBrayer in Talledega Nights or on "Late Night with Conan O’Brien", but now you can see McBrayer every week as Kenneth the NBC page. Success could not have happened to a nicer guy. And if you love "30 Rock" like we love "30 Rock", make sure you tune in tonight! There's a new episode at 8:30 p.m., and an encore at 9:30 p.m. of "Tracey does Conan".

Chicagoist: What is it like “making it?”

Jack McBrayer: Ewwww.

C: OK, let me rephrase; what is it like being successful in your chosen field?

JM: Well, more than anything it's gratitude. I’m just very, very grateful for the opportunity I’ve been presented with, but also, so many of the opportunities that I’ve had are because of relationships that I had formed much, much earlier when I started performing at Second City and I.O. You don’t know that at the time. You’re just goofing around, having fun and doing your thing, and doing it to the best of your ability. Then later on down the line the same people that you’re goofing around with and playing with and performing with are the same people who are going to be writing movies and creating TV shows and all that kind of stuff.

C: And you know you’re working with people who allow you to do your best work.

JM: Exactly. I’m so happy to have gotten a huge break now, but I have not regretted anything leading up to it. Like being poor and living in Chicago, doing shows for free in the back room of Sheffield's or whatever — it was fun — we got great friends out of it, and we had a good time. I have no regrets at all about any of the time I spent.

C: Do you still have that same kind of friendship? Now that you’re all working together and there’s more at risk?

JM: Absolutely, at the very beginning of the TV show, it was very stressful because we didn’t know the future. We didn’t know if we were going to get cancelled after two episodes. What was fun was that we were all people who were in it together. It was kind of like doing an improv show, you know, if we fail, we all fail together.

C: What is different about being funny for stage vs. being funny for TV?

JM: Well the main one is that I can’t just burst out laughing. I can’t just laugh out loud whenever someone says something funny. I guess I’m not supposed to do it on stage either, but I think it’s a little more forgivable. For the most part there’s none of that “tone it down,” because I’m just as goofy here as I am on stage. I guess one of the things is there are things that happen when you’re doing a TV show that are so different from the way you do a sketch review; like the way you do takes and do scenes out of order. We get our script first thing in the morning, and you’re like “what happened before this?” and “am I mad at this person?” It can get a little confusing. The writers are all super, and the producers are great, all those people are great, everybody works together. And when we’re actually shooting, all those people are down there as well.

C: What is it like to work with Alec Baldwin?

JM: He’s great. It was real scary at first, very intimidating. Even just a couple of weeks ago I’m watching TV and Prelude to a Kiss comes on, and it’s him and Meg Ryan. I’m sitting and looking at him, and I’m like, I work with this dude!

C: Like “he’s my friend now!”

JM: I know! He’s very generous as an actor. He will be as patient with you as you need, I’m kind of fortunate with my role on the show. A lot of times I kind of pop in and say something funny and walk out. But sometimes I have to give this impassioned speech and I’m like uh, actor-shmactor.

C: I think some of the best scenes are with you and Alec Baldwin.

JM: The good thing is some of that acting stuff is in those scenes with Alec Baldwin, like why I have to convince him that TV is so important, that kind of stuff. And he’s so generous, he will sit there and give you whatever you need, even though the camera is not on him. In that respect I’m very grateful and very impressed.

C: Are you like your character Kenneth?

JM: I kind of am. I have no problem ’fessing up to that, I like who I am, and I like who Kenneth is.

C: Are you starting to get recognized, and how does that feel? Does it feel good? Is it frustrating?

JM: Yeah it’s really not too many people, to be honest, which is fine by me. Very rarely do people just come up to me and say they recognize me from TV. Whenever I’m in Rockefeller Center, all the NBC pages come up to me.

C: They must love you.

JM: That, or they hate me. They have to continue working at “30 Rock” and give tours; I always wonder if any of the people on the tours say “you’re not Kenneth.” For the most part, they’re very nice — they’re pretty much my fan base.

C: You know one of the things I wanted to talk to you about — but I didn’t want to make you feel weird — is I think your character Kenneth is becoming one of the most beloved characters on TV.

JM: Oh, gross.

C: No! It’s true! I really think it’s true. People love you so much.

JM: I wish I could take more credit for it, but it’s the writers. I’m going in, putting on my page uniform and saying lines that have been put on paper for me. I’m so grateful, I’m so grateful that Tina had me in mind when she created the character. But it’s all the writers. There’s very little improv that happens with the show. You have to keep it to 22 minutes and plot lines have to be specific. The writers are on top of it.

C: Is it as good as we all dream of? Is success everything it's cracked up to be?

JM: This is going to sound weird, but it kind of is. Don’t get me wrong, I have stuff to complain about; the hours get kind of kooky. You’re there from like seven in the morning till eleven at night. But yes, it's really wonderful.

C: What do you miss most about Chicago?

JM: The food and the people; the mood of Chicago being such a working town and an affordable working town. You can just go and drink beers and eat deep dish pizza.

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