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Who's that Guy?

How the most low-key comedian in the world has a secret plan for total cinematic domination. He's starting by stealing scenes in Pineapple Express.
MchusbandIn the lives of comedians, there is but one sweet spot in their careers. It’s a time when they are seemingly ubiquitous, but still remain nameless. When they can steal scenes on the regular but still remain free of actually having to carry a movie. It’s a time before they’re household names, before they’re reciting tragically boring monologues and feigning enthusiasm for the musical guest on Saturday Night Live. It's a time before they’re dropping 30-odd pounds via Atkins, before they're the token comedian presenter at the Oscars, and before they sign on to lead roles in superhero movies or romantic comedies. It’s Owen Wilson after Bottle Rocket, Seth Rogen circa The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Ben Stiller post-The Ben Stiller Show. They still all have their moments of being funny—sure—but they lost some of their allure when they became names. Now that even Jonah Hill has become leading man material, we set our sights on the next comedian to hit this sweet spot: this summer, it's Danny McBride.


McBride’s the third lead in the new Judd Apatow-produced stoner film Pineapple Express, playing Red, a pot dealer whose sexual ambiguity is second only to his moral ambiguity. In a movie that is about the joys of bromance as much as it is about the joys of marijuana, McBride’s character easily steals scenes from stars Seth Rogen and James Franco by exuding a casual openness to jaw on anything for the sake of comedy, whether it’s on a superiority of wearing a kimono to a serious discussion about purchasing and wearing junior high-style Best Friends Forever pendants.


He also played a key role in production—he’s responsible for introducing director David Gordon Green, a former classmate at the North Carolina School of the Arts, to the project. Green had cast him in his moody, small town pastiche All the Real Girls as Bust-Ass, McBride’s first film role, but his portrayal of a mulletted loudmouth carried, perhaps, too much verisimilitude because no other roles seemed to fall in his lap. So he made The Foot Fist Way, a credit card-financed calling card to showcase his own meta-southern persona—reminiscent of another laconic southerner who was adopted by Stiller and friends, Owen Wilson—and schlubby frame, a brand of earnest characters who are both highly deadpan and casually egomaniacal. Fred Simmons, Foot Fist’s hero, is a devotee of Tae Kwon Do, a martial art he calls a “deadly serious killing system.” McBride even appeared on Late Night with Conan O’Brien in character as Simmons. In the movie, Simmons tells a potential client, a woman who’s practiced yoga and meditation, that “Meditation’s terrific and all, but have you ever heard of it saving anyone from a gang rape-type situation? Meditate on that.”


It’s a movie that, in a more just universe, teenage boys would be quoting. Instead, the film premiered at Sundance in 2006 to no buyers, but plenty of cred in comedy circles (Jody Hill, Foot Fist's director, is helming the next Rogen film). It eventually received a limited release in May of this year, due to the goodwill of the likes of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. And of course, Ferrell’s admiration for the film was, in fact, central to its marketing. Another admirer was Judd Apatow, who invited McBride (the current R. in his imdb profile is seemingly to avoid confusion with the Danny McBride who wrote Underworld) to the set of Knocked up, where he also met Rogen. Once he was ostensibly indoctrinated into the world of big budget comedy, he was given supporting parts in Hot Rod, The Heartbreak Kid, Drillbit Taylor, and the forthcoming Tropic Thunder. This year he’s been in four films alone, with the most salient sign of his comedy approval coming from the posters—he's on Express's official one sheet, and, despite his current unknown status, he gets his own Thunder poster, with "McBride" next to "Stiller," "Downey Jr.," "Black," and the rest of the established cast on a city wall near you.


Now that McBride is a member—albeit a somewhat peripheral one—of the Frat Pack and the Apatow troupe, it will be telling what he decides to do with his sort-of fame. One possibility comes from what Green recently told The New York Times; on his ever-expanding slate of projects, he and McBride are planning Your Highness, a “medieval comedy with dragons,” penned by McBride and Ben Best. Along those lines, the comedian's written a pilot that he also stars in for HBO, East Bound and Down (probably named after the song from Smokey and the Bandit), about a former professional baseball player who returns to his old junior high to teach PE. Both projects reek with potential, but slightly more worrisome is his Summer 2009 effort, Land of the Lost, a big-screen version of the Sid and Marty Krofft TV show, which stars Ferrell, Anna Friel, and McBride as "a disgraced paleontologist, his assistant and a macho tour guide who find themselves in a strange, alternate world inhabited by dinosaurs, monkey people and reptilian Sleestaks." The movie sounds like something for children, a combination of Jurassic Park and Night at the Museum. But the scariest part is that McBride might just emerge from it all a household name.

Pineapple Express is currently in wide release.


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