After years of hard behind-the-scenes work, grinding away, and even winning an Emmy for his writing, Ben Schwartz is finally having his moment as a star.
And, assuming these jobs pay well, you could say he’s “flushhhhed with cassshh.”
The man who is probably best known for playing the irrepressible, energetic, wildly irresponsible, and somehow lovable Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on NBC’s Parks and Recreation can currently be seen starring in the critically acclaimed film The Walk, the fourth season of Showtime’s House of Lies, and, perhaps the nearest and dearest project to Schwartz’s heart, a series of videos sponsored by Courtyard Hotels featuring NFL players DeMarco Murray, Jared Allen, and Victor Cruz that Schwartz wrote, directed, edited, and starred in.
“There’s a definite type of reward to putting in your work. I grinded for a long time making no money. In my head I thought if I worked harder than everyone else that I would get something back and be rewarded,” says Schwartz. “You need some talent, hard work, and some luck. I know really talented people who haven’t had their break yet. The most exciting part of a career is when you are a nobody and you get your first show that crushes.”
Schwartz, an Upright Citizen’s Brigade alum, is a natural improviser. One just has to watch any of his appearances on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to see how easy it is for him to make anything funny.
“I loved Ferguson’s show, it’s the only one where nothing is talked about in the pre-interview. It was so liberating and fun. I was really a fan of his stuff,” says Schwartz.
It’s easy to see his natural ebullience and easygoing character and think that he just coasts by on making things up as he goes, but Schwartz is actually a writer first. He’s written for Robot Chicken, SNL’s “Weekend Update”, and The Late Show with David Letterman. He even won an Emmy for co-writing Hugh Jackman’s opening number at the Academy Awards in 2009.
Schwartz, a Bronx native, learned the value of hard work from his school teacher mother and his businessman father. When he isn’t acting he tries to write something every single day. Writing, says Schwartz, helps him to create his own future instead of depending on casting directors.
“I’ve sold four or five movies now so I write those, and if I’m not working on something I’ve sold then I’m working on something I’m hoping to sell,” says Schwartz. “With acting you don’t get to make your own destiny. If you audition and you don’t get the job, you don’t get it. Writing is something you can always be doing. And if you write yourself some stuff then you take care of the acting part as well.”
Before hitting it big with House of Lies and Parks and Recreation, Schwartz gained popularity with internet sketches on FunnyOrDie and CollegeHumor, specifically on the series “Jake and Amir.” So it was no surprise that Schwartz jumped at the opportunity Courtyard Hotels presented him to write, direct, edit, and star in a series of sketches promoting their partnership with the NFL. It also didn’t hurt that he’s a huge NFL fan.
“I love those interviews. We got to go to the hotel guests and make them happy,” says Schwartz, who also said working with athletes was easier than expected. “They were great. I told them to treat it like it was a real interview. Some of it is very improvised. I just told them to let me look like the idiot. They are so game. Once you get comfortable with them, they are so cool and so game for all of it. I loved it.”
The videos have been up for a few months and all have hundreds of thousands of views, including one with Carolina Panthers defensive end Jared Allen that has over a million views.
“We got texts from the players after the videos came out telling us how much they love it and how much the guys in the locker room love it and want to be a part of them,” says Schwartz.*
Schwartz is also game for anything, and even participated in our Podcast by playing “the famous” #EatItOrFrameIt with the faces of different Parks and Recreation characters.
*In an example of Schwartz’s irrepressible positivity and joy, he convinced me, a Cowboy’s fan, to forgive DeMarco Murray for leaving my team for our rival Eagles. I’d harbored some bitterness towards Murray for doing that, but Schwartz insisted that I should just appreciate Murray for the joy he brought me as a Sooner and Cowboy fan. Ben Schwartz: bringing people together and teaching them about forgiveness. I mean, he is open-minded as heeeeeellll.
UPDATE: Here’s the latest video from Ben, featuring Jets’ star Chris Ivory.