NEW YORK – “My PEANUT butter! . . . my PEAnut butter! . . . MYYYY peanut butter!”
At full throttle, Will Arnett was pushing out one version, then another, of a line from his script.
After the fourth or fifth stab, the Toronto-born actor burst into laughter.
“That’s great,” said Arnett’s collaborator, who was nowhere to be seen in the Manhattan recording studio, but could be heard through the control room speakers as clearly as if he were standing right beside Arnett at the microphone.
That voice belonged to Mitchell Hurwitz, creator of the Fox animated comedy “Sit Down, Shut Up.” He was weighing in from his Los Angeles home base, linked with Arnett from across the country and, like Arnett, clearly having a blast.
Their series, focusing on the demented teachers and staff of a small Florida high school, premieres Sunday at 8:30 p.m. EDT. But this particular recording session took place last October.
With cartoons, the characters’ voices are recorded first (and for “Sit Down, Shut Up,” they are recorded individually, actor by actor in New York or Los Angeles, to accommodate a cast that also includes Jason Bateman, Kristin Chenoweth, Will Forte, Kenan Thompson, Cheri Oteri, Henry Winkler, Nick Kroll and Tom Kenny). Only then can the time-consuming business of animation begin.
Under Hurwitz’s disembodied guidance, Arnett had thrown himself into his role, Ennis Hofftard, a snide English teacher and would-be athlete who, however inappropriately, wears Spandex bike shorts at all times.
Hurwitz fed Arnett this line: “Do you like music?” Arnett erupted in his character’s pettish growl: “I TOLD you, I’m a giant Huey Lewis fan. So . . . NO.
They did it again and again, playing around with different approaches. And cracking themselves up.
Arnett had arrived early for his 3 p.m. session at Pomann Sound, where he found co-star Thompson was running late recording his own part: bossy acting principal Sue Sezno. This was a good time to be interviewed, and Arnett went into irony overdrive.
“It goes without saying, I’m a Hollywood insider,” he began mock-grandly when asked how he got the job.
Hollywood insider? Whatever, he’s got an in with Hurwitz, whose twisted comedy “Arrested Development” featured Arnett as Gob Bluth, the scheming older brother of Michael Bluth (who was played by future “Sit Down” cast mate Bateman).
Blessed with Yuppie good looks he makes the most of comedically, the 38-year-old Arnett also has shown comic chops in films such as “Semi-Pro” and “Blades of Glory,” has a recurring role on TV’s “30 Rock” and voiced animated films that include the current hit “Monsters vs. Aliens.”
Maybe best of all, he gets to be married to America’s zany sweetheart and former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Amy Poehler – whose NBC comedy “Parks and Recreation” premiered last week, and who, on this October afternoon, was just days away from delivering their widely anticipated first child, christened Archie.
Doesn’t Arnett’s resume add up to a comedy Olympian, and then some?
“YOU said it,” Arnett responded, “but you said it because it’s glaringly true, and a fact.” This triggers another I’m-so-full-of-it chortle.
Dressed in jeans, boots and a leather jacket over a hooded sweat shirt, Arnett spoke approvingly of voice work: “You don’t have to go to hair-and-makeup and wardrobe. You hop into an elevator and come to a studio in midtown.
“By 5:30,” he added, “I’m back doing all my charity work.”
A few minutes later, Arnett was installed in the studio and under way. The process called for skipping around each of two episodes, firing off multiple attacks of a given line and, in cahoots with Hurwitz, cooking up new foolishness on the spot.
For an observing reporter, everything was out of context. Nothing about Arnett’s give-and-take with Hurwitz made sense. But it was hilarious.
“I’m rolling on 48, guys,” the engineer announced as the next take began, whereupon, in Ennis’ gravelly bluster, Arnett tore into his dialogue: “That’s outrageous! I have a long list of demands – No. 1: a list of demands . . . No. 2: you accept full blame for this . . . No. 3: I want whiskey to come in cans.”
Hurwitz suggested, “How about a helicopter?”
Arnett: “I want a chopper, fully gassed, on the helipad within the next half-hour. I want whiskey to come in cans. And could you fill that helicopter with whiskey? But not FILLED. Obviously, leave room for me and the pilot.”
He and Hurwitz shared more bicoastal laughter. No doubt about it: A job like this is even better than whiskey in cans.
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