Anders Holm, Bro Comedy Veteran, Reins It in for Mindy Kaling's 'Champions' (Exclusive)
By Philiana Ng
It's an early Tuesday morning in late February and Anders Holm has just wrapped the first season of NBC's Champions hours earlier -- but you wouldn't know it from his chipper demeanor. "I'm ready to conquer the world!" the 36-year-old actor-comedian quips following a morning workout.
Best known for doing it all in front of and behind the camera on Comedy Central's bro sitcom, Workaholics, Holm flexes a different comedy muscle with Champions. Created by Mindy Kaling and Charlie Grandy, the 10-episode series chronicles the struggles and failures of a 30-something New York playboy gym owner, Vince (Holm), as he unexpectedly raises his 15-year-old gay, musical-loving son, Michael (J.J. Totah), whom he shares with ex-high school flame, Priya (Kaling, who appears in a handful of episodes).
"It was a whirlwind," Holm remembers, his three-month experience fresh on his brain. "You're figuring everyone out and trying not to laugh too hard at these new people whose tricks you've never seen before. It's really like going to summer camp every day and clowning around with your friends."
It was Holm's previous connection to Kaling on The Mindy Project, where he played Mindy's cool pastor fiance Casey Peerson for a dozen episodes, that lured him into the world of Champions, and it wasn't a difficult sell for Holm to stay on the Kaling-Grandy train. (Grandy was also a writer on Mindy Project.) "These are smart people who are also funny," he says matter-of-factly. "When you find two people who are both of those things, and they've written a good pilot, and they've written a good role, it's a no-brainerto jump on board."
Actors often take their pick of parts by virtue of how connected they are to their role or the potential they see in a given character. Holm's reasoning for saying yes to this project over others had more to do with the "big picture" the show aimed to examine -- sexual identity, gender politics, a nontraditional family -- and less what he would personally gain from it.
"I'll be honest. It was less of my character that hooked me and more of the show. I liked what the show was doing. It was showing a family that you haven't seen before, a dynamic that hasn't been shown on primetime television," he explains. "My character, on the surface, is someone you've seen before: a straight white guy bachelor living with his brother, chasing girls, yadda yadda yadda. But the family dynamic of someone who's lost his dad, took over the family business, helped raise his own brother, has a past full of mistakes and now, he's given a second chance with a son he hasn't taken care of before? It's what he needs to settle his life and have a purpose."
The humor that arises from the unlikely father-son pairing of Vince, a self-proclaimed jock, and Michael, a Bernadette Peters-adoring musical theater lover, is pretty self-explanatory. "Vince knows that he needs to guide this person, and the way he does things isn't necessarily going to work," Holm says. "They can't just go out in the backyard and throw the ball and play catch and talk about things. His kid's different, so Vince is forced to step out of his comfort zone [and] see things from a different angle."
As Holm tells it, working alongside Totah, easily one of this television season's biggest discoveries, has kept him on his toes -- and at times, put his character in his place. "When I read the pilot, my first reaction was whoever gets this part that they created for Michael is going to be a primetime star. It's on the page, and the scary thing about that is then you gotta go find somebody to fill those shoes. Is this kid out there? Then, you find J.J.," he says. "[J.J.] gives this character some three-dimensionality that makes it believable and not just a caricature of, 'Wouldn't it be funny to see this kid?'"
Fans of Workaholics, though, shouldn't expect the same NSFW, uncouth guy-jinks that brought Holm and his frequent collaborators, Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine and Kyle Newacheck, fame seven years ago. While Champions marks a more family-friendly comedy affair for Holm, he reunites with his Workaholics crew for Netflix's upcoming action comedy spoof, Game Over, Man!.
"If I did the same thing over and over again with the same people, I feel like I would be living in a comedy bubble," Holm says of his desires to keep his resume as eclectic as possible. "On Workaholics or Game Over, Man!, my brain is telling me, Let's turn it up. How can we push the envelope? With Champions, it's like, Time to dial it in. What can you say that's funny that they'll still leave in the cut? It's fun to exercise your restraints."
"There's a big learning curve," he says of reining it in comedically, as Holm shares that there are rarely detours from the Champions scripts or ad-libs."On Workaholics, if I didn't write [the episode], I was there for the final punch-up, so I'd lived with the script. Even if I didn't know the words exactly, I could fudge it and get the idea out there. On Champions, it is dialed in. They want you to hit the jokes. They want you to have the turn in there. There's a quality to that that we didn't have on Workaholics. It's two different paintbrushes, but I'm still trying to hit the canvas with something special."
Ultimately, Holm hopes Champions show him in a different comedic light. "I think the Workaholics audience could learn a lot from watching Champions," he concludes. "As silly as Champions can be, there's a lot of heart and there are a lot of points of view that they could use -- the bros could open their ears a little bit."
Champions premieres Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.