Thursday, November 19, 2009

Exclusive Interview: Greendale Community Talks to Dino Stamatopoulos about embracing “Star-Burns” and mixing comedy and Vodka

For Greendale Community’s first exclusive interview I had the chance to speak to Dino Stamatopoulos, who you all know as “Star-burns” on Community. What you may not know is that in addition to being a consultant on Community he has written for virtually every funny show for the last 20 years. His writing credits include “The Ben Stiller Show,” "Mr. Show with Bob and David," "TV Funhouse," in addition to creating the masterpiece "Moral Orel" for Adult Swim. He is now working on a new stop-motion animation show for Adult swim called “Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenhole.” I recently had the chance to speak to him about Community and some of his other projects.

You’ve been a part of most of the funniest shows of the past couple decades starting with The Ben Stiller Show but you mostly worked as a writer in the past how did you become involved with Community and as an actor?

I'm a consultant on Community, which means I go in a couple days a week and try to say funny things that go in the script. I think at some point they thought, "Hey, the best way to use Dino is to have him try out our weirder jokes on camera." That's what they did with Star-burns. I got a text from Dan Harmon (who was probably three feet away at the time) that said, "quit shaving. We may need you for star burns." It was a non-speaking part at the time and I thought, "What the fuck. Couldn't hurt." Then it eventually turned into a reoccurring part and I got a little scared. I was very busy with Frankenhole and TV wastes a lot of time. I ended up sitting on the Community set for hours before they used me. Well, eventually, I embraced doing the part. I even grew the star burns onto my own face instead of having the make-up person apply them.

Did the writers give you any direction on the character of Star-burns?

I was there during it's inception, so I knew what the direction was, which wasn't much. Just shrug and show off the 'burns.

Did you create a back-story for Star-burns so you could get into character?
Hell no.

Do you wear the “star-burns” outside of the set and are people yelling “Star-burns” at you on the street yet?

I shot a few episodes within a month, so I kept them shaved into my face for that time period. My sideburns are naturally really gray, because I’m old, so they kind of blend into my complexion. They darken them in make-up.

No one has ever said anything to me off set, but my 10 year old daughter swears she heard people talking about Star-burns at the Farmer's Market on Fairfax and Third.

Why do you think Star-burns is going to Community College? He strikes me as someone who is going just for the drugs and girls!

Yeah, that. And he wants to learn Spanish. Probably so he can get drugs and girls.

Have you had any ideas or thoughts about maybe writing a script for the show?

Always, but I'm not there enough to really pitch my ideas. Maybe soon.

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What was is it like filming a scene with a legend like Chevy Chase?

A lot of fun. As a kid in the mid-70s, I used to sneak out of my bedroom with my little brother and watch SNL. So when I was scheduled to do the scene with Chevy, I called my brother and giddily told him what I was doing. You're right. Chevy is a Legend in comedy. It was a huge thrill to do a scene where I gave him drugs. He was really great to work with. And I'm not being a kiss-ass. I'd be the first to tell you that he was a dick. But he wasn't with me.

Did you ever imagine that you would be sharing drugs with Chevy Chase in a bathroom?


I know Joel McHale is a big Spies Like Us and Fletch fan. Do you have a favorite Chevy film?

I'll be honest, the only Chevy movie I've seen was the first Vacation film. Not for any reason except I don't watch very many comedies. But I did have a nerdy moment with him while we were shooting where I had to bring up an obscure SNL bit. It was the one with the knock-knock joke and "Bab's Uvula." (google it) He told me that was the first big laugh he ever got on Saturday Night Live. I almost cried.

One of the great things about Community is the incredible ensemble and the fact that often they are all in one room. Every time I see a scene in the Spanish Classroom I just marvel at the amount of brilliantly funny people in that one room, in front and behind the camera. What is the mood like on those days… does everyone laugh all day or is it more serious?

When I was there it was a lot of fun, mostly because Dr. Ken was not only performing with us, he was also simultaneously acting as a "warm-up" comic. His insane improv helped lighten the mood.

Do you have any clues as to the future of Star-burns and do you think we can look forward to more of him?

No. Not yet. But I think since I’ve now embraced doing the character and am actually having fun performing...we'll see a lot less of him.

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I thought Moral Orel was one of the funniest shows I have seen in a long time and I hated to see it end. Do you think we will ever see Moral Orel again?

No, I don’t think we’ll see more. Not very many people care about the show and I've moved on. But thanks. Moral Orel was the most rewarding project I've ever worked on.

How is your new show Frankenhole coming? Can we still look for it in early 2010?

--It's coming along nicely. Yes, expect it in early '10. I’m very excited about it. The whole cast and crew is amazing. It’s been an incredibly rewarding collaboration with every one on the show.

Can you tell us a little about Frankenhole?

Well, first of all, I changed the name from “Frankenhole” to “Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenhole’” which I think took it from crappy title to the best title ever. It’s going to have a Gothic, German Expressionistic feel to it. It will look like nothing else on television. It’s about Monsters, Historical Figures and Time travel from (and to) the Past, Present, and Future. If you want to know more, google it (without the “Mary Shelley) and you’ll be led to an interview on the adult swim website.

It sounds like it would be a perfect opportunity for some great cameos and guest stars. Do you have any guest voice actors in mind?

I haven’t done much stunt casting. It’s not about the impression. The show’s more about seeing a side of a person that the public has never been exposed to. It’s about laying-on crazy personality traits that come from the dark corners of the real personalities. That said: look for Andy Dick in the role of Jesus Christ, the true Son of God.

I grew up loving the old stop motion shows from when I was a kid but they really disappeared for a long time. Now with shows like yours and now Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox on the big screen, they seem to be making a comeback. What makes you so interested in working it that medium?

Same as you. Growing up loving them. I also love model kits and miniatures, so the studio is like a huge playroom to me.

I’m also fascinated with bringing inanimate figures to life and making the audience care about them. That was what third season of Moral Orel was about. Caring about these puppets more than we care about real people on television. More than you care for people on Reality Shows.

You have worked with some of the greats of modern Comedy but I wondered who some of your heroes and influences are?

Woody Allen, Monty Python, Albert Brooks, The Marx Brothers, Gene Wilder, and lots more...

This is a ridiculous question but I find it really tells a lot about a person, what is your favorite movie?

If I have to pick ONE: Probably “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Between Community and Frankenhole you seem to be keeping busy. Are there any other projects that you’re working on?

I’m writing a lot of prose right now. A lot of short stories that will hopefully be linked into a bigger piece. And then, maybe, a stop-motion animated anthology. We’ll see...

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Like I said you have written some of my favorite shows over the years and I have always wondered what your writing environment is like. Are you a sit at a desk and drink coffee kind of writer or a feet up on the couch with music playing in the background kind of writer? How does Dino Stamatopoulos set the writing mood?

I find that writing a first draft out in public (a restaurant or bar) helps a lot. On a note pad. Also, I like drinking when I start writing. Vodka mostly. Helps cut down on the self-criticism. Then I rewrite after a good sleep and some coffee, transferring it all to my laptop.

Click here to visit Adult swim's Website to learn more about “Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenhole.”

Thanks Dino!


NBC's Community