Star Had His Own ‘Baxter’ Moment

Showalter on his cult status and how he didn’t wind up as a New Yorker cartoonist

I’d rather interview the President than a comedian. With the president, I know that he would have to be nice to me, suck up to me even, because he has an image to maintain. He would be proper, corny, and charismatic and my responsibilities would include smiling, maintaining eye contact and possibly laughing at a joke or two.

But with Michael Showalter? What should I expect from one of the comedic masterminds behind “Wet Hot American Summer,” “Stella” and “The State”? The man who made me fall to the floor laughing after shooting a hunting guide because he thought the man was a turkey? Would I see any traces of the ’40s-style gentleman from his film “The Baxter,” which he wrote, directed, and starred in? Perhaps intellectual inclinations from his French professor father or his English professor mother? Who knew?

With a tall Starbucks coffee in hand, Showalter casually strolled up to me wearing a green corduroy blazer, a black collared shirt, pink pants, white shoes, and rock star sun glasses atop his meticulously coiffed hair. Lean, friendly, and stubbled, Showalter is the perfect hybrid of laid-back cool and offbeat metrosexual.

The Harvard Crimson: Did you feel pressured at all to choose a different career with both your parents in academia?

Michael Showalter: I think it would be obvious from a young age that I actually wasn’t naturally inclined towards academics, since they were pretty open about letting me go in whatever direction I was feeling. I thought I was gonna be a “New Yorker” cartoonist.

THC: “Wet Hot American Summer” and your stage show “Stella” gave you crazy cult status. Are you happy with that or do you want to have a more mainstream presence?

MS: I don’t think that’s anything you’re striving for. I mean part of what a cult audience reacts to is the lack of artifice about something. The thing I’d like to see is more adult, grown up people enjoying what we’re doing. [Our work] is accessible but for some reason is not reaching that audience.

THC: “Stella” started out as a stage show, and now it’s on Comedy Central. How do you explain the success of the group?

MS: I think we just tapped into something organic between the three of us, and then just worked from there. I really credited that we just tapped into something that’s just very real for us. We did this first season and I’m sure if we did another season, it would be very different. We’re still looking for a formula, and we’re still trying to figure out what it is and how it works. It’s exciting to all of us to not know about how something’s going to look or feel. So it’s just a real passion project.

THC: When you first wrote the screenplay, you said that you had no aims to direct it or even star in it. So what made you change your mind?

MS: I wrote it as a kind of experiment: it’s the first non-collaboration I’ve done and really just wanted to see if I could write a movie. When I wrote it, I said if I could ever direct this movie, that would be amazing. When Plum Pictures, which is a small New York film production company started by a Harvard graduate, Galt Niederhoffer [’97], said “we want to make this movie and we want you to direct it.” I was instantly psyched. Playing Elliot was something that I wavered on because I really didn’t see myself in that role. I’m still conflicted about playing that role. I want to continue to perform, but I’m really more passionate in terms of the writing and directing.

THC: What’s the next big project for you?

MS: Next for me is to write another feature and hopefully direct it in the year. And hopefully, make a second season of “Stella” in the winter.

THC: Are there any Baxter moments in your life that you can tell me about?

MS: I had a girlfriend, we broke up, I wanted to get her back and I knew she was going to be at this party. My plan was that I was going to meet her at the party and, you know, sweep her off her feet and convince her to get back together with me. She showed up at the party with her new boyfriend; they were both carrying motorcycle helmets and he had driven her to the party on his motorcycle. And that was a Baxter moment for me. I can’t compete with a guy with a motorcycle. He was 6’5’’ and tanned. It was quite a low moment for me. Yeah, it hurt.