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Finding Danny McBride in Kenny Powers

Finding Danny McBride in Kenny Powers

You probably don’t need me to tell you that WTF With Marc Maron is an amazing podcast.  Twice a week, Maron interviews luminaries from the world of popular culture; stand-up comedians mostly, with some filmmakers, writers, and musicians thrown in. Last week, Maron spoke with Danny McBride for an hourlong conversation about the actor and writer’s life and career. At the start of the interview, Maron joked that he’d expected McBride to act a lot more like Kenny Powers, the obnoxiously arrogant former major leaguer McBride plays on the series “Eastbound and Down.” McBride reassured him that, no, Kenny is a character, and that he was nothing like him. Kenny’s the guy tooling around in his pickup truck; Danny’s the film nerd that the guy tooling around in his pickup truck makes fun of. But a short while after insisting that he wasn’t Kenny Powers, McBride discussed his path to Hollywood success, and inadvertently revealed at least one way in which his life has closely mirrored his most famous creation’s.

“Eastbound and Down,” which recently concluded its third and final season on HBO, follows Kenny as he picks up the pieces of his broken life after his career as a flame-throwing relief pitcher fizzles out.  Kenny returns to his hometown in North Carolina and reluctantly takes a job as a high school phys. ed. teacher, where he works with desperate intensity to maintain the illusion that he’s still a big deal. Eventually, Kenny rediscovers his mojo as a pitcher, but a deal that would have sent him back to the big leagues gets cancelled at the last minute, so Kenny leaves town rather than face the shame of having to admit that he’s not going to be a superstar again. In season two, Kenny lives in Mexico, hiding from his friends and loved ones and continuing to work toward a baseball comeback. At the start of season three he moves back to the United States to pitch for a minor league team and reconnects with his roots back in North Carolina. In other words: the show is a series of embarrassing homecomings, in which a man who’s left the nest and failed comes back with his tail between his legs and his nose in the air so that no one will see his humiliation.

McBride may not be as much a dick as Kenny Powers, but judging from his conversation with Maron, he knows a thing or two about coming home with your tail between your legs. Apparently, he tried to make it in Hollywood many times before he finally broke through. After years of struggle, he agreed to help his film school buddy David Gordon Green when an actor dropped out of his film, “All the Real Girls,” at the last minute; later, he and another film school alum named Jody Hill wrote a screenplay called “The Foot Fist Way” and since they didn’t know any trustworthy actors who’d work for free, McBride played the part himself. “The Foot Fist Way” became a festival hit and a calling card around Hollywood, and the rest, as they say, was history.

Before history was made, though, McBride suffered numerous setbacks; at one point a girlfriend broke his heart and left him so emotionally shattered that he needed to move home for the summer to recharge his batteries. Similar tales of failure beset him at least twice more. McBride never hit the big time before crashing down to earth like Kenny Powers did, but he knew a thing or two about being the guy who left his little hometown with stars in his eyes only to return with nothing to show for it.

No, Danny McBride isn’t Kenny Powers (as anyone who’s paid close attention to McBride’s throwing motion can attest). But it is interesting to note how closely “Eastbound & Down”‘s structure mirrors McBride’s own life, whether he recognizes that or not.

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