On the surface, “Man Seeking Woman” seems fairly ordinary – the story of a young man struggling to find love and happiness in this complicated modern world. But as anyone who’s watched at least one episode knows, the show’s rich imagination and love of metaphor digs into incredibly wild scenarios to depict seemingly average emotional pains. Jesus Christ, Hitler, penis monsters and goblins are just a few of the extreme elements that make an appearance. And star Jay Baruchel loves it.
Sitting down with Indiewire at the TCA Winter Press Tour, Baruchel was full of laughter as we discussed what it’s like to play both the show’s emotional complexity and outlandish sequences, why he loves the episodes where he’s not the star any more and at what point in the production process he finds out that he’ll be taking a blast of “monster semen” to the face. An edited transcript follows.
Congratulations on the second season, because last year you were coming out as a new show – no one knows much, if anything. But now, it seems like it really has found its voice.
I adore it! But I still think like, the thing of last year, no one knew what we were doing, that still applies here. [laughs] I know we had our biggest numbers ever on our [Season 2] premiere, but that’s still relative to us. So we still kinda get to do our thing, where we’re very at home living on the margins of television. That’s where we’re at.
Does it feel safe, almost? Knowing that you’re kind of able to do that?
There’s a strange sort of security and confidence that comes from us just doing our fuckin’ thing. I don’t ever want to say that we’re bulletproof. Nobody is. But we show up every day to work and get to do a show that no one else is doing. You can’t compare it to any other show, which is a huge thing. So yeah, man. We’re sort of like, if people fall in love with it, it’s just gravy to us. [laughs] ‘Cause we love it.
We always knew that we just sort of had to find our sea legs and establish a kind of shorthand of what our show is and what the vibes of it are. We knew that once we had done that, it conditioned people to get used to our language, for a lack of a better term. We knew that once we did that, we could then broaden it out and go to different places and shift POVs. And that’s kind of the fun thing about building on another season. The fun thing of having a season already in our pocket is like, we have all that to draw upon now. We get to shift perspectives, and tell a whole bunch of episodes from Eric [Andre]’s perspective, and cool shit like that.
That was actually something I was going to mention – I wasn’t surprised there was an episode in Season 2 from Eric’s perspective, but I was surprised it was the first episode of the season.
I thought it was a pretty cool idea, a pretty smart idea. I think that our show, the recurring theme is like, the universality of this experience, right? So even when it becomes “Woman Seeking Man,” it’s still, effectively, that she goes through the same shit I do. And he does. Because we all do, is sort of the point. So I think that to start off that season with an Eric episode speaks to the confidence we have in what we’re doing.
Yeah, I mean it also speaks to one of the things that makes this stuff work, which is the idea of specific as universal.
Yeah, that’s it. My buddy Jacob Tierney, my mentor, he said it perfectly. He said, “The more personal and specific you make something, the more universal it becomes.”
When you find out that there’s going to be an episode that’s from someone else’s perspective, do you kick up your feet, like, “Oh great, a vacation!”
Yes! Honest to God, yes. Yes. Like, “Oh man, that’s that many more days of pajama pants and video games.” So yeah, a hundred percent. Any days off, I will take.
Because, I mean, otherwise, it really is on your shoulders.
Oh, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Of course there’s pressure behind that, but how much do you feel it?
I don’t allow myself pressure and stress and all that stuff. Owning the weight of any situation seems like a luxury, you know? Because we’ve got 12 to 14 hours each day to do our job. And so, if I stop for a moment and look at myself in the mirror, and let all that second-guessing shit get to me, we’d be done before we’d be dead in the water. And so this season of the show, I had to keep it at arm’s length because I had a fucking job to do.
Sure. So, it’s a pretty small cast. How tight have you guys gotten?
Oh, we enjoy each other’s company immensely. Britt [Lower] was at my house for Halloween. We just know each other super well now and we’re super comfortable with each other. And we’ve developed a shorthand. The way we talk to each other socially is the way we talk to each other professionally.
What kind of shorthand do you develop on a show like this?
[laughs] That’s a good question. It definitely would involve things that are not necessarily appropriate for conversation right now.
But no, no. It’s amazing how shameless we all are there: The depths, the depravity of the dialogue that comes out of our mouths between takes.
When you’re being given these huge, broad things to play, what goes into making sure that however you’re playing it, it’s authentically, emotionally true?
Yeah, just to make sure that we always connect it to the nucleus of the experience, right? Because if the episode requires me hanging out with my girlfriend’s penis monster friend, I know that that’s just me clearly hanging out with a guy that I’m jealous of or am threatened by.
Every sequence, of every joke, is all borne in reality. It’s all based on very specific gray area minutia. And I think, at this point, we all kind of know what all those things are meant to be. We always get what the root of them are.
In terms of actually playing the scene, what goes into making sure it feels really grounded?
To just play it like, to just be truthful to the scene. If you ever hear any of the people who’ve worked with the Muppets and stuff, they always say, they just act! They just do their job, right? And so for me, I think like, special effects, stunts, two people in a car, junkies kicking heroine. It’s all the same gig – to be truthful and serve the story in the scene. I think that as long as you can do that, you’re allowed to throw in all manner of nonsense and craziness.
I want to ask you a two-sided question: First, of all the stuff you’ve gotten to do so far on the show, what’s been the most fun?
I love any time we get to play cops and robbers, and we do that a bit this year. I’m still very much a little boy from the neighborhood. So any time I get to play cops and robbers, or mess about with a pistol, or anything with blood and guts, that’s when I’m most happy.
Conversely, what’s been the least fun?
Putting my hand on the naked dude’s ass – on Kyle’s ass. That was a bit labor-intensive. And having to take two liters of monster semen to the face last year.
[laughs] That sounds like it was a special day.
Yeah, it was a great one.
Is that something where they set it up so you’re shooting it at the end of the day?
Yeah, it was my last shot of the day. They filled a pressurized air canon with, yeah, two liters of conditioner and Vaseline.
When does [creator Simon Rich] have the conversation with you – “So, in this episode, by the way…”
Day one! He always walks me through everything and lets me know, so I know that I’m taking monster semen to the face two months in advance.
I can at least prepare myself for it, or wrap my head around it.
So what are you hoping people really get out of this season?
I hope that they just have a great time, and just enjoy it on whatever level they want to or end up. However they connect to the show, as long as they connect to the show, I’ll be happy. What I’m kinda looking forward to, is that I think we sneak a bit more substance in this year. I think we have a bit more of a gray area, a bit more complexity, and I think some of the answers are a bit tougher and less direct this year. So this is all to say that I think we’re going to trick our audience, and people are going to be more moved than they expect to be on this.
Talking about the substance of it, is that something you knew that would always grow?
Oh, a hundred percent. Hundred percent. I think that like, my favorite seasons of “Seinfeld” and “Trailer Park Boys” were always the later ones. Because they are comfortable enough that they can start messing about, kind of repurposing the show in a way. So I know that our show has a great deal of longevity to it, which might seem crazy to people who may watch the first season and say, “How can they sustain this forever?” But we have it in us because of the breadth of human experience of what it is to be single. Until the day where there’s not a single person left in the world, we’ll have stories to tell on the show.
Which is funny because you’ve already kind of been to the apocalypse.
Yup! [laughs] Yup.
I don’t expect you to have a budget sheet in front of you, but do you have a sense that there’s a little more money this time around?
Yeah, we felt that the scope of it was definitely broadened a bit. We had a little bit more wiggle room to play around. It was apparent that we were on our second season, which is really, really cool. It just meant that we had more comfort on set. We got to have a bit more studio work and a bit more control over our situations.
To wrap things up — how much of what happens is something you feel is being drawn from your life? For example, I remember I was watching the episode where you’re afraid to go bald, which stuck out to me because that’s a thing where, of all the problems women’s bodies have, that’s not a major one. Is that a thing that you worry about?
Oh, constantly, yeah. I mean, I know that like, I’ve got a widow’s peak like a motherfucker. I’m doing 90 on the widow’s peak expressway there. But that’s the thing – every aspect of this show is borne of or connected to our worst thoughts we’ve had at some point. We’ve all been jealous and petty and self-hating and uncomfortable and desperate for validation. And so, shit yeah. I’ve definitely stood in front of the mirror checking my scalp.
You can catch up with both seasons of “Man Seeking Woman” on FXNOW or Hulu now.
READ MORE: Why ‘Man Seeking Woman’ Switched to ‘Women Seeking Man,’ And Simon Rich’s Hopes for Season 2