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The Sunday Conversation: Patrick Warburton

The actor compares 'Rules of Engagement's' Jeff and 'Seinfeld's' Puddy and cooks up an idea for a barbecue restaurant.

November 20, 2011|By Irene Lacher, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Actor Patrick Warburton on the set of the TV series "Rules of Engagement."
Actor Patrick Warburton on the set of the TV series "Rules of Engagement." (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Patrick Warburton, 47, plays married man manqué Jeff Bingham on the CBS sitcom "Rules of Engagement." An actor whose many animated films and series include "Bee Movie," he's well known for his 11-episode arc on "Seinfeld" as Elaine's face-painting boyfriend, David Puddy.

How did you manage to make a career out of playing the husband/boyfriend from hell?

Just a lot of 'tude, I guess. When you refer to boyfriend, you're referring to Puddy, right?

Yeah, and the husband is Jeff.

Puddy was more of a scratch-the-surface kind of caricature. He was in many ways bigger than life in the sense that he was almost unreal. There was a true absurdity there. In the real world, you're not going to see an Elaine and a Puddy together. That guy really seemed to have mental problems. Jeff Bingham, on the other hand, is very relatable. Every guy in a relationship can relate to Jeff. And of course we're taking it a step further, but stuff happens in our show every week that's relatable.

Or maybe Jeff does things that other husbands only dream of.

Yes, he does things that if most men actually came out and said they might end up at the bottom of the garbage disposal.

You know what's disheartening is that once again this is another year where we don't get any love or support from our network. Now the show is doing great in the ratings. Over the course of the last six or seven years, they've put seven different shows in our time slot and none of them have performed as well, yet they're once again pulling us. We're going to go away after about a month, and they'll bring us back in May for another seven or eight episodes. They do that to us almost every year.

It was just reported that CBS is cutting your season from 18 to 13 episodes. So you're making way for Rob Schneider's new show?

Yeah, that will be the one they put in.

This is your sixth season. How do you feel about how the show has evolved?

I think it has evolved nicely. The addition of Adhir Kalyan [as executive assistant Timmy] was a very good thing. Early on, I'm not sure they knew exactly what to do with Oliver [Hudson]'s character, Adam, and then that character evolved. He became very vain, very metrosexual and a bit lame and clueless, and Oliver seemed to know what to do with all of that. Oliver's proved to have fine comic chops.

What about your character, Jeff?

I don't think Jeff is much of a work in progress. [His character's wife] Audrey never gives up hope, but I think he pretty much is what he is. He's not a total rube; if he was Audrey wouldn't be with him. They squabble, they play games, and they're both susceptible to most of the less attractive base human emotions like jealousy. They definitely go overboard at times and try to screw with each other, but we find something relatable in however far we go with it each week. We think that's one of the elements that make the show.

Was Puddy totally written before you came in or did you have something to do with the creation of that character?

It was only [supposed to be] for one episode, so he didn't have the staccato "yeah, that's right" response. I funky-ed him up a bit, made him a little weird, and Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David seemed to take a liking to it. Essentially, it was just the mechanic who stole Jerry's move and used it on Elaine and then Jerry confronts him. So I decided to go in a different direction with the character. What they originally had in mind was a Vinnie, a New York guy, and David was anything but that. He was from another planet, forget about what part of New York he was from.

You were laughing with him as much as you were laughing at him. Is that your intent, when you create a character, that your character is kind of in on the joke too?

Yes, but there's a real fine line there. If it's perceived that you can see anything from the outside the way the viewer does, I think you get caught. You don't want to be there. As lame as Puddy was, he really was truly absurd and stupid beyond belief. You've just got to believe this guy, be this guy. And you know what makes it funny is if you can commit to that. But if you goof it up too much and you show people you know it's funny, it's no longer funny.

When did you realize that you were funny enough to be professionally funny?

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