Jay Baruchel is the ultimate everyman, but the actor wouldn't have it any other way. "I think given my nasal voice and my childlike face and my skinny body, I just think I scream regular. I'm flattered, because I wouldn't want to play anybody else," Baruchel tells TVGuide.com.
And in Man Seeking Woman, the new FXX comedy from Simon Rich, Baruchel puts these skills to work as the lovelorn sad sack Josh Greenberg. But the romantic obstacles in Josh's path aren't your typical rom-com foils. In the place of mistaken identities and glasses that stop you from realizing the girl was actually hot the whole time, Man Seeking Woman gives you a 126-year-old Adolf Hitler and sex aliens from Planet Sex. "It's taken a lot of people by surprise, obviously," Baruchel says. "There's a bit of a learning curve, but for the most part people seemed to dig it."
As excited as Baruchel is by the response to Man Seeking Woman, he's just as quick to admit that he was far from certain about how viewers would react to the surreal sitcom. "Not since Goon was I checking audience reactions as quickly as I was [the night of the premiere]," Baruchel says. "It's a very specific show and I try to be humble. I haven't cracked the formula for what makes something connect with an audience. ... For my money, it was the funniest show on television. But of course, I'm slightly biased."
Though this television season saw many attempts to find rom-com success on the small screen (RIP Manhattan Love Story, A to Z and Selfie), it's easy to say that no show does it quite like Man Seeking Woman. But while the FXX comedy draws inspiration from sketch and animated series to create its unique sensibility, it somehow maintains an emotional relatability one wouldn't necessarily expect from a show that features a giant penis monster.
"You make a show like this, it ends up becoming a bit of a de facto group therapy session," Baruchel says. "All of us can't help but chime in on different sh-- that we've all been through, so that definitely bleeds its way into the product."
Baruchel, 32, concedes that, penis monsters and aliens aside, his experience dating in his twenties was decidedly better than Josh's - "but only slightly." "It's just a minefield," he explains. "It's all compounded by the fact that you're not really a grownup and you're not really a kid anymore. So you're in this strange emotional purgatory and you're so desperate to be whoever it was that you thought you'd be or you're so desperate to find yourself or yada, yada, yada."
This emotional purgatory Baruchel describes is clearly reflected in Man Seeking Woman. But mixing the somber and dejected with laugh-out-loud comedy comes naturally to Baruchel. "For better or worse, there's a melancholy that permeates everything I do. Even when I eat a cheeseburger," he says. "To me, the height of creativity is when you can sort of play things that seem contradictory. If you can make someone laugh while bumming them out at the same time, basically. Everything that Jessse [Chabot], my writing partner, and I have written since Goon came out ... there's subtle heartbreak and lament in all of it. We're not trying to make anyone slit their f---ing wrists, but at the same time, I think we just can't help it."
For those fans who only know Baruchel from his work in Judd Apatow's Knocked Up and Undeclared, the darkness and melancholy of Man Seeking Woman might surprise you. But it really shouldn't. Though Baruchel is often roped in as part of the Apatow gang (and particularly with Baruchel's This Is the End co-star Seth Rogen), Baruchel's career is much more varied than one Katherine Heigl movie and a short-lived (albeit fantastic) cult series.
"I can't help what box people put me in," Baruchel says. "I'm very grateful to Judd because without him I wouldn't have done Undeclared. That being said, I do take issue with the fact that I'm part of a stable [when] I've worked for that man twice. Twice, period. With eight years in between the two gigs. So I don't know if that makes me part of a stable necessarily. That being said, people like the story and people like a f---ing package. So yeah, that's for other people. They can decide on however they want to see me."
So next time you catch yourself about to refer to Baruchel as the guy who trims his pubes in Knocked Up, maybe you should check out his work in Almost Famous or Million Dollar Baby. In the mood to laugh? Watch Tropic Thunder or the Oscar-nominated How to Train Your Dragon 2. Goon, the 2011 hockey comedy Baruchel wrote and appeared in, is available on Netflix, and the actor recently finished a script for the sequel. Heck, Baruchel even appeared in four episodes of the ultimate 90s' kids crack, Nickelodeon's Are You Afraid of the Dark? "I think I hold the record for most characters played on that show," Baruchel says.
The breadth of Baruchel's career is far from random. "I find it kind of dangerous to say I want to do serious stuff or I want to do funny stuff. I just want to do stuff that I think is good or enjoy," Baruchel says. "I don't mean to give a kind of cop-out answer. What I mean is that when I read Man Seeking Woman, I wasn't looking for another gig. I wasn't looking for a TV show or a movie. I wasn't looking for anything, period. ... And when I read this thing, had it been a play I would have done it. Had it been a radio play, I would have done it, because it was amazing regardless of its medium. So yeah, if something awesome comes along that happens to be serious — f---ing A. I just want to do stuff that I could see myself watching."
Man Seeking Woman airs Wednesdays at 10:30/9:30c on FXX.