article

11.24.08

Paging Kenneth

Neel Shah spoke with 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer, aka Kenneth the Page, about Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, and crashing Diddy’s birthday party.

In almost every interview you read with Jack McBrayer, the Georgia native who plays big-hearted country bumpkin Kenneth Parcell on NBC’s much-loved but little-watched 30 Rock, the interviewer invariably mentions what a “good guy” McBrayer really is. Unfortunately, nothing McBrayer did or said during our recent phone conversation did anything to dissuade me of this notion. The man is just nice. Here, he tells The Daily Beast about going to Diddy’s birthday party, Salman Rushdie’s crush on Tina Fey, and why he thinks no one ever watches 30 Rock. The complete Kenneth Q&A, uncensored.

Let’s get right to it. Why the hell does no one watch your show?

Ahhh! I don’t know! Maybe it’s an acquired taste? Only people in big cities like it? The media elite? When I went home to Georgia recently, I can tell you that not a lot of people were watching it.

It’s the Friday Night Lights syndrome: Urban-dwelling heathens and their favorite newspapers can’t stop talking about how great the show is, but everyone else is tuning out.

At least Friday Night Lights is set in Texas, so it has flyover appeal. We don’t even have that! We’re still anemic. But I think this year we’re doing better.

“In an upcoming episode, I end up falling in love with a blind girl. And it’s going great until she feels my face and ‘sees’ what I really look like. Poor Kenneth.”

Probably because of Oprah. Did these guest spots arise organically, or did you guys get a call from Ben Silverman being like, “We need stars!”

It’s such a weird phenomenon. Phenomena? Phenomenononon. People are seeking out 30 Rock! I’ll be at some random event like the Emmys, and someone will come up to me and be like, “I want to be on!” Meanwhile I’m thinking, “This person is a huge star. Are you f--king kidding me?” It blows my mind. As for Oprah, I think Tina [Fey] had been a guest on her show, and half in jest said, “I’d love for you to be on!” And Oprah said, “Have your people touch base!”

You know you’ve arrived when Oprah is telling you to have your people call her people.

And then Jennifer Aniston was just so great. It was very surreal. Jon Hamm, who is going to be on a few episodes coming up, is absolutely hilarious in person.

Stop hyping Jon Hamm! Every single girl I know wants to sleep with him. They don’t need to know he’s funny, too.

He’s a dreamboat. So is Salma Hayek, who is also coming up. She is gorgeous. It’s unreal. Even the Polaroids they’d take of her to ensure continuity in scenes looked like glamour shots.

I actually read an interview with you recently where the interviewer was talking about how handsome she thought you were, which is funny since Kenneth is such an innocent prude. You’ve officially joined the Pitt/Clooney pantheon of hot leading men!

Finally, I’m getting the recognition I deserve! That’s the magic of television for you. Most days I’ll look in the mirror and think, “Really? This is what I’m working with today? Come on.” Actually, in an upcoming episode, I end up falling in love with a blind girl. And it’s going great until she feels my face and “sees” what I really look like. Poor Kenneth.

The good, nice guys never get the girl. Women always end up talking about how they hate men after sleeping with the Tracy Jordans of the world. Is Tracy Morgan as crazy as I think he is?

I love Tracy. He is like a 14-year-old kid with more money than God. He’s such a sweetheart. Old boy is crazy. He took some of us to P. Diddy’s birthday party a little while ago. It was like nothing I’d ever seen or done before. Imagine what you think P. Diddy’s birthday party is like…

Caged white tigers, midgets, Champagne...

Exactly. And then make it 10 times more crowded and insane. It was at some club, and I rarely go to places with velvet ropes. The invitation said, “Dress like you’re meeting royalty.”

What did you wear?

I was obviously the jester.

Were you the only white person there?

There were three of us. Me, Rebecca Gayheart, and Pete Wentz. Just kidding—Pete Wentz isn’t white. But it was bananas.

Did Tina Fey go?

I’m sure Tina Fey has more important things to do.

Like get paid $7 million to write a book. You have one of those in the works?

I’ve been pitching it for a while. First I have to learn how to write. Maybe I’ll just do a pop-up book. I still can’t believe how Tina does everything she does. She’s pretty good at delegating, but the sheer volume of work on her plate is mind-boggling. A lot of times she’s all over the place, from the writers’ room to the studio. Not to mention that every now and then she likes to see her daughter.

It’s hard to think of anyone who had a bigger year, other than Barack.

Obviously, her Sarah Palin thing was huge. It gave Tina more attention, and us more attention. She took one for the team. It did everyone good, except Sarah Palin. Funny story: I was at a party shortly after the election, and Salman Rushdie comes up to me and says [adopting an imperialist British accent with a Southern twang], “I am such a fan of the show. I am such a fan of Tina Fey. Please tell Tina that I think she deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for swaying the Americans.” I told her after and she said, “Did you hear the gunshots? I think there’s a fatwa on me now.”

I wonder if Sarah Palin goes to bed every night thinking, “If only that woman didn’t look like me...”

Honestly, she’s probably grinning through her teeth and thinking, “I wanna kill her.” If Palin invites her on a “hunting” trip, someone might have to step in.

I actually think Fey’s success has hurt the character of Liz Lemon a bit. She is a perpetually single woman in her 30s who gorges on junk food. Tina is constantly trying to downplay her sexiness, but she’s hot right now. It makes it harder to buy into the character.

I’ve known her since we were at Second City in Chicago, which is a hands-dirty, T-shirt and blue jeans kind of town. And back then, she was really working hard for that paycheck, and it wasn’t nearly as glamorous, so it’s not hard for me to buy into the character. But for the rest of America, who has just recently caught wind of her, I can see that.

Did you guys do skits together at Second City?

She was coming to New York right when I was getting involved, so we only worked together very briefly. Actually, her husband was my director. He was very instrumental in getting me on 30 Rock.

You don’t hear much about Mr. Fey. He kind of hangs out in the background, à la Todd Palin.

He maintains a low profile. He is just as busy as Tina. He does out musical accompaniments, some editing—I think he’s gonna direct an episode in the near future, too. He’s very talented.

You’re just saying that because he got you hired.

He’s standing right here.


Neel Shah is a reporter at the New York Post. Previously, he was a staff writer at Radar Magazine. He was written for New York, GQ, and Maxim.