The star of Happy Endings and The Mindy Project has made a career playing some of TV’s funniest bros. So we thought we’d ask him what a “bro” actually is.
Adam Pally is a 32-year-old actor from New Jersey, who has been married since 2008 and has two young children. Yet, somehow, the self-described family man has become TV’s go-to guy when it comes to casting an actor to play a “bro.”
After coming up through the New York City improv scene working with the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, Pally booked a slew of small on-screen parts playing characters with names like “Irate Student” (2009’s Solitary Man) and “Young Hollywood Douchebag” (Californication).
Soon after he was cast in the critically beloved ABC sitcom Happy Endings, on which he played Max Blum. Max was another bro, but one that some considered at the time to be the most progressive bro on TV: Max just happened to be gay. He was a gay bro, whose gay-ness was probably the most matter-of-fact thing about him. Quickly after Happy Endings was canceled, sending TV critics into fits of tears (the show was excellent), Pally landed on The Mindy Project, first guest-starring as a bro-y doctor who fills in at the OB/GYN office staffed by Mindy Kaling’s character and eventually becoming a series regular.
And now, perhaps because his reputation precedes him (and perhaps because his beard has become a plot point of both of his sitcoms), Pally teamed up with Philips Norelco and YouTube personalities The Warp Zone to create an online series called Game of Bros—branded comedy videos promoting Philips Norelco’s Click & Style razor while lampooning Pally’s prowess for portraying the full range of idiosyncrasies that is the American Bro.
We took the occasion of Pally’s involvement in Game of Bros to pick his brain on all that it means to be a bro, and, more importantly, how the actor found himself somehow becoming TV’s most prolific bro.
Tell me, Adam Pally, what is your definition of a “bro”? What is a bro?
I think it has a negative connotation. I think of bros as like a regular guy with very general interests. Like a guy who will tell you that his favorite movie is Caddyshack is a bro. But I think that’s cool—my favorite movie is Caddyshack.
How did “bro” become a bad thing, then?
There’s a culture of fratty bro-ness that certainly has had its share of mess-ups. Then I think also hipster culture and stuff like that has made it labeled as “uncool.” But I don’t think that it’s necessarily true. It’s unfortunate! I call on bros to put on their visors again and come out of their dorms and hang out in public and be proud of it. Put on your Dave Matthews CDs and dance around.
Did you have any part in creating the bro clichés that are in these Game of Bros videos?
There was some improvising and stuff like that. I was also pretty familiar with the product. I use it on The Mindy Project because my facial hair is always a topic of conversation among the cast and crew: how much beard and how much stubble I should have. The Click & Style is easy to talk about because I use it so much, so it was easy to improvise on set.
How much do you identify with being a bro? You’re cast as a bro often, but how much are you like a bro in real life?
I’m pretty bro-y. In my old age—I’ve gotten married and had kids—I’ve become less so. Or maybe that’s more bro-y. I can’t tell. But I definitely identify with the guy who is kind of a normal dude who listens to Pearl Jam and occasionally will switch that up with a little James Taylor, because his dad liked it.
Is there a point in life when you’re too old to be a bro? Like a point in life where the frat house is too far in the rearview mirror for the behavior to be acceptable?
Look, no one has to be chugging Bacardi 151 to prove a point at 40. But no, I think you can be a bro…Bro ’til you die, bro! That’s what I have tattooed on my back.
There’s a great line you have on The Mindy Project, where Peter says, “Everything just thinks I’m a dick, don’t they?” Is there a difference between a bro and a dick? Because people do tend to conflate the two.
You know, bros can be drunk a lot and drunk people can sometimes be dicks. So I think that’s a pretty logical conclusion to get to. But just because bros like to party doesn’t mean that they are dicks. It just means that they’re looking to have a good time. You gotta keep it light. You always gotta keep it light when you’re talking to a bro. Like, don’t talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I remember when Happy Endings was at its most popular how much press there was about Max being so progressive, in that he was gay, but he was a little bit of bro whose “gayness” was dealt with in a matter-of-fact way that’s really rare at all. But when that was going on, did you feel like he or the show was progressive?
I did not feel that he was a very progressive character. I had come from New York City. I grew up in a very progressive home. So it was just matter of fact to me when I read it. That he was a gay character didn’t affect any of my performance at all. And there were a large amount of characters before him to choose, from Steve Agee and Brian Posehn on The Sarah Silverman Program to Val Kilmer in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. So it was relatively easy on that level. I think it was just the first time a character had been presented that way on network television.
I think people like to imagine actors and writers rubbing their hands together when stuff like this is happening, thinking, “This is going to blow everyone’s minds!”
I know. And it really wasn’t like that at all. And I don’t think it really did. (Laughs)
But you must have gotten a sense of the rousing response Max was met with in the gay community. I certainly saw it.
Yes, yes. I am beloved by the gay community. And that’s A-OK with me.
What was the response from them that you saw?
Mostly I feel like I get a lot of respect nods from the gay community when I walk by. Like they’re proud of me. And I couldn’t be more prouder of that.
Is there a difference in the fanbase between the two shows?
Yes. I have a lot more Filipino teenage girls that like me after The Mindy Project. I don’t know how that relates to anything, but it’s a demographic that I’ve found really loves The Mindy Project. But beyond that, the fanbases are similar in that they’re both really rabid. They can’t get enough, and that’s cool to be able to be on two of those kinds of shows.
The finale of last season’s The Mindy Project got a lot of praise, but it also got a lot of people really nervous. The way Mindy and Danny got together was amazing, but TV history has a precarious track record after pairing up the will-they-won’t-they couples.
I would say don’t be nervous. Be nervous about North Korea. Don't be nervous about Danny and Mindy. They’ll be fine.
This is stuff I have to take seriously! I write about TV.
No, no, I totally get it. Rest assured Danny and Mindy will be OK. They’ll be great.
Do people recognize you more from Happy Endings, The Mindy Project, or Iron Man 3?
I would say neither of those three. Mostly when people look at me they think they either made out with me at sleepaway camp or that we went to Hebrew school together. And then they comment on it in some weird way.
So they give you the raised eyebrow from across the room?
Yeah. And they think they know me from something. Then you have to tell them, “No, no, no. I’m not on New Girl.”
Back to the bro business. Were you ever in a frat? I know you graduated from New School in New York City, but I’m curious if you’ve ever experienced the bro-y frat life.
I started at the University of Arizona before I finished at the New School and the Actor’s Studio. So I was actually in a frat.
I went to school at NYU and never actually went to a frat party. So I’m curious how realistic pop culture’s depiction of frats is.
I think it runs the gamut. Are you asking me if I did any gay stuff? Because that’s usually the frat question.
Ha! No, I actually wasn’t…
That wasn’t really in my frat. The craziest thing I did was that I had to steal an ostrich egg from an ostrich farm that was close to Mexico. I never looked back after I was running, but I threw a rock and think I might have killed an ostrich. But it was more stuff like that. It was fun, adventure-y type stuff. And they don’t really ever nail that in moves. Neighbors was close, it was pretty good depiction. Old School was really good. Those frat movies are some of my favorite movies. But no, there was never any weird thing where you’re like, “Am I going to die tonight?” That was never a question.
Which were you more suited for? The more standard college experience in Arizona or the city thing at New School?
Both were really informative. I was making a bunch of short films in high school and was kind of artsy, so I always knew I wanted to go to art school. Then I had this gut reaction of, no, you know what? I want to go party at a big football school and hang out. And the only one of those I could get into was the University of Arizona. I went there for a couple of years and had the best time ever, but then realized that I needed to do something different and transferred to the New School when I was 19 and started at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York that day.
It’s the trend these days for, immediately after a TV show is canceled, its fans to petition for its revival on Hulu or Netflix or something like that. Are people still asking you about a possible resuscitation of Happy Endings?
I think that television people talk about it more than the actual public. Rarely do I get approached by someone on the street who is like, “Bring back Happy Endings!” But the whole cast loved working with each other, so if that were to present itself in some way I think we’d be interested. But truthfully, I think that’s done.
How did you end up moving from Happy Endings to The Mindy Project?
Happy Endings was canceled and then that week I got an email from Mindy asking if I’d consider coming to play this character. And I was like, sure, because I didn’t have a job and it was one episode. And then it was another episode, and kept going.
Before you go, can you tease what’s going on with Peter when the show comes back?
I think the big change with Peter this year is that I think a lot of the dating stories are going to run through him because he’s the newly single gal in New York. So we’ll see how he does with that, because I think in some ways he is ready to settle down.
So he’s the new Carrie Bradshaw?
I would say that Peter Prentice is the new Carrie Bradshaw.