If you’re missing Superstore, you can fill that beloved sitcom void with NBC’s newest series, American Auto. First debuting in December 2021, the comedy kicked off its official run on Jan. 4 and brought to TV a dynamic, hilarious dive into a major automobile company in Detroit. Among the cast is Jon Barinholtz who sat down with LA Confidential to discuss the show and all about his NFT projects and why this booming digital space is like the Wild West.
You’re no stranger to workplace sitcoms. What sets American Auto apart from its predecessors?
Setting the show in the corporate offices of a multi-billion-dollar American company immediately just makes it feel like the stakes are higher than in most workplace comedies I grew up watching. And the fact that this is an industry that is truly at a crossroads trying to find its footing on what the future will bring makes this high-stake environment even more unhinged and panicked and that really drives a lot of the comedy in this show.
Besides the actual setting, the writing on this show is so sharp and impressive and unlike anything I've seen on network TV before in terms of 'can they say that on TV?!' There would be a few jokes in every script that I was certain would be cut after the table read. But sure enough, we'd get the final script after the table read and those jokes always survived! I've been so happy that the network is letting us take big swings with the comedy in every episode.
Tell us more about Wesley Payne. How would you describe him and what do you enjoy about the role?
Wesley's a direct descendant of the company's founder. He doesn't have a formal role at the company and just kind of hangs around as an ‘unfireable’ consultant who likes to tell people that he turned down the role of CEO (even though it was never offered to him). He may not be a great person, but he's not a villain. So, for me, the joy and the challenge of taking on this role is to try to bring some vulnerability and maybe even lovability to the character. It's about finding that balance of 'Oh that guy's the worst and I'd never want to hang out with him...BUT, I kind of feel bad for him and he makes me laugh.’
It’s super important to find sources of joy and laughter these days. How does American Auto successfully balance its comedic nature while still revealing the ills of Corporate America/the auto industry?
I think the perception can be that people who hold jobs like these get to where they are by some sort of meritocracy and that they've earned it. However, this show does a really good job at showing what I think is closer to the reality, which is that these people in high status/high paying/big decision-making positions are no more equipped than their counterparts on the factory floor to do the job in front of them. A lot of them have just stuck to it and keep 'failing upwards.’ So, seeing these characters scrambling around trying to put out fires and keep this company going is incredibly satisfying to watch from a comedic standpoint and as a commentary on what Corporate America is like and who it's populated by. Obviously, these companies are doing something right because of how successful they are, so these characters often make the right decision in the end, but it's almost always for the wrong reason.
You have two NFT projects going on. How did you get involved in this space?
It's always exciting to be in and learn about a new space where creativity can happen. I truly couldn't tell you what NFTs were six-ish months ago, but then my friends came along and asked me to make content for their NFT project called The Glue Factory and everything changed. It's been really interesting learning about this space. I think there's a lot of differing opinions about what NFTs are and what they can be. And because it's all so new, I think whatever your opinion of NFTs are (good or bad, lame or cool), it is reflective of at least part of the reality of the NFT space right now—which is very much like the Wild West. Coming from an entertainment background, I personally see NFTs as points of access that can put a lot of power into the hands of artists and creators over their own content while building a community who is actively involved in what is being created. For example, The Glue Factory, which is the project I've been working on since August, was the first of these 10,000 series projects to attach content to their NFTs while harnessing the power of their community creativity, granting their NFT holders’ exclusive input into the writing process through the community writer's room. So, myself and a few friends, who are much more talented than me, created these six animated shorts and throughout the writing process we'd come to our community of NFT holders for feedback and input.
How do NFTs work in relation to TV?
I think everyone is trying to find how to make that NFT-TV crossover happen. Well, not everyone, but people in the space. For Glue Factory, this has been the plan all along and it was built into the roadmap and model of the sale of the NFTs. Our community has been along for the whole ride and it's really exciting. We have these animated shorts, which are so funny with such talented voice actors filling out the roles, so now we'll go to potential buyers, present the world of this show, and be able to show them that there is already an active and engaged fanbase here. My friend, Colton Dunn, who wrote on the shorts and voices a character in the show, described it as a kind of 'reverse Comic-Con. Instead of a show generating a fanbase, this is a fanbase (hopefully) generating a show. I'm sure over the next six to 12 months there will be a ton of NFT projects that try and make the crossover to TV, but I don't think any are as far down that road as Glue Factory and it's because my friends really just nailed the proper model on this one. I want to mention that part of their model was a charitable component that raised $315K for a horse rescue in Chino Hills called Red Bucket Rescue, and they are also partnering with an organization that will carbon-offset this project to make it eco-friendly. It truly feels like an 'everybody wins' model.
You are also developing The Electrician into NFT art and graphic novels. Aside from these projects, do you have any other NFT ambitions?
The Electrician is in its early stages. It's a project I'm part of along with my brother, Ike, and his creative partner Dave, and our friend Eric Ledgin on the writing side. And on the art side, we have our friend Rudie Schafer, who is coming off a crazy run where he was the art director for the Avatar sequels, Mandalorian and Boba Fett. It's a project we've wanted to make for years and it's great that the NFT space can be a launching pad for it. As far as other NFT ambitions, even though I'm just one component to these two projects, the energy output and time needed to do them right and give them the attention they deserve really makes it a full-time job and then some. So I definitely have my hands full and in the ideal world, I get to be working on both of these projects for years to come because I think they are both amazing and I can't wait to bring both of them from the NFT world fully into the entertainment world and expand their audiences.
What else is important to know about you?
Everything I am able to do is because I have an amazing family and supportive friends, so I'd be remiss if I didn't thank them at every turn....so, thank you friends and family!
This interview has been edited. American Auto airs on NBC and is now streaming on Hulu.
Photography by: JSquared Photography