One of the most accurate aspects of Broad City’s depiction of 20something life in New York is the awkward roommate. (We’ve all encountered them — or maybe we are the awkward roommate.) Technically, Abbi’s roommate is a pretty girl who likes to volunteer in Haiti and vacation with her family, and is never, ever there. Instead, Abbi is tormented by her roommate’s ever-present boyfriend, Bevers, who violates basically every social code possible. As Bevers, John Gemberling brings sloth-like behavior to a new level, disregarding any concept of boundaries. Thanks to him, we now understand that couch sores are a thing, and will think twice before settling in for our next Netflix binge. (Or at least do it with pants on.) We chatted with the UCB alum about his role on Broad City and the NBC sitcom Marry Me, and brainstormed some potential Lifetime movie pitches (should anyone from their programming depart be reading this).
First question is one I think everyone wants to know. Are you like Bevers in real life?
John Gemberling: [Laughs.] Like in the sense that Bevers is, underneath it all, a smart, thoughtful, sensitive person? I would say so. I don’t want to undercut my acting ability but I’m pretty similar to Bevers. I did spend much of my 20s sitting on a couch playing video games and ordering disgusting food. I haven’t been too shy about where I’ve masturbated, historically, and I’m comfortable with my naked body. There’s a lot of similarities.
We recently saw Abbi try to get Bevers into shape. Throughout the series she’s wanted to become a trainer — not a janitor. Do you think she has what it takes?
She would be a good trainer for me personally. I’ve had one or two personal trainers at different times — and it’s expensive, first of all — but they always make me feel uncomfortable because they’re jocks who just yell at you. I would prefer an Abbi-type who felt more like a real person. I would like a softer touch, and a more encouraging tone.
Do you think we’ll ever meet Bevers’ girlfriend? What are some defining characteristics about the mystery woman?
I think the defining characteristic is that she’s patient. I don’t know who she is that she’s OK with her boyfriend’s situation. She clearly does all the heavy lifting in the relationship, and from photos you see, she’s pretty beautiful. Maybe she has something wrong with her that she would date down to such a degree? [Laughs.]
[Whether we meet her is] really up to Abbi and Ilana. I think it would have to be a real good moment. My feeling now is that there’s still mileage to be gotten out of her mysteriousness. Every show needs a Wilson type of character that you see fleetingly.
How well did you know Abbi and Ilana from UCB?
I didn’t know them super-well, but I was friendly with them and my wife and I hung out with Ilana and her brother from time to time. They brought over… what was that Rosie O’Donnell Lifetime movie? Riding the Bus with My Sister? Where Rosie O’Donnell is a mentally disabled woman riding the bus, and her sister is one of those ’90s actresses that you couldn’t tell apart? [Ed. note: Riding the Bus with My Sister aired on CBS, starring O’Donnell and Andie MacDowell.] There were a bunch of them and they were all in the movie Bad Girls. But I’m digressing. I was in their web series briefly, and then they had this pilot and said, “We have this character we want you to play,” and they really followed through. Usually people in this business say, “I want you to do something” and it never works out. This time it did.
I’ll digress here, too. Who should Lifetime’s next biopic be about?
They love mining these celebrity tragedies. The biopic is only entertaining if you know that at the end the person is going to die horribly. [Laughs.] The whole movie is just like noise, a preface to seeing how they handle the death scene at the end. It’s sort of ghoulish. Who’s somebody who died tragically? Maybe Fabio — he’s not dead but a Lifetime movie that leads up to him on that roller coaster getting smashed in the face with that goose.
Broad City producer Amy Poehler weighs in on the show’s appeal.
UCB has become a breeding ground for comedic talent. What did you learn there that you continue to use today in your work and your life?
Being able to hone in on an aesthetic that I liked. I met a crew of people who were able to share an aesthetic together, figure out what we thought was funny, and take it out into the world. For me it’s sort of like a gross vision of the world; everybody’s a little bit fucked up and has their darker disgusting sides that they’re not proud of. I know this is vague, but I think that’s the most important thing. There are thousands of people at UCB now. Some of them are really brilliant, and some are average cheesy people.
Since Bevers and your Marry Me character Gil are similar, are you worried about being typecast as a manchild?
It’s something that I do well, because I’m not that far from that character. I don’t want to be pigeonholed into one thing, but it’s early in my career to be worried about it. On Broad City they write Bevers with slightly more dimension than just the typical slob on a couch. I’m certainly happy to be working on funny shows — I mean, what are you going to do, go ask De Niro if he’s worried about being typecasted as a tough guy? [Laughs.] I think it’s fun. There’s a million places you can go with a character like that that hasn’t been done before.
How does the vibe on Marry Me differ from Broad City?
Marry Me is a very high budget network sitcom so we shoot at the Paramount lot. Sometimes they just put out Vietnamese sandwiches as a snack. There’s a million people who work on it and have a say over it, and it’s a network so it can’t fully go into the racy subject matter like Broad City can. The cast is super fun to work with, we’ve all become good friends, and they let us improvise. Broad City films at a slapped-together studio in Greenpoint. They also have good catering, but it’s not as extensive. It’s such a smaller thing, so the girls have been able to drive the aesthetic and tone almost absolutely. That’s a wonderful thing because everything has their vibe and their ease. It seems like everybody there is in love with what they’re doing.
There’s been a lot of good musical moments on the show. Are you pushing for a Bevers musical number?
I haven’t actively pushed but I probably should. I was in a ska band in the ’90s when that was something you could do, so I can sing and dance a little bit. I was actually on set when Abbi did “Edge of Glory” [in Season 2’s “Mochalatta Chills”], and we cried. It was amazing. Synchronizing that song with her dance and just being naked and running around, and when the camera hits the window and the light washes her out in a silhouette? It was just one of those things that was beautiful to see.
Do you have a favorite moment or episode you’ve done so far?
I sort of love it all. I could only do three episodes this season because of Marry Me, but I got to do more in the episodes because of that. There’s one coming up where it was just me, Abbi, and Ilana in a room together all day, and that was really fun to shoot. I love acting with those girls and improvising with them; I like Abbi yelling at me. In the gym when they’re stretching me out and I farted, that was real. That wasn’t a sound effect, that was me. And there are several times I’ve done that and everybody acts really grossed out but I know that they appreciate it.
Would you say you’re an Abbi or an Ilana?
I’m more of an Abbi. I could be extrovert if I’m in the mood but I think I lean towards hanging back and observing before I act. You know, cautious, behind the shadows.
What’s Bevers’ purpose in life, aside from sitting on the couch?
I think he has a vivid imagination that he would love to turn into a book or a movie or a TV show, but is not realistic about the discipline it takes to fulfill something like that. He’s expecting to lay low and be a creature of habit until he explodes into a fascinating filmmaker. He’s creative, but not realistic about following through on those creative impulses. He’s planning for ultimate success but I don’t know if he’ll make it happen.
[Photo Credit: Comedy Central]