Michael Ansell/ABCThere are two things we love about Thanksgiving — the food and the annual train wreck celebrated by the Hecks on the ABC comedy The Middle. Not that a regular afternoon is uneventful in Frankie’s household, but things always seem to go especially awry on Turkey Day. So odds are that adding a dash of Jack McBrayer to the mix will spice up the comedy even more. 30 Rock’s beloved Kenneth the Page will be making his third appearance on The Middle as Dr. Ted Goodwin this week. But this time, he’ll be leaving his dentist smock at the doctor’s office and pulling up a chair at the dinner table on the special holiday episode.
In a recent one-on-one interview, Jack described the episode, saying, “It’s another Heck family Thanksgiving, which is always a little precarious just on its own. And Dr. Goodwin finds his way on the invitation list, as well as a couple of other, not necessarily invited guests.”
Of course for the last seven years, Jack’s been dining with the likes of Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin so he had to adjust to sitting at the grown-ups’ table on a new series. But he seemed to adjust quite easily. He reflected on being the relative outsider coming into an established ensemble, “It’s beautiful and it’s fun. But it is so weird to be a guest in someone’s house as opposed to hosting someone who’s there for perhaps a longer amount of time. I could not be more pleased. Everybody over there, the producers, the writers, crew, everyone, is so warm and so wonderful. I’m thrilled to be over there. I’ve been telling them it’s like a paid vacation.”
Besides, even though this is only his third appearance on The Middle, Jack’s already become part of the extended family. “I’ve been a fan of the show from way back and I’ve just gotten to know those guys even at table reads and that kind of thing. But to be able to spend a whole week with them was super fun.” Plus the holiday episode came with an extra special gift, which Jack noted, “I’m sitting across from Jerry Van Dyke and Marsha Mason, who are legendary.”
Still like any special occasion, even an imaginary holiday meal comes with it’s downsides. Jack recounted, “It was an entire week of us sitting around, which can be grueling at times. I didn’t realize. I was like, ‘Oh yeah, Thanksgiving, we’re just sitting around a table and it will be fun.’ It takes a long time… just the amount of coverage you have to do, the kind of shots, a lot of moving parts, if you will.”
It’s likely that his off-camera festivities will be a bit more relaxing. Jack revealed, “My real life Thanksgiving will be in Los Angeles, which is fairly new for me. I think I’ve had one, maybe two, in the past. So I’m going to go over to some of my improv friends. I’ve been asked to bring a dessert, unfortunately for me. It’s a casserole that’s Twinkies, vanilla pudding, cool whip and Heath Bar. It’s called White Trash Tiramisu. It’s delicious.”
We weren’t surprised to hear that Jack was cooking up a holiday treat. The last time we spoke to him, just after 30 Rock came to an end, he had been focusing on two new endeavors — one culinary, one musical. So we asked for an update. “Piano, I’m still struggling along. Cooking might have just fallen to the wayside. I might just not be built for cooking. I don’t have the patience. I clearly don’t have the skills. I feel betrayed by recipes. I feel betrayed. I will follow it to the letter and it will not turn out right, it won’t look right and it won’t taste right. And I’m like, ‘How dare you? How dare you? I did exactly what you told me to do. You lied to me, recipe.’”
So while he retires his whisk, he’ll keep tinkling away at the ivories. And he’s decided to pick up another hobby. Jack let us in on his latest diversion, “Today I’m about to take my first golf lesson. I’m very excited about that. My dad loves it and I’m like, ‘You know what, how dumb of me that I’ve never been able to play golf with my dad.’ I’m gonna learn now so that whenever we’re in the same city, maybe we can play a round of golf.”
Clearly Jack’s family is important to him. When we asked him when he first knew he was funny, he jokingly answered, “Still figuring that one out. The verdicts not in on that one.” Before adding, “My family’s always been funny. We always enjoy making each other laugh. I was never a class clown. I was never disruptive. But I did always enjoy goofing around with my friends.”
He also drew inspiration from some classic TV funny men, who don’t always get enough credit from modern day actors. Per Jack, “Well back in the day, I’ve always been a fan of Tim Conway and Don Knotts. Tim Conway just wrote a book and I’ve actually gone to a couple of his book launch events. That’s been a real treat. He is great. He can do no wrong in my eyes.”
And he also gave kudos to two of his recent collaborators, “Working with Jerry Van Dyke, it really is an honor for me to be able to work with people I admired before I got involved. Honestly, to some degree, Neil Flynn, who plays Mike Heck. I watched him perform at Second City and now I’m sitting at the table performing with him. That’s a big deal to me.”
In wrapping up the conversation, we asked Jack what he is most passionate about. Anyone who watched the always agreeable Kenneth the Page cater to Jenna and Tracey’s every need on 30 Rock might not be surprised by the answer. “I’m most passionate about treating people kindly, in the hopes and in the trust, that they would in turn treat me kindly,” replied Jack. “Maybe that’s naive but, you know what, it gets me through the day.”
Watch Jack McBrayer make it through a Heck holiday when he returns to The Middle on Wednesday, November 20 at 8 p.m. EST/7 p.m. Central on ABC.