‘Office Race’ Director on Joel McHale & Beck Bennett’s Marathon

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Life isn’t a sprint but an actual marathon as Beck Bennett’s Pat finds out in the new Comedy Central movie Office Race. The film, which premieres September 4, sees the Saturday Night Live alum play an unmotivated slacker who works for a financial app company called Aardvark. Pat’s fitness fanatic boss Spencer, played by Joel McHale, tasks him to secure an investor Rita (Erinn Hayes), or risk losing his job.

To get in her good graces, Pat joins Rita’s band of characters that make up her running group and trains for an upcoming marathon. A rivalry builds with Spencer to the point Pat challenges him to beat him in the 26.2-mile trek. Adding to the hilarity is a cast that also includes Kelsey Grammer (Frasier), J.B. Smoove (Curb Your Enthusiasm), and Alyson Hannigan (How I Met Your Mother).

Here director Jared Lapidus, who co-wrote the movie with James Kilmoon (Impractical Jokers), tells us why this movie is worth running to your TV for.

How did the idea for the film come about? 

Jared Lapidus: It was serendipitous. My writing partner in sketch and life James was a runner. He ran on the NYU cross-country team. He and I were randomly assigned freshman-year roommates. I was very close friends with the cross-country team. They actually won the NCAA Division III championship when we were seniors in school. Fast forward a few years and James and I have our sketch comedy careers up and running. I have just finished a short-form scripted series co-produced by Above Average and Believe Entertainment Group, which are the two production companies that produced the film. Brian Hunt of the Believe Entertainment Group asked me if we would be interested in developing a feature with us. He thought the world of running was ripe for a broad comedy. With James’ expertise, we were off to the races.

Would you say James is more of a Pat kind of runner or Spencer? 

I hope he doesn’t take offense to this, but I think he is a Beck kind of guy. James is a wonderful athlete in his own right. But I do remember freshman year when he stepped away from the running team for a moment when the allure of being a freshman in college grew too strong. He was brought back grudgingly by the coach. James is a great runner and ended up coaching the team, but I think it took some coaxing, which is not unique to Pat.

You either love running or hate it. I feel there is nothing in between, but I think everyone can find something to relate to in this movie. 

We were trying to bring that duality perspective through the film. There is the insider-running perspective and the non-runner perspective. Sort of embracing the running community and poking gentle fun at it.

How much fun was filming with such a star-studded cast? 

It was honestly pretty surreal. Going into it I couldn’t believe we were able to attach the names we did, largely on the merit of the script. That’s unbelievably validating. Getting on to set it was fun how our schedule was structured. Day 1 of the shooting was just Beck alone. The real challenge for an actor is to basically assume the emotionality of various spots across the continuum of his arc. Day 1 was really intimate. Then we added more team members to the set, and ingredients to the recipe. It was fun to watch. We didn’t have time for rehearsal. The first time we hear the words spoken out loud is on set as we’re doing a blocking rehearsal. We were so outrageously lucky to have a cast that came with amazing ideas and unique takes on the character. Stuff they wanted to try. It was dynamite seeing the scenes come alive before our eyes. Everyone was there to have fun and because they liked the project. Joel and Beck were both incredibly committed.

Joel is hilarious going deeper into almost insanity as Spencer is trying to beat Pat. 

Joel is amazing. He is so invested in the character. It was almost like a kid in the candy store in terms of the character and what he was able to do with it. Also, the trajectory of the character. Joel’s character Spencer is an athlete and outrageously fit and every time we see him he is either coming back or going out for some extremely athletic event or exercise. We also see him chugging nitro venom, which is this quasi-legal sports drink. He has a crippling addiction to this sports drink, which wreaks havoc on his body in a myriad of ways. One of our imperatives in scheduling the film was attempting to shoot Spencer’s decline chronologically so Joel could track where his character was in terms of his deterioration. There is a slow descent into madness.

Office Race

Quantrell Colbert/Comedy Central

Was Beck inspired to run from making the film? 

Beck was unbelievably committed. He was in good shape before, but took it way more seriously and began to train pretty hard. They all knew this was a running movie. There are quite a few scenes running and dialogue while running. As an actor, you have to do that over and over again with no body doubles. All the actors had to be in good shape. We had a little scare a couple of days before shooting. He mentioned he had calf pain or cramps. James, given his former coaching expertise, gave him helpful pointers in terms of how to stretch or prepare for a run, cooldown, and devices to use to aid stretch and recovery drinks. Beck took it really seriously. I think it shows in the film. His transformation is fun to track. During the marathon, there is this fun reveal for him at the end of the film.

What was it like working with comedy icon Kelsey? 

It was a dream. I have been a huge Frasier fan and Cheers before that. Both shows have perfect pilots, and I’m enamored with Kelsey. I’m also a Down Periscope fan. I think that film doesn’t get its due as a wonderful comedy. Getting to work with him lived up to the hype. We only had him for a day, and it was really a half day at that because he was in the midst of shooting the Frasier reboot. We had to navigate his schedule around his availability.

He plays a prominent role in the film as the owner of the local running store and the former track coach for Julie, who becomes Pat’s coach for the marathon. Kelsey was amazing. He was generous with the actors and receptive to direction. His character we wrote the character as this Foghorn Leghorn type. He definitely humanized and grounded the character, which was super helpful. At the same time, he was on board with some of the silly antics and physical comedy gags without objection. He came to set ready to play and get silly with us.

The characters are so much fun. Any thoughts on a sequel or spinoff series? 

It’s funny you say. In writing the film we never had the larger vision of that, but as we dove into production and had our conversations. it seems like the cast loved the experience and loved playing these characters. We definitely tossed around the idea of doing a sequel or spinning off into a series. It’s something James and I would be interested in if there is an appetite from the audience after the film premieres.

Office Race premiere, September 4, 8/7c, Comedy Central 

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