When Zach Woods was first cast as Gabe in season six of The Office, he found a comment online in which someone described his face as “a combination of sadness and food poisoning.” And that was before he had even appeared in an episode. “I thought to myself: buckle up, let’s go!” He remembers the way of thinking at the time.
In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast, Woods details how he went from the “abject terror” of joining one of his favorite comedy shows to channeling some of the tech world's biggest weirdos as Jared on the HBO series Silicon Valley . He also talks about creating and starring as the extremely bumbling fictional NPR host Lauren Caspian in his new stop-motion animated show “In the Know,” which features live-action celebrities like Mike Tyson, Hugh Laurie, Nicole Byer and more .
“The thing about Lauren is that he's so uncomfortably close to me in a way that I really, really wish that wasn't true,” Woods tells me of his character, who looks a bit like Ira Glass from This American Life , but also reminiscent of podcast hosts Malcolm Gladwell, Ezra Klein and Michael Barbaro from The Daily. (The series begins with Lauren practicing his active listening “Hmms” shirtless in front of the mirror.) If he weren't an actor, Woods says, he'd like to be Fresh Air host Terry Gross.
So what exactly does he have in common with his character? “Smug, moral complacency that is not backed up by your actual life,” Woods replies. Also “purchasable deductible”.
One of the first inspirations for In the Know came shortly after the killing of George Floyd by police officers in 2020. Woods was walking through the affluent Larchmont neighborhood of Los Angeles when he saw a sign on someone's lawn right next to it that read “Defund the Police” discovered an ADT security sign warning of armed guards.
“I thought: Jesus Christ!” he is now amazed. “'Defund the police… but we also have armed mercenaries to protect our Audi SUV.' It’s just like, come on.”
He found a soul mate in his old Silicon Valley boss Mike Judge, who co-created “In the Know” with Woods and Brandon Gardner. When Judge does satire, Woods says, “it's both completely unsparing and cutting, but also kind of warm.” Instead of the perspective, “looking down from the top, it's sideways.”
“Instead of, 'Aren't these people assholes?' “It's like, 'Aren't we all such assholes?' And that's actually more of my worldview,” Woods explains. “I don’t think I’m better than the people who signal virtue. I'm probably one of them more often than not. “So we wanted to try to understand the core needs, wounds and desires that motivate people to commit such vile acts.”
Of course, the risk of making serious liberals the target of the show's punchlines is that they end up with a show that primarily appeals to a right-wing audience. What if these confident progressives weren't willing to laugh at themselves?
“The purpose of the show certainly wasn’t to just be like the Jan. 6 Insurrectionists workplace comedy,” Woods says with a laugh. “But I think because there's such factionalism and people are so entrenched politically and in terms of their identity, I feel like there's not as much self-deprecation across the political divide.”
“We wanted to show people who have many different contradictory aspects,” he adds. “And I think the more we can experience ourselves and each other in that way, of not just being one thing but being many different things at once, then my hope would be that if we could do that more, we would have more an appreciation for our own ridiculousness and more empathy for other people.”
At that moment, Woods stops himself with another self-deprecating realization: “Now I'm starting to sound like Lauren describing the utopia on the other side of my 20-minute stop-motion comedy.”
Listen to the episode now and follow The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you get your podcasts to be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Wednesday.