Actor Chris Parnell is a comedic Swiss Army knife. After an eight year run on “Saturday Night Live,” Parnell has appeared on a myriad of different comedy series, showing his range on TV series such “Grown-ish,” “Drunk History” and “Brooklyn Nine Nine.”
Parnell is also an accomplished voiceover actor, something he seems to have been destined to become. I spoke with Chris about his career as he prepares for the season 10 premiere of “Archer,” which returns to FXX on May 29.
What would Cyril and Jerry talk about if there was ever an “Archer”/“Rick and Morty” crossover?
Chris: (laughing) Probably not a lot of very impressive things. Jerry might be sort of interested in Cyril’s connections to the spy world. He might think that was pretty cool. It’s hard to see what Cyril would find what’s interesting in Jerry. But he’s a decent enough guy, Cyril, so he might.
Who do you still keep in touch with from your SNL days?
Chris: One of the writers I hang out with every now and then, Scott Wainio, and then I’ll run into other people from time to time. We’re always happy to see each other. I probably have seen Andy, Akiva and Jorma more than most of the other cast. (Parnell is referring to Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone, who form the comedy trio The Lonely Island).
When you were starting your career did you ever think you’d voiceover work would be such a big part of it?
Chris: My dad is a voice over guy and he started out as a disc jockey so he would actually have me be the voice of a kid sometimes in commercials that he was producing. So it’s, in some ways, not that big of a surprise. It took awhile to break into it and it wasn’t until I got onto “Saturday Night Live “ that I was able to sort of parlay that into getting a voice over agent. But it’s been great, I feel so lucky.
You were a high school teacher for awhile. What was the hardest thing about the profession?
Chris: The hardest thing for me was being an authority figure, being “Mr. Parnell” to these kids that weren’t that much younger than me. Trying to maintain discipline in class, just all the basic things around being a teacher and authority figure.
I was teaching theater, film and video at my old high school under my mentor and the guy that had taught me, Frank Bluestein, so that was all good. And after the bell rang, working with students in the theater and TV department, that was great. But the day to day teaching I found very challenging. Not just the teaching itself but there was a lot of preparation and just trying to keep running in class and keeping the kids interested.
What actor would you really like to work with that you haven’t yet?
Chris: JK Simmons comes to mind, I’ve never worked with him. He did a special segment for one of the episodes of SNL but I don’t think I was in the segment. I run into him from time to time, he’s just the nicest guy and an obviously extraordinary actor. That would be cool.
I think of other people but then so many of them I remember I worked with them on “Saturday Night Live.” I’ve been very lucky to work with so many amazing people.
What are your three favorite TV shows?
Chris: “Game of Thrones,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.” I also really love Samantha Bee.
When you were a kid, what did you imagine yourself doing for a living?
Chris: I think like most kids I went through a few different things. At one point I wanted to be an entomologist, I wanted to be an architect. I took pictures with a simple camera and I thought that would be cool. And then when I was in about in seventh grade I sort of became aware of the drama department at school and thought, “Hey, I might want to try that.”
What three foods do you have to have in your fridge or pantry?
Chris: Milk, cereal and strawberries.
What has been one of your strangest or funniest fan encounters?
Chris: At comic con there are often people that dress up like characters from “Archer.” There was somebody dressed up as Cyril and he had made an aluminum swan, which was a reference to an aluminum swan in one of the episodes, he brought it and gave to me. Sometimes it’s kind of hard to know what to talk about with someone that is that committed but it was lovely.
Why is Cyril such a Jerry? They seem to have a lot in common.
Chris: (laughing) Well, that probably goes back to me and just sort of being able to tap into guys that can come across as pathetic. That is very much in my wheelhouse. It’s the way they’re written but its also part of why I got cast for those two roles. It’s a fun role to play and I feel much more comfortable doing that because it would hard for me to be Archer. The sort of qualities that Archer has doesn’t come as naturally. I feel much more comfortable being Cyril or Jerry. I could definitely never do what Justin Roiland does with Rick and Morty.
Do you have a favorite Cyril line?
Chris: Suppressing fire!