Max Blum is a complex guy. He’s a scruffy, lazy sports fan with a mean streak. He’s a pigheaded friend who’s incapable of backing down from a stupid challenge. He’s tone-deaf when it comes to dating, but is a savant kisser capable of inspiring unrequited love from the ladies with a simple smooch. And thanks to actor Adam Pally, Max, a main character on ABC’s lauded comedy Happy Endings, is also the most relatable, offbeat, and compelling gay character on network television.
In the hands of 30-year-old Pally, Max isn’t just comic relief. He’s a beer-swilling, prank-playing, decidedly schlumpy everyman, but at the same time, he’s not just playing against type to teach us a lesson that not all gay guys sparkle. When Max becomes interested in bear culture, it means hibernating all winter, eating honey, and eventually straddling a unicycle. Yet it’s not entirely surprising when his all-guy Madonna cover band -- who go by the name Mandonna -- stage a reunion. You just can’t peg this dude.
For Pally, playing Max isn’t a matter of plotting the layers of his personality. His method is a bit simpler. “I just try to play him for the moment and make him as funny and real as possible,” he says. “If you start thinking about repercussions or stereotypes or ideas to break down, it stops being fun and it’s not pure. I try not to think about the end result.” Embodying Max is something that comes naturally to the actor. “There’s not a lot about Max that’s a stretch for me,” Pally says. “I am slovenly, I like sports, I drink too much, I have a gambling problem, and I’m highly competitive. And do I know someone like Max? Yeah. My best gay friends just got married, and in the middle of their big, lavish wedding they were telling us how they were moving to a better school district. I was like, ‘Wow, you’re really mature. In my mind, you guys are always just drinking or at the gym.’ ”
Comedy is something that practically runs through Pally’s veins. The New Jersey native grew up with a performer father -- his parents were once in a Borscht Belt rock group called Pally and Pal -- and knew early on that show business was for him. “When I was about 17, my parents took me to the Upright Citizens Brigade to see a show,” he recalls. “I loved it and knew that it was what I wanted to do.” After a stint at the University of Arizona (“I went and kind of fucked up for a couple of years and almost died.”) he moved to New York to attend college and join UCB, where he took and taught classes for nearly a decade. A relocation to L.A. turned up Pally’s breakout role in Happy Endings, a series that can be summed up as a richer, more bizarro, more self-aware take on Friends.
In the midst of filming the show’s third season, Pally is penning a script for a film being produced by Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, though he’s sworn to secrecy about its details. He’s less tight-lipped, however, about whether Max will get another chance at love when Happy Endings returns. “I think he really liked his old boyfriend, and when that didn’t work, it made it tough for him to recover,” Pally says. “We’ll see a lot of dates, but we might not see the boyfriend.”
And what about his admirers? Surely, Pally has raised a few eyebrows from fans who mistake him for Max and are surprised to spot him with a wife and kid? “Not really,” he says. “I feel like it used to be a much bigger deal to have a straight actor playing a gay character. Now people just don’t give a shit. They see me on the street and most of them are like, ‘Didn’t I go to high school with you?’ ”
The DVD for the second season of Happy Endings is out October 23.