Thanks to the undying support of its avid fan base, NBC’s cult hit “Community” is finally returning to network television. And Chicago native Danny Pudi — who plays socially awkward student Abed Nadir — is thrilled to be back. “It’s the fourth season of a show that I don’t think anyone expected to last four seasons,” he jokes.
The pop culture reference-packed comedy, now gearing up for its Feb. 7 premiere after an almost yearlong hiatus, follows the shenanigans of an idiosyncratic seven-person study group at Greendale Community College. “The core of our show is a bunch of people doing really absurd things,” says Pudi, whose character is possibly the most absurd of them all (imagine an Indian Rain Man with a sense of humor and compulsion to make every moment cinematic). This season, the gang will enter their senior year at the not-so-elite educational institution, dealing with new levels of craziness as they head toward graduation and, possibly, the end of the study group.
The similarities Pudi shares with his on-camera character are eerie. “For Abed, these people have become his family. He has real and deep relationships with them, and he has to deal with the reality that he might not be able to see them as often.” On set, the cast has become as tightknit as they are on screen — and they all know that this season might be the last. “We’re all used to the ‘Community’ ride,” says Pudi. “It’s full of ‘Are we coming back? Are we not coming back? Are we going to finish this episode? Woo! We finished this episode!’ ”
Luckily, graduation isn’t a looming disaster for Pudi. He’s got a handful of side projects in the works, including a sports documentary that he’s directing and an untitled slapstick comedy movie. And as a new dad to twins, Pudi’s got his plate full. “It’s the wildest thing I’ve ever seen in my life,” he says of fatherhood. “I’ve never seen kids react so strongly one way or another to milk. You introduce such a simple thing to the ecosystem and the whole world changes.” Fortunately, Pudi has plenty of help from his wife, whom he credits as the parenting expert. “I feel most comfortable when I’m being directed, whether it’s by my wife or by my children,” he says.
Here, the actor and comic plays out his ideal fair-weather day in his hometown.
10 a.m. When Pudi and his wife lived in Wrigleyville, Julius Meinl (4363 N. Lincoln) was their go-to coffee joint, and he still craves it.
11 A.M. “I love riding trains,” says Pudi. “The Brown Line is probably the slowest, so if you’re looking to take in the city, it’s great.”
11:30 A.M. Pudi takes a quick walk around Old Town and Lincoln Square to burn off breakfast and do some people watching — a favorite hobby.
1 p.m. Pudi’s mom whips up her stellar kolaczki in her North Side home.
3 p.m. An avid marathon runner, Pudi jogs along the lakefront. “When you feel everything in your body burning and think it’s going to disintegrate, it’s nice to look at the water and trick yourself into being soothed.”
4 p.m. It’s time to sit back by a fire, watch a sports game — Bonnell loves the Bears and Bulls — and play cards with her family.
8 p.m. Pudi attends a laugh-out-loud improv show at iO Theater (3541 N. Clark) or Second City (1616 N. Wells).
10 p.m. The evening ends with a stop by Nightwood restaurant (2119 S. Halsted) — chef Jason Vincent is a friend.
Story by Zak Stemer