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Jon Barinholtz & Humphrey Ker Interview: American Auto Season 1

American Auto stars Jon Barinholtz & Humphrey Ker chat about the morally dubious characters they play in NBC’s newest workplace comedy.

The king of the workplace comedy, NBC recently returned with the latest iteration of the genre in American Auto, which sets the tried and true formula to against the backdrop of the automobile industry’s high stakes. The ensemble series focuses on the staff of Payne Motors and their first-ever female CEO, Katherine Hastings (Ana Gasteyer, The Goldbergs), who was a star of the pharmaceutical world but doesn’t know the first thing about cars.

Creator and EP Justin Spitzer, who previously charmed audiences with Superstore and The Office, makes the most of his quirky cast of characters and manages to turn the most concerning car-related crises into humorous half hours of television. While the employees try to maneuver each fresh scandal, they must also deal with their interpersonal problems. Wesley Payne (Jon Barinholtz, Chicago Party Aunt) was passed over for a promotion despite having the family name, for example, while Elliot (Humphrey Ker, Mythic Quest) must help the company evade legal troubles in the midst of his own divorce.


Related: 10 Funniest Work-Related Comedies, According To IMDb

Barinholtz and Ker spoke to Screen Rant about how the morally compromising situations their characters find themselves in every episode, and where they hope to see their stories go next.

American Auto - tye white & jon barinholtz
AMERICAN AUTO — Pictured: (l-r) Tye White as Jack, Jon Barinholtz as Wesley — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Jon, how does Wesley feel about having the name but not the claim to fame at this point? How is he feeling about his position in the company?

Jon Barinholtz: I think, on the outside, he would say it’s fine. It’s his family, so he’s fine. But on the inside, I think it’s what keeps him up at night. And it’s a fire inside of him that he will never be able to put out. He’s a sad man.

Humphrey Ker: It’s been marketed as comedy, but it’s really a tragedy about Wesley Payne? This is a heartbreaking story.

Humphrey, we’re seeing the grimy side of how things work in the auto industry, and Elliot is a lawyer for the industry. Where does he fall on the sliding scale of morality, would you say? How does he feel about his job?

Humphrey Ker: I mean, this is the biggest philosophical question anyone’s ever asked me in a TV interview. Where is he on the scale of murderer to [saint]? I think it was the philosopher Edmund Burke who said, I think, “In order for evil to triumph, it only takes good men to do nothing.”

Jon Barinholtz: Yeah, I was gonna quote that too.

Humphrey Ker: Let’s be honest, Elliot would do nothing. I think this is precisely the sort of person that just nods and smiles their way into a very morally compromising situation. I think he’s going to side with whoever is the biggest bully in the room, which doesn’t speak highly to his moral fiber.

Not good for his moral fiber, but great for his survival skills.

Humphrey Ker: Oh, yes. After the nuclear bombs, cockroaches and Elliot remain.

American Auto - humphrey ker
AMERICAN AUTO — Pictured: Humphrey Ker as Elliot — (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

Speaking of morally compromising situations, this show opens the door to a lot of the less savory aspects of big corporations in the auto industry. Did you learn anything surprising or horrifying while filming? Or anything that had you like, “I’m glad someone’s bringing this up.”

Jon Barinholtz: I always knew, and I think we touched on this later on, but I remember seeing it first in Fight Club. But the ratio that has to happen for them to do a recall, and what makes it economically viable for firms to do that. And the fact that you have people sitting around a room discussing at what price point we tell people that they might be that they might die from our car is a very dark side of the industry.

That always shocks me when I hear it. It sounds like new information every time.

Humphrey Ker: I would love to tell you my true answer, but I don’t know who’s watching. I don’t want to get murdered by the car industry. Too many secrets based off our sitcom. I don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night one day, and there’s two cars at my door threatening me.

If we get a season 2, what would you like to explore about Elliot and Wesley?

Humphrey Ker: For me, it would be great if Elliot became really cool. If he became like the Fonz, or an iconic cool character like that, where I just had a catchphrase that was nice and people would repeat back to me. Justin doesn’t seem interested. I’ve pitched that many times, and he’s like, “No, he’s a wiener and no one likes him.”

Actually, what I would love to explore is kind of alluded to a few times over the course of the series. He’s quite recently divorced, and he’s somewhat unlucky in love. I’ve always loved watching sitcom characters just blunder through a disastrous love life, so I I think I’d like to see more of Elliot on the dating scene and how badly that goes,

Jon Barinholtz: I think, as we build out the world and hopefully have more seasons, we get to see these people in their personal lives too. That’s always great fun. I’d love to see just what he does with all the access that he has, and what his life is really like.

More: 10 Funniest American Auto Quotes

American Auto airs new episodes every Tuesday night at 8/7c on NBC.

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