Welcome to The Window’s “A Drink With…” series, where each month, photographer/writer duo Justin Bridges and Sean Hotchkiss sit down with an influential person(s), breaking the ice with their host’s refreshment of choice. Last month we hung out with designer Ben Taverniti, and this time around the guys caught up with actor Zach Woods, whose new film, the Christopher Guest-directed Mascots, premieres October 13 on Netflix.
The Window: Do you have a history with Greenblatt’s?
Zach Woods: Well, I used to come here all the time, but I don’t much anymore because I live in Koreatown.
That’s where we’re staying, at The Line.
No way! I ate breakfast there earlier. Had we known, we might have actually spontaneously had a drink together… I was there early, 9AM or so, and I was shocked to see the pool was full—there were all these hot couples lubing each other up with sunscreen on what, a Thursday? Like they were really getting into it. Very hot to trot.
People take their vacations very seriously.
I used to get into these horrific fights on vacation. It became a family joke, like when is Zach going to get into a fight?
Like with other people?
[Laughs] No, with my family! Can you imagine? We’re on the Outer Banks or whatever, and I’m like okay: Woods family vs. what was your name again? No, I wasn’t starting turf wars on vacation. We didn’t have our family tag that we’d leave on people’s Winnebagos. No, but they did some poll that people returning from vacation were actually more stressed than when they’d left.
I’ll have a cheese sandwich please—Swiss cheese on rye with lettuce, tomato, and brown mustard, with a side of fruit salad, a chamomile tea, and a plate of pickles. And a piece of mousse cake—maybe I’ll wait until I eat the other stuff before I order that, but it’s so good. Do you eat cake?
I don’t want to bully you into cake.
This has to be the most New York place in L.A.
Right? When first I moved out here, I desperately missed New York. I’d come here because it was comforting to me. But I don’t eat meat, so it’s kind of a stupid place to come.
We’re surrounded by meat.
I like that there’s no music. I like that it’s old with the wood paneling. When I’m in New York, I go to Russ and Daughters, and there’s like nothing there for me to eat either, but I think it’s just like genetic memory from the shtetl or whatever.
So, you grew up in Western Pennsylvania and then started doing improv in New York super young?
I did. I took the train from Buck’s County into Manhattan starting at about 16. I started performing and coming into the city regularly then.
The boy comes of age.
My bar mitzvah? [Laughs] Yeah, I mean, I never told anyone I went to school with that I was doing it, because I kind of liked having my secret comedy life. At the time, I was going to Philadelphia a couple nights a week to do trumpet stuff, and I’d go to New York a couple nights a week to do comedy stuff, and I remember reaching the end of my rope.
That’s a lot.
I remember having this idea, at 16: Now is the time you need to set up the life you want. Which is kind of an oppressive and obnoxious view. But I’m really glad I did it because UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade) became such a home for me.
And you loved the city?
I did. I sort of half went to college in this weird choose-your-own-adventure department at NYU—Gallatin—it’s like interdisciplinary education at its best. There’d be a class like: Exploring Heteronormative Traits in Anime or something.
And you bring that out into the real world and…
Exactly. People are clambering for your services. Everyone wants to know the gender studies anime guy.
But you made it work with the comedy.
I started teaching at UCB to make money and doing commercials and stuff. That lasted about 8 or 9 years. And then I moved out here because I got a job on The Office. That’s when I got nostalgic for New York. The building I live in, in Koreatown, feels like the Upper West Side. It’s not bad out here. I think you might like it. Knowing almost nothing about you.
My mom doesn’t want me to move out here. She’s scared of earthquakes.
That’s legit though, man. I’m scared of earthquakes, too. Want to know something that makes me sound like a crazy person?
I sleep with two hard hats next to my bed.
One for you and one for your significant other?
[Laughs] Yes. No, one is a backup for me, and she’s on her own.
Such a great image.
There was a minor earthquake one time and Jocelyn, my girlfriend, woke me up. I’ve never felt more smug and self-satisfied because I just popped out these two hardhats. Not that they would have done anything. But I have an earthquake kit. I’m always evangelizing to people about the importance of an earthquake kit. I have like lots of small bills in my home. Do you remember the show Doomsday Preppers? They have those packs. If I ever have the resources, I’m getting one of those. I even thought about having my closets reinforced with steel so I’d have an earthquake hovel. I’m with your mom on that.
You picked them out?
Yep, I think so. I had clip-on ties. I used to really like getting dressed up. Now, I like it okay. But I think I feel self-conscious wearing anything that draws too much attention.
Is this your daily uniform?
This is pretty much it. Is this okay? Because I read your other interviews. That guy, how do you pronounce his name—John Varvatos? Does he even know how to pronounce his name?
There are all these guys with these elegant clothes. And they’re drinking these cocktails that were invented by some fresco painter in Morocco. But seriously, is this place okay? You guys are from a much sleeker operation than my life is.
It’s perfect. Plus we have cake.
It must be so fun to go and see other people’s homes. I have this book that describes all these artists’ rituals throughout history. And how they worked—Flannery O’Connor would transcribe a page of the bible before she wrote or whatever. Shostakovich wouldn’t wake up until 3pm or whatever and then he’d go for a walk.
Daily Rituals by Mason Curry.
It’s a common thread, the walk.
If you want to be a cultural luminary, just walk. I had a friend who dated a playwright. Bruce Norris, you know him? Anyways, he’d always walk. He’d say ‘You have to trust me, I know it looks like I’m a professional leisurist, but I’m working.’
Steve Jobs walked a lot.
Didn’t he also not wear shoes?
And drank only carrot juice, I think.
That’s my favorite, man. Angry hippies. Angry, capitalist people who are like extremely ambitious, tough, but also kind of crunchy.
Well, you’re getting to live in that world now, on Silicon Valley.
Look at that Segway baby!
Do you think doing improv at a young age gives you a better understanding of yourself? Like on a curve?
Anytime you try to do something that’s hard for you, you learn a lot about yourself, I think. Whether it’s improv or making ships in a bottle. I don’t know if it’s specific to improv. Could be the exertion of trying to learn something.
You have to really show up for improv. You can’t really phone it in.
Completely. In my life, I feel very vigilant and responsible. Like I have to anticipate possible problems and head them off. And be very deliberate about how I approach things. Improv is such a nice escape from that. You really have no option but to be completely present, because if you’re not present you’ll be humiliated. It’s a high-stakes game where you have to show up. That’s liberating. There are very few moments in my life where I feel completely present like that.
How’s the tea?
Is this Celestial Seasonings? Oh, excuse me, Bigelow. Very highbrow stuff. Do you want a pickle?
I think I have the appetite of a permanently pregnant woman—all I want is chocolate ice cream and pickles.
Me too. Ice cream is my favorite thing.
Really? Man, we should have gone to Jeni’s in Los Feliz. I was going to pick Jeni’s. Their Darkest Chocolate or whatever? Forget about it.
Exactly. The Darkest Chocolate. It opened out here and immediately closed because of Listeria. And then opened again. Same location. It still drove the neighboring ice cream place out of business. I don’t know what Listeria is, but it doesn’t sound great.
That’s a strong following.
Listen, we had Listeria twice. But we’re still going to put out the non-Listeria place out of business with our sheer deliciousness.
[Laughs] Ice cream has blown up in New York. Have you been to Morgenstern’s?
No, I have not been to Morgenstern’s. It sounds like an investment bank.
The ice cream is fantastic. And Nick Morgenstern is this cool guy with neck tattoos and a Ducati. He’s kind of an ice cream king.
My highest aspiration is that someday someone will describe me as ‘kind of an ice cream king.’