EMMYS Q&A: Kat Dennings

Anthony D’Alessandro is Managing Editor of AwardsLine.

After stealing comedic thunder from the goddesses in her 2000 debut as the foul-mouthed Jewish princess Jenny Brier in Sex And The City, Kat Dennings made an impression on the show’s creator, Michael Patrick King. So when King offered Dennings a shot at playing a free-spirited New York waitress in the CBS series 2 Broke Girls, which he co-created with Whitney Cummings, choosing between film or TV was a little easier for the actress. Kind of a Laverne & Shirley for the millennial set, the series finds Dennings is right at home as Max Black, delivering one-liners in the style of Bea Arthur, Megan Mullally or even Fran Drescher. In fact, since her early teens—and without any acting lessons—Dennings has vamped and deadpanned, a natural talent that’s given her the opportunity to work with director Judd Apatow on The 40-Year-Old Virgin and play a supporting comic-relief role in Marvel’s Thor franchise.

Related: EMMYS: Comedy Series Overview

AwardsLine: You’ve distinguished yourself as a comedic performer with your deadpan cadence. Did you nurture this over time?
Dennings: That’s really interesting—I’ve never thought much about that. I guess it’s just how I am. But I know for a fact my older brother Geoffrey is also very much like that. And I worshipped him as a kid, so I give him a little credit.

AwardsLine: What was that first Sex And The City audition like?
Dennings: I was 13 or 14 then, homeschooled, lived in the woods and didn’t have TV. So I had no idea what this show was. (The audition) was six pages of sides; I read it, and Michael said, “Come back tomorrow. Memorized.” And I looked at him, and I was like “Fuck it, I will!” So in the cab on the way back to Penn Station, there was a building covered in the Sex And The City poster, and I thought, “Damn! I just sassed that guy, and this is such a big deal!”

AwardsLine: You were joking around?
Dennings: I was messing with him, but also I was sort of challenging him. Like, “I can do that too.”

Related: EMMYS: Comedy Farewells

AwardsLine: Did Michael see you in another project prior to 2 Broke Girls that reminded him of you?
Dennings: I guess. I’ve never asked. I’ve heard him talk on panels so that’s how I get my information. Maybe Nick And Norah’s Infinite Playlist?

AwardsLine: Tell me about the genesis of 2 Broke Girls.
Dennings: I think the waitering part and Caroline’s (Beth Behrs) jobs are based on Michael’s experiences. The hoarders episode happened to Michael, as well as the one where we went into this guy’s apartment and found naked pictures of him. The cupcake shop and its demise are based on his sister’s experience. And he loved that as a device, which is really smart.

Related: EMMYS Q&A: Allison Williams

AwardsLine: In discovering Beth Behrs, did they test a number of girls with you?
Dennings: I was in Florida shooting a really dark film. They called and asked if I could fly back and read, and I’m like, “I’m in Florida. I’m getting raped in a tub. I’m not in a good spot.” And they said, “We get it. Just watch her Funny or Die stuff.” However, they needed to see us together. We got in front of CBS to test, which was one of the most terrifying experiences. I’ve done it a few times. Ninety-five percent of the time no one laughs. You know when you watch those SNL auditions and no one laughs? It’s like that. This was the last step in Beth’s hiring process. Michael loves telling this, but we left that test, and I put my arm around her instinctively.

AwardsLine: You were initially inspired by Fran Drescher for your character and then threw that out.
Dennings: When you start putting someone in the character instead of yourself, it’s muddled. Before we shot the pilot, I was so nervous. It’s a live audience. I watched Jack Black in High Fidelity, and his performance made me feel brave. And I watched The Nanny because she was the only one I could think of who was sort of like that tough Jewish Brooklyn girl. But again, that’s someone else’s character, and I have to develop my own. I kind of ended up imitating my mother because she was a poor girl from Queens who was cool and tough.

AwardsLine: Does your delivery of zingers on the show come naturally?
Dennings: Well, I’ve learned the best way to do it is not to think about it. We’ll get to the show and we’ll do a take, and then the writers rewrite everything. Eighty percent of what airs was given to us the second before we said it. And that’s where they do their best work and gauge what’s funny off the audience. You’re discovering the jokes at the same time as everybody else.

AwardsLine: When you read scripts, can you tell the difference between material coming from a male versus a female writer?
Dennings: Jhoni Marchinko is a legendary sitcom writer, and I can tell her jokes from when she was on Will & Grace. I can tell her flavor on stuff. I mean, Pat (Walsh) and Michael and the male writers are brilliant, but we’re writing for two girls all the time, so having women is essential. Also we have a lot of gay writers, which is a really important voice for our show. It’s just such a perfect melody with all these different instruments.

  1. Michael Patrick King was NOT the ‘creator’ of Sex and the City. That would be Darren Star. King was a writer/executive producer on the show.

    1. Amen to that, and to you for pointing it out (aren’t the professionals supposed to be the ones looking out for those kinds of things?).

      And, as much as I admire Michael Patrick King’s talent, this is one of the most horrific shows I’ve ever laid eyes on – and that includes the awful performances of the leading ladies.

  2. Kat Dennings is terrific. Perfect casting to Beth Behrs’ character. Rest of cast is funny week in and week out. I’ve never missed an episode of 2BG.

  3. 2 Broke Girls can’t even afford a couple of genuine laughs from its audience. How this show is still on the air is befuddling.

  4. Joshreader and clarice, they didnt post that because most professionals know that Darren was only a part of the first season. MPK was the creative force and showrunner for all other seasons and wrote/directed both movies. He is the man behind the series. Much like on 2BG, where Whitney Cummings has no creative influence past the pilot, co-creator doesn’t mean showrunner or even staff on a show.

    1. SaTC…your comment does nothing other than confirm that Darren Star was the creator of the SATC television show, and that MP King was not. I’m happy to give King whatever credit he deserves as the person who ran the show, helped it find its most effective voice, etc. But he wasn’t the creator. Why would you want to defend an inaccuracy?

  5. The show is nothing special Kat and her co-star are totally fu*kable and have great chemistry. That’s why people watch TV, idiots.

    Because I Dream Of Jeannie was totally hilarious, right?

    1. Thank you, Fred. You’re the only one who gets it. I don’t think the show is anything special either but I find the two actresses and their interaction endlessly appealing. Call it chemistry but you can tell that they click together.

  6. 2BG is the epitome of hack television. Denning’s robotic demeanor while reciting canned sarcasm could be a brilliant statement on the terribleness of modern sitcom formula if it was on purpose.

  7. I love the show 2 Broke Girls, I do not understand why everyone hates the show, sure it is cheesy but what do you expect from tv sitcoms.

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