On Apple TV+’s The Afterparty, the versatile Ben Schwartz plays Yasper. He is just one of the suspects in a murder mystery that begins after his former music partner now nemesis, Xavier (David Franco), takes a nasty spill off a balcony. The death leaves the party short one host, but luckily delivers us a handful of colorful suspects – the perfect setting for a comedic murder mystery.
Each episode is dedicated to one of the suspects telling their side of the story and is delivered using a different film genre – rom-com, thriller, animation. For Schwartz’s episode it is a musical – a genre that unleashed the endless creativity of the actor, writer, comedian, improv artist… adding singer and dancer to the list.
But don’t think this creativity just happened on its own. Comedy is a craft Schwartz takes very seriously. He has been working on it for over half his life and the results are evident. During my interview he revealed that without a little push from his girlfriend at the time, we may never have been gifted with the talents of Mr. Ben Schwartz. Luckily we did, because one thing led to another and, starting with a job as a page for David Letterman which turned into a role as a joke contributor, Captain Creativity (my name for the superhero-obsessed actor) was born.
Schwartz spoke about how he channeled his ambitions, “I ended up being a freelance monologue writer and I still have my binder of 1000s of rejected jokes. That’s how I started my website rejectedjokes.com. I was writing things. I was like, ‘I need people in LA to see some of the stuff I do,’ so I get cast one day. I’m going to start this website of all the jokes that got rejected from Weekend Update and Letterman. So I started rejectedjokes.com and performed the jokes in front of nobody. So the whole idea is I’m performing it in front of a group and nobody, and then I put them online and have special guests on. Then I started making short films and directing short films and short films and trying to get anybody to notice me, to put me in something.”
Well, his plan worked. Ben paid his dues, constantly working on his craft; on numerous television series (Parks and Recreation, House of Lies) and loads of voiceover artist work (Ducktales, BoJack Horseman, the Sonic The Hedgehog films). Then there’s his improv work (Middleditch and Schwartz, solo live shows and more), which if you have not seen yet you are missing out. (Told you he was a creative superhero.) Years later, Ben received a call about The Afterparty. It was an opportunity he could not pass up on.
“Chris (Miller) sent me an email said, ‘Hey, I wrote this show. And there’s a character I wrote with you in mind.’ I was like, already, ‘I’m in!’ Didn’t have to say anything else. Phil Lord and Miller, are like, top five directors for me (Spider-man: Into the Spiderverse, The Millers Versus The Machines) – when they talk about who you want to work with those are the people I want to work with,” explained Schwartz. “I didn’t have to read the email more. I read the first sentence. I mean, it was it’s a murder mystery. I’m like, ‘oh my god, I love murder mysteries.’ And he says, ‘and it’s like a Rashomon type thing where everybody explains what happened to him the night everybody gets their own episode, but it’s told in a different genre film.; So there’ll be action, comedy, romantic comedy and yours. Your episode is told like a musical, a big budget musical.”
At this point there was no stopping Schwartz, “I immediately said, ‘Yes,’ but that’s it. And then he said, I’m gonna give you the first three scripts, I read them, I got to read my songs. And it was just heaven.”
The episode gave Captain Creati…, err, Scwhartz the opportunity to put his creative skills on full display. The funny thing was, he did not have any true experience with the genre. “After Chris cast me he’s like, ‘okay, so we got to record the songs in a week you can sing right? Can you sing?’ And I go, ‘Yeah, you didn’t… you just assumed?’ I go, ‘You just assumed? My whole character sings for a whole 20 minutes.’ And he laughed because I figured he knew how to sing and dance.”
Singing was one thing, dancing was another, explained Schwartz, “It was my only my first time I’ve ever done choreography in my life. I’ve never done choreography, ever. So it was (choreographer) Kat Burns, who did Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, came in. She would teach me to dance and I try to learn it and stuff like that. And then incredible dancers would come in. And it was just my job to try my best. I feel like we lucked out. And it looks great. And it came out awesome.”
Like me, critics and The Afterparty fans (including some big celebrity fans) have been singing the praises of Schwartz on social media, unaware that this was his first time for him taking on such a challenge. It is really impressive. His passion for the project definitely shows up on screen in each song. “I love them all because it’s so different. One being a rap – is so fun. Because I grew up loving 90s hip hop and R&B. So, it was really fun. And then to love Hamilton too. Then to do that rock song where I’m really belting and going crazy… and then to do like the soft, almost acoustic guitar version,” said an enthusiastic Schwartz. “I got to flex all different types of musical muscles. So I love them all.”
Be sure to watch the full interview with Ben Schwartz (below.) This is just a small bit of our conversation. We cover more of his origin story, superhero ambitions, working with Lord and Miller, the amazing The Afterparty cast, comedy heroes, and much, much more.
The Afterparty is streaming exclusively on AppleTV+