And, for the first time in “Old School,” you showed the world your love of running when you streaked the quad and through town naked. Then you ran the track in your underwear in “Talladega Nights.” You have played basketball, driven a race car and ice skated in your films. What was the toughest to train for?
The skating was the hardest. When you watch the Olympics on TV, it looks easy. I found it hard enough to skate in a circle. Sadly, I took my kids to the rink last year and I had lost all of my ability to skate.
No more triple toe loop?
No more. I just don’t have the lift. I don’t know what happened. It’s a sad story.
With a film like “Elf,” how did you end up with legends like James Caan and Bob Newhart coming onboard?
We started with a wish list—for my elf father we wanted someone like Bob Newhart for that role and for my human father we wanted someone like Jimmy Caan. We didn’t really think we’d get them, but they were dumb enough to say yes. As silly as the premise of the film was, we wanted to have some legendary actors in there to give the film some heft. That’s the charm of the film. It played so real that it was easy for the audience to jump in with both feet.
Do you know if a film is going to be good?
I know in the first hour of the first day of shooting. (Laughing.) No, I never know and I don’t believe any actor who says they do. I’ve seen it go both ways. You’re filming and laughing everyday on the set. You’re thinking, “this is great.” Then you start to put the film together and realize that the parts you thought were so funny don’t work at all. We often screen a film five or six times before we release it. After each screening we’ll go back and re-edit and sometimes reshoot parts.
With “Talladega Nights,” how open was NASCAR to working with you?
They were great. They basically told us we could make the comedy as crazy as we want, but that the driving needed to look real, which was what we wanted as well.
How fast did you end up going?
I went 135 miles per hour. Britney Spears had gone 125 [while training for a movie that was never released] and I needed to go faster than her. I needed to beat Britney. At first it feels crazy to be driving that fast, but then after a while it doesn’t.
Until you’re driving the kids home from school at 110.
In my Prius!
What led to “Funny or Die?”
We were pitched the idea of creating a YouTube comedy channel about six years ago. Adam and I were ambivalent, but we decided to move forward. It was something like, “Let’s say yes for fear of saying no.” We needed some content to launch it. Adam’s daughter, Pearl, was about 2 years old at the time and really verbal. Adam came up with the idea of her being my nasty landlord. I was like, “Great, let’s do that.” We shot it in about an hour and when we posted it online the traffic was so huge the site crashed. Now we have a staff of 100 and offices in Northern and Southern California. The nice thing is that we are able to give young up-and-coming comedians a place to showcase their talent.
When did you get into running?
When I started with “Saturday Night Live,” my life was not very fitness-focused, unless you consider hailing a cab to get to the next bar a fitness activity.
My wife, Viveca, and I started running, and we really liked it. We ran the 2001 New York City Marathon together. Working out reignited what I loved about high school sports. Whenever I’d run, I’d get these great ideas. I learned from working out with Gary Kobat [a Los Angeles–based trainer] to run without headphones and music so I could focus and get into my thoughts. I love what running does for your mind and the great release you get from it. To this day, I never run outdoors with music. I try to run 4 to 6 miles every other day.
Maybe your next movie could have something to do with running or endurance sports.
I like that. Something where I’m in a Speedo caked in grease!
Have you ever been asked to do a dramatic role in a movie?
I don’t get offered many to be honest. I’m still hoping that one day that Oscars will be awarded to comedies.
As well they should.
That just happened! (Laughing.) That would be my acceptance speech when I win: That just happened!
This interview first appeared in the December 2013 issue of Competitor magazine.
About The Author:
Bob Babbitt is the founder of Competitor, the co-founder of the Challenged Athletes Foundation and a co-host of The Competitors radio show with Paul Huddle. To listen to interviews with the biggest names in running, triathlon, cycling, endurance sports and sometimes comedy, check out competitorradio.com.