Comedy’s best friend Jason Mantzoukas says he’s no scumbagLOS ANGELES — Twenty-some years ago, when Jason Mantzoukas was a struggling actor and comedian in New York, a casting agent told him that he wasn’t going to work for a while.Tall, with a shock of thick, curly black hair, deep set brown eyes and an olive complexion courtesy of his Greek heritage, she said he was both “handsome” and “not handsome enough” and both “too ethnic” and “not ethnic enough.”The show that “categorically changed the equation” for him was the FX fantasy football sitcom “The League,” which ran for six seasons.Mantzoukas played the recurring role of Rafi, a truly wild, deranged and disgusting creation whom fans couldn’t help but love.After stealing scenes for years in supporting roles on TV in “Parks and Recreation,” “Broad City,” “Enlightened” and “Brooklyn 99” and in movies like “The Dictator” and “Sleeping With Other People,” it’s arguably his highest-profile part to date.Nick Kroll used to watch him in awe in the early days of the now-legendary comedy breeding ground that is Upright Citizens Brigade before they became friends and collaborators.People see him as really fun and dynamic to watch, but he’s unbelievably smart and the way he approaches characters and stories is unbelievably nuanced.His dad worked in health care, and his mom ran a gourmet gift basket business when he got older.A lifetime comedy fan who learned from “The Carol Burnett Show,” “Saturday Night Live,” Monty Python’s Flying Circus, Woody Allen’s “Bananas,” and Elaine May and Mike Nichols albums, Mantzoukas started performing improv in earnest at Middlebury College, and then in New York in the very early days of the Upright Citizens Brigade.The ethos of improv — make your scene partner look good — has produced a generation of people who are very generous to their friends, which is pretty rad in a town that can feel very cutthroat and full of rejection and like nobody is on your side a lot of the time.
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