Kevin James on His New Netflix Series The Crew, NASCAR, and More
From showrunner Jeff Lowell (The Ranch) and director Andy Fickman (Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2), the Netflix comedy series The Crew follows NASCAR crew chief Kevin Gibson (Kevin James), who’s still more old school than new. When the owner (Bruce McGill) of Bobby Spencer Racing steps down and passes the team off to his daughter (Jillian Mueller), Kevin and the rest of the crew must figure out how to adapt to all of her changes, so that they don’t become irrelevant and replaceable.
During a virtual junket for the new series, Collider got the opportunity to chat 1-on-1 with Kevin James, who’s also an executive producer on the project, about doing his first workplace comedy, embracing the NASCAR element, his desire to be a part of all aspects of making the show, the advantage of playing a character that also shares his own first name, and the ease of the chemistry with this ensemble dynamic.
Collider: With as successful as you’ve been with sitcoms, where is your bar set when it comes to finding something that interests you enough to sign on for a new one?
KEVIN JAMES: I’d never done a workplace comedy before, and then there was the added element, which was very challenging at first and I was like, “I dunno if I can make that funny at all,” was NASCAR. I didn’t know enough about that world. It’s amazing. It was actually because of that and learning about the world that made it so rich with not only comedy ideas, but just every idea. The ideas were just flowing from this because there are so many parts of this business and that world that I didn’t know about that people can relate to and they don’t think they can’t. People think, “I don’t know NASCAR,” but it doesn’t matter. It’s a workplace comedy, as well. It’s a team, and it’s a family. There’s really something for everybody. It’s just a funny outlet for me. It’s a funny platform, for us all to be there, competing and me trying to get this crew together to effectively win and carry on while being taken over by new technology and a new boss. There’s a lot of change happening, and it affects me on a human level, as well. It’s just a great platform. If you feel creative, you can really jam with the ideas and have fun with it. That’s that’s what gets me going and gets me excited about doing it.
As an executive producer on this as well, how involved do you get and in what areas do you like to get most involved in?
JAMES: All of them. Honestly, I love to get my hands on everything. Jeff Lowell, who created it, is a great producer. We’ve got a great writing team, and it makes you feel comfortable. Our director, Andy Fickman, and everybody together, we’ve assembled such a great team. The cast is amazing, and we’ve gotten them from all over. I’ve got a hand in it all, but they checked every box. It was just so great. It makes it fun, it really does. We really feel like a true family.
You took a recent detour in your career to make the movie Becky. What was it like to take on such a super intense role like that? What made you want to do that?
JAMES: It was just to do something different. For me, it’s about connecting with the director and connecting with the story of it. I thought it was a campy, cool, fun movie, and the people that I worked with there were great. Collaborating with great people is what gets me excited. If it’s a good story and it’s different, I feel like I wanna try it.
On both Kevin Can Wait and The Crew, you’re playing a character named Kevin, along with actually being named Kevin. Does that ever get weird on set? Does it ever feel like you’re blurring with the character?
JAMES: No, it’s funny because they would call me Doug on the street all the time, from The King of Queens. So, I was like, “All right, Kevin’s cool. At least, if they recognize me, they’ll call me Kevin, instead of another name.” But now, I go back and forth. I’m like, “I don’t wanna be called Kevin on the show.” People were like, “Just do it.” It felt natural and it was fine. It was one less thing. I’m a little slow, when people say a different name, to turn my head and look. Kevin makes it easier.
I love that this NASCAR crew is a real family that relies on each other to get the job done. What are some of your favorite memories shooting this season with that ensemble?
JAMES: It really is a great group from all walks of life. The girls are from Broadway – Sarah [Stiles] and Jillian [Mueller]. Dan [Ahdoot] is in Cobra Kai and he’s been a stand-up. Gary [Anthony Williams] is amazing at improv and he’s been a bunch of stuff. It’s just talented people, from all different areas. Freddie [Stroma] is just crazy good actor, and he’s British, it turns out. It’s this eclectic group of people that are so much fun. We hang out constantly. We really enjoy each other’s company. That’s how you know. The chemistry is the biggest variable, when you’re going to shoot a sitcom. The story can be great and you can get all of the people that seem right, and then the chemistry is just not there. With this, we were two episodes in and it felt like Season 3. We hit a groove and it just felt natural and easy.
What is your own personal gauge for making something funny? Whether it’s specific line delivery or tweaking a joke or totally improvising something, do you feel like pretty quickly if it’s working?
JAMES: Yeah, but then you can get stunned and people don’t like it. For me, it’s honestly having talented people around me, like the writers that we have. I trust them and they’re great. They’ll take me in new directions. You can get too familiar with doing a delivery the same way you would always do it, and they’ll go, “Try it this way.” Normally, I’d be like, “No, I wanna do it my own way, so it’s my own.” But I go with them and it opens up new things. That can be a lot funnier, or funnier than what I had, for sure.
When you’re that excited and passionate about something, and you sound like you’re personally inspired, are there already ideas for future seasons?
JAMES: That’s exactly it. I didn’t wanna play a character that feels claustrophobic in a job or at home, or who’s having problems with his marriage. That’s what I didn’t wanna do again. I felt like I’ve done that. I just wanted something where the problems here are endless and it’s not just me. All of these characters are great characters, and you’re really following them and what’s going on with them. The game changes all the time. That’s what got me inspired.
The Crew is available to stream at Netflix.
A round of marmalade to celebrate!
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