LOS ANGELES — The misadventures of the striving and slacking cater-waiters of “Party Down” (miraculously back for a third season, 13 years after its cancellation) seem so authentically crazy that they must get their ring of truth from the cast’s real lives … right? Well, yes and no. While most of the actors can relate to the day-job indignities, the Starz sitcom’s characters, several of them aspiring actors, bang into every episode, some — including star and executive producer Adam Scott — were a little luckier in real life.
Despite playing Henry Pollard, perhaps the most struggling of those struggling actors, Scott was able to “scrape together rent and food” from acting gigs soon after graduating acting school (with occasional help from his grandmother). He says, “I’ve [talked to] cater-waiters and they love ‘Party Down,’ which is always great. But I think why the show really works, or why we all loved doing it so much, was because of how directly we connected with these characters. Not because they’re cater-waiters, but because they’re trying to break into show business and are having a really tough time.”
Still, most of the cast did rely on pay-the-rent gigs and shared some of their favorite stories with the L.A. Times.
Ryan Hansen (plays struggling actor Kyle Bradway)
I was a party pumper for a long time, for a couple of years. You could hire this DJ and then you could hire a party pumper to go along with it. I’d go to bar mitzvahs and I did a couple of weddings. [“So on brand for you,” interjects cast mate Martin Starr.] I loved it. I had a lot of fun. I’d get everyone on the dance floor, get everyone pumped up, teach some dances. [“Know what doesn’t surprise me? This story,” says Starr.] It was a great gig. There were no bad days being a party pumper.
Martin Starr (wannabe sci-fi writer Roman DeBeers)
I was a barista for one day at a place in Brentwood, and they did not invite me back. On my way out, one of the women who worked there was nice enough to hand me $2 from the tip jar as a “thank you” for working for three or four hours or something. It was like an audition, basically, to see if I could. I had never done work like that, but I was like, “I could do this, just gimme a shot.” I guess I couldn’t! What we found out that day is I didn’t have it. It was the steamed milk that was tough. Gotta get it just right. You can’t burn the milk.
Zoe Chao (new character Lucy Dang, the team’s chef, who is extremely serious about her craft)
I worked as a cocktail waitress and a waitress at Bar Marmont, Chateau Marmont’s bar, which is no longer with us — which is why I will share some of the stories I will share with you now. We wore red silk qipaos with the frog buttons and thigh highs. They also tried to convince us to wear garter belts, but I just claimed that I had a very consistent rash. [Laughs] I worked there four-and-a-half years. A lot of my life was like “Party Down.” I watched that show when I was working at Bar Marmont; I felt like I was on a parallel journey.
This one story I sometimes still have nightmares about: I accidentally fired [put in a kitchen order for] four burgers instead of four steaks. And I caught it as the food runner was about to grab the four burgers. I then had these four burgers I had to get rid of. The chef was there and the manager was there; I couldn’t dump ‘em anywhere. The only thing I could do was go out to valet.
It was great meat; I couldn’t throw it away. So I put it under one of the valet guys’ cars. One of the managers happened to be outside and was like, “You OK, Zoe?” “Just a little tummy ache.” I finished my shift and four hours later came back and pulled the four burgers. I ate one and gave the rest to my coworkers. It was the best burger I ever had.
John Enbom (“Party Down” showrunner)
As a wannabe writer, I absolutely had my share of those jobs. The only thing I was capable of doing was typing, so I did years and years of temp work, data entry, fill-in secretarial work, that kind of stuff. My version [of a day job] was so much less fun than the catering version that we imagined because it was largely isolated, windowless-room kind of activity. It would not have made for a very good show. Like “Severance” with only Adam Scott.
Jane Lynch (former actor and employee-turned-company benefactor Constance Carmell)
I just got done with my junior year at Illinois State University and I wanted to stay in town, Bloomington, for the summer, but I needed a job. So there was a sign-up for detasseling corn. I thought I could get a tan and I could do physical work. I’m wearing a [tank top]; I didn’t have gloves or anything — the foreman gave me a set of gloves — and we got assigned a row and we detasseled corn.
I loved it. I was ripped up within an inch of my life, and the next day I wore long sleeves. I did it for about three weeks. I was in a meditative state, and I was never so happy. I would have a song playing in my mind, but not a thought. No thoughts, no worries. I loved it more than any restaurant job I ever had. You’re your own person and you’re doing just one task, and once you get it going you’re kind of like a machine and your mind just goes quiet.
I was a terrible waiter. I worked at a place called R.J. Grunts in Chicago while I was doing auditions. I worked the lunches and I had a terrible attitude. I would dream about it, that I was in the weeds and I couldn’t catch up. I enjoyed detasseling the corn much more.
My best friend, whom I met at Bar Marmont — it was a slow night and we wanted to treat ourselves. We ordered ourselves dinner and once again we intervened with the busser and hid them behind a couch. We would take turns going back to get bites, but we were so stressed out it was just not worth it. We ordered a Taleggio mac and cheese, bass with haricot verts, an oxtail bruschetta and garlicky shrimp. I mean, we f— dined. But we were like, “This is too stressful. We can’t even taste the food.”
Megan Mullally (sometime talent manager Lydia Dunfree)
I did do something that was really, really weird once. I got asked to be a foot model for this shoe show in Chicago. I don’t have cute feet at all, but they were desperate, I guess, and my feet were the right size. It was at McCormick Place [a convention center] and I had to model shoes and it was super, super creepy. It was kind of like, in hotel rooms, and it definitely felt like something gross was happening. “Go to the sixth floor” and these creepy guys would skulk in and look at your feet in the shoes. Extremely unpleasant. I did get the vibe [that they were looking at the feet rather than the shoes] from a couple of guys who were, you know, really dandruffy.
Chao (just one more)
I waited on a lot of people I ended up working with. I served Dave Franco [her eventual co-star in “The Afterparty”]; he came in for a dinner that spanned, like, four hours, and they left and forgot to pay. My manager almost made me pay for it, which is illegal. Dave’s now a real buddy, and I was like, “Do you remember the time you accidentally walked out on a very hefty bill?” He was like, “Oh my God, I do!” Because someone got to him and he paid the next day.
I also got mugged outside of Bar Marmont. And by a 15-year-old girl.
Ken Marino (team leader and aspiring business owner Ron Donald)
In high school, I rode around in this van with a dance company, and we were hired for bar mitzvahs and our job was to wear these very colorful outfits and run out on the dance floor and get everybody to dance. It gave me the courage to be fearless and get out there when I wasn’t confident in dancing.
Also, I worked with my father in a port-a-potty company. I would deliver port-a-potties to outdoor events. And at the end, I would have to clean out the port-a-potty and bring it home. So the smell from that, that a lot of people are grossed out by, is nostalgic for me. I got to hang out with my dad. That was the good thing about that.
Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)
How to watch: 9 p.m. ET Sundays on Starz