In his new series Kidding, Jim Carrey portrays Jeff, the host of a children’s TV show called Mr Pickles’ Puppet Time. After many successful years on the air, Jeff faces a tragedy when his young son is killed in an accident, and the people in the show fear for Jeff’s mental state, which could ruin the empire they’ve built. Think Fred Rogers on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The series was created by Dave Holstein, and directed by Michel Gondry. Judy Greer portrays Jeff’s estranged wife Jill, Cathrine Keener plays Deirdre, a puppet maker on the show and Frank Langella is Seb, the producer of the show who worries about Jeff’s sanity, especially when the host comes to him with the idea of doing a show about death.
The series premieres on Showtime on September 9th 2018. Jim Carrey came to the TV Critics tour to talk about his return to TV after over 20 years. He also brought up his political cartoons on President Trump which have flooded the internet.
I’m curious if you look at Jeff Pickles as somewhat an inverse of The Truman Show? That was a very genuine person living in this very constructed world, and Mr Pickles has this very elaborate facade, but the real things are starting to crack through it.
Yeah. I think the idea of the search for identity, what it is, who we are, what’s an authentic person is a theme that’s always been attractive to me. I think that there’s definitely something in this piece that calls [to] me as far as the idea of being hit by a freight train in life and trying to hang on to the idea of yourself that you had before it happened. That’s an incredible concept to me.
Do you have a special memory when you were growing up of any of the kids’ programming that you would watch?
Sure. Yeah. I had Captain Kangaroo in Canada and The Jolly Green Giant. Mr Dressup was a Torontonian thing, and he was on for my whole life.
Those are the things I grew up with, and they were just wonderful. But I quickly threw those out and started watching movies. Jimmy Stewart was always my favorite.
Michel Gondry would seem to be an ideal choice for this, as you worked with him on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Can you talk about collaborating on this with him?
He, for me, was the linchpin. I was incredibly interested in the material, but when Michel came on board, I thought, “I get to go play with a teammate, and that’s really wonderful.”
You learn to trust somebody, and that has a lot to do with it. There were many times on Eternal Sunshine where I said, ‘It doesn’t make any sense at all to me.’ And he said,
‘Why don’t you try? How do you know? How do you know what’s in my head?’ And it was great that way.
I think anybody creative who is honest has electricity between them, and we have that for sure. But he was surprised a couple times. He came up and said, ‘You’re not arguing with me. What’s happening?’ And I said, ‘Oh, I guess I like the ideas.’
Can you talk about the puppets that are used on the show?
We’ve all been very creative as far as the creation of the puppets. (The character of) Oops was an idea that came to me when I was thinking how could I personify on this show some kind of character that gives people the excuse to be flawed? How would he give children an excuse to make mistakes? And my idea was that the Oops shows up in everyone’s life. So we’ve had this wonderful creative process developing the puppets together.
Every person on the show is dealing with the trauma of what happened. Why don’t they understand what he wants to do in terms of talking to kids about what he’s been through?
They’ve created a family identity through this show. The fact is, any changes freak people out when they’ve got something successful that they’ve been doing. There’s a change in the makeup, somehow the chemistry of the show. What happens is so challenging that I would think that everyone would assume that there will be a nervous breakdown. And it might not even be that. It might be them who is having a nervous breakdown.
That’s the wonderful thing about this show. I think we’re going to be on a journey to find out that everyone is going through the same change and they’re being forced to by circumstances.
How difficult was it when you decided you were going to change your career? You weren’t going to just always be Ace Ventura or do movies like Liar Liar? Did you have to talk people into it?
You always have to talk everybody and yourself into the next step, whatever it is. Human beings, when something works, their instinct is to grab onto it and don’t change a thing and stay with it as long as you can. I’ve never felt comfortable with that.
How difficult was it to convince yourself?
It’s like everything else. It’s really not a choice. [And] it’s not a choice for me to do (political) cartoons. I’m doing cartoons because I can’t just watch this nightmare unfold. I have to make it into something. I have to alchemize it into something that is at least creative and decent. Even if it’s crass at times, I’m expressing the crass that I believe everyone else wants to express and can’t necessarily do so in their own lives.
Do you plan to do more cartoons?
I don’t plan anything. That’s what I’m saying. It’s not a choice. It’s just happening because it’s my reflex to what I’m seeing… Which I don’t like. It’s just a civilized way of dealing with it, to express it and to kind of get on board with as many other voices as possible that are shouting from the rooftops.
Have you gotten feedback or responses from subjects or from the National Portrait Gallery?
He was impeached today. Didn’t you hear? (he laughs) That would be some good feedback.
It’s just a constant flow of people saying, ‘I appreciate it. It’s how I feel. So I’m glad somebody is illustrating it and making a public record of it in a way.’
You can tweet all you want, but there’s something about a picture. There’s something about a creation that takes it to a whole other level and makes it something that’s fun to consume at the same time as it’s saying what I need it to say. It’s literally just happening, and I don’t know when it will stop, and I don’t know what it will turn into. I’m not a cartoonist. That was not my field of study. It’s wonderful that it’s happening, and thank God. I’m so happy it is because it makes me feel like I’m ten years old again.