Michael Showalter doesn't think there's anything funny about Brooklyn.
The actor-cum-writer-cum-director, renowned for playing Coop in Wet Hot American Summer (a film he co-wrote) and for his involvement in "Stella" on Comedy Central, has just released The Baxter, his directorial debut. In the film (which Showalter also wrote), he plays Elliot Sherman, a nebbishy nice guy who seems to lose one girl after another to more virile men -- men who, unlike him, women don't just settle for, making Elliot a "Baxter". The film takes place in some of Brooklyn's quaintest neighborhoods; this is no hipster's Williamsburg.
Instead, Brooklyn exists as a haven for Showalter's Elliot. After his fiance, Caroline Swann (played by Penn alum Elizabeth Banks), leaves him for her decidedly un-Baxter-esque high school boyfriend Bradley Lake (Justin Theroux), Sherman is devastated. Later, he finds that Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams), his one-time temp, may in fact be his true love.
The film becomes a play on what happens to the guy after he's left at the altar by the girl, a scene exceedingly common in romantic comedies. In a way, it's kind of gimmicky, and the characters sometimes seem like flimsy versions of the realized people they should be, but that's Showalter's point.
"I'm really mocking a convention," Showalter says. "So Elliot is potentially a stock character, pulled out of any number of movies, and stuck in the lead role. Elliot is the ultimate Baxter, because he is an amalgam of every conventional Baxter."
But for Showalter, Elliot's relationship with his habitat is also a part of who he is. Why does Elliot love Brooklyn Heights so?
"Because Elliot is actually romantic. Because Elliot is actually a romantic character. Part of the line I tried to walk was to create a character that was half stock, and half unique."
Born in Princeton, New Jersey and a Brown graduate, Showalter has been involved in comedy since he was in college. Still, he doesn't consider himself a comedian.
"I remember my parents sort of commenting when I was young about certain things that I did that they got a kick out of," Showalter says. "I called spaghetti 'pasghetti.' And I think they thought that was funny. But I don't have a story to tell like, 'The first time I told a joke ...' or that kind of thing. I could more tell you about the first time I got drunk, or something like that."
Instead, Showalter is a man of many hats, none of which are specifically comedic.
"I've mainly focused on being able to [write, direct and act] in my career. Directing is the newest thing for me, and is the thing I'm most eager to learn more about and get more experience at. Writing is my deepest passion. It's a very solitary thing, but I'm excited to write again, and get better at that as well."
Still, Showalter found it difficult to direct himself.
"So there's the role, and the writer and the director and the actor, they're three different people all putting their heads together to create dimension in that character. When the director and the writer are all just one person, that conversation can't happen. That's a pitfall. It's not a challenge, it's just a pitfall. There's really nothing you can do about it."
But Showalter is happy with the end product, and with the character he created.
"In the end, Elliot isn't a Baxter. He just thinks he is." In fact, the first cut of his film ended with Elliot saying, "What I've learned is that everybody is right for somebody, and wrong for somebody else"