David Brown draws lessons from Northwestern in ‘Jury Duty’
June 1, 2023
“Jury Duty” captured hearts and minds across the world this spring. A new comedy show, it follows a court case through the eyes of one juror who thinks it’s all real — but everyone else is an actor.
David Brown (Communication ’16) plays Todd, a socially awkward inventor who builds a friendship with the non-actor juror, Ronald Gladden, over the course of the series.
The Daily sat down with Brown to discuss “Jury Duty,” his career and his time at Northwestern.
This interview has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.
The Daily: How did you come to do “Jury Duty”?
David Brown: (The first audition) was a series of prompts. They said, “This is the basis for a character; improvise for a minute on those themes.” I did a lot of improv at Northwestern and in Chicago, so it was fun to have that be part of (the audition), which it usually isn’t. And then the callback for the show was an in-person, fake focus group where half of the people were actors, and half of the people thought that it was a real focus group. (For the actors), they gave us a secret prompt that said, “At some point during the focus group, do X thing.” I’ve never done anything remotely like that before, and that was the first time where I understood what the show would be like.
The Daily: What drew you to projects like “Jury Duty”?
Brown: After I graduated from Northwestern, I was in a show called “Helltrap Nightmare” in Chicago. There were a lot of other people from Northwestern, including Sarah Sherman, who’s on Saturday Night Live now. It was a monthly variety show. It involved meat and other grotesque stuff and noise music.
I think that was a good way for me to suss out that I was drawn to extreme stuff in comedy. It opened my mind up a lot. So that was maybe a foundation for doing “Jury Duty” and being drawn to things that were extreme and different.
The Daily: What’s your experience with long-form improv, and how did you use that in the show?
Brown: At Northwestern, I did (The) Titanic (Players), which is long-form improv. I did (Northwestern Sketch Television), and I was in a group called the Panini Players, which is commedia dell’arte. All of those were really helpful. Commedia dell’arte, in particular, is built around stock characters that have very specific physicality. That was really helpful for Todd. Long-form improv definitely was a basis for the whole show.
The Daily: What are your favorite moments from the show?
Brown: I think per the long-form thing and listening and being available paying off, we were in character, just living with Ronald all the time. We were probably in character more off camera than on, and that time that we all spent together really paid off in building story beats. There’s a bit in the show where I get a makeover and go to the mall to get clothes, and that wasn’t a scripted thing. That came up organically because we just had time to kill and were thinking, “Maybe we could pitch enough elements to Ronald that he will suggest it as his own idea, and then we can lean into it to get me some wild clothes.”
The Daily: How do you think this show attained such mainstream popularity?
Brown: After we filmed it, I didn’t know if the show would ever come out because it’s just an unwieldy thing to try to put together. I think the breakthrough-ness of the show comes down to Ronald. He is really a genuine, nice person. It’s really palpable that he cares about other people and wants to listen to them. Like with my character specifically, he always wanted to make sure that I felt included and comfortable.
The Daily: Seven years out, what advice do you have for current NU students?
Brown: This is maybe specifically for people looking to make their own stuff or have that itch, but whatever that medium ends up being, I would say that it will certainly be rare to find again that you’re in a place with as many really brilliant people looking to do the exact same thing as you — with a bunch of really expensive stuff that’s hard to come by for free.
Any instinct that you ever have to make your own stuff, I would say do it. If it’s terrible, that’s totally fine. Most of the stuff that I’ve ever made has been awful. But you have to do that to figure out how to make good stuff.
Email: [email protected]