Before actor Ben Feldman was packing the shelves at Cloud 9 on NBC’s “Superstore,” he was learning to serve barbecue at Flatiron’s Blue Smoke. Well, for two days, that is.
The actor, who stars as Jonah on the comedy alongside America Ferrera, says he doesn’t have much real-life retail experience to compare his fictional megastore employment to. But, an incredibly short stint in the New York City restaurant scene might be as close as it comes.
“I’ve been super lucky to be able to act ever since I’ve been an adult, right out of school,” Feldman, 37, says. “I worked in a restaurant in New York for two days and that was the last time I had a real, honest job outside of putting makeup on and faking it.”
Now riding the success of the third season of “Superstore,” Feldman recalls a time shortly after graduating from Ithaca College when he figured he’d try his hand as a server before breaking into the entertainment industry. Only, two days into his 2002 training session at Danny Meyer’s barbecue joint he landed a role in “The Graduate” on Broadway and threw in the towel.
“My agent was like, ‘Don’t get cocky. It’s not official, so don’t quit yet. Don’t be a hot shot,’” he says. “I went back to work and continued shadowing for a full six hours and I remember whoever I was shadowing was like, ‘What are you really here for?’ Almost in this kind of like sarcastic, ‘yeah, we all think we’re gonna be actors’ kind of way. I remember just like biting my tongue thinking like, don’t be a jerk. Do your job and if the Broadway thing happens then good for you. Then it did and that was my last time working outside of the stage.”
Feldman and his co-workers didn’t have enough time to get all buddy, buddy like on the NBC comedy, but he says he still found the stint rewarding.
“It was really cool and at no point was that a bummer,” he says.
Humbly referencing his start in the acting business, Feldman says there’s no job that compares to the close-knit relationship he has with his “Superstore” coworkers. “I actually love coming to work. Who can say that?”
Below, Feldman breaks down a bit about the series and what’s still to come this season.
There’s a lot going on for Jonah this season. He’s trying to figure out what’s caused Garrett’s (Colton Dunn) disability and creates a health fund. Can we expect even more crazy issues to arise for him?
We definitely have some more issue-y things, current American topics amongst the pop-culture zeitgeist, if you will. This coming episode is all social media stuff. It’s called viral video. Amy tries to make a video, any video, go viral and she has Jonah egging her on and quietly laughing at her from the sidelines because her efforts are ridiculous.
Fans have been shipping Jonah and Amy (America Ferrera) since the pilot. Is this the plot line you see for your character, too?
As a fan of TV in general, I think we all think things get boring if the will they/won’t they gets resolved and the will/they/won’t they is they do too quickly. That’s the final episode of shows. That’s when Tony and Angela get together. It’s more interesting when there’s a gray area and I love that they gave Amy that massive obstacle of the marriage and the family she’s trying to keep together. That’s more interesting to watch to me. As long as there’s a gray area, I think I’m happy. But yeah, one day, it’d be great. That would be a really fun thing to see. Hopefully, that’ll be the season finale in episode 37.
Jonah likes to take charge and command the situation with his own ideas, whether he’s thought them through or not. Would you say you are like him?
I would say everybody I know, including my wife, can argue I’m trying to bud into every possible situation imaginable. We’re three seasons in and a lot of time on shows like this with super perceptive writers, you start to just getting written into your character. The line between me and Jonah is far more blurred than I ever imagined it would be. People always ask how much of myself I see in Jonah and I’m starting to not be able to tell the difference. If you see Jonah doing it, it’s most likely me.
Where do you think Jonah would be if he wasn’t working at Cloud 9?
I don’t know. Jonah doesn’t know. He never knew. He went to business school and lost it and got kicked out. The whole season, the pilot, began with his first day there trying to find himself. He went to business school but I think that was something that was probably passed down through familial tradition and I don’t think his heart was ever in it. Which is why I think his whole thing at Cloud 9 is really cool because I think what he was looking for rather than a job was a family and a place he belonged. That’s one of the cool things about Jonah. He’s one of the last people to belong there but almost was the one that needed it the most. At least as far as I can tell.
What do you think Cloud 9 would be like if Jonah was the manager instead of Glenn (Mark McKinney)?
I think it would inevitably become a disaster because his heart is always in the right place. He always wants to do better and be successful but he’s an experimenter whereas Glenn isn’t. Glenn is very much by the book, him and Dina both. I think that’s what keeps the store alive … I don’t think there’s room for some of the ridiculous ideas Jonah would have. I can’t think of someone in this cast of characters who would do a better job at leading this store than Glenn.