Meet The Neighbors: Lenny Venito

The comedy veteran discusses his new show, how he relates to Spider-Man, and why Gigli deserves a chance!

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Photos courtesy of ABC

By Blake Garris

“The Neighbors” is an upcoming comedy series premiering Wednesday, September 26 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c after “Modern Family" and then moving to its regular timeslot at 8:30/7:30c on October 3 after “The Middle.” We recently spoke with star Lenny Venito who plays the human father known as Marty Weaver. Lenny shared what you can expect from “The Neighbors,” why he relates to Spider-Man and why he initially didn’t want to be a part of the show.

Marvel.com: Let’s start off talking about “The Neighbors.” What made you want to work on the show?

Lenny Venito: Well, to be honest with you, I didn’t. [Laughs] I mean, when I first heard about the script I was busy doing an Ethan Coen play in New York called “Happy Hour.” My car had broken down and we were in tech, so, y’know that’s 12-hour days, and it’s grueling. And then I had this appointment for the show and I remember reading a quick synopsis of it and saying “What is this? Aliens now? This just sounds so stupid. I honestly don’t want to do this.” And I think I missed my appointment, which I never do, and I got a call from my manager saying “Lenny Venito, you missed your appointment. Do you want me to reschedule?” I said “Ok, reschedule.”

I wound up going in without preparing very well, and needless to say I did a very bad job. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of months. And then when things calmed down and the show was over, it closed up, I get a call saying “Listen, the creator of the show and the casting director Susan Vash just think they know you, and they think you can do a much better job with this. They want you to really come in and give it the attention it deserves. And I said “You know what? It’s very rare that that happens, that you get a second chance at an audition.” So I really read it, and I said “Wait a minute, this is funny.” It just goes to show you really can’t judge something just by a synopsis. You need to read a script. I read the script, and I thought it was hilarious. I worked on it this time and I went in and then wound up getting the part.

The set of The Neighbors (photo by Peter Stone)

Marvel.com: What would you say to people who have that same kind of thought process initially?

Lenny Venito: I’ve dealt with that a lot in my career. People want everything quick, especially with our country. It’s “wrap it up.” It’s “Hangover meets Cocoon.” “Let’s talk about this movie.” “Well it’s this movie meets this movie.” They never really evaluate what it is. You have to read it, or you have to see it. I did a movie called “Gigli” [with Ben Affleck]. I think everybody knows about “Gigli,” probably the worst movie ever made, and that’s by media standards. Every time they say “You were in ‘Gigli?’ Oh my god, that movie was horrible.” And I say “Let me ask you a question. Did you see the movie?” And I will tell you 90% of the time they say “No.” Why are you telling me it’s so bad then? People like to just accept someone else’s opinion, and it can spread like wildfire, y’know? So I think what I would say is, give it a chance. And then if you want to form an opinion, that’s great, but I don’t think it’s right to form an opinion without really seeing what you’re forming an opinion about.

Marvel.com: What is coming up next for “The Neighbors?”

Lenny Venito: We’re doing a Halloween episode right now, which is a great script. We start with the family coming back from shopping, and we see them manning a torpedo. The aliens in the neighborhood have little wicker children that they’re setting afire with flaming arrows, and we’re like “What are you doing?” because they’ve been there for 10 years before we moved into the development. They say “Every year at this time, at the end of October, little devils come to our gates and try to penetrate our walls, and they come in masses.” They think that they’re little monsters that come, because they don’t know what Halloween is, and we have to teach them that they’re children dressed as devils and goblins, you know, it’s a holiday. [Laughs] We have to go through the whole process of teaching them what Halloween is.

Lenny Venito (photo by Peter Stone)

And then they have the children that are going to public school and we say “Listen, our children will take care of your children at school, and they’ll show them the ropes.” And they go to public school for the first time, and the comedy ensues. We have another episode where we take them to the mall, and they go outside of the development for the first time. It’s kind of fun seeing our culture through their eyes, and some of how ridiculous it is. In trying to explain our ways to them, we take a look at our ways, and things that don’t make sense. There are funny lines like “Baby back ribs, are they made from babies’ backs? What is that? Our kids meals, they’re not ground-up children, are they?” [Laughs] So, I think in trying to teach them, we learn a lot. I think that that’s what the scripts are trying to do. It can’t all be about the aliens. It needs to have some family to it, and Dan Fogelman’s amazing at doing that.

Marvel.com: Do you have a background in comedy, or do you just do a lot of comedic roles?

Lenny Venito: I did a show called “Living in Captivity.” We shot 12 [episodes] for Fox. It was a very big character piece. I played Carmine Santucci, Muffler King, and we moved down into the suburbs. It was funny because a lot of our cameramen were cameramen from that. I started out with that. It seemed to be how I got in, in the business. I did a lot of the “lovable loser” characters. In “NYPD Blue” I did that for a season and a half, and made that funny and stuff. And then I moved away from it for a while. I don’t know if it was by design or it was the roles I just started gravitating towards. Cops, crooks, and criminals, and serious stuff, which I really enjoy as well, but I would say that comedy seems to be my niche, I hope. We’ll see. [Laughs] September 26 we’ll find out how funny we all are.

From what I hear, that’s the harder of the two. Serious is good. It’s not that easy to take something else and make someone laugh, and I struggle with it all the time. Hopefully everyone will find it funny. We’ll see.

Spider-Man

Marvel.com: We hear you’re a Spider-Man fan…

Lenny Venito: I used to read the Spider-Man comic books religiously. That was my thing. I always dressed as Spider-Man for Halloween. I had every Spider-Man action figure you could buy. I’ll never forget, this one year I begged for Christmas, there was this contraption you could hook up to your wrists. You would press the button and it would shoot a plunger with a string attached to it, so it looked like you had spider webs. Web power, you know? It never quite worked right, because it never really stuck. You couldn’t do it the right way, and a lot of times the string would get stuck and tangled and everything, but I remember the excitement of getting that. I would love that.

Marvel.com: Why do you like Spider-Man?

Lenny Venito: I identified with him. He came from a borough. I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I just recently bought a house in Staten Island. I always felt very strong about who I was with that, and I thought he was the same thing. He wasn’t so far-fetched. I know the radioactive spider isn’t an everyday occurrence, but he wasn’t from another planet, he wasn’t from another galaxy. I liked that he was just like an everyday schmo. That’s what I identified with. I also identified with Daredevil.

Marvel.com: Yeah, he’s from Hell’s Kitchen.
Lenny Venito: Yeah, right, see that’s another one. I liked him. Talk about Ben Affleck, there we go again.

“The Neighbors” premieres Wednesday, September 26 on ABC at 9:30/8:30c after “Modern Family" and then moves to its regular timeslot at 8:30/7:30c on October 3 after “The Middle.” You can follow Lenny on Twitter @LennyVenito.

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