‘Animal Control’ Star Michael Rowland Talks That Jaw-Dropping Moment & Teases ‘Emotional Rollercoaster’ Ahead
Mar 11, 2023
After making his late-night debut on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon last year with a laugh-out-loud standup set, breakout comedian Michael Rowland is looking to make a splash on primetime TV with his new sitcom, Animal Control. Following a series premiere that wrangled in 4.3 million total multi-platform viewers for Fox, the workplace comedy is already fast becoming one of 2023’s funniest new shows. Led by Joel McHale and a motley crew of comedy stars including Ravi Patel and Vella Lovell, the Thursday night series follows the shenanigans of a local animal control group from the Northwest Seattle Division whose lives are complicated more so by their very flawed, human co-workers than the animals they care for. But with the series just getting started and things heating up for several characters, Rowland teases Collider in an exclusive one-on-one interview that his beloved, eternal optimist character Shred is in for an “emotional rollercoaster.
With plenty of hijinks ahead for Rowland and his co-stars following that shocking, laugh-out-loud moment from Thursday night’s episode “Dogs and Bears and Minks,” Animal Control is the rising star’s first foray into the primetime TV landscape, making his on-screen debut as an actor all the more special as he tells Collider in our exclusive Q&A. Originally from Atlanta, the New York-based stand-up comedian earned the prestigious title of “New Face” from the world-famous Just for Laughs Festival during the Montreal event’s 40th anniversary last year, and if his comedy chops on the Fox sitcom are any indication of his hilarious mind, audiences are in for more than a treat.
Image via Fox
COLLIDER: Congrats on the show — I’m so excited for you and everyone involved! The series has raked in stellar ratings for Fox, and it’s a very refreshing, unique take on the workplace comedy. What does it feel like to be on one of this season’s funniest new shows?
MICHAEL ROWLAND: I don’t know. It’s exciting. For me, it’s the first thing I’ve ever been on, so it’s just exciting in general. All my friends seem to like it, and they’re all very judgmental comedians, so that’s really gratifying. The best part is just when your friends, who you respect, especially comedically, are like, “I like the show and I think you’re good in it.” That’s really gratifying. It’s great.
I remember seeing you for the first time on The Tonight Show just like, five or six months ago, and now you’ve got a primetime sitcom — which you mention, is your first, too. What was it about Animal Control that made you want this to be your official foray into TV and the world of sitcoms?
ROWLAND: [laughs] Well, it was the first audition that I was able to do. I mean, I had done an audition with Fox before, or a couple, and I liked some of the stuff they were doing, and then this came up and I read it, and I wasn’t like discerning, like, ‘Oh yes, this will be the show that I decide to do finally!’ I was desperate to pick it all, and I just happened to really luck out with a great group of people. That definitely made me feel great because to be chosen by people that are capable of making a good new workplace comedy feels great. So, I’m insanely happy.
And it’s a workplace comedy with a mix of some very cute, furry co-stars! I know you guys use a mix of puppets, CGI, and real animals that have very respectable and credited trainers taking care of them behind the scenes. What has been the craziest thing to happen to you on set with these charming co-stars?
ROWLAND: Oh man, there’s two things. The first one was the first day of shooting, being chased by ostriches. That was definitely like — I had been around the ostriches enough where I started to feel comfortable, and then there are all these other dudes in the wings off-camera that are responsible for wrangling the ostriches. So it ended up being okay, but it was a wild first day of shooting. And then I think the other one — I mean, you’ve seen the snake episode. I don’t know what I can give away because, but I mean, the snake was big. That was, I think after we met the ostriches and we shot all that stuff that day. We went back to the trailers, and they were like, “Hey, do you want to meet this snake?” And we just had to stand in a trailer, me and Joel, and have this snake crawl all over us just so we could get comfortable with it. So that was, I think, both big things rolled into one day. It was pretty crazy.
Yeah, it feels like there is so much fun on set, and the animals, just elevate everything. But before I get to the most recent episode, I do want to talk about Shred because he’s such an interesting character. I feel like he’s so pure, like Baby Yoda pure, he’s so wide-eyed.
ROWLAND: Yeah, yeah!
He’s got this naïveté about him. What is it about him that you think makes him such an endearing character that people love? Because he complements Joel McHale’s Frank so well. It’s a nice balance.
ROWLAND: He’s just a classic eternal optimist to Joel’s curmudgeonly pessimist. And so naturally he’s more likable, and he’s new, a completely inoffensive dude. He wants good things for people. He is unselfish. It’s like all qualities you want in a person — you remember the Good Guy Greg memes? I feel like he sort of falls into that camp where he doesn’t move in a selfish way. He’s just a nice person.
Do you think maybe we’re going to see something that ever breaks him to be outside himself? Everybody’s got layers.
ROWLAND: Yeah, for sure. Well, I mean, he was a professional athlete, so there was an episode where his competitive side comes out, and he gets a little cocky and arrogant, and they show some of that and I think in his romantic pursuits, he sort of shows that he’s a bit of a dickhead and also can be quite selfish.
Image via Fox
Oh, that’s interesting. Well, you and Joel do share a lot of scenes together, and you guys have great chemistry. I’ve interviewed Joel a bunch of times and he is the coolest, funniest person, so I can imagine while on set it’s even more fun for you guys. What’s it like sharing scenes with him? Are you guys cracking up? Are you doing improv?
ROWLAND: Sometimes, yeah — sometimes we’re improving. Sometimes we’re really making each other laugh. It’s funny though, it’s like you’re going in day after day, so some days you have your good days, and then some days it’s like we’re making each other laugh in the scene, and then in between, we’re both just eyes closed, taking a nap, just not talking. He’s so wonderful to work with, especially coming in and not having any experience, I was so nervous. All the time, I was extremely insecure on set, and he was really kind and very gracious and reassured me constantly that I was doing the right things, and he was extraordinarily complimentary, which I think I needed. And he was good — he’s very attuned to people and he wants them to feel good. Yeah, he’s a great number one, as they say. He’s a lovely person; he’s very generous too.
That is lovely to hear, I can believe it about him. Now, this being your first feature TV role, it’s no secret that there’s a big difference between acting and standup, but there are some similarities in playing a line from multiple points of view. But it’s just a lot more layered and they sort of inform each other. So when considering the entire cast and their histories in comedy, what was something that you learned about your own comedy and timing when sharing scenes with everybody?
ROWLAND: I think I’m still working that out for myself. There are things I suspect where I do better on stage when I lean into more of a Shred-esqe character, where I’m a little more lovable, and I think you try different stuff in stand-up. I will try on a different audience sometimes to see how it feels, and I did stints where I was like, ‘I’m like a gruff dude’ and it never really worked for me. I started playing the character. Oh yeah, okay. Because I’m more of this archetype. I also learned I can lean into my weird improv that aren’t the most clever, but you can do little things with a look or make little moments, little funny moments.
And the funny moments make it all the more fun, especially with everyone’s backgrounds. I’m curious, do you guys play off each other a lot? Is there a lot of improv happening behind the scenes?
ROWLAND: Yeah, we’ll riff and there’s plenty of it. At least everybody made me laugh a lot. I was a problem. [laughs] There was some sh— where Ravi would say something and I just couldn’t keep it together at all. And yeah, everybody has a great comedy pedigree. Really.
Do you consider yourself a Shred type of person? Because I did read somewhere that you ride your bike in New York without a helmet—
ROWLAND: You read the bio on my website. [laughs] That I still haven’t updated.
So that means you do wear a helmet now in New York City? Are you hardcore like Shred with snowboarding or are you anything like him?
ROWLAND: I do like athletic stuff. I like, sort of extreme stuff. I snowboarded when I was a kid, but I don’t think I was ever good at it. I wasn’t that athletic because I was undersized. But as an adult, I’ve gone skydiving and I like to ride my bike without a helmet and charge it pretty hard. But I’m not as actually positive or optimistic.
Image via Fox
Let’s talk about the new episode because I was LOL’ing with this one, it’s hilarious. That scene with the ear falling off was shocking, but it made me scream with laughter — it was just so good! I ask this respectfully, but how many takes was that? Because I feel like you guys would have burst out laughing, not being able to keep a straight face and Vella, a lot of attention was on her for that reaction.
ROWLAND: It was super fun. It was a very, very silly day because Kevin [Bigley] came in, and he’s so funny in that scene, the whole ear thing is hilarious. So there was a lot of busting up, I think, in between takes definitely. Kev just kept trying to find ways to flip the ear off and be like, “Oh geez. Ah, geez Louise, sorry.” We were dying.
Are we going to see more of that type of humor? It’s the type that pushes the envelope that we don’t see on regular primetime. I feel like it’s very irreverent, it just sort of makes fun of itself also in the process.
ROWLAND: I heard it described as Farrelly Brothers-type humor, and I was like, “Yeah, I think that tracks.” I think there’s more of that, and I’m kind of excited to see how the show changes because I don’t know, it was like three months, now it feels like a blur, and you’re just getting a groove of doing it, and now I’m like, I have no idea how the tone of the show shifts or what humor persists, [but] I’m excited to see.
Yeah, and I’m excited! In this past episode, Shred gives major advice to Frank after his night with Dolores. So, it’s no secret that Shred is a softie but knowing how he has a girlfriend, who is coming very soon, I think there’s a love triangle building up, right? Can you tease us about anything regarding that? I know that a lot of fans want to see you and Emily together, but then Camilla’s coming in.
ROWLAND: It’s a big emotional rollercoaster for our guy Shred. He tries to behave honorably… and it’s definitely exciting. It’s not boring. Yeah, you got to tune in and see what happens. But we do get to meet her and she’s lovely. Miss Maria Gabriela de Faria plays my girlfriend, which is nuts. And she’s awesome; she’s hilarious.
With that, can you tease us about his direction this season without giving spoilers, if that’s possible?
ROWLAND: I think he starts to get a little more confident. As I said, he shows more of his darker sides, his other sides, and then he’s a pretty happy guy but when it comes to his relationships, they can throw him into a state of emotional turmoil, so to speak. So our man gains confidence in the realm of animal control and his place on the team, but he sort of loses his steam in his love life in a way.
You mentioned earlier, this is your first job, which I find hard to believe because you’re very natural on camera. With everything you’ve discovered so far, the conversations with your co-stars, what’s the biggest thing you learned in this process that was shocking for you — like, something you didn’t know before going into it?
ROWLAND: A big part of it’s taking care of yourself. I was trying to do a lot of standup at the beginning with it, and it really burned me out. I don’t think you realize how much goes into making this kind of stuff. There’s so much happening behind the scenes to get ready for the point when you show up as an actor. So when you show up, you need to be rested. You need to know your lines. You need to be at the best possible place you can be to give people what they need and not waste their time. So that’s a big thing, is just taking care of yourself and making sure you’re doing your job.
Animal Control airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. EST on Fox and streams on Hulu.
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