THE LEADING MEN: Gavin Creel Says "Hello!" to The Book of Mormon

By Adam Hetrick
03 Sep 2012

Matt Stone and Trey Parker
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

The Book of Mormon is a perfect comedy-machine. There's no fat on it. They don't have to stunt cast the show to sell tickets. What has it been like working in the room with all the writers and the original creative team who are taking a second crack at it?
GC: A lot of times with a tour, the associates will set the show with the cast — and the associates we have are unbelievable. But we have the luxury of having all of them and the creative team there, so we can expedite. We worked so fast because we had everybody in the room learning and working. The associates were able to set while Casey was able to work too. We could work three different parts of the show at once, and then Trey [Parker] would come in. We were getting so much done. That said, It's the Broadway show. It's Broadway caliber of performers, of course, and then [scenic designer] Scott Pask is here and [lighting designer] Brian MacDevitt is here, and [sound designer] Brian Ronan is here. It's like basically staging the Broadway show in Denver. We did a a run-through for the original Broadway company in New York and the comment I got from so many of the Broadway cast was, "Oh my God. You've made it your own." And I said, "Really? I feel like I'm saying the lines and walking around." [Laughs.] But I think what that is is just being yourself. Like what Andrew did, that's what made it so singular. I hope I'm able to get even just a fraction of that by bringing what I do and who I am as honestly as I can to play the part, so it's fun. It's a challenge as an actor, and I'm up for it.

Are there things that Trey or Casey have said to you that have been key or elemental to making these characters or The Book of Mormon work?
GC: What I'm surprised and delighted by is Casey and Trey are always about the honest choice. There was one day where we were in rehearsal, and Trey just looked to me, and he goes, "You know the part where you say, 'But we're men now. We're worthy.' And, [Trey asked me], "Worthy of what?" And, I said, "Of everything that had been promised in the afterlife." And, he said, "Gavin, you look out and you see it, and it's just so real. You want it." And, I thought, "This dude is all about the story." And, you think Trey Parker being from "South Park" is going to be about punchlines and gags and whatever. But it's always about heart, and it's always about honesty, let it be funny. Let the fat-free machine of the script and the lines be funny. Just me standing there with the pompadour haircut and these rosy cheeks and this square jaw and this fantastic outfit next to Jared Gertner, who is brilliant in this part. Josh Gad was incredible, and I loved him. Jared is completely different and completely heartwarming and incredible. And, he keeps growing. We're growing together. We're forming this great bond and this team. I'm so grateful that he's out here, and just by me standing with the costume and him with the costume and looking the way he looks. He's so much shorter than me, so he makes jokes like he's screaming up to my face because I'm so tall, and my hair is even taller. But just him doing just that — 90 percent of the work is done.

Creel's touring co-star Jared Gertner
photo by Joan Marcus

I loved the show. I haven't met anyone who hasn't loved The Book of Mormon. But it really does push some boundaries as far as comedy goes. A standup comedian can't get away with a certain joke that something like The Book of Mormon can. Do you ever have a moment where you think, "Oh my God, we're doing this?"
GC: Well, as far as I'm concerned — selfishly speaking — my character, my journey and what I'm responsible for communicating to the audience, I'm sort of the safest character of all of them because I am virtuous, and I believe, and I do not curse, so I don't have the challenge. I ask the [actors playing the] Ugandan characters, "How hard is it to sing that one song?" And, they said, "It's hard, but I'm an actor, and I'm playing a part." And, the difference between Tracy Morgan standing on stage and saying something off-color, to me, is the framework. Tina Fey writes crazy off-color, racist, hilarious stuff for "30 Rock," but it's always funny because you're in this almost two-dimensional world where there's Jenna Maroney and these over-the-top characters. That's the framework. With The Book of Mormon's musical framework, we're completely distanced. We're in this high-haircut and rosy-cheek world, and we're saying, "Fuck yeah!" [Laughs.] I think the dichotomy of the two worlds makes it tolerable, whereas when it's just a guy standing there with a microphone, you're offended by him because it sounds like his views. That aside, anybody who has a problem with a song or a word, I say, "It's a musical. They're not just getting up and singing one song, and then that's the end of it." That one song at the beginning that shocks the hell out of people has a journey and a resolution, and at the end we say "Maha Naibu Eebowai," which is "Thank you, God" in the bows.

So in a beautiful way, it's like we say it with all with honesty and reverence. It shocks people into thinking, "Oh my gosh, I had no idea that I was going to be so moved — so provoked." It makes them think, "Well, how do I feel about this?" and "Gosh, I had no idea that is going on in Africa," and I say, "It is, and it's in a musical comedy, and you've got to deal with it." George Clooney can say, "You guys, Darfur. Darfur. Darfur. What the hell is going on in Africa? We have got to do something about the genocide." But for some reason, you can go see a musical comedy that's written by the writers of "South Park" — and, yeah, you might be laughing — but what they're talking about is really happening in Africa today, and I've seen people leave, and they think, "My gosh, I should want to get involved or think about what's going on there." That's the political side of me getting fired up.

Speaking of your political side. You're actively involved in Broadway Impact, which is helping get Dustin Lance Black's Proposition 8 gay-marriage play 8 produced around the country. Do you think that you might do a reading of 8 while you're on the road? You're going to be in so many cities.
GC: Jenny Kanelos is our executive director of Broadway Impact now, and she runs the organization full time. She's got over 200 performances in this year all over the country. It's literally being done everywhere. So if we intersect, if I find I'm in a city, and they're staging it, I might go do a talkback or go see it or support or talk to the students before they do the show or something. But it's a machine now that is running, and what's amazing is that it's really affecting people. She keeps telling me stories about people who tell her, "I'm getting involved. I saw 8, and I didn't know. I want to know the progress of the court cases." And, the exciting thing is we'll know by September or October at the latest — whether or not the Supreme Court is going to hear the case, and if they do hear it, they'll hear it by June, and we'll know whether or not they'll rule in favor or rule against by June. So we'll know this year.