“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” star Ben Schwartz talks about his big comedy break
▶ Watch Video: Ben Schwartz on his start in comedy, iconic characters and “Sonic 2”
“Sonic the Hedgehog 2” has become the highest grossing video game movie ever in the U.S., surpassing $150 million in the box office. The blue hedgehog is voiced by Emmy-winning writer, actor and comedian Ben Schwartz — who is sharing his road to stardom with CBS News.
Schwartz was 22 years old when he started working as a page for “The Late Show with David Letterman” at the Ed Sullivan Theater. He even pitched jokes for the monologue, becoming a freelance writer.
“I got 21 jokes on, which is huge,” Schwartz said.
But that was just his day job. At night, he worked as an intern at the Upright Citizens Brigade — an improv club then located in a basement under a supermarket — charged with tasks like taking out the trash.
“I was addicted to comedy,” Schwartz said. “I loved it so much.”
During improv shows, he also worked the bar at the back.
“And I would watch every single show,” Schwartz said. “That’s how I got better at improv.”
His gift for improvisation helped him land the part of Sonic the Hedgehog in the film about the video game superhero, as well as the new sequel.
Schwartz brought his love for improv to the two movies, saying, “anytime I would think of a joke, I would pop it in there.”
“And I played him, like, a kid in my head,” he added.
Schwartz, who was a video game junkie as a child, originally just voiced a short test scene as Sonic — which director Jeff Fowler pitched to studios.
“But the goal was I did it for free as a favor, and then crossed my fingers, waited maybe eight months, and then I got a call from Jeff Fowler,” he said. “I’ve never been so excited.”
It’s the biggest role yet for the 40-year-old actor, who gained notice playing a series on insincere characters like Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on “Parks and Recreation.” He also played spin doctor Clyde Oberholt on the Don Cheadle comedy, “House of Lies,” and fast-talking media manager F. Tony Scarapiducci on the Steve Carell show “Space Force.”
“I love to play the arrogant idiot,” Schwartz said. “I love to play the idiot who has no idea he’s not nailing it.”
Schwartz said he doesn’t know why he did those characters so well.
“And then I love also to give those characters heart so you feel bad for them when they fail a little bit, too,” he said.
He got to sing and dance in the murder mystery series, “The Afterparty,” and starred in a drama called “Standing Up, Falling Down,” with Billy Crystal, a personal idol of his.
Schwartz just finished filming “Renfield,” a new Dracula film where he plays a tattooed bad guy. He filmed scenes with Nicolas Cage as Dracula.
“Oh, it’s a dream come true,” he said.
When Schwartz isn’t acting, he’s often writing scripts for television and movies, but not one of them has been filmed – yet.
“It’s a bummer. And also it’s the exact opposite of improv, which is instant gratification,” he said. “I say a joke, I get a laugh immediately, or you know, I don’t get a laugh immediately. I know exactly how that went.”
Schwartz shot three longform improv specials with Thomas Middleditch for Netflix in 2019, called “Middleditch & Schwartz.” Improv is still his first love.
“I love the idea of coming in with nothing. When you come to one of my shows, people in the audience get a show that night that will never be the same that will never be another show like it, because it’s all made-up,” he said. “But I love the idea of building something right there and it disappearing. And we all just have like a moment together. … I love making people laugh very much.”
“Sonic the Hedgehog 2,” out in theaters now, is distributed by Paramount Pictures, which is part of Paramount Global, CBS News’ parent company