Thomas Christopher "Chris" Parnell is an American comic actor best known as a cast member on NBC's Saturday Night Live from 1998–2006 and for his role as Dr. Leo Spaceman on NBC's Emmy Award-winning comedy series 30 Rock. Parnell does voicework as "Cyril Figgis" on the FX animated comedy Archer, and as "Jerry" on the Adult Swim animated sci-fi/comedy Rick and Morty.
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Well, geez. I'm from Memphis, Tennessee, and I've been acting since I was in junior high school. I've been on everything from SNL to 30 Rock, ANCHORMAN, HOT ROD, I also do a show called Rick & Morty, and lately I'm doing the voice of Cyril Figgis on FX's ARCHER, airing Thursday nights at 10 PM ET/PST.
I'm here to answer questions, and Victoria is here to help me (over the phone, that is).
Update: Well, I'm so sorry, we've run out of time, but this was really fun, and you guys are all so nice and so kind. Thank you so much for all the really sweet things you had to say. It means a lot to me. And it's nice to know that there are so many people out there who enjoy what I do, and the shows I'm lucky enough to be a part of.
Dr. Spaceman was one of my absolute favorite parts about 30 Rock, how much of that character did you get to create? I also can’t wait to hear more of you on Rick & Morty.
I didn't really create any of it, beyond just doing it onscreen. But I do think the writers wrote it with me in mind. And that helped a lot.
Why the hell aren't you wearing a sweater vest?! Also, what is your favorite Archer episode?
Hahaha! I don't wear sweater vests because I get overheated easily.
But my favorite ARCHER episode is probably the one where I impersonated a -gosh, I don't know what country it was - maybe a Columbian leader? It was one of the first ones I was an agent in the field, and i pulled it off pretty well.
Yo, what up, Parnes?! Andy Samberg has always said that he was heavily inspired by your rapping skills. What were your best raps before you two teamed up for Lazy Sunday?
And hey, I lived in Blytheville, AR for several years! Here's to the ~~Midwest~~ Midsouth!
Edit: Forgive me!
Well, I did some raps on WEEKEND UPDATE on SNL - with Britney Spears, and Kirsten Dunst, and Jennifer Garner, and even Ashton Kutcher.
Did you hear that Dan Aykroyd named you as one of his favorite SNL cast members when he was on Stern this week? Who are some of yours?
Wow! I did not know that! That is wildly flattering.
Jesus, that is so cool.
I guess my favorites would be... Mr. Aykroyd (and I would've said that even if he didn't say that about me), Dan and Bill Murray for sure, and I loved Chris Farley and Phil Hartman, and I loved Mr. Ferrell. But there's been so many greats. But those would be my standouts. Also Horatio Sanz.
what are the chances Dr. Spaceman getting his own spin off? But it follows the exact plots and story lines of "Joey"?
Well, I think they're pretty slim, at this point.
But that would be pretty cool.
Hi, can you tell us anything about the second season of Rick and Morty? The show is awesome by the way!
It's gonna be amazing. I think I was even more amazed and dazzled reading the scripts for season 2. I don't remember that many specifics, other than that I know the animators really have their work cut out for them, because there are some really complex things happening with multiple dimensions being depicted onscreen. I'm excited to see it! I forget a lot of what I do after I do it, so that when I watch it, I'm also seeing it for the first time because I've forgotten a lot about it.
But it's gonna be great.
Excuse me. I'm trying to find a Turbo Man doll. Do you have anymore in the back?
I never got one of those. But you might check eBay.
Hi Chris! You make me laugh in almost everything you’re in. I especially love Dr. Leo Spaceman.
What’s your favorite/funniest memory of 30 Rock?
Oh, that's so nice, thank you!
I guess it would probably be the episode where I ran into the operating room, covered in blood, and proceeded to explain why I was covered in blood - it had to do with killing a dog, as I remember.
God dammit Cyril!
I know you guys don't actually record together but who on the Archer staff is the funniest in person?
The funniest in-person? Oh wow... I guess I'd have to say Jon. I mean, Jon really tickles me. They're all funny. But Jon probably tickles my funny bone the most.
SNL at 40, favorite and least favorite moment?
My favorite moment was Bill Murray singing the "love theme to JAWS."
My least favorite moment, I guess, was Eddie Murphy coming out and not doing anything but saying "hi."
Did you film the original bit as Dr. Spaceman in Season 1 knowing he would be a recurring character, or was that decision made after the fact?
As far as I know, the decision was made after the fact? But I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't some... I guess I don't honestly know the answer to that question. I think they might've hoped that it would work, and they could bring Dr. Spaceman back. That wouldn't surprise me. But I don't know that they had any definite plans to do so.
You once said that Will Ferrell saved you from being fired on SNL. Can you share more about what happened there?
Yeah, sure! You know, as I understand it, both Will and Kattan went to bat for me to Lorne. And I think it certainly helped. And I know one of the writers T. Sean Shannon, he wrote a scathing sketch that was read (at the table, I understand it) that condemned my firing, and took everyone to task about it. Yeah, I never knew exactly why I was fired? I heard from somebody it might have been an NBC executive who didn't care for my stuff? But i think Will and Chris went to bat for me, which definitely helped.
It was crazy. It was a very difficult time. But I was very glad to go back to the show.
Hi Chris! What is the biggest mistake Cyril has ever done?
Oh, the biggest mistake Cyril has ever made... well, I guess letting Lana go, probably!
I feel like whenever I see you in something you are alway rapping and do a pretty good job. Who's your favorite rapper and where did you learn to flow?
You know, I just sort of... it came naturally, I guess? But keep in mind, it's just for comedy. I don't consider myself a real rapper.
But I quite liked the Notorious B.I.G.
Hi Chris! I've always enjoyed your work, particularly on SNL, Rick and Morty, 30 Rock, and Archer. My question is, who do you think would win in a rap battle between Cyril, Dr. Spaceman, and Jerry?
Gosh, that's a tough one! I guess... I don't think we've heard any of them rap?
I think they would all lose. But if I have to pick one - maybe Jerry? I don't know why, but Jerry.
Hello Mr. Parnell. I love you in Archer and I always found you to be one of the more hilarious cast members on SNL in your time :) I’m curious if you ever consider preforming at Dad’s Garage Theater Company in Atlanta with Lucky Yates and Amber Nash?
Also if you were frozen into your powerless home for 4 days with no escape, how would you keep yourself entertained? I was fortunate enough to have power restored this morning, so now I can watch Archer tonight before the next ice storm paralyzes North Georgia!
No, I've never performed down there. I certainly have heard of it, and know about it, and know that it's a big part of Lucky and Amber's lives and they just bought a new place they are renovating and moving into, which is quite exciting, but no, I have not had the pleasure of performing there.
Haha! Well, I would probably just spend time playing with my son and my wife, probably reading some... mostly trying to keep them entertained, probably.
Hungry for apples?
I'm a little hungry, and I could certainly eat an apple, but it wouldn't necessarily be my first choice right now.
It seems like everyone who attended the the SNL after party on Sunday night has a crazy story to share from it, so what’s yours?
Um - Kevin and John Farley, Chris' brothers, were pretending to hump me. Not for real, but just pretend. And they were just being really silly. And also just seeing Prince get up on-stage singing and playing the guitar. He was standing near me for a while, and people were saying Prince is behind you and I was like yes, I know. And I think Bill Murray got up there, and Debbie Harry, just a lot of people singing and performing. But it's when Prince got out there that people got their camera-phones out and were shooting it on their phones. That was pretty cool.
How much of Lazy Sunday did you write?
Well, it was me and Andy and Jorma and Akiva writing it together. You know, I wrote maybe... 15% of it? Yeah, probably 15%. I think the rest was split amongst those guys. Andy came up with a lot of the best stuff.
Hi Chris! Big fan of your work on SNL and Archer, but especially Suburgatory. I was really disappointed when it was cancelled. How would you have liked the Shay's story to have played out?
Oh, thanks, yeah. I loved doing SUBURGATORY and getting to work with that cast, especially having Ana Gasteyer play my wife. I would've loved to have seen Victor grow up with the family, and have visits from Ryan, and see how Lisa develops as a young woman, and her relationship with Malik, that would've all been cool to see.
Did you ever meet Biggie?
I did not, no. Not even close.
Dr Poop/Vondruke Sketch*I'm a big fan of turn of the century SNL and I am obsessed with a sketch that you did where you and Molly Shannon are a couple called the Framinghams who go to see a Dr played by Will Farrell. The sketch starts out with a funny premise but becomes this glorious trainwreck. It became something totally different than what it started as. It felt very loose and improvised. Can you give any background about that sketch? Was it improvised? Did something happen that put it off the rails?
I think Tim Meadows coming in - as I remember, we might have rehearsed it with the host coming in as Tim's part, and I don't remember who the host was, and then in-between dress and air, it changed to Tim, and i don't know if the lines changed or if Tim might have changed them himself or improvised a little bit, and I think that really started the ball rolling, throwing Will off, and then Molly. That's my memory of it, anyway.
Hello Mr. Parnell,
Fellow Germantown native here.
I’m a huge fan of your SNL work. What’s your all-time favorite SNL skit?
Also, did you ever make it to Piggly Wiggly manager?
Whoa, my all-time favorite? That's tough.
But there's one that Farley did, where he was playing an umpire, and it was about outing people that were gay, and so they would out people, sort of unceremoniously, and they would cut to Farley yelling "YOU'RE OUTTA THERE!" as an umpire. And it was ...it just killed me. There were lots of them that I loved, but that one comes to mind.
Hahaha! No, I did not. I did not. But I did end up being an operations manager at a toy store, later on.
Walk Hard is one of my favorite movies of all time. What was it like working on that one, specifically how was it working with John C. Reilly? By the way, the "Fuck Cats! Fuck Ancient Egypt!" scene is one of my favorite comedy scenes ever.
Oh, that's so nice, thank you! It was really fun doing that. John is fantastic, and he was a big contributor to the creative aspect of the film as well. He bought so much to it with the singing. And even though I'd work with Tim Meadows on SNL, it was a brief stint, and I really got to learn a lot more from Tim doing WALK HARD, and I got to know Matt Besser on the set as well, and I got to learn how to play the bass.
What do you think Cyril originally called Stir Friday?
Because it was originally on a Saturday. And then he switched it to Friday, and had to change to change the word for it.
Just want to say loving Archer, but I am also an avid follower of Rick and Morty!
I have a two part question: How did you get involved with voice acting? and secondly, How much fun do you guys have when recording?
Well, my dad is a voiceover guy, back in Memphis, in Germantown. So it's a little bit of a family thing, although he's from the more traditional announcer mold, he was a disc jockey and all that sort of thing. But he had a recording studio with a partner, so when he would need the voice of a little boy, he would use me, and if he needed a little girl, he'd use my sister, but it wasn't until I got on SNL that I was able to use that as a foot-in-the-door for the voiceover world in New York, and got a voiceover agent there.
What would Cyril's perfect vengeance against Archer be?
Oh, I think it would be to get Lana back, and maybe marry Lana, and maybe see Archer in jail, or something, in prison somewhere?
Thank you for doing this Chris.
Where would you like to see yourself in five years?
Um, I would love to see myself on a successful, beloved, critically-acclaimed, single-camera sitcom. And doing some movie parts here and there.
One that shoots in Los Angeles!
What up, Parns?
Life, brother, life.
Hi Chris thanks for doing the Ama, what is Cyril's best attribute and why is it his ability to provide suppressing fire? Also you should have won @midnight last night
Oh, haha, thanks about @midnight, I agree!
Cyril's best quality... you know, I don't know if it's a quality, but his ability with logic and numbers, I think, is notable.
And because Cyril has an inner rage, inner fury, that is able to express itself when he has an automatic weapon in his hands.
What's your favorite drink?
My favorite drink... it would be a toss-up between Bourbon and Scotch and Rye and Irish Whiskey.
What did you do to maintain your composure during sketches and make sure you never broke?
I really just... focused on the scene of it, you know, and was just trying to act it well and hopefully be funny and not be outside of it, because there was some really funny stuff, and there were times when it was hard not to laugh, but I always approached it as an actor (not to sound pretentious, but the idea of breaking character seemed bad to me).
Although I never judged those who did - i know how much the audience enjoys it when people break, and it might've served me well to have broken every now and then. And also I just think I took it so seriously, perhaps too seriously, the whole thing.
Hi Chris! I'm collecting inspirational quotes from celebrities to put on the wall of my man cave and frame!
Do you have any advice for beer and life?
I would say "Drink the beer that you love the taste of, and hopefully one that doesn't add too many calories to your diet. Drink what you love, and don't drink what's cool. Like, if it's Bud Light Lime, drink Bud Light Lime."
And then for life, I'd say: "Try to love your neighbor as yourself, and be a loving, forgiving human being."
Do you realize how legendary your voice is?
Seriously though, huge fan. The fact that you voice Jerry Smith on Rick and Morty made me give the show a chance, which I don't regret.
Keep being a kickass accountant and/or actor.
Oh, oh, I do not. But thank you so much. I'm very lucky I get to be paid for using my voice like i do.
What did you eat for breakfast this morning?
I had...a strawberry-banana-blueberry smoothie, a piece of gluten-free toast with crunchy almond butter, and a special egg dish that my wife made, and some coffee.
Who was the nicest host during your run at SNL?
I mean, Will Ferrell was always super-nice. And really fun, because we all knew him, and he's also, of course, really funny. I also really loved Julianna Margulies too, she was really sweet and game and so funny I thought, and lovely.
Cyril is probably my most quoted character on Archer.
What's the best line you've had to deliver for the show so far?
I have no idea. I always get asked this question, and I should probably come up with answers. There are so many, over the years, but the recurring line is probably "Suppressing fire!"
If Comedy Central called you up and said that they wanted you to pick Jon Stewart’s replacement, who would you choose?
Gosh, I don't know! He's a tough one to replace, obviously. I don't think Tina would do it, but I think Tina would make a great replacement. And Amy Poehler, for that matter!
What are the best techniques for good voice acting? What were your biggest misconceptions before you started?
I just try to do little vocal warmups before I record something - both singing warmups (even though I'm not usually singing) and then also do some articulation exercises, I do a piece called "The Sailor's Hornpipe" which I go through very quickly to work through all the different sounds and shapes of the mouth and tongue.
I started when I was a kid, so I don't know if I ever really had an misconceptions about it? I guess in terms of doing animation specifically, I didn't realize the extent to which you really just are acting, you know? And the need to remember to be in the moment as that character, the same way you would if you were on-camera as that character.
Hi Chris! I love your voice. I don't know what it is, but it's so smart sounding, you know?!
Now my question is: The whole cast kinda looks like their character on Archer. (Except for Jon, and Amber might need some weight gain.) If there would be a real-life-action movie, would you concider to play Cyril? Who would you think should play Sterling Archer? Clearly, Jon would have to dub because... reasons!
Thanks. My voice "sounding smart" is completely an illusion. But thank you.
And sure, of course! I would be happy to play Cyril. And I think the answer most people give for Archer is a pretty good one, which is Jon Hamm. He, I think, would be pretty good in that role. But it also might work with Michael Fassbender.
Do you have any funny story from Anchorman 2?
From ANCHORMAN 2...
I guess the moment when we were all standing on the beach, watching Ron fighting the shark. People were throwing out a lot of ad-libs, a lot of improvised lines. Sadly I'm not going to remember much in terms of specifics. But they were really funny, unscripted stuff that people were throwing around.
What is your heritage? Also what is the best bar-b-que in Memphis?
My heritage I don't know, because I'm adopted, but based on information that the adoption agency got from my birth parents, they seem to think I was Irish, English and German. And the best BBQ? I tend to be more of a wet BBQ kind of guy, as opposed to the dry rub. I'm a big fan of the Germantown Commissary BBQ, just outside of Memphis.
Hey Chris, huge fan, I have two questions
1.) Um... I support the Grizzlies, but I have to confess I don't really keep up with the sporting world. But I'm always happy when the Grizzlies win.
2.) Yeah, you know, I do podcasts almost whenever I'm asked to, whenever it works out schedule-wise, if I can, you know? They're easy to do, and generally pretty fun. I just did one for The Chive recently.
When did you first realize you were a thespian? How did your parents react and are they supportive of your lifestyle?
It was when I was in high school, doing plays. Of course, I got inducted into the International Thespian Society, which made it official...
And you know, when I decided when I was 17 that I really wanted to pursue it as a career, my parents felt the need to make sure I understood the difficulties involved with choosing such a career - when they realized I was serious about it, though, they were very supportive and always have been.
What's one SNL skit you never got to make that you wish you had?
Well, I did a character named Terrye Funke, I think, and although I did get to do it, I didn't get to do it nearly as much as I wanted. It was a character who went to dress rehearsal about 3 times as much as it did on air. I only did it on air twice -once with Jeff Gordon the race-car driver, and then once with Horatio and Will Ferrell. Terrye was an effeminate southern man who lived in his mom's basement, and I don't think quite realized he was gay. He loved little dogs, he loved yorkies, and he's just a very silly, flamboyant character.
How is it during recording of Archer? Do you record together?
We do not record together. We all do it separately, from whatever city we're in. But I'm on the phone line with some of the guys back in Atlanta, who make the show, reading it with them, and taking their direction over the phone line, but it's fun. Usually pretty quick. And unfortunately we don't get to see each other, but we do get to see each other when we do functions, and Comic-Con, and Archer Live, and things like that.
Hey Chris. If you were to become a super spy right now, what skill do you currently have that would be the most useful and why? Thank you for taking the time to read our questions today.
Oh, you're very welcome!
I guess just my acting ability, whatever it is? That would probably be my main skill.
Favorite SNL sketch that you feel people overlooked?
Gosh, I don't know. I don't know that people overlooked it, but I always liked the sketches where Will Ferrell was playing Robert Goulet.