Jon Barinholtz drives the comedy in “American Auto”
Jon Barinholtz can thank a bit of serendipity for taking NBC work comedies from the big-box world of “Superstore” to “America Auto” and his sideways take on the automotive industry.
“This project came to me while I was still on ‘Superstore,'” said Barinholtz, 42, who played Marcus White, the second-year, low-intensity warehouse supervisor on the sitcom, created by Justin Spitzer (it ended last March). “Justin approached me about a show he was going to put out for pilot season — it was in 2019 — and without even reading the script, I knew it was going to be amazing.”
That series was “American Auto” and Barinholtz took on a co-starring role, but COVID shut down production in 2020 just as filming was about to begin. “I thought it was going to go away like so many drivers have,” he said. “But, at the same time, ‘Superstore’ was picked up for a sixth season – and then [‘American Auto’] got the nod at the end of “Superstore.”
“American Auto,” airing Tuesdays at 8 p.m., revolves around the life of struggling auto giant Payne Motors. Ana Gasteyer plays her newly imported CEO, Katherine Hastings, who knows absolutely nothing about cars (she doesn’t even drive) and relies on her ragtag crew for advice – including Wesley Payne (Barinholtz), the ne’er -do- good great-grandson of the company’s founder. He’s always in the office and in the thick of the action, but no one seems to know exactly what he’s doing there.
“He’s basically a tamper-proof consultant,” Barinholtz said. “He’s not a good guy, but he’s not a horrible guy. Marcus was a bit more doofus and goofy than Wesley, who read thornier on the page and was originally written as a bit older than me. He’s a bit of a jerk… but I try to find his adorable side.
“He’s the kind of person you might not want to hang out with, but you agree to have a beer with him, and then you regret it.”
Spitzer told the Post he had Barinholtz in mind for a role in “American Auto” from the get-go. “He’s one of my favorite actors and he’s charming and so funny,” he said. “I can’t count the number of times on ‘Superstore’ where we didn’t know how to get out of a scene and I said to the editor, ‘Let’s just look at the improvisation Jon gave us and we’ll probably come up with something .’
“You can just lean on him.”
“American Auto” is one of two television projects that Barinholtz is currently involved in. He co-created and co-starred (as overweight baggage handler Mikey) in the Netflix animated series ‘Chicago Party Aunt’, which premiered last fall with star Lauren Ash – who played the flogger boss Dina on “Superstore” – as Diane Dumbrowski, a Windy City Hairstylist with a heart of gold. Her brother, actor Ike Barinholtz, plays Mark, who is married to Diane’s sister, Bonnie (Jill Talley).
“We have the next eight episodes coming out this year, although there’s no release date yet,” Barinholtz said. “I’m really excited for people to check this out; we’re really going to pedal to the metal in the second half. We wrote all 16 [episodes] together and builds the story arc throughout. Lauren is Canadian and there’s a bridge there, a kindness from Chicago to Canada, and she exudes that in Diane, who is an over-the-top character but, in her heart, operates out of love.
“We knew the second she read the part that Lauren was the right person.”