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If your impression of Thomas Middleditch is that of a somewhat befuddled, bumbling, awkward-bordering-on-geeky misfit, we won’t blame you… yet. He has personified that type in films such as Splinterheads, The Bronze, The Final Girls, and even The Wolf of Wall Street. So neither can we blame Silicon Valley co-creator/director Mike Judge for writing the role of socially discombobulated Richard Hendricks specifically with Middleditch in mind. And now, Hendricks’ wide-eyed, stammering bewilderment seems to stem from Middleditch’s genuine disbelief at his own good fortune; after all, he’s landed the lead on a series that’s become more popular than the latest tech fads the show sends up.
If it’s possible to be both a show’s star and its secret weapon, that’s what he seems to have achieved. In calling Middleditch the most underrated actor on TV, The Decider said, “One of the reasons that Silicon Valley quickly went from good to great to one of the best is because of Middleditch, who’s made Richard into an incredibly sympathetic, watchable character despite his by-design lack of dynamism.” High praise for an actor whose character has dwelt mainly in the shade of the charismatic type-As who surround him.
So Mike Judge did not misjudge. We’re guessing he knew what a lot of the show’s fans may not. Middleditch is a sharply funny and frenetic writer and comic who found his way out of bully crosshairs and subsequently out of Nelson, BC through theater. Impatient to get on with doing what he loved, he dropped out of school in Canada to start writing and acting in sketches, cartoons and commercials. Nothing happened instantly; he walked dogs and sold shoes while writing scripts that didn’t go anywhere and auditioning without success for Saturday Night Live. But sometimes all you need is the proper attitude. When asked to join the Improvised Shakespeare Company (a Chicago-based improv troupe that performs spontaneous plays in Elizabethan-sounding English), his first thought was, “That sounds impossible. Sure!” When you’re fearless and open, fate tends to fall in line. A goofy, impromptu sketch for a Second City training program, in which he rapped about his faux-abiding love for Chicken McNuggets, sat out on the internet for a year before it caught the attention of a creative director for McDonald’s, who cracked up. Cue commercials, newfound exposure and two valuable lessons: a) fate can hide in odd, deep-fried places and b) keep going until someone laughs. Since then, he’s worked with some of the most talented names in comedy, including Zach Galifianakis, Key & Peele, and Jay Roach. He’s created voices and characters for shows including Beavis and Butt-Head, The Office, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and cult web series Jake and Amir, all while writing and making a seemingly ceaseless string of odd, humorous shorts.
Even if all that hadn’t happened, we bet Middleditch would still be putting funny stuff into the world, if not to entertain us, then solely to entertain himself. You get the feeling that if his schedule ever slowed down or (god forbid), his internet connection died, he’d be perfectly fine in front of the mirror making faces, voices, and scenes. But small chance of that. He’s just finished playing the title role in Jeff Baena’s Joshy and will star in the upcoming Entanglement. He’s also slated to be animated in Henchmen and Captain Underpants.
Though his dance card is largely filled with comedies, Middleditch remains open to playing any kind of character that interests him, and wouldn’t mind venturing into more dramatic territory. We’d like to see him try. Seriously—we’d really like to see him try.