CULVER CITY, Calif. (AP) — A visit to Billy Crystal's offices, in a bungalow on a historic studio lot, could be intimidating. First, there's Crystal himself, star of screen, Broadway and Oscar ceremonies. There's the hit movie posters decorating the walls, including one for the Crystal-Robert De Niro romp, "Analyze This."
Then there are the anecdotes Crystal breezily relates about the likes of — top that! — Marlon Brando.
But Josh Gad, plopped in an armchair next to Crystal and kibitzing with him about the excruciatingly pepper-obsessed restaurant they visited recently, looks very much at ease.
The scene contrasts with "The Comedians," the new FX series (10 p.m. Thursday) in which Crystal, 67, and Gad, 34, play parallel-universe versions of themselves with their names and resumes — the veteran big-name performer, the rising young star — who are thrown together, unhappily, on a TV sketch show.
With taping completed on the 13-episode "Comedians," which is based on a Swedish show, Crystal and Gad ("Book of Mormon," ''The Wedding Ringer") reunited to discuss their mutual admiration and the project that brought Crystal back to series TV for the first time since the 1977-81 sitcom "Soap."
Associated Press (to Crystal): Why was "The Comedians" the right show for you after so long?
Crystal: "I really was not looking. Everything was going great. I was going back to Broadway (in "700 Sundays"), we were all sold out. I'd written a book I was excited about. "Monsters University" was about to come out. Then the Swedish company sent me this show. ... And I looked at the first one, and these two guys were so good together. And then five minutes into it they're in sailor outfits, doing this crazy walk, no music. I said, "I could do this."
AP: The characters are introduced as rarely in sync and often difficult. The fictional Billy, for instance, can be prickly toward the at-times clueless fictional Josh.
Gad: We both decided we were going to commit to the essence of playing ourselves and to playing, especially for Billy, playing on audience expectation and projections. He has a legacy that I have literally envied for most of my life. ... In real life, we have a lot more in common than our characters. But playing against what the expectations are for the both of us was ....
Crystal: Risky good fun.
Gad: Both risky and rewarding. We were terrified at first, but we were, "If we're going to do it, we're going to go all the way." There are some episodes that really require us to go down the rabbit hole. ... To have that conversation where we go, "Are you going to be OK with this? You sure?" Then we hug each other and we go, "Let's do this. Let's take the Thelma and Louise jump, as it were."
Crystal: That's what is so much fun. There's a wonderful awkwardness about the pairing in the show. We're both spraying musk at different times: Who's doing what, who's going to protect his court. And he makes fun of me more than I make fun of him in the show, and I take it. It started right from the beginning: He was very brave with me. ... A lot of people tip-toe around and I want to go, "C'mon, just stop." But he doesn't.
Q: It looks like you're enjoying each other's company here.
Gad: My greatest fear on the show was impressing this living legend. That has truly been the dynamic that has kept us throughout this process, working at such a high level of friendship and camaraderie. If you don't have that, you can't do this other stuff. We'll finish a scene and I'll be in his dressing room watching a Clippers game.
AP: So comedy can be cross-generational?
Gad: I'm fascinated by his career because it's spanned so many facets and covered so many facets, from writing to directing to acting. That's what I ultimately want to form myself to be that multi-hyphenate that can have his hand in all of those. So to just sit back and study this kind of empire that Billy has created, it's a fascinating lesson.
Crystal (looking abashed): Wow, I sound famous.
AP: But it must be flattering.
Crystal: It is. I totally enjoy it and I sweat when he says things, but it means a lot to me. And he knows how I feel about him. You can't work on this level without respecting each other. And that's part of the show, too. They may resent each other but they know they really need each other.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.