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Jack McBrayer’s Island Vacation Is in His Mind

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Jack McBrayer has mastered the mind trip: the ability to transport himself anywhere but here. Which makes “Escape From Virtual Island,” a new Audible scripted podcast from John Lutz, his former “30 Rock” and improv colleague, a good fit. The premise: In 2038, guests live out their wildest fantasies through virtual reality at a South Pacific resort, where Beasley (voiced by McBrayer) is the long-devoted assistant to the owner (Paul Rudd). Then one adventurer gets lost in his imaginary world and needs rescuing.

Recently, McBrayer was plotting a virtual escape of his own — his sun-soaked backyard in Los Angeles was standing in for a tropical island. Hummingbirds, soothing sounds and “comedy with some kindness” made his list of 10 essentials.

These are edited excerpts from the conversation.

1. Saturday Cartoons and Sunday Comics

I was trying to think what were my earliest introductions to comedy, and I guess it would have been Saturday-morning cartoons. You’d have your Bugs Bunny, your Looney Tunes, your Hanna-Barbera. Then in the ’80s, every cartoon was based on a video game or a cereal or a popular show — “The Dukes of Hazzard,” Pac-Man. I eventually found myself in the world of improvisational comedy, and it reminded me of cartoons in that you could be any character that you want and you could be in any scenario that you want, and nothing mattered.

When I was little, I wanted to be a cartoonist like in the funny pages. It was a Sunday-morning thing. Daddy would be reading the newspaper and then as soon as he was done with the funny pages, he’d pass them off and then I’d pass the section off to my sister. I don’t remember the last time I touched a real newspaper, but I love cartoons and will until the day I die.

2. Hawaiian Music on Pandora

Sometimes you just have to pretend you’re on vacation, find the escape that you need and create it however you can. And for me it’s putting on a Hawaiian music station and relaxing and acting like you’re at a resort. I got first introduced to Hawaiian music when we were shooting “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” They had that piped into the hotel 24/7, and for some people I’m sure that would make them crazy. For me it was like a scalp massage. So on my most frenzied days, I’ll find myself pulling that up on the speaker system and just going back to 2007, laughing with Jason Segel and Mila Kunis.

3. Don Knotts and Tim Conway

These are my comedy heroes that I emulated, and I wanted to aspire to a career much like they had. They were very funny. They were very reliable. Whenever you saw them onscreen, you knew you were going to laugh. You knew what kind of comedy they were going to present, and it was always comedy with some kindness, comedy that was very gentle — but hilarious. And also, just seeing that they’re normal-looking dudes and they were able to do this wonderful thing that brings so many people so much joy.

And, feather in my cap, I got to work with Tim Conway on “30 Rock.” He joined us as a guest star; I had all my scenes with him and then I just stayed in touch. It was a real treat to get to know someone who you had idolized for so many years. I’m very grateful for that.

4. “The Royal Tenenbaums

Here’s the thing: It is definitely my favorite Wes Anderson movie. One, because it’s great. But two, it was the first Wes Anderson film that I had seen. I love the story. I love the acting. And also, it’s one that I can always turn to when I just need a good cry. It’s the part where Gene Hackman gives Ben Stiller the Dalmatian, and Ben Stiller — whew — just tells his dad that he’s had a rough year. It gets me just talking about it.

5. My Hummingbird Feeder

I don’t have any pets, but I do have hummingbirds. I have this simple feeder that sits outside my window, and I make my hummingbird juice — one cup sugar, four cups water — and they are truly a wonder. It’s a miracle to watch these things. They can fly backward. They’re fast. I like listening to the noises they make. Sometimes I have 15, 18 and more, which is pretty strange because they are known to be territorial birds, but they get going. I have one friend who was actually freaked out by it, because when they all get flocking together, it does feel a little bit — not like “The Birds,” because they’re so tiny, but it is like watching bats or a swarm of mosquitoes. I’m hoping one day that I’ll train them enough that they can help me get dressed in the morning.

6. Bloopers

As a kid, there was a show called “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes,” and it was fun to watch stars making mistakes and laughing at themselves and enjoying it. Part of it was seeing that they were human beings who messed up, but also there was the joy of seeing people laugh at silly things. Because when you’re a kid you don’t always see that from grown-ups. The “30 Rock” blooper reel — Tracy [Morgan] might be in it more just because he had more trouble with his lines. But I was never good with props, and sometimes you just get a bit of the giggles and it can’t be helped, and once it starts it’s hard to stop. So you just pray to God that it doesn’t happen in a scene with Alec Baldwin.

7. The Sun

When I’m sitting out in the sun, it feels like a weighted blanket in a very soothing and positive way. I’m calming down just thinking about it. Maybe I’m part lizard or something.

8. “Clue

Oh, it is my favorite. And every single individual in that movie shines. It’s magical. If they ever remake “Clue,” I would be chomping at the bit to play the role of Mr. Green, which was played by Michael McKean, and I would just mimic him to the letter. People roll their eyes at it, and I’m sure it wasn’t a box office success, but I can’t say enough about it. It’s a very quotable movie. It holds up.

9. The 1950s

You know how sometimes you just wonder if you lived in a different decade or something? I’m like, “I think I was supposed to be in the 1950s.” It’s just a little more squeaky clean, peachy keen. When we would watch shows like “Leave It to Beaver,” “Ozzie and Harriet,” I was like, “Oh, this is my jam.” A hot breakfast every morning, an apple for the teacher. The décor. Even the clothes. I really think I might’ve missed my calling. Oh man, what if I’m in just one of many lives that I’ve lived?

10. Coconut Anything

I love coconut-flavored things. I love coconut-smelling things. My favorite candy is an Almond Joy. I’m about to sit out here in the sun with the Hawaiian Pandora station on, drinking a Malibu Rum and pineapple juice. I remember when times got really grim in New York during those gray winters, I would wear sunscreen even around the house so that I smelled like summer. It was very sad, but you do what you do. I’ve always loved coconut. I always will love coconut. It’s like when you scratch a dog behind the ear: “Yes, yes, this works.”


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