How DArcy Carden “Yes, and”-ed Her Way to Stardom
Before she found herself with roles on two of the most acclaimed comedies on television, DArcy Carden “had a tendency to play nice, helpful moms, or 6-year-old boys.” This was on the subterranean stage at New Yorks U.C.B. Theatre, where Carden performed improv alongside a laundry list of fellow future TV stars, from Broad City creators Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer to Jason Mantzoukas.
“Is he the funniest man alive?” Carden says, rhetorically, when I bring up Mantzoukas. As it turns out, he was in the first improv show she ever saw—the long-running ASSSCAT—and Carden describes watching it as “a lightning moment where I was like, Oh my god. I have to do this. I need to do this. I don't know what it is, but I got to get on that stage.” Years later, she and Mantzoukas re-teamed on a primetime NBC sitcom to play, respectively, an all-knowing, Siri-esque “not a robot” named Janet, and the half-witted boyfriend she created for herself, named Derek.
The stardom Carden has found for herself, both on NBCs The Good Place and with a supporting role on the HBO series Barry, was unimaginable when she first came to New York as an actor in her early 20s. “I didnt really know that comedy was an option unless you were going to be a stand-up comedian, or maybe unless you were going to be on S.N.L.,” she said. “So I would always get cast in these Shakespeare plays as the funny old lady or the funny prostitute or whatever. And it still didnt quite click that I was a comedy actor.”
U.C.B. changed that—and after years of performing on the main stage while supporting herself as a temp and a nanny, she and her husband, Jason Carden, moved to Los Angeles in 2013. “I remember Adam [Pally, a friend from U.C.B.,] saying like, Its just like, a scientific fact. There are just more jobs out here,” Carden said. As she remembers it, the moment she moved to L.A., her old friends Glazer and Jacobson brought her back to New York for a recurring role on Broad City. But she still had “a couple of floundering around years in L.A.,” balancing writing and acting jobs with nannying.
“I did get to a point where I was like, “This isnt going to work for me,” she said. “Like, this dream isnt going to happen. But it was just O.K., because you get to do some things here and there, and you get to perform at U.C.B. all the time. The thing you wanted, that thing of, like, being in an amazing comedy—like, truly, a Mike Schur comedy, which was my dream for so many years—that thing that you wanted, that goal that you had, its just not going to happen. You missed it. Its too late. Lets be realistic. It sucks, but just keep doing what youre doing.”
One month later, she auditioned for The Good Place, created by none other than Mike Schur. Not long after, she shot the pilots for The Good Place and Barry within weeks of each other.
Through her “floundering” years, Carden watched many of her fellow U.C.B. alums—a list that also includes Zach Woods and Ellie Kemper—launch successful careers, a classic Hollywood story that usually ends with someone “accidentally” getting their leg broken or lying dead in a pool. But the tenets of improv, based on the “yes, and” concept of supporting your scene partners, kept the envy at bay. “Looking in from the outside, you would think that we would all be like kind of jealous monsters of each other,” Carden said. “I was in class with Aubrey Plaza when she got Funny People. You know what I mean? Like, were all just doing the same thing, and then someone gets plucked out.”
“The reason we get into improv instead of maybe stand-up or something—the deal with improv is that you want to support each other,” she continued. “You want to make your scene partner look like a genius, and trust that they will make you look like a genius. Its all about building each other up. So your foundation, your soul, feels like, oh, I just want these people to do good. I want the best for these people.”
Plus, Carden points out, a rising tide can lift all boats—especially in a TV landscape with more breakout comedy hits than it knows what to do with. “Like, look at Broad City, for example. Those are two of my closest friends. This incredible thing happens to them, and they know me, and they trust me, and they put me in the show. Like, whats good for them is good for me.”
Carden recently re-joined her Good Place castmates for the twisty NBC sitcoms third season, which picks up with its four main characters being sent back to Earth from the afterlife, working to prove they can actually become good people. Thus far, its an open question how this concept will make room for Janet, a creature of the Good Place—the shows equivalent of heaven—with no apparent role to play in the real-world dirtbag mecca of Jacksonville, Florida, where her unrequited love, Jason, has returned. Carden, of course, isnt explaining anything about the secretive series: “I have P.T.S.D. from that first year of like, Dont utter a word to anyone.” (Most of the shows cast, including Carden, didnt even know until halfway through the first season that The Good Place was building toward a big reveal.)
But she can at least gush about how shes bounced from one shaggy, happy comedy family to another. “[Mike Schur] doesnt allow dicks. So working at U.C.B. with all these nice, wonderful, kind, funny people and then going to The Good Place, where its dumb how nice these people are—oh my god.”
Get Vanity Fairs HWD NewsletterSign up for essential industry and award news from Hollywood.Full ScreenPhotos:21 Times Queen Elizabeth Wore Exactly the Right Thing to a Wedding
November 29, 1934
This Westminster Abbey wedding—between the Queens uncle, Prince George, Duke of Kent, and Princess Marina, daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark—is where she and the eventual Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, met. She was 8, and he was 14.Photo: From Haynes Archive/Popperfoto/Getty Images.
May 6, 1960
Queen Elizabeths sister, Princess Margaret, married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey. (She didnt serve as a bridesmaid; queens are not other peoples attendants.) It was the first British royal wedding to be televised, and for the occasion, royal designer Norman Hartnell made her a turquoise gown with a bolero jacket to match.Photo: By Derek Berwin/Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
June 8, 1961
The Queen wore a deep blush dress with matching hat and duster to the wedding of her cousin, Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and Katharine, Duchess of Kent, at York Minster.Photo: From Popperfoto/Getty Images.
April 24, 1963
The popular Princess Alexandra of Kent is the Queens first cousin and served as a bridesmaid in Her Majestys wedding when she was 10. (And before Princess Elizabeth became Queen, the two were bridesmaids together in the wedding of Captain Lord Brabourne and Patricia Mountbatten.) Alexandra married the Honorable Angus Ogilvy at Westminster Abbey.Photo: From Popperfoto/Getty Images.
April 29, 2011
Angela Kelly and team designed the Queens pale yellow, crepe-wool dress and matching hat for Kate Middleton and Prince Williams wedding. A particularly great feature is the pleats that resemble sunrays emanating from the collar, so Elizabeth looked like some kind of sun Queen.Photo: By Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images.
July 30, 2011
The Queen chose the rare pale-pink look for her granddaughter Zara Phillipss wedding to the English rugby player Mike Tindall in Edinburgh.Photo: By David Hartley/Rupert Hartley/REX/Shutterstock.
June 25, 2016
And yet, she chose a similar look thats subtly different for the wedding of Alexandra Knatchbull, great-granddaughter of the Queens cousin, Earl Mountbatten, and Thomas Hooper. Congratulations to the couple and to the Queens many successes as a very important wedding guest.Photo: By David Hartley/REX/Shutterstock.PreviousNext
Katey RichKatey Rich is the deputy editor of VanityFair.com.