“Sunday in the Park with George” changed everything for Tituss Burgess as a kid growing up in Athens, Ga.
Watching a PBS telecast of the famed Stephen Sondheim musical at the age of eight sent Burgess on a path to pursue a career in theater, the “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” star told his boss, “Unbreakable” co-creator and showrunner Tina Fey, during an FYC screening and Q&A held Tuesday night at Manhattan’s Whitby Hotel.
“I didn’t know what the hell I was watching but I knew what I was watching,” Burgess told Fey. “I could feel that. I want to do that.”
Fey put the Q&A spotlight on the actor, who has earned four consecutive Emmy nominations for his role as the narcissistic friend of Ellie Kemper’s Kimmy Schmidt, a woman who lands in New York City after 15 years in a cult. Fey told the crowd that Burgess was so good as a guest star on four episodes of Fey’s NBC comedy “30 Rock” that she and her writing partner Robert Carlock, co-creator of “Unbreakable,” wrote the role of Titus Andromedon on “Unbreakable” for Burgess.
Here are five other things we learned about Burgess from the free-wheeling conversation:
He earned his Actors Equity card while working at Disney World in the “festival of the Lion King” show. “Disney really is like the happiest place on earth,” he said. “I could have stayed there, but it was boring.”
By his own estimation, Burgess is a great cook. Even when he has a large party over for dinner and discovers that someone happens to be vegan, “I can whip up something brils for them to feel satiated.”
His first Broadway show was the short-lived “Good Vibrations,” a 2005 jukebox tuner based on Beach Boys tunes. “What the F were you doing in that?” Fey asked. “Everything I learned about how to construct a show I learned from ‘Good Vibrations,’ based on what they did not do,” Burgess explained. From there it was “Jersey Boys.” “Still confused,” Fey said.
Burgess had plenty of favorite TV shows to recommend to the crowd: HBO’s “Insecure,” Showtime’s “The Chi” (“It unfurls in such a beautiful way”), Netflix’s “7 Seconds,” Starz’s “Vida” and “Power.” Of “Power,” Burgess enthused: “It is so good — you gotta watch it.”
Fey credited Burgess with being a quick study in the art of filming single-camera comedy, without the benefit of the audience he was accustomed to from theater. Burgess hinted that Fey and Carlock can be taskmasters. There’s no ad-libbing with “Unbreakable’s” rat-tat-tat screwball dialogue. At all. “If the line is ‘…and I,’ you’d better say it like that or we won’t leave there til we get it right,” Burgess said with a knowing smile.
Bonus Tina Fey line: “I can’t win an Emmy for this so we’ll talk about you.”