It’s all about laughs for Tituss Burgess in Netflix TV series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Netflix comedy Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was an instant hit when it made its debut in March last year, earning rave reviews and seven Emmy nominations.
It stars Ellie Kemper (previously best known as receptionist Erin in later seasons of the American version of The Office) as Kimmy, a relentlessly cheerful 29-year-old woman who spent 15 years as a captive of a doomsday cult.
When freed, she is forced to adjust to a normal life in the harsh reality of New York City, with little more than her positive attitude to help her.
Along the way, she makes new friends, including flamboyant roommate and would-be Broadway star Titus Andromedon, played by real-life Broadway actor Tituss Burgess.
The second 13-episode season of the show – co-created by Tina Fey and her 30 Rock showrunner Robert Carlock – was released on Netflix last weekend.
For Burgess, the series is a reunion with Fey, following an occasional role as D’Fwan in 30 Rock – and he was delighted to rekindle his professional relationship with the golden girl of American comedy.
“I have great respect for Tina Fey,” he says. “She has taught me so much about what it means to be great, to be at the top of your game with your hand in a million different pots and to give each pot all of you.
“Staying tuned into that allows her the occasional casual chat, but when it’s time to work we’re both ready to work, and we both love to work. That’s part of our ‘showmance’, if you like.”
New shows that debut to such great reviews can struggle to recreate the magic in season two, but Burgess says he did not feel any great pressure to match season one’s success, which included his own Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series.
“I don’t feel I have to repeat all that,” he says. “I just feel I have to repeat being as in tune with who Titus is as I tried to be the first time round.
“My sole desire is to bring people joy and make them laugh – everything else is residual. If I can do that then their laughter is every bit as good as an Emmy award.”
When it moved into producing its own shows, Netflix built its reputation on gritty, dark dramas, with House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black winning early plaudits, followed by Marvel Comics adaptations Daredevil and Jessica Jones.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a new, happier side of Netflix, and Burgess thinks we will see more of this.
“There are definitely other sunnier shows coming through, and an expansion of the children’s line-up too,” he says. “I think as a broadcaster, Netflix wants to be all-inclusive.
“Some of those darker shows you mention are some of my favourites – Daredevil, House of Cards. TV is all about a well-balanced meal, and that’s what I think is on offer.”
While Burgess and his TV alter ego seem to share a few characteristics on the surface – not least the similar first name and Broadway connection – he is much calmer in real life.
He is relieved that he has little in common with his fictional counterpart, in particular the roster of bizarre jobs he has to take, such as dressing up as a robot in Times Square and working as a singing waiter.
“I did work as a host at a popular food chain in New York – that was an absolute nightmare,” he says.
“I was only there for about a week and I think I called in sick three of those days.”
With his TV success and a role in the upcoming animated Angry Birds movie, Burgess also appears to have left Broadway behind.
“I really want to do movies now,” he says. “For now, I have no plans to go back to Broadway, although I am writing a musical.”
He refuses to say what it is, revealing only that it is based on a Whitney Houston film “that is not The Bodyguard”.
•Seasons one and two of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt are available on Netflix