Let’s get a few things straight. Neither Jack McBrayer nor his “30 Rock” character Kenneth the Page is the governor of Louisiana, despite the widespread comparison to Gov. Bobby Jindal, with his simplistic speech patterns and toothy grin. “I guess I could see what people were saying, but he was more Mr. Rogers than Kenneth,” McBrayer says, laughing, “with all due respect to Mr. Jindal.”
Neither are McBrayer/Kenneth Ellen Parcell related to a certain talk-show host and “American Idol” judge, as far as the actor knows: “Apparently, it’s a family name in the Parcell lineage,” says the almost painfully polite 2009 Emmy nominee of his NBC page’s middle name. “The only proof I have of that is that the props department has this giant sheet that they printed out of my file, and all my parents, uncles, everybody has Ellen as a first or middle name.”
What was the best play you were in, in high school?
Well, it was Conyers, Ga., so we made attempts at things like “Fiddler on the Roof.” “Mazel tov, y’all!” I played the rabbi’s son, of all things. When you look at me, you go, “Yeah, that’s the rabbi’s kid.”
What’s one of your favorite surprises from Kenneth’s mysterious past?
I do like it when I make cameos in flashbacks when, in the chronology of things, they would be impossible. Early in Season 4, there was this “American Bandstand” kind of thing; it was this shot of people dancing and, all of a sudden, there I was dancing, smiling, in black and white. So, I really and truly don’t know what the mythology of Kenneth the Page is. Am I a vampire? Am I a ghost?
Have you made any requests they’ve balked at?
Actually, I’ve got to be careful with that stuff because I made the mistake early on of saying, “What if Kenneth is such a good tour guide that he’s fluent in, like, every language?” Which is a fun thing to do, but when they put it in the script, guess what, I’ve got to learn Mandarin Chinese. And German. One time I had to speak Latin. One time I had to speak backwards.
Are all the guys in love with Tina Fey, or terrified of her?
It is a good mix of both because she does command such respect. But she’s so funny and so disarming and so attractive, I think a lot of guys don’t know what they’re getting into.... She’ll try to get me to laugh, and sometimes she does, like when we’re doing my coverage and she’s off-camera. She’ll say her line, then she’ll say silently, [soundlessly] “I love you!”
Is there an episode or scene that’s special to you?
One in Season 1 that I really hold dear is when I’m playing poker with Alec Baldwin’s character and I keep winning and winning because he can’t read my — what is it? My tell. That was a big deal because that was one of the first times I really got to interact with him, and, of course, I was scared to death, and that it came out OK and that he was all right working with me, it was like a rite of passage.
Did you really hit Mariah Carey in the face with a Frisbee?
By accident! It was on accident! I was in the video “Touch My Body” — naturally — and in one part we were playing outside, she’s lip-syncing and turns around and gets bonked right in the nose. She keeps singing and dancing .... “Oh, my God, I’ve just ended my career!” Her bodyguard was very stern with me.
What do you do outside of work?
I love summertime more than anything else in the world. That is the only thing that gets me through the winter, knowing that summer is going to be there. When your shoulders get a little pink from the sun. And your eyes hurt from chlorine. I stay out here [in L.A.] as much as I can. We shoot in New York and my summers are here. It would be so great if we could switch that. I’m trying to talk Tina into having a very special “30 Rock” in Hawaii.