Josh Gad found religion — along with huge laughs, rave reviews and an adoring fan base — as part of the original cast of "The Book of Mormon," the smash stage musical from the creators of "South Park." The rotund actor was center stage as the overeager Mormon Elder Cunningham, dancing and singing his way to a Tony nomination for best leading actor in a musical.
Gad has now traded Broadway for the Beltway. He stars in NBC's new comedy "1600 Penn," playing Skip Gilchrist, the bumbling member of a dysfunctional (and fictional) first family residing in the White House. Skip, who has not been able to earn a diploma even after seven years of college, is forced to move back with his father, President Dale Gilchrist (Bill Pullman), trophy wife Emily (Jenna Elfman) and two younger siblings.
And though Skip may have the best intentions, he is constantly wreaking havoc. The role, which gives plenty of opportunities for Gad to showcase his physical comedy prowess, is more than a dream role for the actor. He's also the co-creator of the series and one of its executive producers.
"Don't forget, I'm also doing craft services," he quipped in a phone interview during a break in shooting the series, which had a sneak preview in December but officially rolls out Thursday.
"I'm just truly over the moon about this," added the actor. "They let me improv a lot, and I really wanted to exploit the physical comedy aspects of the role."
He described Skip as "a bull in a china shop. But he's also a golden retriever. He means well, but it always has disastrous results. He's just a lovable guy trying to do his best."
Writing, performing and producing a weekly comedy is less draining than appearing in a nightly Broadway musical, said Gad, who appeared in the sitcom "Back to You" and was a correspondent on "The Daily Show," among other roles.
"When you're doing a show like 'The Book of Mormon,' you're completely spent by the time the show is over," he said. "Here you get breaks. It's much more laid-back. It's been a great learning experience and I'm so lucky to be part of the creative process."
Executive producer Jason Winer said viewers will be impressed by the depth behind Skip's antics. "People may focus at first on the outrageousness, but what makes Josh such a miracle is that he can play broad, but with whispery, subtle details. He does these subtle variations with his voice that are just brilliant."
Even though Gad hopes audiences love "1600 Penn," he has not totally lost the glow from "The Book of Mormon." "It was one of those things where I just pinch myself to know I was a part of it," Gad said. "It exceeded all of my expectations and was the greatest creative experience of my life. But this is running a close second."