Mike Cabellon On Mr. Mayor, Ted Danson, And Life In Hollywood - Exclusive Interview

Almost everyone remembers a class clown from school — the one who always had a joke or gag up their sleeve and did the best impressions of all your teachers. Some of these people outgrew their funny phase, while others leveraged it into successful careers in sales. A select few — such as "Mr. Mayor" co-star Mike Cabellon — managed to turn their youthful flair for comedy into a career. Cabellon got an early start, getting his first training in film production and direction at a magnet high school and training and performing with the comedy troupe Upright Citizens Brigade after college.

From there, he broadened his horizons further, giving solo performances as well as performing with his award-winning sketch comedy group, GEIL. He also writes, produces, directs, and performs for Story Pirates, a coalition of authors, teachers, musicians, and comedians who create critically acclaimed podcasts and other content for children. His most recent — and biggest — breakthrough was landing the role of Chief Strategist Tommy Tomas on NBC's comedy "Mr. Mayor." In this exclusive interview, he shares what we have to look forward to in Season 2 of "Mr. Mayor," what it's really like working with Ted Danson, and his big dreams for the future.

Mike Cabellon leaped at the opportunity to work with an A-list cast

First of all, the next season of Mr. Mayor's coming up. What attracted you to the part of Tommy Tomas?

Honestly, the biggest part was the auspices involved. You get a script and on the front page it says written by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, and you're like, "Well, I'm already in." Then they're like, "And with Ted Danson, and Holly Hunter, and Bobby Moynihan." It's like, "I would've agreed to play anything in the show." Then, to also read the script and see that it's a character that I feel like I could do some justice to, the fact that the character was cool was like the cherry on top of the sundae, but everything else was like, "Oh, I want to work with these people." I feel very lucky in that. I wanted to work with these people and they're very nice to me.

How is the character of Tommy Tomas evolving in this upcoming season?

In Season 2, Tommy gets nicer. I feel like in Season 1, he's not explicitly a jerk, but he definitely thinks he's smarter than everyone else in the room. He doesn't have time for anyone else's nonsense. Now, in Season 2, he's definitely growing in his friendships with everyone else. He's allied more often than not. Right off the bat, in Episode 1, there are some outside forces who comes into the office, and that threatens Tommy's sense of hierarchy and his place in the office. He very quickly learns to tolerate his coworkers' behaviors that previously might have irked him because now it behooves him to have allies and to have friends.

You talked about this before, but what is it like working with Ted Danson and Holly Hunter now that you're actually on the show with them?

It's a dream. It's so weird to be like, "Oh, they are legends, but they're also friends." It's so easy for people in their position to not have the time of day for lesser people, and they're both so humble and so kind. Pretty immediately, when we were shooting Season 1, all of that fear and apprehension I had about acting with them went out the window because they went out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable right off the bat, because that's who they are as people. They're both so generous with their time, and they're great scene partners. Acting with them is a masterclass. It's a bonus they're both so humble. They would cringe if they heard me say that.

Mike Cabellon loves that his role is challenging — and was written just for him

What do you enjoy the most about working on "Mr. Mayor"?

I enjoy that it's a smart comedy. For someone at my point in their career — I don't have a ton of leeway with which roles I can choose. Sometimes, you get a script and you're like, "Oh, this is a comedy, but it's not funny," or it's a comedy, but it's low hanging fruit. Tina Fey and Robert Carlock have this long resume of wonderful, great, smart comedies. It feels like a good challenge to get a script and be like, "Okay, there's a hundred jokes on this page. I've got to figure out how to land this plane," the kind of professional challenge that I think anyone in any field would relish. It's like, "Okay, this feels like an appropriate thing that I am going to enjoy trying to tackle." I like that I get to be funny in a way that is also engaging to me.

There are not that many parts for Asian guys in Hollywood. How do you manage to navigate that?

Carefully, with the help of a therapist! Yeah, it's tough. I could talk about Asians in Hollywood for a long, long time, but I feel lucky that on this show they were truly looking for the funniest person for the job. I had friends who auditioned for this who are black, who are Latinx. They really went across the board and they were like, "Who feels right?" After I was cast, they ... not retconned, because the character didn't really exist yet, but they wrote [the character for] me. I'm really grateful that this season I'm able to be proudly Filipino. There's one episode coming up that we had a Filipino director and two other Filipino actors, and I'm like, "This has never happened to me in my career." It felt momentous, even though it's such a small thing to ask for, to have other people on set who look like you.

There's that aspect of it where, on set, I'm trying to navigate it day to day and make sure I'm advocating for myself. Then, there's the representation aspect of it, where Filipino people do tell me that they're looking up to me. That's a lot of pressure, and I hope that I'm doing them proud, but at the same time, trying to be mindful of the fact that it should not be my responsibility to bear the weight of every Asian in the world, to be this one guy to represent us. One day at a time is the short answer.

He believes that making comedy for kids is serious work

You're also involved in Story Pirates, a group that does podcasts and content for kids. So what attracted you to making content for kids?

It's a great group of people to be with. It's a giant group of professional comedians and actors and musicians, and to be a part of a big creative troupe like that, any artist should be so lucky to find a community as big and so welcoming. Also, I feel like every human being has an aspect of a part of them that wants to give back. It's the part of you that wants to volunteer at an animal shelter or whatever. This is nice because it feels like giving back in a way that I specifically can do. I'm an actor, and a writer, and a director, and this is how I can contribute to society, whereas every other aspect of my life is like, I'm just consuming. This is the one thing where I feel like I'm actually giving back. Itt's a great environment and it's a great cause, and there's no reason not to do it, to me.

What is the most challenging thing about entertaining kids?

This feels like a self-imposed challenge, but I feel like a lot of people who write for kids write down. One of the foundational things about being a comedian is you never write down to your audience. Improvisers say play to the top of your intelligence. For some reason, a lot of people throw that out the window when it comes to kids. I'm of the firm belief, and I think a lot of Story Pirates agree with this, that kids are more mature than you think. They can handle complicated topics. You shouldn't be afraid of talking about anything with kids.

Not to say there isn't a line of inappropriateness, but most kids can handle talking about heavy topics, like death, and it's okay to talk about that stuff. That sort of self-imposed challenge I have is finding that line — figuring out [that] ostensibly, no topic is off limits, but what is the appropriate way to talk about bullying, or ableism, or other topics that I think other might feel are too big for kids, but for me it's more like, "How do we do it," not "Do we do it?"

Here's Mike Cabellon's dream project

You also mentioned that you do a bunch of things: You write, you produce, and you direct, as well as performing. If you could do absolutely any project you wanted, what would you do?

Oh gosh, I want to write and direct a studio feature. That's such a blessing that so few people get, and most of them are white. I look at what people like Jordan Peele are doing, or even what Ali and Randall did with "Always Be My Maybe," where [you're] able to be completely in charge of a project [and] not be hampered by network notes or budget. There are always notes and there's always budget limits, but to have a nice big sandbox to play with, to be able to say, "Here's the story that I want to tell," and to have it promoted, and to have people see it, and to have people receive it warmly, that's the dream. I could die happy.

Season 2 of "Mr. Mayor" premieres tonight on NBC, at 8:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. CT.