John Slattery Deserves As Much Shine for His Comedy Cameos As Jon Hamm Does
In 2007, something happened that changed the course of culture in ways we are still experiencing today: Mad Men premiered on AMC. Yes, it put the network on the map, paving the way for hits like Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Yes, the 116 Emmy nominations it earned over the eight years it ran resulted in 16 wins. Yes, it launched the careers of Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Rich Sommer and Jon Hamm, who played the tortured yet brilliant ad man Don Draper. Perhaps it was the emotional toll the role took that, apparently, has driven Hamm to pursue comedy whenever he had any down time, and there has been no part too small or weird to attract him — including playing himself.
Amid roles like the dangerously dumb pediatrician Drew Baird on 30 Rock and the talking toilet on Bob’s Burgers, Hamm has readily sent up his own image for comedic purposes. There was the time Steven Toast (Matt Berry) developed an instant crush on him in Toast of London; the time he tried to research playing Larry (Larry David) in Curb Your Enthusiasm; or the time he asked Barry (Bill Hader) to take a shit in his house during a cookout on Barry, though admittedly that was only a fantasy Barry had of being successful and having fancy, famous friends.
Over the years, Hamm has shown he has no vanity or fear when it comes to comedy, and has been justly celebrated for it. What we’re not talking about enough is that his Mad Men colleague John Slattery is great at this, too.
Like Hamm, Slattery played a womanizing dreamboat who made his way through a bevy of women. Like Hamm, Slattery brought a wry wit to his character (Roger Sterling, in Slattery’s case) that made everyone — business partners, romantic partners, exes, viewers — unable to resist forgiving even his worst offenses. Unlike Hamm’s Don, Slattery’s Roger Sterling was a classic silver fox, so if that’s your thing, well, get in line behind me, because it’s mine too. Don and Roger have a complicated friendship on Mad Men, but things seem to be much more straightforward for Hamm and Slattery: Slattery joined Hamm in last year’s feature film Confess, Fletch, and Hamm stars in this year’s Maggie Moore(s), Slattery’s directorial début.
For proof of their versatility as comedy partners, look no further than this June’s Pump Rules Clubhouse Playhouse: Hamm and Slattery, visiting Watch What Happens Live in the wake of the Vanderpump Rules scandal we all know as Scandoval, and re-enacting an important moment of conflict.
So while Slattery would probably never complain that his friend’s comedy cameos get so much more attention than his own, I don’t think it’s right. Slattery’s been goofing on his own image since late 2009. In a segment on The Colbert Report about Fox News touting the acquisition of gold in both commercials and in commentators’ shows, host Stephen Colbert (also as “himself”) closes with a throw to a gold promo from his friends at Prescott Financial; it’s a fictional concern related to Prescott Pharmaceuticals and Prescott Oil, as featured in other episodes of the Report. “Yes, after our propped-up banks fail,” says “Slattery,” “gold will be the only law in the after-scape. So ask yourself: When the shit goes down, what do you want in the briefcase handcuffed to your arm?”
Gold can only take you so far, Slattery admits, advising viewers to diversify their portfolios with women: “They have agile hands, a strong work ethic and can be traded for potable water, ammunition and gold.” The third asset you’ll want in the post-apocalypse is sheep: “You can’t eat gold, and shouldn’t eating women be a last resort?”
More recently, there’s Girls5Eva, the Peacock sitcom — which jumps to Netflix with its third season later this year — about an early 2000s girl group mounting a comeback now that its members are all middle-aged. In the first season, Dawn (Sara Bareilles) worries that her son Max (Julius Conceicao) is being denied a normal youth because Dawn and her husband Scott (Daniel Breaker) are raising him in New York City, where it can be too expensive to raise multiple children, and being surrounded by adults can make them adopt grown-up interests when they’re barely out of diapers. A song by The Milk Carton Kids dramatizes Dawn’s anxieties.
Then, as Max is refusing Mr. Softee because they don’t have his preferred flavor (Earl Grey) and yanking Dawn toward the Fedoras & Fountain Pens store, a reassuring voice tells her, “Don’t fight it.” It’s John Slattery, out for a stroll with his actual wife Talia Balsam, and their actual son Harry Slattery. Currently a twenty-something with an ironic mustache, Harry was, John tells Dawn, once a New York Lonely Boy just like Max. Slattery was one of five kids, too busy fighting for limited resources to develop any interests, whereas Harry knows Mandarin, loves museums and is great company at a dinner party. “Every day’s like Father’s Day,” Slattery enthuses. “Now go get him a weird jazz hat and a $40 pen.”
Whereas Dawn’s random encounter with Slattery on the streets of New York is a dream come true, not all sitcom characters are so lucky. In this week’s episode of What We Do in the Shadows, Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch) has been afflicted by a black eye, due to a misadventure with a frozen block of toilet waste falling on the Ferrari he was driving. It’s a great story, but that’s bad: As an energy vampire, he feeds on the boredom of people he encounters, and the shiner has made him too interesting. Distracted and desperate, Colin is trying to drain some diners on a restaurant patio when a car runs straight into him — and it’s driven by the great character actor John Slattery!
Having just played a doctor on The Good Fight (for real!), Slattery’s especially determined to get Colin medical help; Nandor (Kayvan Novak) encourages Colin to take the ride, since he’ll be able to drain Slattery on the way. But Slattery ends up absolutely fascinated by Colin, trying to memorize his mannerisms and learn his accent and speaking style for use in a future performance. In the end, Colin is the one who gets drained by Slattery’s actor bullshit; both vampires bail out of the moving car as Slattery prattles on, oblivious.
Jon Hamm is, no question, very good at what he does, and his willingness to send up his own image in the most potentially humiliating ways is a huge part of his charm as a celebrity. But John Slattery is also out here in these streets — literally, in these two most recent performances as himself — goofing on himself. Think of how many stars you can imagine using their distinguished silver locks to pretend to shill gold to scared retirees; and portray themselves as overly indulgent parents to adult children who may or may not be employed; and be so exhaustingly self-involved that they drain an energy vampire before the energy vampire can drain them.