Catholic Actor Kevin James Delivers Comedy for Your Quarantine in Netflix’s ‘The Crew’
With a new Netflix series kicking off Monday, Kevin James speaks about his Catholic faith, the need for comedy during the COVID pandemic, and creating content that inspires and uplifts.
Entering into a new year and yet another era of quarantine still in effect, comedy seems more essential than ever these days. Kevin James agrees. Speaking with him about his new workplace comedy series, The Crew, premiering on Netflix Monday, Feb. 15, I asked him, as a Catholic actor, about the importance of making family-friendly comedy that inspires and uplifts, especially amid the coronavirus pandemic.
"Yeah, absolutely! It's always important, it really is, but now more than ever, because we do need that break; we need that release — we're meant for that. I honestly believe that you have to turn it around. And even in our quarantine, I was quarantined with a big family of directors, really good guys, the Kinnane family, and they helped me put together this YouTube channel, and we just did these short films that are just goofy and kind of fun to try and give to the world some comedy — and also good for me. It was literally cathartic for me to get out there and do it, so ... we need it, we need it, and I always love doing it."
Kevin James is not shy about sharing his Catholic faith in his life, to the media, or even on the screen. His 2012 hit Here Comes the Boom showed fighters and trainers, hands linked in prayer, before a fight. When I asked him about his faith and his willingness to witness to others, he said it is very important to him. Speaking to Catholic media in 2012, James said, “I was born and raised Catholic and absolutely love my faith and learn more and more about it all the time. It’s nice to have that going into whatever you do, whatever part of life you take upon yourself.”
James seems to be a normal fixture at Catholic events, not as a speaker typically, but in attendance; he is usually seen palling around with well-known Catholics. Social-media posts spied him attending the 2020 SEEK conference sponsored by FOCUS. He is also close to several Catholic authors and speakers, including Dr. Scott Hahn, who has hosted him at some of his retreats. James' career reflects his desire to stick to the tenets of his faith — even in his early days performing stand-up, all of his comedy was clean. Of course, James is no stranger to the sitcom. Most people know him from his role in CBS' The King of Queens.
His new show on Netflix, The Crew, is set inside the inner workings of a NASCAR racing team, starring James as crew chief. In watching the first few episodes, this workplace comedy showcases a tight-knit racing team, but it really does seem more like family, with loads of laughs along the way. NASCAR actually worked in tandem with the producers of the show, offering a rare insight into the sport that garners millions of fans and comes with its own subculture. With the show premiering a day after the Daytona 500 (airing today), James said his experience in the life of racing was thrilling.
"I grew up on Long Island, New York, and early on, I was a Richard Petty fan, and I dressed up like him for Halloween one year, but I wasn't exposed to much NASCAR growing up. It wasn't til about 10 years ago, when I did promotion for a movie, that they asked me to be a grand marshall for one of the races. ... It's insane when you go there. You see it on TV: You just see the guy in front of the pack. You think this guy is gonna win, you know; you don't know how much goes into this sport. A live event is just a whole different world. ... Doing a workplace comedy, with that backdrop, was just a no-brainer for me."
This is James' first entree into Netflix, and he said it has been nothing but positive. With no studio house or production companies in the way, Netflix is able to run a show in a more open and freeform way, allowing more creative control to rest in the hands of the writers and producers of the show.
"It's much different and much better for me. With network [programming], you got the studio. ... Sometimes they're worried about the commercials, the advertisers. Netflix just does their thing. They give you the reigns, and they let you go. They believe in you. They give great notes when they do give notes, you know; but for the most part, they let you do your thing. And there's a comfort there. You get to work with great people, and whenever you're worried about 'hey, can we do this or that?' they're just like: Just do it. So it has just been a great experience for me."
The entertainment industry has definitely been hit by the pandemic. Theater companies have had to shutter or go online, while drive-ins seem to be making a comeback. Although there are valid concerns about the lack of the social aspect in entertainment, with so much programming going online or streaming, James says he isn't certain about what the future holds, but he sees a silver lining.
"I don't know; I don't know. It is nice to see things in a theater with other people, people laughing next to you and stuff, but I mean, Netflix has proved that it works, too. You can watch with your family. But there is something to it. I get it through doing it in front of a live audience; that's why I love the four-camera shoots where you have that audience reaction. That's why I love stand-up, that immediate reaction, and you can kinda guide [the audience reaction], and you're out there live, and it's fun. I remember when I used to do movies that were in the theater, and I'd sneak in the back during the premiere just to get the audience's reaction. That's taken away for now, but it's also great. We've adapted to watching at home, now and, with what's going on in the world, it's awesome. Entertainment is great; as long as you get to watch it with the people you love, it's fun."
Finding programming that allows the entire family to laugh together is hard these days, even with the multiple options for entertainment. As a mother of a young toddler, I have cringed every time the television is on, and sometimes it's just getting through the commercials. James says bringing a fun family-friendly show to the public is crucial to his career in comedy, especially as a man of faith. It's what he sets out to do. As a father of four, he takes it very seriously.
"Basically, family-friendly comedy that can transcend all so it's not just, you're watching it with the kids, it's boring for the adults — but it's engaging for adults, but it's also fun for kids, and you're comfortable watching it with your whole family. And that's — you don't find too much of that now — so it's hard to do that. And I know when I sit down with my kids, I don't want to be uncomfortable watching stuff. So it makes it grand, and Netflix was fantastic with this."