• Image about Chevy Chase
The actor’s trademark antics came to the, um, fore during his shoot with American Way.
Evan Kafka

Which is a funny criticism of one’s self and seems to cross the line of self-­deprecation. Lacob, who has studied the Community phenomenon deeply, does have high praise for the performance, no matter the similarities one can draw between actor and part. “It’s a tour de force performance from a comedy legend, filled with pratfalls and sneering insolence, and one that keeps Pierce grounded in his own self-absorbed villainy,” Lacob says. “And yet it is impossible to look away from Chase and from Pierce.” And that’s where the performance becomes meaningful, because it does what few roles can do for an actor after decades of showbiz: bring in a new audience.
  • Image about Chevy Chase
as Ty Webb in 1980’s Caddyshack; as 1985’s Fletch
Courtesy Everett Collection

“For a whole new generation of entertainment viewers, seeing Chase as Pierce is a profound moment of discovery, of seeing an actor so fearless that he seemingly relishes the opportunity to revel in the muck and mile of such a loathsome and irredeemable character,” Lacob says.

But it might not be that way for long, as Chase reveals what might be in store for his character next year.

“Dan Harmon (Community’s creator and executive producer) and I are talking things over a little bit and … I think Dan is even thinking more in terms of making me less dumb. I mean, I play this guy as if he’s so far behind that whenever everybody laughs, he laughs a little bit later,” Chase says. “He doesn’t quite get it. The editing doesn’t quite show it, but that’s how I’ve played it. That he’s behind that much. And that he’s a bigot. He’s just a dork. All those things are not me at all, but I kind of enjoy it. I now would ­prefer to play up something else.”

Typically, the sausage-making ­aspect of being on a TV show and playing the same part for a number of years is something audiences don’t get to hear about. But with Chase, there’s something very frank and refreshing about his readiness to evolve, a skill that likely comes not just from being famous — because there are plenty of famous people out there who don’t deftly evolve within the business — but from being good at being famous.

“Becoming famous and dealing with that for the first few years, for those who can stay famous that long, is life-changing. By and large I feel that people who do what we do need attention, are children somewhere inside and need immediate applause,” Chase says, pretty much seriously. “I mean, that’s just sort of part of what makes performers. They don’t spend seven years on a novel and hide.”
There’s a vast expanse between being the type of artist who takes cover for long periods of time and the type who overexpose themselves to the point of destruction.
  • Image about Chevy Chase
Courtesy Everett Collection

“I’ve been there and reacted very immediately, thinking I was mature enough in my early 30s to think I’d not changed in any way,” Chase says, comparing himself to some of the troubled young stars that exist today. “I now look back on that, and fame changed me completely. It gave me all sorts of self-confidence and things of that nature that were great for me in many ways. But how I behaved, I think I took it pretty well. Now it’s been a long time. I’m so used to it, so I guess I am a good famous person. I’m just who I am. I just accept it.”

And Chase’s fame might take him in some directions audiences haven’t seen before. He says that he’s been planning on releasing a jazz piano album but that he doesn’t feel any pressure about doing it. “I don’t feel like I’ve got much to prove, since I’ve never really proven anything anyway, other than I can make a good living. I’ve gotten all the attention I need,” he says.

So does that mean there’s an expiration date on Chase’s time in show business?

“Absolutely,” he says. “Death will be that. Death will finish it off.”

Until then, there’s a golf game that sounds like it could use some work.