Lance Reddick, “The Wire,” “Bosch” and “John Wick” actor who died Friday at age 60, made a career out of trafficking in intensity. But while the Yale drama school product was known for playing steely authority figures in prestige productions, he also possessed a less-celebrated talent: converting his trademark gravitas into off-the-wall comedy.
Take “Toys R Me,” a 2012 Funny or Die sketch that starred Reddick as the authoritarian manager of a mom-and-pop toy shop. After delivering a drill sergeant-like briefing, Reddick’s character proceeds to prowl the store in search of any imperfection.
“Know the [expletive] toys and show them some [expletive] respect!” he growls to one employee before pushing an unsatisfactory Bakugan display to the ground. When an employee explains away her long bathroom break by saying she’s on her period, Reddick’s manager sniffs the air, narrows his eyes and menacingly retorts: “No you’re not.”
“Lance Reddick has no fear of the absurd,” said Luke Barnett, who starred with Reddick in the 2020 comedy film “Faith Based.” The actor and screenwriter even wrote Reddick’s role with him in mind after watching “Toys R Me.”
“He commits to whatever he’s doing,” he said.
Reddick tended to stay true to form when dabbling in comedy, playing serious figures in silly scenarios. In the 2012 College Humor sketch “Nice Try, IHOP,” he portrayed what might have been a parody of his stone-faced cop from “The Wire,” Cedric Daniels, now hellbent on thwarting businesses that had moved into former IHOP restaurants.
“I’m here to expose the scumbags behind it, one IHOP at a time,” he says with righteous indignation, sporting suspenders and rolled-up sleeves. Speaking to a business owner in a dim interrogation room, he asks: “When you wake up in the middle of the night, all alone with your guilt, do you hear the cries of people hungry for scrumptious blintzes?”
Last year, he guest starred in the Season 3 finale of HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” as a father whose disgust at two tarantulas in his dining room is mistaken for detest at his gay daughter’s coming out. In an Instagram post Friday, “A Black Lady Sketch Show” creator and star Robin Thede wrote that Reddick “kept me laughing every time we spoke.”
Reddick wasn’t above the truly ridiculous. When he appeared on a 2013 episode of “The Eric Andre Show,” a satirical Adult Swim talk show known for throwing off its guests with non-sequiturs and demeaning questions, Reddick wholeheartedly committed to the bit.
First, he punched a hole in Andre’s desk — deadpanning, “You need a new desk” — and stormed offstage. Moments later, he came back dressed as an amalgamation of LeVar Burton’s roles as an enslaved person in “Roots” and space engineer in “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” With shackles on his wrists, a visor over his eyes and a Starfleet insignia on his bare chest, Reddick embarked on a bombastic, profanity-laced rant.
“The slam-the-desk thing was just spontaneous,” Reddick said on SiriusXM’s “Jim and Sam Show” in 2019. “I am a bit of a clown, so I love that kind of stuff. My background is traditional theater, not sketch comedy, so I’m always a little nervous about being asked spontaneously to improvise. But generally … if part of me just says, ‘F--- it’ and just kind of jumps off, I’m fine.”
In “Faith Based,” Reddick portrayed a pastor whose adopted son (played by Barnett, the screenwriter) makes a Christian sci-fi film as a get-rich-quick scheme. On the second day of shooting, Barnett recalled, he and his collaborators came up with the idea for several actors — including Reddick — to wear skintight green-screen suits.
Barnett said he hid from Reddick “out of fear of his reaction.” But five minutes later, he heard Reddick laughing from the other room before gleefully emerging in his costume.
“The same way he would commit to Shakespeare, he committed to playing a goofy pastor wearing a green-screen suit,” Barnett said. “So it was really fun to write silly, absurd lines and scenarios that he could be in, knowing that he would treat them as if this were a prestige drama.”
Reddick’s comedic sensibility was one of many characteristics that didn’t always come through in his major roles. Devoted to his modest Instagram fan base, the Baltimore native would mug to the camera as his many dogs howled in the background, or play a piano piece from his album, “Contemplations and Remembrances.” In a post last summer, he slouched on a sofa while playing “Destiny 2,” a massive multiplayer game in which he voiced Commander Zavala. Since Reddick’s death, Destiny players have been staging in-game vigils for the actor by gathering their avatars around his character and bowing in tribute.
“He was just the most down-to-earth person,” Barnett said. “He was the best.”
Just went into Destiny 2, and, yeah, players are gathered around Commander Zavala, paying tribute to his actor, the late Lance Reddick— Stephen Totilo (@stephentotilo) March 17, 2023
RIP https://t.co/uan1MEaoaY pic.twitter.com/qdvd3d7gBa