Paul Rust Discusses the Pushover Masculinity of His Character in 'Love'

Paul Rust Discusses the Pushover Masculinity of His Character in 'Love'
Though its premise is familiar, Netflix's new comedy series Love delivers some fascinating new rom-com characters. Gillian Jacobs shines as Mickey, a flawed heroine with addiction issues, while Paul Rust's Gus is a much more wimpy protagonist than we're used to seeing.

The persona is one that has been gestating for a while in Rust's alt-comedy arsenal. Along with appearances on Comedy Bang Bang and onstage at the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre, it can be traced back to Guy Talk, a two-party Funny or Die sketch that imagined a Spike TV talk show where dudes were extremely friendly to one another. 

"Guy Talk, that was like my favourite thing to ever do," Rust admits. "There's a lot of bro stuff on TV and in movies, and I think it was born out of me being like, 'Why can't I connect to this? Why am I not identifying with this bro culture?' And realizing like, 'Oh I think it's because me and my friends are very thoughtful to each other.' That rarely gets represented."

In fact, that sincerity has been a common theme throughout the first day of Love's release. "I've gotten texts from male friends today where they're like, 'I love you buddy, so proud of you,'" Rust laughs. "Just very sincere. I love that. I think that somebody who is sincere is the funniest person on earth."

He's also got an aversion to cynicism. "A gag reflex kind of kicks in when I see somebody is trying to be revered as cool," he says. "It makes me break out in a rash. It's difficult to watch somebody try to put that image forward, because I'm like, whatever. I know you crapped your pants once and felt bad about it. Don't be cool…. So maybe I lean towards sincerity, but not so much because I'm not cynical. It's more like I don't want to put up an image of someone who doesn't care. Because, whatever — we all care."

Rust created Guy Talk with the sketch comedy troupe the Birthday Boys, who also pop up throughout Love. He says the group was a major influence on his comedic sensibilities. "They were huge influences on me in how they could be wholesome and clean, but still manage to be strange," he recalls. "I think I had some sort of wire crossed that to be strange you kind of had to be off-putting or something. To see those guys kind of be gleefully wholesome but still have some sort of alternative sensibility — I was like, 'Oh my god these guys are revolutionizing alternative comedy, that it doesn't have to be edgy to be edgy.'" 

Finding a vehicle for Rust's edgy-but-gentle sense of humour took a long time, as it was hard to find a network who'd get on board with a quintessential beta male. "A lot of times, if I went in and pitched a show to a network, I would be told beforehand 'Don't describe a character as a pushover, because people don't like passive people. They want people who go in the room like a shark,'" Rust recalls. "But that's not funny. That's not funny to see someone be a bully to somebody else. That was the thing I was always up against, like 'Don't make the character seem weak or passive.'"

Fortunately, he finally found a champion in Judd Apatow. "There's such a strong dislike for kind characters, it took Judd Apatow to push it through," Rust says.

While Love's boy-meets-girl story might seem all-too familiar, Rust explains that the difference is patience. Rather than rush the characters' onscreen relationship, the show is offered a slow burn thanks to its total of 22 episodes (Netflix ordered 10 for season 1 and 12 for season 2 right off the bat).

"Judd's mantra was, 'People really like seeing people fall for each other, and once they're in a committed relationship, all you can deal with is the complications of being with somebody, which sometimes can be a drag,'" Rust recalls. "So I think it was his hope to sort of relish these beginning moments as much as possible.

"The way we would kind of pitch it as something different was just like, 'Oh the stuff that in the movie gets put into one moment in a montage could actually be an entire episode. You only have 100 minutes in a movie to get a whole relationship across, so like, the second through sixth date just ends up becoming a montage. So the idea that you could have multiple liaisons involved before they have a first date."

Rust's love life also helped bring Love to life. With the help of Apatow, Rust co-created Love with his writing partner and now wife Lesley Arfin. "Lesley is one of my favourite writers," Rust says. "She's beyond talented, and so smart and perceptive in her observations about people and experiences. So, for starters, by working with her I was getting a great collaborator and I was so grateful for that. And, you know, there's something romantic about getting to work on something together."

Last fall, Rust and Arfin were married. "It was nice sometimes to actually have the wedding there to plan for.... [We could say] 'Oh man, let's stop talking about the show for a moment and talk about something else and look at the other production in our life,'" Rust says.

Anyone whose read Arfin's early work for Vice might be taken aback by her partnership with Rust's unapologetically geeky persona, but Rust explains that the two have always shared a deep interest in the human condition. "When she was living in New York she came from a world of the coolest people on earth," he admits. "I was coming from a world of comedy dorks. But the thing is, I think both of us like almost sort of I think maybe fascinated by feelings. That was what led us to bond over initially." 

"And we like the same stuff," he adds. "My argument to her always was, you know, we liked the same bands in high school but maybe I'm cooler because I liked these bands when I was living in Iowa and had no access to this stuff. You lived in Long Island, close to New York, so of course you were going to be cool."

Love is available now on Netflix.