Pam Poovey may be the worst HR Director ever. She drinks on the job, gossips endlessly, and has slept with most of her co-workers. However, she has also been involved in some of the funniest moments in FX’s hit animated comedy Archer and is the source of some of the show’s most quotable quotes.
As the voice behind the crass-yet-loveable Pam Poovey, comedienne extraordinaire Amber Nash is a big reason why audiences have fallen for the lovable loud-mouth that some call Shiro Kabocha. Coax Editor Marshall Watson sat down with Amber (not literally) to talk about teamwork, improv, role models, Pam Poovey cosplay, and motivational gyro-humping.
How are things in Atlanta?
It’s still pretty hot here. Like really, disgustingly hot. But other than that it’s pretty good.
First off, I saw your solo show at the Edmonton Fringe last summer. It was great.
Wow. Thanks! That was a really fun show to do.
So when did you know that this—improv, comedy, voice acting—was what you wanted to do?
I got a degree in Psychology and when I got out of school I was waiting tables and looking for a job in my field. I mean, it was a bachelor’s degree in psychology so there wasn’t much I could do with just that. But I finally found a job as a counsellor for the state of Georgia. I was counselling kids with behavioural challenges at this outdoor therapeutic program that was basically bad kids living in the woods learning how to be better kids. It was super cool but there were also times where I thought: Is this what I am supposed to be doing?
I had found Dad’s Garage, which is the theatre that I’m at now and have been since then. I’d seen a couple shows there. And I just kind of started doing that when I wasn’t doing the psychology thing at the camp. Finally, I thought: I think I need to do this for a living. And I quit my job at the camp knowing that I probably wasn’t going to be making any money.
“Stop giving so much of a shit.”
I didn’t actually start doing any voice work until I made that leap, deciding in my head that: I’m going to be an actor from now on. A friend of mine was a creative director—there’s actually a lot of people in the advertising world in the ensemble at Dad’s Garage, it’s a funny crossover—and he was looking for people who could come in and do radio spots with only like 10 minutes notice that also were cool getting paid under the table.
So that was your big break? On-call radio personality…
[Laughing.] Yeah. I started doing radio spots for him. And that got me more radio spots. And then I started doing voice work because the guys that make Archer now, used to make a show called…
That was such a great show.
Totally. It was so weird! I only started to really understand what was happening in Season Two.
So these guys were making Frisky Dingo and one of their animators, Christian Danley, was another ensemble member of Dad’s Garage (and who also has been to the Edmonton Fringe). And because he worked both at Dad’s Garage and with the guys making Frisky Dingo, they would come see our shows.
So one day they had me audition for this Frisky Dingo show but I was completely wrong for the part. They wanted me to be a teenage girl. I guess originally the show was going to be kind of like a sitcom about a family. That seems so weird now.
That would have been a very different show.
[Laughing.] Yeah, I know hey? And then they decided: “Nah, let’s do something crazy!”
So anyways, I auditioned for this teenage girl part. I wasn’t right for it and I didn’t get it but then the show changed. And I got cast in a new role because they needed someone to play Val. And I just kept working with those guys. And when they started making Archer they asked me to keep working with them and that’s how it actually all started.
So did you take improv classes at Dad’s Garage back then?
Yeah. When I started, they only had two classes: Level 1 and Level 2. Both were taught by the same guy. They were pretty much the exact same class. So I took those two classes and that was it. And after, I kind of just stuck around bartending and cleaning and that way, I’d get to go on stage whenever somebody didn’t show up.
“You can still be a woman while being a total badass.”
What was it like training, learning the ropes, and getting experience in what was, at least then, a very male-dominated environment?
It was crazy! That would have been… 12 years ago. And it was totally all dudes. Dad’s Garage, at the time, had only ever had one female ensemble member. In classes, there would be a good mix of men and women. Not 50/50, but more women were in the classes than were represented on stage.
It was difficult. Because of that culture, a lot of women were just like: “I don’t have time for this shit.” And they just refused to deal with it. I guess you could say I was stupid enough stay. I think I just had the will to deal with all those dudes. I used to say it was like having 12 older brothers.
Eventually, when I joined the ensemble at Dad’s Garage, I was only the second ever ensemble member that was a woman. And that was probably 10 years into the company’s history. But it’s gotten a lot better. We have a lot more female ensemble members now. We have a lot more women in the company in general. It’s way different than it used to be. Which is good.
I remember Becky Johnson—an improviser from Toronto that would visit Dad’s. She came down and taught an all-female workshop one time and told all the women in that workshop that the reason I was an ensemble member was because I improvised like a man. [Laughing]
[Laughing] What do you think that means?
[Laughing] I don’t even know! But it definitely stuck with me. I guess it could be true. [Laughing] I think I kind of had to teach all the guys how to improvise with me. But then again, a bunch of their male-ness probably rubbed off on me too.
Being the only woman in the ensemble must have affected your process somewhat.
Totally! “How to improvise like a man.” [Laughing]
Speaking of process, how do you create or find the different voices you do? Are they modelled on people? What is that process like?
You know, I never used to do a lot of character stuff when I was improvising. Early on, I wasn’t very good at it. But at Dad’s we do a lot of soaps and other character-based shows where you either have the same character for a number of weeks or you know the character you will be doing before the show. And we do a lot of costuming which other improv theatres don’t do because they simply don’t have the resources or the time. And I started to find that the more I did long-form, where I would have a costume, that would be where all the character stuff would start—with the costume. Now I do way more characters than I used to just because I feel like I’ve gotten better at it. Or at least I’ve gotten more comfortable with it.
You’ve talked previously about the gyro-humping scene in Season 4 as being one of your favourites.
The reason being the… compelling direction and inspiration provided by [Executive Producer] Matt Thompson.
Oh man. Definitely!
What’s it like working for someone who can inspire and motivate people in such a profound and authentic way.
[Laughing] It’s so cool! In the early days, when I started working with them on Frisky Dingo, there were only like six dudes making that show in an old house in a really shitty neighbourhood in Atlanta. It was so fun because they’re just like us—in many ways, they’re a lot like improvisers. Lucky [Yates, voice of Dr. Krieger] is also an improviser at Dad’s Garage and I think Matt and Adam [Reed, creator of Frisky Dingo and Archer] both liked working with improvisers because they could screw around with us and throw things at us while we’re in the booth and they were out on the other side.
People always ask if we improvise in the booth and it’s less often me just coming up with stuff and more often it’s them hearing something and being inspired. Then we have a little back and forth and try different things. They’re just really cool, funny dudes that have the spirit of an improviser. And they try to get the best out of us when we’re working. It’s just the coolest job. I love that I get to work with those guys.
While we’re on the topic of working, you’ve admitted in the past that Pam may be the worst employee of the bunch.
So, if Pam wasn’t working at ISIS or The Figgis Agency, what do you think she would be doing?
You know, I think she’d probably be working somewhere like Wisconsin, in the middle of nowhere, running her own auto body shop—just being a grease monkey.
[Laughing] Pam’s Gas and Lube?
[Laughing] Oh man! Am I Right!?!
You mentioned earlier that you have a degree in psychology. So, in your professional opinion, what is the most abnormal aspect of the office dynamic at ISIS or The Figgis Agency?
I think it would definitely be the relationship between Malory and Archer. It’s so messed up. They are so weird and co-dependant the way they both love and hate each other. I mean everyone kind of loves and hates each other on the show, but those two are definitely the weirdest.
That’s also where the show began. The first season focused much more on the relationship between those two.
Yeah. I was pitching a show recently and I needed some help so Adam gave me the pitch document for Archer. I got to read all the really early character descriptions from before he had even written the pilot script which was super cool. And that’s really what the show was going to lean on, that relationship.
But over the years, the show has evolved from this more narrow ‘man vs overbearing mother’ story to a true ensemble workplace comedy.
And in spite of all the crazy things they have been through, the entire team is still intact and alive and kicking somehow.
And I don’t think that was necessarily the intention in the beginning. I think Adam just got to know everybody so well he wanted to keep us around. Plus we all work together really well. And I think the reason is that we don’t ever actually work together—we’re all in different cities. We all really like each other because we never have to see each other! [Laughing.]
Is this what I am supposed to be doing?
That leads right into my next question. This team has been through so much while being so separated and remote—is there something that real life teams could learn from the Archer team? Is there a lesson in there somewhere?
I don’t know. Maybe because it’s always fresh to us when we see each other and work together. The cool thing that has happened over the years is that we’ve all become sort of alive in each other’s heads. I know for me, when I used to read the scripts in Season One and Two before I really knew anybody, it was always a bit of a struggle. But now, if I read the scripts, I know what everybody sounds like and I know how everybody’s going to read. And I think when Adam writes, he has that in his head too. Everyone is so solid in how they do their characters now that we can use that to our advantage when we’re recording or when Adam’s writing.
And now that it’s become this ensemble cast and the characters have been fleshed out, Ray, Cyril, Pam, and Cheryl/Carol/Cherlene are all more involved. How do you keep that team dynamic when you’re that removed from everyone? How do you work as a team when you’re so spread out?
I think the magic is that we don’t, really. There a guy who does all our voice editing. His name is Brad Zimmerman. He’s been our editor since the very beginning. And he’s just magical. He’s the one that makes it seem like we’re all in a room together. Our directors always have a really good idea of where they want everything to go and how they want everything to feel. And that allows Brad to edit it together to make it seem like we’re all working with each other.
Sometimes they can let us know how other people read a line if they’ve done it already. And they can give us an idea of what other people did with their reading and how to react to it. We never hear it, but they can give us an idea, something to work off. Other than that, we’re all just working on our own in a little glass box.
The dialogue is so smooth and coherent in the episodes when they air, you would have no idea that you’re all spread out across the country.
Yeah. It’s amazing.
I also enjoy how we constantly get to see new sides of the characters. In Season Five, Pam developed a pretty crazy drug problem and just consumed unholy amounts of cocaine in various different forms.
And she got pretty creative. Out of all of them, what do you think was her favourite cocaine snack? The cupcakes? The mints?
I think is was the flurry she made. [Laughing] That’s probably it. Just because it was the most inventive one!
Speaking of inventing, Pam has to quit The Figgis Agency and she moves to Silicon Valley to run a startup. What does her startup do?
Oh boy! Good question. Oh, my god. Um, it would probably be something gross. Like a new social media site but just for sharing close up pictures of weird body parts. [Laughing]
[Laughing] That seems fitting.
I was at an Archer panel at a convention a number of years ago and I remember a lady in Pam cosplay who stood up and basically just exclaimed how thankful the was for the character of Pam—this strong but vulnerable, confident, chubby lady who is totally proud of who she is…
Yes! I remember that exact woman!
It was really moving. Because as much of a mess that Pam can be, she may also be one of the strongest characters on the show—one of the most empowering. In your own words, what makes Pam so special? And what’s it like to speak the voice of such a peculiar but powerful role model for women?
We’ve talked about that woman on other panels since then. A lot. She said: “I no longer have to be ‘Fat Leia’ or ‘Fat Cinderella’—I can just be Pam.” It was so cool! I didn’t realize that Pam was going to take off in the way that she did, becoming this sex symbol. There are so many terrible things about her. She shouldn’t be a role model!
But she is!
It’s crazy! [Laughing] And I think the body-positive part of her is what’s really amazing. People say to me, it’s because she doesn’t care—that’s what makes her sexy. She’s just like: This is who I am. And it’s been really amazing. Honestly, whenever I go to a convention and people are in Pam cosplay, they are always so confident and so beautiful. It’s really mind-blowing. I don’t think I’ve taken it all in. I mean, Pam was in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition! I’m so proud of the character.
And I also love that, aside from the body-positive thing, she reminds women that they don’t have to be perfect. And I don’t mean physically. I mean in the way she acts: she’s dirty and she’s crass and she can fight and drive drift cars. She’s very capable and she shows that you can still be a woman while being a total badass. That’s the other side of her personality that is just so awesome.
She never worries about trying to be a better version of herself. She seems 100% happy about who she is.
Yeah! She does! It’s awesome.
And over the years, she’s evolved from this metaphorical punching bag to a literal bare-knuckle boxer. Where do you think that strength came from? Did she have it all along?
Actually, when I was going back and doing research, I re-read the pilot episode for the first time in a long time. The first time Pam get’s introduced it says: “Pam the mousey HR Director.” But now, nobody would ever use the word “mousey” to describe Pam.
I think Adam needed a character that could be this wild card and I think he just tried it with Pam and it worked. That and the fact that he also got to know me better over time and realized: Oh, this is something Amber is capable of doing. He’s done that with a lot of the characters and the actors that play them—they’ve become more like the actors because he realized: This person can pull this off and this person can do this really well. But for Pam, I think the real turning point was the episode where she gets kidnapped instead of Cheryl. That’s what a lot of people point to as the moment where we really see what Pam is made of and where her character is going.
We definitely see a whole other side of her in that episode.
Is there anyone that Pam couldn’t beat in a bare-knuckle boxing fight? Maybe Barry?
[Laughing] Oh wow. Yeah, maybe Barry. Or…honestly? Probably Lana. Lana is a badass too. She’s kind of scary. I don’t think we really know what Lana is capable of.
There’s this line that I love in the second episode of the latest season. It was a throwaway dig at Cyril but I think it speaks to both the evolution of the show and the characters themselves. Malory says: “If you can reinvent yourself—if you can be anyone—why go on being you?”
We know that Pam really likes herself. So why is she still hanging out with all these terrible people dragging her through all these terrible messes?
I don’t know. I think, at the end of the day, they all really love each other. But they would never tell each other that. I think that’s also why the show works so well and why our ensemble works so well. I don’t think any of the characters would be able to exist without the whole group. They are both bad and good because of the people around them. They need each other but won’t admit it. It’s sad but beautiful.
Has playing this strong, assertive character affected your day-to-day life? Do you take less shit from people?
I wish! I wish that I was more like Pam. I tell people that all the time. There’s things about me, things that have always been there, that are part of Pam now. But no—I’m such a wimp when it comes to stuff. I always think: Man if I was just like Pam, I’d be able to get through this so much more easily. I wish I didn’t give a shit the way Pam doesn’t give a shit. It would make life so much easier!
Before we finish, what advice would you give to other aspiring comedians or voice actors or creative performers trying to make a go of it?
I think the biggest thing is improv. Improv is so important. There seems to be a bigger improv influence in Canada. It’s not as big in the United States, especially the southern United States. So I always tell people: if you’re wanting to get into comedy and you’re wanting to get in with a group of like-minded people and maybe get a chance in front of an audience, then improv is totally the way to go. Especially for voice work where you have to play so many different characters. Improv can help you develop a lot of those different character voices. So I’d say take improv workshops, take puppetry workshops.
As far as getting into voice work, it’s really hard. Everyone says it’s really hard to get into voice acting and it’s true. There are five people who do all the voices for everything and if you’re not one of those five people, you’ve gotta be a celebrity to get a voice job. It can be really hard. Even I audition hundreds of times a year and don’t book stuff. It is a tough industry. But don’t give up! Work for free in the beginning. That’s what I did and it’s what many of us have to do in order to make a reel.
While you’re giving advice, what advice would Pam have for other ‘office drones’ working their 9-to-5 desk jobs in real life? Chumps like me…
[Laughing] She’d probably say: “Stop giving so much of a shit. And make sure you have a really sweet social life outside of work.”
I’ll work on it! Would you mind giving me one of Pam’s favourite lines as a sign-off?
Sure! “SPLOOSH!” Or wait, here’s a better one: “Holy Shitsnacks!!”
[Laughing] It’s so weird talking on the phone with Pam Poovey.
I know! Isn’t it great?!
I love my job.