Exclusive: Exploring the comic mind of Jon Barinholtz on NBC’s hit sitcom American Auto

Jon Barinholtz and Ana Gasteyer in the NBC series, American Auto.
Jon Barinholtz and Ana Gasteyer in the NBC series, American Auto. Pic credit: Greg Gayne/NBC

After spending a little time with American Auto star Jon Barinholtz, you will quickly discover his true passions: Working on hit sitcoms, family time over a big weekend breakfast, long walks around the neighborhood, and digging into a deep-dish pizza.

The Chicago native, who stars on American Auto as the quirky Wesley as part of an A-list cast, is eager for viewers to enjoy 13 episodes of Season 2 of the hit NBC show.

The series is about Katherine Hastings (Ana Gasteyer), an offbeat executive of a major Detroit auto company, who, along with her employees, is adjusting to an ever-changing industry. Although she is clearly not a car person and does not even drive, she has bold leadership and business savvy. 

Much like the hit NBC series The Office, this appealing workplace comedy takes us from the corporate offices to the factory floor, where this group of quirky characters will do anything and everything they can to make their company work… if they can get out of their own way.

“I think what’s really fun this season is that they’ve been putting us in pairs, and you see these little duos forming,” Jon Barinholtz exclusively told Monsters and Critics. “I love that the show continues to grow and find itself, being able to mix and match the folks in the cast for different storylines.”

Read on for why Jon Barinholtz believes that viewers enjoy American Auto, how he has bonded with his co-stars, and what kind of family car he envisions getting in the future.

Monsters and Critics: What is going on in Season 2, and why is everyone enjoying it so much?

Jon Barinholtz: I think that we’ve really found our stride very early on by the first or second episode back in the season. Which is typical [for] shows these days; we have shorter orders usually for episodes. We had 10 last year, we have 13 this year, and it’s usually around in longer orders, halfway through that first season where you really get locked in. It feels exactly where we are right now.

M&C: How is your character evolving? Are we finding him more or less annoying or quirky? 

Jon Barinholtz: I think that Wesley has also found his sweet spot on the annoyance scale. Where it’s not someone you would ever want to spend a lot of time with, but it’s someone you would love to watch other people spend time with and see how they have to deal with him.

This season they really have again found the right mix with Wesley, where he’s able to be his slightly boorish self and a bit of a bull in a China shop. But there are a couple of great moments this season where he really pulls it together, and, I don’t want to give too much away, but [he] plays a really key part in keeping the company together.

This season there are quite a few episodes with Wesley and Dori, who are really the two outsiders, and on very different ends of the spectrum. They’re the two outsiders at this company, and I don’t know if you saw last week’s episode on Valentine’s Day but that was the first time Dori and Wesley broke off. So much fun, and so much play there, and there are a few more of those coming this season too.

Michael Benjamin Washington as Cyrus, Ana Gasteyer as Katherine, Jon Barinholtz as Wesley, Tye White as Jack and Harriet Dyer as Sadie are in a the cabin of what appears to be a private jet. All seem to be busy at work, with the exception of Wesley, standing in the center with a bottle of water in his hand, and a smile on his face
Michael Benjamin Washington, Ana Gasteyer, Jon Barinholtz, Tye White, and Harriet Dyer in the NBC series American Auto. Pic credit: Trae Patton/NBC

M&C: Can you talk about what you enjoy about working with Ana Gasteyer? Have you ever worked with anybody in any capacity, like Ana’s character, who heads an auto company that doesn’t drive and knows nothing about cars? 

Jon Barinholtz: Yes, okay, so first of all, working with Ana, it’s a dream. On TV shows, the lead or the number one on the call sheet really sets the tone for the attitude on set and how people feel. This is kind of like your leader. You’re showing up each day building this world around this person. And you truly couldn’t ask for a better number one on a call sheet; she’s so great. She is an amazing actress and performer and gets comedy better than everyone else in that building, so it’s truly a dream to be able to work with her.

No, I don’t think I’ve ever had someone like Katherine as a boss. I’ve been pretty lucky where most of my jobs have been with capable people who love what they’re doing. I did work one restaurant job; it was a job when I was in Chicago first back in college. It was at a place where the manager hated food. He hated the idea of people going to restaurants. It was a very weird take for someone who is managing a restaurant, but he was also good at his job and good at keeping everything together. So that would be the closest real-life Katherine experience that I’ve had.

M&C: Who have you had as guest stars? What has that been like?

Jon Barinholtz: We’ve really stepped it up this season, it feels like, in terms of bringing folks in. We’ve had Andy Richter and Ryan Reynolds. My (actor) brother, Ike, comes back for an episode later on. We have this coming week, we have Ben Feldman coming in and doing a really, really fun guest spot.

It’s been great. It’s been great having folks jump on the show. We just filmed an episode with Phil Hendrie, the radio legend Phil Hendrie. I think it’s an attractive show to be on for people to come in because the show looks really good. It’s one of those shows that has that sweet spot where the writing is so sharp, and the jokes are so good, and it’s dealing with issues without it being a quote/unquote “issue show.” It doesn’t feel preachy; it just feels like it’s tackling real-world issues in a very real, practical way.

I think that makes all for the recipe of it being an attractive show for people to pop on for a week and do an arc or something like that. Eric Stonestreet also, I almost forgot. He was in the first two episodes back. I mean, he is a comic legend. He was so good in a very different character that he played on Modern Family. He was so funny, and he was great. We’ve been really lucky this season; we’ve had a lot of fun people roll in.

Jon Barinholtz as Wesley, stands near a car, having what appears to be a very important phone conversation, in the NBC series, American Auto
Jon Barinholtz in the NBC series American Auto. Pic credit: Greg Gayne/NBC

M&C: Are you a car guy? And are you getting to drive anything exciting?

Jon Barinholtz:  I like cars. It’s funny; I’m not a car guy until I think I’m shopping for a new car. Then I’m like, “Oh, there are very specific things that I’m looking for.” But I would say on the spectrum of car guy on one side, or cars about your identity on one side and on the other side of the spectrum, it’s to get you from point A to B, I’d probably fall somewhere in the middle, maybe slightly onto the A to B side.

But that said, the car that I want is probably not a cool car per se, but Volkswagen’s coming out with that electric bus next year. They’re already out in Europe, and my wife and I have been talking about that, eyeing that. They look really fun. We have a family so that seems like it’d be a really fun one to drive.

M&C: What do you miss about your other hit NBC sitcom, Superstore?

Jon Barinholtz: That was a six-year job that didn’t feel like work at all, and I think it’s because of the people. I feel like lightning has struck twice where we have another amazing cast with everyone on that call sheet is just so funny and makes me laugh so hard. We’re two years in, but Superstore, it’s in my bones for six years, and those people are still dear friends, and they are just lovely humans, so it’s the people. 

M&C: I’m sure you don’t have a lot of time with work and family but are there guilty pleasures or things that you’re watching or streaming that you could recommend?

Jon Barinholtz: Yes, there’s not a lot of time with the kids but when I do get home, I was just talking about this with other people in our cast the other day, we’re like we work in scripted and we’re so on the page that there’s something nice about just unplugging to some good old reality TV when we get home.

M&C: Can you name a few favorites?

Jon Barinholtz: Thanks to Mark McKinney on Superstore, on his recommendation, I’ve become a fan of Below Deck. I’m a big Below Deckhead. Paul T. Goldman on Peacock blew me away. If you haven’t seen it, you have to watch it. It is a new kind of show. It’s so funny and also winds up being really sweet.

Currently, I’m at my desk writing a script right now, and in the background, I have Traitors on, which is another Peacock show and it’s the game Werewolf. If you’ve ever played Werewolf or Mafia at home, they’ve finally managed to turn it into a TV show and it’s extremely fun and very compelling. 

M&C: What life lessons do you want your kids to pick up from you as they get older?

Jon Barinholtz:  I want them to find joy in whatever that is for them. I want them to find joy and have the courage and the will to seek that out and go for what they really want, whatever that is for their lives. And they’re adorable; I love them so much. I hope I can guide them along the way to do that.

Michael Benjamin Washington as Cyrus is standing in an office building court yard surrounded by, Harriet Dyer as Sadie, Jon Barinholtz as Wesley, Ana Gasteyer as Katherine, who all seem to be listening in rapt interest in what Cyrus is saying.
The cast of American Auto. Pic credit: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

M&C: How many children do you have?

Jon Barinholtz: I have a one-year-old son and a three-year-old daughter; I couldn’t imagine my life without them.

M&C: When you’re free on a Sunday, what kind of family activities are you doing? 

Jon Barinholtz: This is probably a remnant of living in Chicago, but I’m a big breakfast guy. Like I love a good weekend breakfast. Not even a brunch. We like getting there early. So, we have a couple. We have an old-school diner by us called Patty’s and another breakfast place by us; we usually float between those two things in the morning. We live in a wider street neighborhood in the Valley, so we just take leisurely walks around with the kids. They love walking, or one’s stroller-ing and the other is walking.

That’s our usual Sundays. It’s a nice breakfast and a nice walk around the neighborhood. My brother lives here, so once a week or once every other week, we’ll pop over there for dinner with his kids, and it’s nice. It helps me feel a little bit of my Chicago life while living in Los Angeles. 

Season 2 of American Auto airs on NBC on Tuesdays at 8;30 p.m. ET and Season 1 is available for streaming on Peacock and Prime Video. Superstore is available to stream on Hulu and Prime Video.

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