Ask Parvesh Cheena, one of the stars of NBC's Outsourced, to single out the top selling point for the show and he's quick to identify himself as delectable eye candy. "Because Indians are hot," the joker of the cast says. "But I can only speak for myself." Then Rizwan Manji, his costar, suggests an additional highlight: "Because mustaches are in," the mustachioed one says. Those are two theories. Take them or leave them. But maybe the real strength of this comedy series about the staff of a novelty company's telephone call center, one that's located in India is its gentle, non-judgmental humor. "I like a good sarcastic joke, like anyone," says Cheena, who plays socially awkward Gupta. "But the fact that we can have comedy without the snark is so nice." Manji, who plays Rajiv, the power-hungry assistant manager, agrees: "These are characters you can fall in love with. Minus Gupta!" Outsourced airs at 9:30 p.m. CT Thursday on NBC.
When you were cast, were there concerns that the show might mock Indian culture and traditions?
Manji: "There has never been a show like this on TV before, where you have five foundation actors as series regulars who are Indian. I'm so proud of this show. People have been so supportive. People are watching it every week and finding it funny. No other show is celebrating Indian culture as much as we do."
Cheena: "Of our writers, a good third of them are of South Asian decent. They bridge the gap. They really do make a show with respect to the culture and tradition, as well as making it accessible for an American audience. Actually, it's a global audience. Because we're getting fan mail from Singapore and Malaysia."
Is it true that Parvesh is the practical joker on the set? Who is on the receiving end?
Cheena: "That's true. And Rizwan has been the brunt of many of my pranks."
Cheena: "Riz tends to fall asleep during filming. We generally have 14-hour days. When you're with people five days a week for that long of time, you start to get a little silly. So Rizwan falls asleep and our favorite pastime is to see how many people we can get behind him and take photos and videos of him."
Manji: "They've taken videos of up my nostrils, which are up on Hulu."
Cheena: "We're a family. You have to tease your family. You tease the ones that you're closest to."
Did you all hit it off immediately as a cast?
Cheena: "A lot of us had worked together before. Riz and I have known each other for years, primarily because you become audition friends. Rizwan and I literally auditioned against each other."
Manji: "We had a couple of weeks between getting cast in this and starting shooting. One of our executive producers sent us out on a karaoke day. We spent the whole day at the karaoke place. Now we're really good friends and we hang out on the weekends as well."
Cheena: "And we have literally watched every episode together as a cast potlucking it and watching."
What do you think of Gupta's desire to be a Bollywood star?
Cheena: "We all have this dream of becoming the next great singer, the next great dancer. Those same wants and desires are in India too. The great thing about that episode for me besides getting to make my whole family proud and cry and squeal with delight that I did a full Bollywood dancer number was that we showed that the same wants and dreams are universal."
Who are some of your key comedy influences?
Cheena: "Let me answer for Riz: Rizwan is very influenced by Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. Things he grew up with!"
Manji: "Thank you."
Cheena: "You're welcome."
Manji: "Honestly, I grew up watching my favorite show, Three's Company. John Ritter is somebody I loved, that kind of physical humor. There are people who want to be in the movies. I just wanted to be on a sitcom and it was because of Three's Company."
Cheena: "I really liked Danny DeVito. I watched Taxi and thought, well, he's short and he's funny looking. I'm the same guy. I also had a special place for Bill Cosby. I assumed I would one day be a Cosby kid."
How much are you like your characters?
Cheena: "Gupta is kind a man-child. He's socially awkward and maybe not the most developed."
Manji: "Sort of like you as a person."
Cheena: "Yes, thank you, Riz. And Rizwan is actually a lot like Rajiv. He's a real mean guy."
Manji: "I am the meanest. We did an episode where I slap Gupta. In no other show could your boss slap you. They let me slap him seven times in that episode. And after all of that, they were going to cut it, but I was so happy that I got to slap him seven times. It was the most fun I've ever had on that set."
Cheena: "No Guptas were harmed in the making of that episode."
Manji: "But I tried to harm some Guptas!"