Will Forte on 'Last Man on Earth,' 'SNL' and Bowling for Fish Tanks

"I think of stupid things that'd I'd do if nobody else was around, and then I get to go do them"

Will Forte as Phil Miller on 'The Last Man on Earth.' Credit: Jordin Althaus/FOX

Faced with the end of the world as we know it, most of us would be tempted to go the full Mad Max route, fighting leather-clad marauders and tooling around in souped-up muscle cars. If you're Will Forte, however, you look for a place to throw bowling balls at aquariums. The Last Man on Earth drops the ex-SNL cast member into a world where the human race has been ravaged by a viral outbreak; when his character isn't searching for fellow survivors, he's indulging in his gleefully destructive, dudebro-ish whims. (Three words: Flamethrower bachelor party.) The brainchild of Forte and The Lego Movie's Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the Fox show has become an oddball breakout hit — and proves that the man formerly known as MacGruber can even make the apocalypse seem hilarious.

This wasn't the first idea you guys had for a show, right?

Chris, Phil and I have known each other for years; we'd been brainstorming ideas for a project we could work on together for a long time. We had notebooks full of ideas we'd all been gathering up, and I can't recall who threw the Last Man concept out there. But I do remember that somebody yelled it out and all of us went, "Uh, no." [Laughs] Originally, we'd fixated on an idea that…well, for a while Val Kilmer was sleeping on my couch.

I'm sorry, come again?
He was looking for a place in Malibu, we'd become friends after MacGruber and he asked, "Can I come stay with you for a couple of days?" That turned into two months. So we were going to do something based loosely on that, and just as Chris was putting on his jacket to leave, he said, "Wait, let's take one more look at that postapocalyptic thing…." Suddenly, something just clicked. We couldn't get the jokes down fast enough.

Were you worried that audiences wouldn't watch you wandering the earth by yourself for 13 episodes?
That's been one of the best parts of writing the show: I get to think of these stupid little things that'd I'd do if nobody else was around — and then I get to go do them. I get to run over things with a steamroller. I get to use a flamethrower. Some are born out of necessity, like the toilet pool, of course. And a lot of things are just messing around and being a jackass. Nothing is better than throwing bowling balls at fish tanks in a parking lot.

But we throw some twists and turns in there…there's basically a reveal at the end of each episode. I like the fact that it ends up being different that what most people think it's going to be. I would compare it to MacGruber, in that I'm sure a lot of folks were like "Wait, is it just going to be some guy getting blown up every two minutes?" It's the same thing with this: "Oh, I'm going to get sick of watching this dude goof around all by himself." It's more than that. [Pause] Actually, hardly anybody saw MacGruber, so maybe that's the wrong thing to compare this to. Forget I said that. [Laughs]

How painful was the less-than-stellar reception that MacGruber received?
I mean, I was really proud of it…I know that sounds crazy, because it's just a bunch of dick jokes. But I'm as proud of MacGruber as I am of Nebraska, even though you could not pick two more dissimilar projects in the history of movies. I'm sure Alexander Payne would agree with that statement as well. [Laughs] It was painful, but I learned that when you've done something you like, it doesn't hurt as much if it fails.

Did you ever bomb big on Saturday Night Live?
When Josh Brolin was the host, I did this really stupid, over-the-top sketch called "Fart Face," in which Bill Hader and I are businessmen, and he keeps calling me Fart Face. It just tanks in dress rehearsal — not even crickets are chirping at it. Actually, it's like the crickets that usually signal a bad joke had been sucked into a vacuum. We're talking dead silence. Bill and I walked offstage, and it was like, okay, well: better luck next time. Then we went into Lorne's office to see what's staying in and what's getting cut for — and he picked it to be in the show! We were like, how cool is this? It bombed and he still stood behind it. It meant a lot.

So you did it live and then it just killed, right?
No, it bombed even worse on air. The episode supposedly had the biggest audience in years because Tina Fey was doing Sarah Palin, and then Palin herself showed up — and I gave the world "Fart Face." It was the MacGruber movie of SNL sketches. If you're going to bomb, bomb hard!

Your character grabs a Van Gogh painting and the Oval Office's rug; what would you nab if you were the last man on earth?

Am I stuck in North or South America? If not, I'd grab Jimmy Page's double-necked guitar. I could go shopping in the Smithsonian for hours. Or I'd try and find all those classified government documents, to see how many of those conspiracy theories are correct. Honestly, though, the kind of dumb shit you see my character do in the show — I'd be more into doing that. It doesn't take a lot to make me happy. Just a bowling bowl, a parking lot and some fish tanks.