After making his bones as a journeyman actor specializing in loopy characters, Jim Rash began drawing name recognition in the early 2010s as the camp-happy college administrator on the NBC sitcom "Community" (NBC, 2009-15; Yahoo!, 2015) and as an Academy Award-winning writer. A North Carolina native with a spindly build and nerdy countenance, Rash found a groove as a sitcom character actor, inking his first cast job in 1999 on the television oddity "Thanks" (CBS, 1999). Honing his skills in the comedic cauldron of Los Angeles' famed Groundlings troupe, he joined a number of his cohorts on Comedy Central's "copumentary" lampoon "Reno 911!" (2003-07) as a local prone to bawdy calamity. In 2006, he landed among another talent-laden ensemble populating the shorter-lived Ted Danson vehicle "Help Me Help You" (ABC, 2006). In 2009, Rash took it to the next level on "Community," playing Craig Pelton, the daffy, cross-dressing, attention-hungry dean of the show's central community college. His popularity led to Rash being given full cast member status in its third season. He and writing collaborator Nat Faxon scored a major success on a different track, penning the Oscar-winning script for the 2011 George Clooney film "The Descendants." It set in motion their original feature project, "The Way, Way Back." Many in Hollywood designated Rash a talent on the uptick as an auteur, even as he became widely acknowledged for creating one of the zaniest characters on television.
He was born James Rash on July 15, 1970, in Charlotte, NC. Rash attended a K-12 parochial school, the Charlotte Latin School, but he was, he later said, not a particularly studious youth. Upon graduation in 1989, Rash had hoped to go to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, but, lacking the grades, he spent a year at a boarding prep school, the Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, NJ. It was there, with the school's dynamic theater department that he discovered a proclivity for drama, which he took back to North Carolina once accepted to UNC. He graduated in 1994 with a bachelor's degree in radio, television and motion picture arts. Rash moved to Los Angeles, did his requisite time waiting tables while searching for projects, and took what one-off jobs he could snare, including an ad for McDonald's and, in his first TV job, a minor guest role on the sitcom "Cybill" (CBS, 1995-98). He picked up a few more sitcom guest shots in ensuing years, the most substantial a recurring tabloid fact-checker on the Tea Leoni-anchored sitcom "The Naked Truth" (ABC/NBC, 1995-98). In 1999, his first cast job proved an oddity, seeing him as a privation-beset denizen of Plymouth Colony on the CBS situation comedy about 17th century Massachusetts Puritans, "Thanks." After that six-episode summer run, Rash popped up almost immediately on The WB's fall line-up as comic support to Park Overall on the short-lived country girl-goes-urban sitcom, "Katie Joplin" (1999).
In the meantime, Rash began taking improv classes at L.A.'s premier comedy theatrical company, the Groundlings, and found his groove at the turn of the century when he was accepted into its ranks, forming a writing tandem with fellow Groundling Nat Faxon. While he honed those skills, he picked up a raft of bit one-off jobs, including TV guest shots, telefilms, indie features and even the occasional major studio jobs, typically colorful, quirky and/or nerdy parts, a la brief turns in the psychological thriller "One Hour Photo" (2002) and the Spielberg sci-fi flick "Minority Report" (2003). In 2002, he landed the first of what would become six episodes on the Fox sitcom "That '70s Show" (1998-2006), and, in 2003, he would begin a recurring role as Andrew on the improv-heavy Comedy Central mockumentary series "Reno 911!" (2003-09). Created by veterans of New York sketch-comedy troupe The State, the show also liberally tapped Groundlings talent to play dysfunctional denizens of Reno, NV, encountered by the Reno Sheriff's Department. Andrew would pop up throughout the show's run, on a first-name basis with the deputies due to his frequent comic sexual mishaps, including finding himself stuck inside a lifelike sex doll.
Rash and Faxon produced one of their scripts for a pilot, "Adopted," in 2005, which starred Bernadette Peters and Christine Baranski as birth and adoptive mothers vying for the affections of their grown son, but ABC passed it as a series. With some limelight falling on his comedic talent, in 2006, Rash found himself in estimable company on the sitcom "Help Me Help You," anchored by Ted Danson as a renowned psychotherapist in need of some help himself. Rash played an insecure, closeted member of Danson's therapy group. The show also featured Jane Kaczmarek, Tim Meadows, Jere Burns and Jane Lynch, but the talent failed to draw audiences and it shuttered after a half season. Rash continued to land small, persistently quirky one-off acting jobs while he and Faxon worked on a screenplay - based on Rash's own childhood - centered on a young boy attempting to establish a meaningful dialogue with a distant mother and a philandering stepfather during a family trip. The process of shopping the script earned them a shot at adapting Kaui Hart Hemmings' novel The Descendants for an upcoming feature film. In 2009, Rash picked up another recurring role on the deliriously funny NBC sitcom "Community." He played Craig Pelton, the irrepressibly peppy dean of Greendale Community College with a proclivity to don ridiculous theme costumes for various campus events.
The show initially followed an eclectic cross-section of students, young and old, who form an ad hoc Spanish study group, which becomes secondary to their weekly capers and social gymnastics. But Pelton's flamboyant attempts to insert himself into their cloister and his serial incompetence (as when the campus is trashed multiple times over in apocalyptic student paintball tournaments) made him more than just an ancillary character. In 2010, producers and NBC even supplemented Rash's episode work by featuring him in a series of "webisodes" on the network website, "Dean Pelton's Office Hours," and officially put him in the opening credits as cast member for the 2011-12 season. Meanwhile, "The Descendants" premiered in late 2011 to nearly universal raves. Directed and co-scripted by director Alexander Payne, it told the tale of a Hawaii landowner (George Clooney) grown apart from his wife and daughters but struggling to bridge the distance and become a real parent upon the death of the former. Made for Fox Searchlight for less than $20 million, the film grossed $170 million globally and drew five Academy Award nominations. In early 2012, Payne, Faxon and Rash won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The success of the film opened doors for Rash and Faxon, who saw their coming-of-age script, titled "The Way, Way Back," purchased and put into production. Both writers were slated to co-direct an impressive cast reported to include Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney and Sam Rockwell.
By Matthew Grimm
Director (Feature Film)
Cast (Feature Film)
Writer (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Made TV acting debut on an episode of CBS sitcom "Cybill"
Landed multi-episode role on comedy series "The Naked Truth" (ABC, NBC)
Feature film debut, "One Hour Photo"
Cast in a minor role in Steven Spielberg's futuristic "Minority Report"
Landed a recurring role on "That '70s Show" (Fox)
Played the Head T.A. Philip in the comedy feature "Slackers"; cast included future writing partner Nat Faxon
Played 'Andrew the Whore-House Guy' on several episodes of "Reno 911!" (Comedy Central)
Appeared on the final two episodes of NBC's hit comedy "Friends"
Made writing and producing debut with ABC movie "Adopted"; first writing collaboration with Nat Faxon
Cast as Dean Pelton on the NBC ensemble comedy "Community" alongside Chevy Chase and Joel McHale
Co-wrote screenplay of critically acclaimed drama "The Descendants" with Alexander Payne and Faxon; Payne directed film that starred George Clooney