For fans of hit The CW comedy series “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” the name Pete Gardner will conjure images of the beloved bisexual character Darryl Whitefeather. Some residents of Scarsdale, however, might remember Gardner better as the class clown who was sometimes in the ensemble of Scarsdale High musical productions. They might even remember him as the kid on the cover of a local paper when the Scarsdale pool first opened back in 1969.
Before becoming a successful actor and fan-favorite character in a comedy musical, Gardner was just another hometown boy. After graduating from Scarsdale High School in 1982, he went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Manhattan before moving upstate to attend Skidmore College. He took 11 months off after graduating to travel to Australia, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal and India, something he says he needed to do to get some life experience under his belt.
He later moved to Chicago to work with Improv Olympics. He later got a job directing at Second City alongside comedians like Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell, the last of whom his wife even dated before meeting him.
“I’m sure she thinks about that every once in a while,” Gardner said.
Though making it from Scarsdale to the big and small screen alike may seem like a long road, Gardner said for him it was about knowing who he wanted to be.
“It’s actually pretty simple, you just follow the people you admire and see what they did and where they went,” said Gardner. “When I was in acting school I was doing scenes from ‘King Lear’ at 19 and came to realize how limited my life experience had been so far. I came from a very sheltered background and I had very little to bring to the table. So I decided I needed to get out there and live a little. That’s when I started traveling.”
After his friends began to move on to gigs like Saturday Night Live, he decided it was time to move too. He began taking jobs in Los Angeles and was working on movies, commercials and plays when he got an unexpected call from the producers of a new show, “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” which he had auditioned for more than a year before. One callback featuring Gardner’s background in improv later, he had suddenly landed a role in what was soon to become a phenomenon.
“I often say, when people ask me what's it like doing the show, when I get interviewed and stuff like that, my response is different from anyone else,” said Gardner. “Most of the other people that work on the show are from Broadway, they’re all Broadway veterans, and I’m always like ‘It’s like being in the eighth-grade play.’”
Like Gardner, the show is a unique form of funny, called an “American romantic musical comedy-drama television series” known to address topics like sexuality, mental health, parenting and love. The four season series, which ran from 2015 to April 2019, was created by Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna and received critical acclaim, including four Emmy Award nominations and a Golden Globes win.
“What really sold me — besides how funny it was — was that fact it was a musical,” said Gardner. “There’s no greater gift you could ever receive than someone writing you a funny song to sing.”
Besides the chance to flex his improv muscles and dust off his vocal skills, Gardner, who always knew his destiny was to be the funny guy, also got to connect with an authentic character that provided important on-screen representation for a group of people.
“I think the number one thing about Daryl was that he always tried, he always tried his best, and he failed all the time, which was funny, but that’s what’s so great about the character too, that I could be this heartfelt character but I also could be funny too,” said Gardner. “And it didn’t have to be that because he was bisexual he couldn't be funny, that had nothing to do with it. But the point was also that his bisexuality wasn’t what was funny.”
Now that the show is over, Gardner plans to move on and continue work on other film and television projects, though he says there will never be anything quite like his time on the “My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” set, an experience he called both special and joyous.
“The greatest feeling in the world was when they would yell ‘cut’ and everyone would burst out laughing because they’d been holding it in during the take. And when I would go home after that day, I wouldn’t feel extra special, I would just feel like I did my job.”
Gardner and other members of the cast appeared at Radio City Music Hall for a live show Tuesday, May 14, to celebrate the end of the series, something Gardner admits he never foresaw himself doing as just another goofy kid at Scarsdale High. As far as making it from point A to point B, he said that it’s about just “doing it” and not letting anyone talk you out of what you want to do. It’s not the starting out that makes the difference, but the sticking with it that is difficult.
“You’re giving people laughter, you’re giving people a way to escape their problems even for a few minutes,” said Gardner. “Oh man, this is totally a noble endeavor and I’m on board.”