Say what you will about Ben Schwartz. Say what you will about his Parks and Recreation character, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein, who despite appearing in only 21 episodes, might just be the most iconic recurring TV role of the decade. Say what you will about any of this—there’s one thing about Ben Schwartz that you can’t argue with, in character or out: the hair.
In fact, the hair might just be what got Schwartz noticed in the first place.
When the future Parks and Recreation and House of Lies star first moved out to Los Angeles from New York, like most young actors, he had trouble finding work. He also had trouble finding anyone to cut his hair—so it just kept growing out and out, he says.
Finally, at one point, luck struck. Schwartz landed a pilot that was being developed by Mitchell Hurwitz, the creator of Arrested Development. “I was so excited, and the second I got it, I told him, I will cut my hair. I am so sorry that it looks so insane,” Schwartz told Men’s Health in an interview. “And he goes, If you cut your hair, I will be very disappointed in you. I was like, OK, OK, OK!’”
Oh, that hair. The size. The volume. The depth. Whether you’re watching him sing-shout about how fluuuushed with caaaaasshhh he is for the 800th time on Netflix, or if you’re just hearing his voice on a recent episode of Conan O’Brien’s standout podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend, you can just tell that the hair is showing out, and having a moment.
What’s the secret to the Schwartz Style? Well, he swears by Bumble and bumble, using their shampoo and conditioner every day. But more importantly, he uses their Sumotech, a part wax, part paste, part clay concoction that helps shape his ‘do into the masterpiece you picture him with in your head.
Schwartz’s hair has also helped him to draw comparisons to Joe Keery of Stranger Things, another voluminously-maned actor with impeccable comic timing of his own. After an online theory put forth the idea that Jean Ralphio and Keery’s Steve Harrington were related, the two appeared together in a bit on The Late Late Show.
“It was so fun, and we became actual real-life friends,” Schwartz says. He acted in and directed a short for Visa, which he invited Keery to appear alongside him in. “He told me when he was bartending, people would come up and tell him that he kind of had ‘Jean-Ralphio’ hair, or that he kind of looked like me, and he always laughed it off,” Schwartz said. The fact that the two are now friends, bonding over their shared coiffure, truly represents a full circle happening.
The two aren’t the only ones with the hairstyle, either. As Stranger Things fans might recall, Keery’s character, Steve Harrington, helps to style the hair of Gaten Matarazzo’s Dustin at the end of that show’s second season. “Are we really making the difference?” Schwartz asks. “Is it happening?” Only time will tell, clearly.
With all of these things to choose from—the late night bits with Keery, House of Lies, movies like This is Where I Leave You and Night School, and even a recurring voice role on Bojack Horseman—Parks, and Jean-Ralphio, is still what he hears from the most. “If you think about that show, first of all, the writing staff of that show will be legendary,” he says. “The cast is all, like, incredible actors and actresses that all have their own shows, or movies, or are the biggest movie star in the world right now.”
Schwartz goes on to detail that while Jean-Ralphio certainly made a mark, and a lasting impression, he only appeared in 21 episodes—meaning he got to watch the additional 104 episodes simply as a fan. “I was just like everybody else, going crazy and loving it. I miss that show so much,” he says. “I just started to find all these props, I was going through an old box and I found all these Entertainment 720 props, it’s been, like, a beautiful little gift that I didn’t even know I had.”
Speaking of Entertainment 720, Schwartz has also heard your jokes about the bombastic failure in event planning known as the Fyre Festival (the documentary Fyre Fraud, on Hulu, directly references Schwartz and Aziz Ansari’s Parks and Recreation characters, and their hilariously failed business endeavor). For the record, yes, he agrees, it sounds very much like something Jean Ralphio and Tom would do.
“I think what would happen, literally, is that Jean-Ralphio would see the Fyre Festival—see how much attention it got—and literally just try to throw it again. Do the same thing.” Schwartz says. “It’s like, we’re gonna get all these things!, but we haven’t really done any of it. Like, oh, yeah, we have Ja Rule, and we have Fleetwood Mac, and we have every single person in the universe, and then slowly you find out that he’s just lying about half of it. But in the back of his head, he’s like, well, they’re going to say yes. Why wouldn’t they say yes? We’ll have cheese sandwiches, why wouldn’t they say yes?”
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