Ben Schwartz has a confession: He liked the script for his new movie. He really did!
“But I will say, man,” he tells The Post, “if Billy Crystal wanted to do a cereal commercial with me that was poorly written, I’d probably still do it.”
Schwartz, best known for his role as Jean-Ralphio Saperstein on the sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” stars opposite Crystal in the new dramedy, “Standing Up, Falling Down,” in theaters and on demand Friday. Schwartz plays Scott, a failed comedian who moves back home to Long Island to live with his parents. As Scott grapples with the realities of his situation, he befriends a dermatologist (Crystal) who needs to straighten out his own messy life.
Schwartz says Crystal was interested in him after seeing his dramatic short film, “I’m a Mitzvah.” That was a major confidence booster for the 38-year-old, who grew up quoting “City Slickers” with his friends and tuning in to watch Crystal host the Oscars.
“[Since] he was a New Yorker and he was a Jewish guy like me, you look up to people like that and hope to obtain one one-hundredth of what he’s done,” Schwartz says.
Born in the Bronx, Schwartz spent the first decade of his life in Riverdale before his family moved to Westchester. He still recalls the thrill of becoming old enough to venture into Manhattan by himself on the train.
“It’s scary at the beginning!” he recalls of his high-school-age self. “I think I probably had a pager, too, just in case my parents had to get a hold of me.”
Like his character in “Standing Up, Falling Down,” Schwartz moved back in with his parents at one point to figure things out. After studying psychology and anthropology at Union College in upstate Schenectady, he made a deal with them after he graduated: He’d spend two years living with them while pursuing a comedy career, and if it didn’t work out by then, he’d get “a real job.”
About a year and a half later, Schwartz says, he was able to support himself, in part by doing commercials. In 2009, he made the big move to Los Angeles, and the next year made his first appearance as the quotable jerk Jean-Ralphio on “Parks and Recreation.” It’s a role for which he says he’s still recognized every day on the street.
“I think I only did 21 episodes of that show,” he says. “And now with Netflix, my friends’ kids are obsessed with it, and it’s like a whole new generation of people watching it.”
Those kids may not realize it, but they’ve probably heard his voice elsewhere. His prolific cartoon career includes voice roles on the TV series “DuckTales” and “Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” and he voiced the speedy blue guy in the new Jim Carrey movie, “Sonic the Hedgehog,” which opened last weekend.
Next up, he’ll appear opposite Steve Carell in the highly anticipated Netflix comedy series “Space Force” as an egocentric media manager. He also hopes this year to direct an indie film he wrote.
More eyes seem likely to look his way — even some very famous ones. Grace Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep, appears in “Standing Up, Falling Down” as Scott’s sister. So how does it make Schwartz feel to know that Streep might have seen him act?
“Oh my God. I didn’t even think about that,” he says. “That is terrifying.”