By Dan Snierson
March 02, 2017 at 02:12 PM EST
Quantrell Colbert/FOX

Adam Pally will gladly tell you why his new show uses a duffel bag as a time machine. How he gave Casey Wilson a concussion. What happened when he kissed Robert De Niro without authorization. And why he’s sporting an unsettling haircut. But before that, here at Beverly Hills deli Nate ‘n Al, he’s going to teach you how to order a healthy Jewish breakfast with egg whites that don’t have the texture of “boogers or phlegm.”

“I’ll have the matzo brei, egg whites, well-done, no sour cream, extra side of applesauce,” he rattles off to the waitress. “Larry King gets his burned. Like, black. Some people say it’s what keeps Larry alive… A couple sides of cinnamon sugar, too? Because we’re little sweet boys.” He turns to you, nodding: “You’re in for some good stuff.”

He’s not just talking about the food: The Happy Endings and Mindy Project alum and indie-comedy presence (Joshy, A.C.O.D.) brims with quips, yarns, confessions, and sidebars — it’s almost as if a Neil Simon character were filtered through bong water. Now he’s transitioning from TV sidekick to leading man on Fox’s promising comedy Making History (debuts March 5 at 8:30 p.m.), starring as an id-driven college facilities manager who tramples through time with his colonial-era girlfriend/Paul Revere’s daughter (Leighton Meester) and a history professor (Yassir Lester). The trio kick-start the American Revolution, place bets with Al Capone in 1919, and get chased by Nazis. “The thing I liked about it right off the bat was that most time-travel things romanticize the past,” says Pally, 34. “But I’m a Jew, Yassir is a black man, and Leighton’s a woman. The only time that is good for us was, like, the last eight years. Everything else is horrible. This dealt with that very realistically.”

Slightly less realistic — and separating them from the glut of time-travel shows — is that they flit through history in an oversized gym bag. But that was peachy with Pally, who has zero interest in the geeky minutiae of time travel. “You know how hard it is to explain metaphysics?” he says. “We were like, ‘Just put them in a f—ing duffel bag and send them on their way.'”

As his Making History character subverts the rules, so has Pally. At 13, he was expelled from Jewish day school in New Jersey. At 16, he saw an ASSSSCAT show at Upright Citizens Brigade (where he still performs), and it changed his life… eventually. “It was with Andy Daly, Amy Poehler, and Paul Scheer, and I was like, ‘That’s awesome! I would totally do that if I didn’t have plans to go get f—ing wasted for the next five years,'” he recalls. After two years of partying at the University of Arizona, he reset his path, transferring to the New School in New York and signing up to intern at UCB.

His film break came in 2009’s Taking Woodstock, but his big break arrived with 2011’s Happy Endings, where he stole scenes as fratty, slothy Max, a decidedly nonstereotypical portrayal of a man who just happens to be gay. “It’s one of the things that I’m most proud of,” he says (adding that he’d do a reunion “for free”). “I knew it was going to cause a stir to do it like that — and I liked it. It gives the thing a certain energy I need. … The other thing I really love about that character is that what matters most about him is that he matters nothing at all.”

Making History creator Julius “Goldy” Sharpe calls Pally “a lovable combination of being incredibly enthusiastic and really hard on himself,” while Mindy Kaling told him that his MO is “chaos theory.” (She liked it enough to turn his one-off Mindy guest spot as cocksure doc Peter Prentice into 40-plus episodes.) Robert De Niro experienced it when Pally played his grandson in Dirty Grandpa. “Everyone was like, ‘Don’t touch Robert,'” Pally recalls of filming an emotional funeral scene. “He puts his hand on the casket and sits back down in the pew. I grabbed his face, and I kissed him right on the cheek, and I was like, ‘You’re the strongest man I know, Grandpa!’… De Niro leans in and goes, ‘I like you. You’re a f—ing lunatic. Do not do that again.’ I was like, ‘All right! Life made!’ Did not do it again.”

Happy Endings costar Casey Wilson, who calls Pally “huge-hearted” and “one of the most underrated performers I know,” employs another analogy for his fearlessness. “He truly could not give a f—,” she says, recalling his pranking predilection during filming. “Adam would grab the boom mic, and you’d just slowly see it lowered into frame and onto someone’s face, caressing their face, and everyone would laugh. One time he was doing it, I had dropped my phone, and when I shot up from grabbing it, I knocked into the mic and got a concussion. To which — after I had gone to the hospital and was crawling around on the floor and throwing up — Adam texted me: ‘Worth it.'”

The married father of two (with a third on the way) isn’t kidding around when it comes to work ethic. He’s playing a failed electronic musician in the horror-comedy flick Most Likely to Murder, which explains his current high-fade haircut. He’ll be seen in the upcoming indie films Band Aid, The Little Hours, and Shimmer Lake.

And if we took the duffel bag to 2027, where would we see Pally? “I would be shocked if I make it 10 years. I would say I kick out at 38,” he deadpans. “But I have a lot of things I want to do. I want to direct a movie, I’d like to host the Emmys, I’d like to do a musical on Broadway, I’d like to sell more sweatshirts for Planned Parenthood,” he says, finishing his matzo brei. “I don’t need to rule the world, I just need my kids to not give me a hard time. As long as there’s some fancy leather. A good iPhone case.” He shrugs. “The best way to not give a f— is to keep your wants very simple.”

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Happy Endings

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