Ed Helms Shares ‘Humbling’ Moment He Understood Value of Representation in Hollywood

”I was arrogant enough to believe that I understood the value of representation already,” actor tells LAMag

Ed Helms didn’t realize the true value of representation in front and behind the camera until he sat in the highly diverse writers room for Peacock’s comedy series Rutherford Falls. 

“I will say that going into this show, I was arrogant enough to believe that I understood the value of representation already and that I appreciated diversity and that I was aware of those things. I think I was intellectually, but being in this writer’s room with so many Native American writers who are so funny and and generous with their comedy and with their stories, I was very humbled to learn again, or learn in a new way just how important representation is in telling stories,” Helms told Los Angeles. 

“Just having a writer’s room with lots of people from lots of different backgrounds, I mean, even the Native American writers that we have are from lots of different, very specific backgrounds within the Native American world,” he added. “So, it just can’t be overstated. As a white person, it’s very easy to kind of roll through life without appreciating that or looking for those challenges or looking to be challenged in those ways, but I will say working on this show has been an incredibly eye opening, affirming and exciting learning experience and it still is, and I’m just incredibly proud to be a part of it.”

The sitcom began as an idea between Helms and Michael Schur, who previously worked together on The Office, to make a comedy about complex indigenous characters. After getting Navajo show runner, Sierra Teller Ornelas, on-board with the idea, the trio formed one of the largest indigenous writing staffs in American TV, with half of the room being of Native American heritage. Helm noted that while they’ve been praised with the groundbreaking moves, he more so cares about telling indigenous stories thoughtfully and correctly. 

“In the industry, we hear a lot from the Native American community, just about the way this show is representing Native voices and a spectrum of Native experiences that just aren’t seen, or haven’t been seen in comedy previously,” Helms said. “That’s something that I think a lot of people don’t understand or take for granted like, ‘Oh, there’s stories out there about Native Americans. We’ve all seen this or that.’ But it’s not until you actually hear it from the Native American community, that you can actually see and understand it in a new way.”

“I think the industry is taking notice and we’re seeing a lot more shows like Reservation Dogs that are really kind of popping in really exciting ways,” he added. “We’re seeing not just Native American representation, but representation across the board is growing, and that’s just very meaningful and exciting, I think, for the industry and for the audience in America.” 

Rutherford Falls centers its story around two lifelong friends, Nathan Rutherford (Helms) and Reagan Wells (Jana Schmieding), whose relationship is tested when a crisis hits their small town. After the mayor decides to move a statue of Nathan’s ancestor because car drivers keep crashing into it, Nathan begins a quest to keep the statue in its place, causing Reagan to juggle loyalty to her friend and to her people, the Minishonka Nation. Season 2 finds Nation and Reagan helping each other tackle work, romance, and major changes to their small town and the Native American reservation it borders, initiated by Tribal Casino C.E.O. Terry Thomas (Michael Greyeyes).

“In season two, you’re gonna see all of the characters interacting together more,” Helms said. “It’s just a little bit bolder. The satire is still there. There’s still a lot of issues getting confronted in a fun way, but the laughs are much harder. I actually think season two is more fun.”

All eight episodes will stream June 16th on Peacock. 

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.