"It's a lot of sleep deprivation, but it's good," Neff told me during a phone conversation Sunday. "It's a lot of fun."
Over the summer the former Andersonville resident returned to Chicago to help stage the first live production of a play he wrote, "The Last Duck," with the Jackalope Theatre Company. ("It's my first award-losing play," he deadpanned after saying it was nominated for two Joseph Jefferson awards.)
Over the 2 1/2 months he was in town, he hung out with old friends, did improv shows, took in a bunch of theater and met Obama campaign press secretary Ben LaBolt. That led to meeting the president and campaigning for him in swing states.
You can check him out at 7 p.m. Tuesday when "Raising Hope" returns for its third season with the amusingly titled, "Not Indecent, But Not Quite Decent Enough Proposal." (It already premiered on Twitter.) Melanie Griffith and her real-life mother, Tippi Hedren, guest star as the mother and grandmother of Sabrina (Shannon Woodward), the girlfriend of Neff's character, Jimmy Chance.
Neff said working with Griffith--she will appear in five episodes this season--was a great way to come back from his busy hiatus.
"It was pretty surreal to get to meet her and work with her," he said. "She's got a tattoo of Antonio's name [Antonio Banderas, her husband] on her arm, so you can never forget who you're dealing with ... It's one of those surreal, I'm-in-Hollywood moments."
Neff experienced another I'm-in-Hollywood moment while filming scenes with her: Their characters make out in the back seat of Jimmy's van. "Pretty sweet, man. Right?" he said of kissing Griffith. "And in a corset and body paint. And a wig." (You'll have to watch the episode.)
Now that Jimmy and Sabrina are dating--and maybe more--Neff's also been kissing Woodward professionally. He politely declined to compare the two women's kissing style.
"Man, you just want to have me throw myself under a bus here, don't you?" he said, laughing. "There's no winning with that. I don't know if you've ever had to compare kissing partners, but when you have to keep kissing them, that's not a good idea.
"I love them both in different ways."
Neff continues to love his job, too. He landed "Raising Hope" after sending an audition tape to creator Greg Garcia from Chicago, where he was living the life of a struggling young theater actor at the time.
As the show begins its third season, Neff has parlayed the experience into various opportunities, including co-creating an improv show at iO West in L.A. and landing his first starring film role in "Friend Zone," which he will shoot this fall on weekends and during time off from "Raising Hope."
When we talked, Neff was taking full advantage of his week-and-a-half off from work after completing seven weeks of filming; he had just returned from New Mexico to help register voters and was on his way to a Habitat For Humanity build-a-thon. He's busy, but Neff is happy about that.
"I'm a guy who likes to work," she said. "Plus my work is a lot of fun."
Neff teased the upcoming season with the following comments:
- "We go on a couples retreat with my parents in which there may be a live bear."
- "I think Jimmy and Sabrina are getting closer and closer to establishing their own family unit, and I think that's what a lot of this season is going to be about. So the Chances are multiplying and branching out. And wreaking havoc where we go."
- "If there is a wedding, you know it's going to be a Chance-style wedding. That means it's going to be, basically, a roving band of lunatics shows up. There'll probably be lots of cheap hooch and dancing. And a couple miscarriages of justice."
- "Maw Maw [Cloris Leachman] and Barney [Gregg Binkley] have a moment in an upcoming episode. Her and Barney have some private time together. Think of that what you will."
- "Chris Klein comes on to play my long-lost almost brother, which I won't get into but suffice to say he's hilarious ... gut-splittingly funny. I rode on his shoulders and they're really broad and strong. It was a lot of fun and I felt safe the entire time. And I was up there for a long time, too."
- "We've got a great Halloween episode. Burt [Garret Dillahunt] and I go to a gay bar, which is a lot of fun. Burt has the time of his life."
On guest star Wilmer Valderrama, who plays the boyfriend of Tamara, Griffith's character:
"Wil's a great guy and he's really funny on the show. It was really cool to have him come play with us."
On working with the guest stars, which also includes Leslie Jordan, Jenny Slate, Mary Gross:
"It's ... cool. Like, 'This is gonna be fun I get to play with somebody new this week.' And, 'Hey you've been in a lot of stuff I like and I'm looking forward to getting to play with you.' It's just fun, that's the main thing. I'm just having a lot of fun."
On a midseason episode he thinks will be great:
"I think it's one of the best scripts I've ever read that we've had. It's called ‘Candy Wars.' I don't want to give too much away but it's unbelievable the scope of this one episode. I mean we're parroting like a million classic TV shows and movies. If we pull it off it's going to be epic."
On the free-wheeling style of "Raising Hope:"
I think we're getting even closer to becoming like a live-action "Simpsons."
On the "Raising Hope" writers:
"I really do think our writers should get nominated for an Emmy for this season's work because they're doing some incredible stuff. ... I really hope our writers get noticed because I think they're doing some consistently excellent work."
And here's his strong 5 minutes on diarrhea (again, you have to watch the premiere Tuesday):
"I can definitely give you a weak 5 minutes on diarrhea, without a doubt. It's awful. I think the last time I had it was food poisoning, and that was just horrible. I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Oh man, you know, I think avoiding questionable seafood is always a good idea. Curry can be real, that can wreak a lot of havoc. Too much fruit, you hit those farmers' markets and get too much fruit; I don't recommend that. Check the expiration dates on stuff. If you're buying food at food auctions or discount food warehouses, check expiration dates. Really [bleeping] key." He probably could have gone on, but I had to cut him off.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on Show Patrol's Facebook page.