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Emmys: A Hilarious, Self-Deprecating Day on the 'Happy Endings' Set

Kyle Newacheck
"Happy Endings"

Spending time with the stars of ABC's cast-off cult favorite reveals that the third-season comedy's signature wit -- and its one-upmanship -- are just as sharp off-camera.

This story first appeared in a special standalone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

On a chilly February morning on the Happy Endings set at the Paramount lot, the laughter rarely seems to stop. The show has always had challenges, but that doesn't faze the cast (who won't learn of the show's cancellation by ABC until May).

"It always feels like we're in our own vacuum," says Adam Pally, who was nominated for a Critics' Choice Award along with co-star Casey Wilson. "When we started, we didn't have an air date. We filmed 13 episodes not even knowing if they'd air. And this year we're on nine different nights. It just sort of always felt like we were doing it for ourselves."

PHOTOS: On the Set of 'Happy Endings'

In a certain regard, they are doing it for themselves. Pally, Wilson, Eliza Coupe, Elisha Cuthbert, Zachary Knighton and Damon Wayans Jr. seem to exist in a constant battle of trying to outfunny one another -- as do their characters in the David Caspe-created show about six young Chicagoans coming to terms with adulthood.

"We've always been in a state of peril," says Knighton, chiming in on Pally's assessment of the the series' unexpected hiatus.

Wilson laughs: "And there's Grandpa, living through the Depression."

"Did you see Cinderella Man?" asks Pally. "That was loosely based on Zach's life."

The diner set where most of today's shoot is taking place has been reconfigured for a third time this morning, and the six stars migrate back from their space heater to the Formica tabletop. Coupe leans over to her onscreen husband, Wayans, during every pause in filming to make him whip out his iPhone. He's been trying to show his comrades an unintentionally funny music video for about a half hour.

The sunshine starts trickling into the makeshift eatery as returning director Kyle Newacheck (Workaholics) gives the cast the go-ahead to retreat to their heated base camp. Cuthbert and Wilson throw on coats and Coupe shimmies into a pair of sweatpants. Walking ahead with the other male leads, Pally turns to the photographer and jokes: "Are you even at the right stage? You know they shoot Rizzoli & Isles on this lot, right?"