Paul Rudd in Knocked Up Profile
Credit: Suzanne Hanover / Universal Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

Paul rudd is packing. "Yes, it's absolutely true," he says to the waitress, as he swigs a mouthful of Glenlivet at New York's White Horse tavern at two on a recent Monday afternoon. "Nine inches. But then I do start measuring at the thigh."

He swallows, goes on. "I am of sturdy stock. I have a good head of hair. I'm 5-foot-10. But I'm almost 6 feet in heels."

The waitress smirks, then dissolves into laughter.

"Okaaay," she says. "I'll be over here if you need anything else."

Rudd tilts his head, polishes off his scotch.

"Nice and smooth," he says, lowering his voice an octave, sounding like a late-night Quiet Storm DJ. He rattles the ice in his glass.

"I got no problem with this." 

Rudd is a tavern guy. 

"There's an Irish pub on 9th that I go to every week to play cards," he says. "It is my favorite place to be. The same group of friends. Manly guys." He pauses. Grins. Lets the obvious comparison hang in the air. It proves too tempting.

"I am not a manly man," he says, raising his shirt to reveal a decidedly soft belly, which he pats like biscuit dough. "I don't go to the gym. I don't worry about my health. I play darts. A sport for people with emphysema."

Just then, a man approaches the table.

"Dude, you're an actor, right?"

Rudd nods. Smiles.

"I thought so. Cool."

As the man walks away, Rudd shouts after him, "But what do you think of my work?"

It is a deceptively difficult question. Rudd has never been easy to categorize. Ever since he made his cinematic mark as Alicia Silverstone's stepbrother-cum-boyfriend in 1995's hit 'Clueless,' he has defied expectations, playing both dark ('The Cider House Rules') and frothy ('The Object of My Affection' and Phoebe's boyfriend on 'Friends'). But what Rudd, 38, excels at, especially lately, is committing whole hog to hilariously absurd characters that tap the dark side of the male animal. He is the celluloid id, the king of caricature, adept at holding up a mirror to masculine foibles and making them recognizable – and funny.

Such as toxic self-confidence, in Wet Hot American Summer, in which he played a petulant horndog camp counselor with breathtaking abandon. Or preening male vanity, in 'Anchorman,' in which his Brian Fantana found "love" in a Kmart bathroom with a woman who was "Brazilian or Chinese, or something weird." Or the malevolent apprehension of David in 'The 40-Year-Old Virgin,' a seemingly normal guy revealed bit by bit to be a delusional narcissist with an extensive porn collection. In one of the more memorable scenes, he and co-star Seth Rogen improvised their "You know how I know you're gay" riff, an exchange that was instantly mimicked by every American man aged 12 to 39.