Chris D’Elia & Bill Lawrence – Undateable
Q) Bill, could you talk a little bit about making one of the guys a gay character and what that adds to the show?
Bill: You know what I think is always nerve-wracking when you do a show is that you don’t want to ever be somebody that is, lik,e oh, you know, you have this cliché, you have this gay character, or something that people have seen before. The important thing one of the other producers of this show is a guy named Randall Winston, he’s my longest adult relationship. He’s a gay man himself — I’m not outing him, as he’s married and has kids — but one of the things that we really like the idea of talking to him about that I don’t think we have seen on the show — or in a comedy — is we all hit him up for stories about when he was first coming out and how awkward it was to deal with his buddies and kind of how awkward and weird it felt for him to be part of a gang of friends when in his head everything had changed and in their heads, things hadn’t changed. It was just kind of a funny story generator for us. And, you know, we have a couple of people working on the show that can kind of funnel in their own personal stuff and we put them all right on the show.
Q) Chris, can you talk a little to that and how Danny handles Brett’s — I guess gayness — and does he give him difference advice or is it kind of the same advice, because they’re all in the same boat?
Chris: It’s the same advice. Danny said it doesn’t matter what sex you want – you prefer, just you got to be you and you’ve got to find your strengths and ignore your weaknesses and try and, you know, try and attract who you want to attract. Doesn’t matter what – if they have appendages or not.
Bill: Randall and I really like used to argue. The one fight we always had was I always felt that it would be much easier for a single gay guy to go out and hook up than it was for a single straight guy, and he told me that was not the case. And I maintain to this day that he was lying.
Q) Chris, if I understand correctly, the majority of this cast stars stand-up comedians and I understand you guys knew each other previously before doing the show. You went on a tour to promote it and all that. Can you talk a little bit about how you guys all met, how long you have known each other and sort of what that real life camaraderie adds to the show?
Chris: I’ve known Brent for – I think Brent was – he was 19. We were at this club called the Haha Café, and I went to see him on stage. God, we’ve probably been doing stand-up – maybe I hade been doing it a little bit longer than him. I was also taking it more seriously, then when I was about 25. And I don’t know. But that’s like what a 19-year-old does. So, there was something I liked about him, and I thought that he was going to be good, and we just kind of became friends and we would hang out. He was still going to school, I think, then. And then – and then we, you know, I started doing bigger and better shows and so did he and then I took him on the road to open for me. You know, he would open for me for a while, so I have known Brent forever. Same with Rick.
Bill: You met Rick early too, right?
Chris: I met Rick probably like four years ago when he first moved to LA. I met Rick first actually, before Brent met Rick, and now they live in the same apartment complex together. And so I have known Rick for four years. And then Ron I knew probably a year before the show. Just from the circuits, from running around.
Bill: And then Bianca 10 years or something, right?
Chris: Oh yes, I knew Bianca 10 – God, no, 14 years ago from a movie I did. It’s such a small world really, even though there’s so many people in LA. But I knew her from a movie I did with a friend that was her friend and then we hung out one or two nights and then she didn’t even remember me. But I remembered her. I reminded her – I reminded her and then she brought a picture to set the next day of us when we were like 19. It was great.
Bill: Yes, part of the battle in a sitcom is making it seem like people are friends and have chemistry. And part of the idea behind this show is casting people that are friends in real life in the modern landscape, and you only have a couple episodes to establish that. It kind of helps that all these guys and girls hang out anyways.
Q) And I notice the bar is filled with Michigan sports memorabilia. So is that meant to be the setting of the show and why did you guys pick Michigan?
Bill: Detroit is the setting of the show because the other creator, Adam Sztykiel and Jeff Ingold, one of the executive producers, Randall Winston — who I already spoke about — they’re all from Detroit and the Detroit area. And we really wanted to ID – because the tagline of the show is “Every underdog has his day” and we really kind of wanted to connect this to an underdog city, a place where people have tremendous pride and all those guys are still – their families are still there. And to all kind of feel like a comeback is on the future in the future for Detroit. So the show’s very specifically ID’d with Detroit and we’re actually kind of basing a lot of our promotion stuff there and went there with a comedy tour and stuff.
Q) You previously said that the format of the show is going to change from just a cool guy who gets his friends hooked up with girls pretty early on, so talk a little bit about how the show evolves and where that decision came from to change the show as it goes on.
Bill: Well look, anybody that’s seen episodes of the show will see that, I mean we did 13 episodes and maybe one or two are about getting somebody a date, you know. What the show’s really about and it will probably sound way too deep for a multi-camera sitcom is Adam and I’s part of a, like, everybody – everybody on Earth — men and women — go through an undateable phase in their life, due to bad jobs or insecurities or money or the way they dress. And most of us get out of it and it’s about a group of friends and people that are stuck there a little bit and – whether it’s because they’re divorced or searching for something. And even Chris’ character is somebody that can’t hold onto things. So when we pitched the show, we brought pictures or ourselves our most undateable. For me, I had peroxide blonde hair and earrings and I just looked desperately like a kid from Connecticut who so badly wanted to be cool with that peroxide hair and earrings — it was really bad. So to me what the show is about is a group of people that would probably be very sad and lonely were it not for each other. And ultimately my favorite multi-camera sitcoms — Cheers and Seinfeld and Friends — are all that, they’re all shows that you would say, “Hey, these characters are kind of sad if they didn’t have each other to lean on.”
Q) Bill, following up a little bit on that sort of underdog idea, is it a hard tone to hit? Even with some of your previous work with Scrubs they were all doctors and Jules has her own house and a business and things like that. And I guess you’re walking the line of you want this to be I guess encouraging, but like if you go too far, it can be kind of depressing because these guys are all kind of list in their own way for comedic purposes, of course. Is this a tough tone to hit? It may be tougher than your previous shows?
Bill: I think if people are wallowing in sadness, yes, I think that there’s a burden for these people to have some victories and to hopefully be funny. But, if I went and pitched Cheers tomorrow and said, “Hey what’s it about?” “It’s about an alcoholic bartender who can’t stop having empty relationships and the people that inhabit his bar that hate their lives so much they just want to sit on chairs all day. I think it would be a hard sell, you know? And for me, there’s something very identifiable about this point in time in their life. And I think one of the reasons that it’s not that big of a tightrope act is A, these guys and girls are all funny, and B, they’re all very young, you know? And I hope that everybody kind of remembers the struggle of their youth to kind of get a toehold.
Q) Are there maybe things you know now about making a sitcom that you didn’t know when you started on your previous show and maybe lessons that you can take just in terms of your own performance or atmosphere or how to prepare going into this show as opposed to when you were starting out on your first show?
Chris: I mean when I was younger, like my teens, I did a lot of theater. And it’s a lot like theater because there’s a live audience. It’s actually a lot more like – it’s a lot more like standup than it is like acting kind of. So I realized I had to use those I had to use more of my standup mind than my acting mind. You know, sometimes the acting – obviously it’s acting too, but it felt like the waiting for laughs and the holding and the – and then are the jokes working, are they not working?
Bill: One of the things Chris is being careful about too, because I’m sure he doesn’t want to sound disrespectful to Adam and me, the thing that really helps us on this show more than any multi-camera sitcom I’ve ever done, we do one take of the script and then we let all these comics say whatever the heck they want on this show. And you can sometimes see in the episodes people actually laughing, which you don’t actually see a lot on shows we’ll cut away to people laughing. They’re laughing because they’re hearing things for the first time. And so one of the burdens we put on Chris and Brent and Ron and Bianca — all these people — is to riff. And some of the best jokes on the show are stuff that they came up with on their feet and if you were at the taping or in the audience, we’d occasionally I’d just say, “All right, that’s really funny, how do we get back to what the scene’s about?” And I think I certainly didn’t make up the visual of Chris pretending to give advice by vomiting like a baby, you know, mother bird into a – into his hand. That just kind of happened and then that became a staple of the show and that type of stuff is – it’s a gift when you have performers that can do that for you.
Q) So Bill are you angling this eventually just so that they’ll do all the work?
Bill: Yes, by the way, if I can get to a point that I just show up on show night, that would be fantastic.
Chris: Yes, no it is fun though. And since we all do know each other as pre-existing on the show, we’ve all – the four of us – or five or all of us really know each other, we all know each other’s rhythms so it’s like very easy to adlib if we want to, because we know what type of humor is coming and what – who’s going to hold for what. And it’s just easier that way because we do that in our regular life anyway.
Bill: So we are definitely setting – I mean we are trying to do a true throwback sitcom. It’s certainly not a big out-of-the-box idea but we’re hoping that people just enjoy really kind of on the verge young, funny comics and comedians kind of enjoying each other is kind of the pitch of the show.
Q) So kind of piggybacking on that, Bill, how much of the off-the-cuff comments by the cast actually made it into the final cut of the episodes?
Bill: I’d say the pilot is only about 20% and then it quickly switches to 50/50. And one of the things we’re going to release – and by the way, it became a show in a cool way that the audiences, because these guys all have tremendous fan bases in the comedy world and the audience started coming to see them even before they started coming to see the show and coming back again and again. And so one of the things that we’ll release we would have had to air hour and a half long shows because these guys will go down a path of riffing about something we have no idea how they got there. And I put as much as I can in the show, but I can’t put – I can’t put 10 minutes of Chris pretending to be Russian mobster in there, even though the audience was laughing hysterically, you know what I mean? And it made it part of the fun for me is never knowing what these people are going to say and I think that you can tell that that’s a real vibe once you get past the pilot, simply because it’s rare on a sitcom that you see other actors laugh, okay? Or actresses. On our show, often you’ll cut it to a reaction, someone will be laughing sincerely. It’s not an acting fake laugh and it’s because somebody just said something for the first time that’s cracking them up.
Chris: By the way, Bill’s saying he doesn’t know how we got there — neither do we when we’re doing it. I got on Russian mobsters for 10 minutes and then we end up and we’re like “What the heck just happened?”
Bill: I think a couple audience members have said to me before they’ve never gone to a sitcom taping where like in the middle of a scene, Chris or one of the performers will yell over to me and Adam and say, “Hey guys, what can we possibly say to get back to what this scene’s about?” We’ll keep the cameras rolling, we’ll say, “Just say, ‘You know that reminds me…’” and then we’ll kind of go back into the show.
Q) Chris, Bill has already talked about the undateable part of his life. What about you, is there an undateable part of your life because of unfortunate wardrobe or hair decisions?
Chris: I mean shoot, Bill’s married with kids, he’s not undateable. He did it. When I meet a girl and hang out with her and like her that that’s the girl and then it ends up not panning out for me. But I just feel like it’s tough to be in LA and find somebody – find somebody that you really connect with on a real level. But I just feel like I’m undateable the whole time, my whole life.
Bill: Yes, I mean we were on a national talk show earlier in the wee kand just out of nowhere, Chris said, “Well I’m alone right now, so that’s great.”
Q) Bill, you mentioned wanting to have a cast that was already cohesive from the start. How did that reflect in the casting process and how you did this differently from past sitcoms?
Bill: This is one of my favorite stories, I haven’t gotten a chance to tell this a lot. But it’s, you know, we went out and scouted comics. My, you know, and I love standup, I’m just an absolute fan. And the first two people we met were Brent and Rick — Rick Glassman and Brent Morin — two guys that not only have very specific voices comedically and different from each other, you know, so we could tweak the parts to them, but at the end of the show drive home together and live in the same apartment and had an easy chemistry that we’re like, “Wow, if those guys can act at all, it would be great to have them in the part.” The funny part of that was, so we cast Brent and Rick and Ron Funches, who all knew each other first, and we didn’t have the lead of the show. And Chris D’Elia was still on the show Whitney at the time, and Brent made the mistake of saying, “My mentor in comedy is Chris D’Elia” and we made the decision to go ahead and give Chris the part. He didn’t have to audition, we just offered it to him, you know, and had to wait and see if his other show kept going or didn’t keep going. It was going to be good for Chris either way. But the fun part of this story was this is Brent’s first job ever and there was about three days at the comedy store that Brent got to go up to Chris and say, “Hey, Chris, we’re kind of finally on equal footing. I’ve got a TV show now too.” And then we gave Chris the part of the lead and we went out to the comedy store to see those guys and Chris was like, “Hey Brent, remember your TV show? It’s my TV show now.” And then on the poster, it’s like Chris walking with Brent over his shoulder and just seeing Christ torture Brent that way immediately became the big brother, little brother dynamic on the show.
Chris: Yes, I said, “You’re not going anywhere without me.”
Q) Chris, being the one with the experience, you didn’t have any kind of reservations in terms of hiring a bunch of standup comedians together regardless of their acting experience?
Chris: I’ve been in the business for a long time and when I started out, there were comics in every show. Because the multi-camera skillset involves first and foremost being funny, secondly being able to vibe off the audience and hold for laughs, and third acting. And obviously none of these guys and girls would have gotten the parts if they couldn’t also act, but for some reason not only have we gotten away from that, but as there’s less and less multi-camera sitcoms, it’s a skillset that comics have more than most people. You can cast a young actor or actress right now and most of them have not been in front of a live audience that way. Standups are every night, so I had no reservations. I was a fan of Home Improvement, of Seinfeld, Drew Carey Show, Roseanne, those are the multi-cameras I grew up on. And one of the things I’ve noticed with the second you get comics, if the joke doesn’t work, they sense it and they just change it on their own, man. It’s the ultimate gift.
Q) The older examples you mentioned all take one central star comedian and then put a whole cast of actors around them. Now with Undateable, there’s also a recent trend with Undateable, Sullivan and Son, Silicon Valley, where you really have that sense of cohesiveness right from the start.
Bill: Well I think it involves a voice. I look at the show Veep that way, too. And Veep is amazing comedy, it’s mostly UCB and improv folks and they have the ability to kind of riff and go off on tangents in ways that they understand each other’s language. Look, the one compliment that I would hope that we would get from this show is that the comedy doesn’t seem maybe as forced as it often seems on multi-camera sitcoms. It seems like this group is really just trying to crack each other up.
Q) Chris, what’s it like to get a job just because you’re another comedian’s mentor?
Chris: Just to be called mentor means I can retire. Pretty cool, you know? I’m 34. I’m a young mentor, that’s kind of cool.
Bill: You’re a very young mentor, man. You’re a very young father figure.
Chris: When I think of mentor, I think of like Professor X. He’s bald and in the wheelchair, you know what I mean?
Bill: Well of course. None of these guys know what I look like, that’s exactly what I look like.
Q) Bill, what makes NBC such a great fit for Undateable?
Bill: Well shoot, you know what, the truth is there’s something real, the weird thing in network TV is the best fit for Undateable is any network that’s still doing multi-camera sitcoms. And it’s really been kind of bread and butter of CBS for a long time. Fox in a cool way is trying this year with Mulaney and I really hope it works. He’s another good, young standup that I’m sure Chris and those guys like and love.
Chris: Yes, he’s awesome.
Bill: Yes, for me, NBC, the biggest thing for me is it’s the place where all the multi-camera sitcoms that I used to love and remember lived. You know, it’s the home of Seinfeld and the home of Cheers and those are the ones that I still watch when I see them on late at night on TV Land or whatever. And the other reason it’s a great home is in the world network comedy right now, the bar is fairly low with the ratings you have to get to survive. And for me to just have a chance to take a comedy out with kind of a young, I wouldn’t say anonymous but certainly not household name comics, I mean NBC is a great place for that. They’ve been really supportive of it.
Q) Chris, can you talk about what actually makes someone undateable?
Chris: I think if you’re not sure who you are and you’re insecure, that’s the number one thing. You’ve got to use what you have and own you and if you can do that, you can probably get a date somewhere.
Bill: Insecure. In the show, we pretend that Chris’ character has never even heard the word ‘insecure’ and Chris, as a comedian, came up with the idea of not even being able to pronounce it correctly and just my wife and I now always say the word like he said the word on the show. Do you remember it Chris?
Chris: Yes, insecure.
Bill: So people are really insecure.
Q) You mentioned not wanting to be too gloomy about kind of the stage of life for the characters. What are some of the ways that they’re going to cope with the challenges of being undateable and are any of these familiar with experiences that you’ve had?
Bill: The biggest thing for me is, you know, it’s really about trying to climb your way into adulthood. And to me that means right when we join the show it’s a struggling bar and it’s Chris’ sister played by Bianca who just got divorced and hasn’t moved past it yet. It’s a young man that hasn’t had the security to ever ask out the girl he loves and even Chris’ character, it’s a guy that deep down inside thinks any girl that he would want to be with long-term is the type of girl that would never want to be with a guy like him long-term. And one of the things we really took great pains to make sure we do, even if it’s subtext, is get everybody in that group over as many hurdles as possible the first year. And yes, I mean as far as my own experiences, I tried so hard when I was living in New York running Spin City to look like a young, cool, rockstar type. I wanted people to think I was edgy. I was not edgy. I had never really tasted a martini, I drank beers occasionally and I really liked romantic comedies. But I dyed my hair white thinking that would change things and instead it just made me look like such a loser. I think that’s Brent’s character a bit.
Chris: I mean dude, I used to lie a lot. Just because.
Q) How’d that work out?
Chris: I mean it worked out great until you have to remember all the lies, you know what I mean?
Bill: By the way, how many times when you were younger Chris, could you get to that point where you’re like, “I just can’t keep track of all the lies.”
Chris: Yes, it was like a very serious drama that you’d watch and be like, “I can’t keep track of all the lies.” But I remember like I would just say stuff to girls and be like, “Yes, my family and I, we went to the opera.” And I’d never been to an opera, like, but that was like because I would think, like, if the lie was like a big one, like she would never question it because why would I make up a big lie. But then eventually I got into my later 20s and I was like, “Oh this is like – I don’t want to be the guy who does this.” Like I just kept doing it because that was what I was doing and then realized you can’t be an adult that just lies about going to the opera, you know what I mean?
Bill: I had the same issue.
Chris: Because then you’re not a kid who’s just making up lies, you’re a crazy person.
Bill: I had the same issue in my 20s and the only thing I could do to stop it initially — and my friends all gave me shit for it — was I just decided that if anybody ever asked a follow-up question that I would come clean. So I would have a lot of really weird conversations with people, like they’d be like, “Hey did you see that new Kevin Costner movie?” and I’d go, “Yes.” And they’d go, “What was your favorite part?”, “I didn’t see it.” And then they’d think I was insane.
Q) Bill, I’ve heard you talk before about how talented Briga Heelan is and obviously you’ve worked with her before on first Cougar Town and now on two of your shows — Ground Floor and Undateable. How has it worked scheduling wise and just for her to keep track of characters to be working on both shows?
Bill: You know what, it’s – look, one of the things I took Chris and the other comics and Bianca on this show is, look I’m a (shutin). I know 20 or 30 actors and every time, like, 4 or 5 actors move on to their own thing, I hopefully meet 4 or 5 new actors and actresses and I just use the same people over and over. And because I’m so old, to me, it just matters to be around people I like hanging out anyways. I mean Bianca was joking because Bianca and I did a failed pilot together 10 years ago and then she got on Rules of Engagement and disappeared on her own show for a while. Now, I’ve sucked her back in, too. Briga’s awesome. For her to do Ground Floor, luckily they didn’t overlap too much because they kind of started at different times. But I mean I think it really comes down to how tight her T-shirts are. They’re tighter on this show. And how long her hair is, it’s longer on this show.
Q) And does that help her stay in character knowing how tight her T-shirt is or how long her hair is?
Chris: I think so. I mean she’s a little more messed up on this show and on that show she’s kind of the grounded one. So I think it helps her, she gets to kind of come play on Undateable and be a bit of a screw-up. On the other show, she’s kind of the grounded center.
Q) Now, we know what makes you all undateable, why do you think the other actors on the show are undateable?
Chris: Well Brent is too short.
Bill: The thing Brent hates is we make fun of him for being short in real life and on the show and he’s not. He’s almost 6’ tall, but Chris and I are both taller than he is and Adam’s taller than he is and the guys that work at my production company here – we’re all very tall so we like make fun of Brent because he’s short. Yes, also by the way notice – because you notice that Brent’s a little angry in real life.
Chris: Yes, he gets a little angry. He gets angry and he’s a little bit short and he wears heels.
Bill: Rick Glassman, who plays Burski, and his character overlap a little bit.
Chris: Well no, let’s just do Rick for real, not as a character. Rick is completely annoying. He’s so annoying and so – like to date him, I couldn’t even imagine because you’d be arguing over things that just have no – you’d be like, “No, that’s a bagel,” and he’d be like, “No, it’s not, it’s a bird.” Like that’s how annoying he is.
Bill: And by the way, Ron Funches, much like you said Chris, the whole time you’d be dating Ron, I think you would in the back of your head feel like he wasn’t a real person and that he was just a figment of your imagination.
Chris: Yes, you’d think he was imaginary and you’d think you made him up in your head and you’d question your own sanity.
Bill: David Flynn is – The only person in this show that is dateable in real life is Bianca and she has to play a recently divorced woman who’s still kind of wallowing in it, to be that way. And that’s just straight from my own life. I got divorced very young and always felt like such a weird stigma when you’re in your mid-20s, like 25 and out meeting people and a girl that you’re getting serious with would be like, “Hey have you ever been serious with anybody else?” And you’re like, “Well no, not really. I mean only if you’re going to count that person I was married to.” And I always felt like a weirdo.
Q) Bill, you have a real knack for picking people with beautiful singing voices for your shows, like we saw in Scrubs, Ground Floor, and now Undateable. Do you ever think of doing a musical comedy?
Bill: My favorite thing about having – look, the people around me and in my life sing in real life and goof around that way. There’s two things I like. I like people with good voices singing and my second favorite thing is how much it bothers people that don’t sing. So like Chris D’Elia can carry a tune, but I think that there’s nothing that he hates worse than when Brent gets to sing and mug on the show. I did a musical episode of Scrubs once and we’re trying to turn Scrubs into a Broadway musical. I love it. I could watch people singing and goofing around for the end of the time.
Q) Is there anything you wanted to say that you didn’t say?
Bill: You know what, I think that the weird – oh, I got two things. One is there’s a weird stigma right now of – like I always have to answer questions online and on Twitter it’s like, “I don’t love shows with a laugh track.” The audience members that went to the show to see this – this show does not have a laugh track. It is a live, studio audience. When they laugh, we leave it in and one of the things we promise the audience every time is when they don’t laugh, we won’t leave it in and add laughs. We just cut it because these guys are making plenty of jokes that work. And then the other thing is for me, I just love a good old throwback sitcom. So we’re just not trying to reinvent the wheel here. I think Cheers would succeed today and it’s blasphemous for me to compare this show to that, but – or Raymond or Seinfeld, but man, I hope networks start making comedies like that again and I hope we get to be a part of it and kind of survive this first year.