Monday, November 1, 2010

Interview: Chris Kelly and Craig Rowin on "This Show Will Get You High"

If you haven't checked out This Show Will Get You High, created by UCB co-founder Matt Besser, the final airing is tonight at 4am on Comedy Central. Set those DVRs!

UCB Comedy sat down with This Show writers Chris Kelly and Craig Rowin to talk about writing the pilot. Chris, serving as "senior writer," spent ten weeks in Los Angeles working on the show, and Craig joined the writers room for a month.

Chris Kelly is a staff writer and director for The Onion News Network, which won the 2009 Peabody Award. Chris wrote, directed, and acts in his new one-act play Oh My God, I Heard You're Dying, which is currently running at UCBNY (the next shows are Wed., Nov. 10 and Thurs., Nov. 18). He is also the director of Michael Hartney's one-man show, So I Like Superman, and is a writer/actor on the Maude Team Stone Cold Fox. Chris has a variety of credits at both UCBNY and UCBLA, including ASSSSCAT (monologist), Maude Night (writer/actor), 2Pac: The Musical (director) and Sketch Cram (writer).

In addition to This Show Will Get You High, Craig Rowin has written for Comedy Central's Night of Too Many Stars and contributed to Comedy Central's Onion Sports Network. He is the head writer and director for the sketch show, The Pretty Good Sports Show and contributes to The Onion. He has acted in and written video content for College Humor and wrote and hosted VH1’s webcast, Best Night Ever. Craig has performed in numerous shows at the UCB Theatre including Rory and Craig: Our Internet Knowledge, Maude Night, Killgore: The Resurrection, and many more. Craig performs improv with The Upright Citizens Brigade Touring Company and the UCB house team The Law Firm.

UCB Comedy spoke with Chris and Craig about This Show Will Get You High, how Maude Night prepared them for a professional writers' room, and risking your life in the name of comedy.

What was the writing process like for This Show Will Get You High?

Craig: We’d come into the office to write every day. Matt Besser wanted us to have sketches when we arrived in L.A., and I had my sketches from Maude Night and other stuff. Every day, we’d bring in new sketches and then do notes and rewrites and then read them again. And after work, it was crazy, I probably wrote three sketches every night.

Chris: In the writers’ room, Matt really let everyone’s voice be heard. If you had a sketch and if it wasn’t his sense of humor, he would let you explain it and defend your joke. He made a point of having a bunch of different voices and different people in the room, and I feel like it was very apparent that he had collected people with different sensibilities and I thought that was awesome.

I just cannot say enough great things about working with Matt. If we had sketches that we didn’t think were going to work, he’d be like, “Let me call UCB and get you a slot tonight so you can test it out,” and we would memorize it real quick and perform it ourselves, or he would organize actors to come in and perform it. We would write all day, perform a couple sketches at night, film it, show it to Matt, and he’d say, “Yeah this killed, let’s put it in the show,” or, “This didn’t work, let’s cut it.” And it was such a perfect way to know instantly what was working and what wasn’t. And even though we were only filming for a week or two at the end with the fancy cameras on the official Comedy Central dime, we filmed the entire time we were there, because a lot of the show was the connectors -- the things in-between the sketches.

Craig: The writers room was very comfortable. It felt very familiar, being in this room with all these writers -- it was like doing Maude Night or being in a good sketch class. Building on other people’s ideas, giving notes, giving your point of view on a sketch, making each other laugh -- it was totally similar to Maude and it helped to have that experience of being in a writers’ room. I think Maude Night tries to mimic that -- and by “mimic that,” I mean do exactly the same thing. Rather than doing a stage show, you’re just trying to write 22 minutes or 44 minutes or content for a video.

Obviously there was pressure of “I hope I get something on the show,” but working on this show felt just like how I want writing comedy to feel like: you’re in a room with a ton of funny people, making each other laugh. And that was nice to have that experience, to be lucky enough to get that job and then to be like, “Oh, not only is this a job and I have to work hard, but it’s really fun.” It confirmed that what I want to do, I like to do. It was a great experience.

What was one of your favorite sketches that you worked on?

Chris: John Gemberling has this character “Winnie the Whiny Baby” and it’s just him with a rattle and a bib and a diaper. For those six weeks, I saw him more in a diaper than I saw him fully dressed.

When we went to the Grand Prix, it was sort of a long day and the people were sort of terrible and annoying and we just got frustrated about how un-fun some of the people were. Then, at the end of the day, we were leaving and we saw one of these random Christian guys with a megaphone and big signs about how everyone’s going to hell. Matt or someone said, “John, go out there as a baby and ask him to put suntan lotion on you,” and it was so simple and unplanned and so ridiculous. And John talked to this guy for probably half an hour and was crying and laying at his feet and we got hundreds of people surrounding him, asking him to put sunscreen on the baby. It was surreal.

Winnie and the Jesus
Watch more comedy videos from the twisted minds of the UCB Theatre at

Craig: I wrote a sketch about a guy who is so enamored with his pet chimp, Mr. Bananas, he won’t admit that there’s a problem -- even when it is literally ripping his face apart and beating him. That was pitched in the room and then Besser had Brett Gelman and I write it up. It was written for Gelman.

I was back in New York when it started filming, but Chris would text me these pictures of Gelman’s face in super-realistic makeup, with his face like hanging off, or the prop cage that had all the bars ripped apart. It was great.

Craig, has a pet ever turned against you in real life?

Craig: Yeah. My pet died. My freshman year of college, I found out -- on the same day -- that the dog I had since kindergarten died and that my parents sold the house I grew up in. I grew up in one day. It was a pretty sad day.

This Show Will Get You High has a lot of warning labels: "Please don't watch this show if pregnant, recovering addict, or while driving." Have you ever endangered yourself watching comedy or doing comedy?

Chris: I think you mean, “Oh, I laughed until I died,” but I have no sense of danger. I’m never afraid of anything. And I mean that not in a brave way, but in an "I’m stupid" way. I’ve been robbed at gunpoint, I walk in front of traffic all the time, I don’t pay attention. I live without fear. My thought is always, “I’m not really going to die. I’m going to have an interesting experience and talk about it later.”

Is this going to be an insufferable interview? “Chris Kelly says nothing scares him and he’s never going to die.”

It didn’t kill me, but the worst experience I ever had shooting was at The Onion, three years ago, and it was like zero degrees and we were filming this press conference in like a wind tunnel down by the river. The shoot was taking forever because there was honking going on. We were all so cold, we were literally screaming and crying. We were bundled and in between takes, we’d be like, “Ahhhh! Ahhhh!” Everyone at The Onion will talk about that day and be like, “I’ve never been colder in my life.” It was freezing and miserable. Even watching it now, I have problems viewing it as a comedy video -- I just get cold and angry.

Craig: The only time I’ve felt nervous doing a shoot for a video was doing the Pretty Good Sports Show, which is the show I do with, and we went to shoot a segment at a Jets game in the new Meadowlands stadium and the atmosphere there can only be described as post-apocalyptic. Like, crazy -- I came late because I was working on something else and I couldn’t believe the amount of beer cans and bottles just strewn around the stadium. I’m used to going to baseball games, and obviously there’s drinking there, but not really a tailgate culture. The whole thing was interacting with fans and people were like screaming into the camera and being super-aggressive. We got to sneak into the stadium with some passes to shoot some stuff, and during the third quarter, it was obvious the Jets were going to lose this opener. The energy was so negative and angry and we had to wake up at 5:30am the next morning to shoot, so I was like, “Let’s. Get. Out. Of. Here.” Because not only do we need to catch the train, but also, I didn’t want to be murdered. That was the most scared I’ve ever been doing comedy. And it turned out hilarious.

Do you have any advice for UCB students who want to make the transition to being a professional writer?

Chris: Jesus. I always feel weird giving advice, because I think I need advice, but the thing I tell my students -- which I know is the most frustrating answer -- is just keep writing more. Oftentimes when I’m frustrated or feel like I’m not doing enough or think, “When are things gonna happen for me?” that’s when it’s been a long time since I’ve written and I should just sit down and write a bunch. And because there was such a long time between Maude submissions, people were saying, “What else can I do with a big packet of sketches?” And I say to have a packet ready, because you never know. And obviously Maude Night helped me get discovered for this show because Anthony recommended me to Matt -- and if you are writing and you have an arsenal of different sketches, you never know what could happen.

I tell my students to find ways to trick yourself into writing. It’s hard to write if you don’t have a deadline. If you’re in a class and there’s somebody that you like their writing style or even think they’re better than you, try to write with them. And you can say, like, every two weeks you’ll bring in sketches because that will guilt you into writing. It’s pretty generic, but I feel like you should be really exhausted at the end of each day.

Craig: I think the same principles stand from being a student or a professional: obviously, work hard and, you know, be funny.

I think a couple of things are important: always write what you think is funny. Some good advice that I’ve gotten is, “Don’t tailor to what you think other people think is funny.” Obviously try to get the voice of what you’re submitting for, but really stay true to your sense of humor. Don’t just shoehorn in other things because that’s what you assume other people want. People want to be able to hear your voice. I think that’s really important.

Also, don’t wait for a break. No one is going to come up to you and be like, “Hey. Write for this show!” You get that opportunity after you’ve put out a ton of your own stuff. People respond to that, knowing that people are making comedy just for the sake of making comedy -- not just to be seen, or to get a job. I think most people that I like working with, or people that other people are drawn to, just love comedy. The other stuff will follow. I hope. I hope! Because I need jobs.

Can't get enough of Chris Kelly? Visit his website or check out Oh My God, I Heard You're Dying Wed., Nov. 10 or Thurs., Nov 18. Looking to add more Craig Rowin to your day? Oh, yes, Craig has a website, too, or catch him every week with The Law Firm.

"This Show Will Get You High" is on Comedy Central TONIGHT at 4am.

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