Full Interview with Michael & Michael

Rebecca Lang

Interview and text by Tony Libera

What are your feelings on “Stella” not being renewed for a second season? Do you have any pent up rage about it?

MIB: Well, all the pent up rage in my life doesn’t really center around Stella so much. All my pent up rage is directed at all kinds of things, but Stella’s pretty far down the list. It was a very good show that just never found an audience for the obvious reason that it was out there. And I think there were a lot of people who just didn’t understand what we were doing at all or did understand it and didn’t find it funny, which is maybe more likely. It’s easy to say when you do comedy that they didn’t get it, but rarely do you hear comedians say “Oh they got it, they just didn’t like it.” I think it was probably a little of both.

What’s the status on Stella? Are you still doing live shows? Or have you just decided to throw David Wain under the bus in favor of the new show.

MIB: Actually, the three of us did a show last night, not really as Stella, but the three of us hosted a show for charity last night, which was a night of old “State” sketches that we were showing and just sort of entertaining the crowd. So, Stella I would say is dormant at the moment, but certainly not dead by any means. It’s like Walt Disney. He’s been cryogenically frozen. That’s kind of what Stella is right now.

So Comedy Central doesn’t pick up Stella. Three or four years later you have this new concept, kind of the same absurdist comedy; what’s the process like for dealing with the network?

MIB: Well, I’m going to re-characterize your characterization of the show, because I don’t think it’s nearly as absurd as “Stella.” It’s a lot more grounded and that was important to the network and important to us, that if we do another show that people watch it, and one of the ways that we both agreed, the network and us, that people would be more likely to watch it if it wasn’t fucking crazy. So, we tried to ground it a little bit more, and there are ridiculous things that happen in it, but it hopefully comes from a foundation that people can get their feet on a little bit more easily than the quicksand that was “Stella.”

Has there been any word on a renewal for “MMHI?”

MIB: Not officially, not yet.

How much of yourselves do you put into the “MMHI” characters?

MIB: When we were on stage last night David said that he felt like it was pretty much a documentary of our lives. He’s not involved in the show, so he just knows it as a viewer and he was saying it was pretty much a documentary. So I’ll defer to him on that.

There seems to be a fascination in your work with infantile characters, what is it that makes arrested development or “the man-child” so funny?

MIB: I think when you’re making comedy you have to put yourself in situations where comedy can happen, and one of the ways to do that is to give your main character or characters sort of defects. They don’t necessarily look at the world the same way and that just sort of breeds comedy. So with men in particular there’s a kind of a few ways you can go and “idiot” is sort of a tried and true method. And, you know, it also happens to be kind of what we are: arrogant, stupid, retarded man-children. But the difference is, in this show, their kind of juvenile behavior is really directed primarily towards each other and competitors. They can deal with the world in a kind of realistic way. Not always in the best of ways, but they can kind of deal with the world in a way that is not totally unrecognizable, whereas with Stella we dealt with the world in a completely unrecognizable way. So, their sort of pettiness and immaturity has to do with jealousy and competition and not necessary a mental defect on their part.

If you were to fight each other would you want it to be shirtless and on someone’s front lawn or would you prefer something like the sword duel episode of MMHI?

MIB: I prefer to think it would be a sword duel; although, in this day in age, it’s hard to find a good sword when you need one. You know, unless you’re carrying it with you, which I sometimes do and sometimes don’t, sometimes you’re at a real loss for a sword. And maybe that’s a good thing, because I’ve got a hothead and there’d be a lot of unhappy people.

You know, I just read an article about a Johns Hopkins kid who chopped a burglar in half with a samurai sword.

MIB: Well, in that case the sword served its purpose. That’s exactly what a sword is for. I mean, when you buy the samurai sword you’re probably not thinking I’m ever going to have a chance to use this. You’re probably thinking, “Well, this will be ornamental.” Probably never in his wildest dreams did he think, “Oh, one day I’m going to get to chop somebody in half with this.” He would have been so fuckin’ psyched. He probably never thought, “I’m going to put this to use.” Good for him.

There’s an irreverence and, in certain cases, that absurdism in your humor. What comedians influenced you growing up?

MIB: I’ve often heard that I’m irreverent, and that’s fine, but I’m wondering, who are all the reverent comedians? Who are those people? Because I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a reverent comedian. Who would that be? Are there funny priests out there?

I think that’s a good definition of a reverent comedian.

MIB: But isn’t every comedian irreverent sort of by definition? I would say I’m a comedian more than an irreverent comedian because it seems redundant to me. The comedian’s job is to be irreverent, is to be – and I’m going to use another good word – an iconoclast, is to tear down society’s morays and poke fun at its obsequiousness. I don’t know what obsequiousness means. It was sort of the first big word that came to mind.

So, what comedians influenced you?

MIB: Mostly the reverential ones… To answer your question, a lot of different ones for a lot of different reasons, but the big ones were, when I was a kid, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor. As I got a little older: Andy Kaufman, Bill Hicks, to a certain extent, Monty Python.

In a lot of the Stella shorts things get pretty out of control, how crazy does the writing table get for “MMHI?” Does Comedy Central ever have to clamp down?

MIB: If anything Comedy Central often wants us to be more outrageous. It depends what you mean. There are certain things they just can’t let us do because of standards reasons. Although, we have done some things on that show that I’m very surprised they allowed us to do.

Well there’s an episode of MMHI where you’re basically saying fuck.

MIB:  We’re not basically saying fuck, that’s what we’re saying. We’re saying FUCK over and over and over again.

I was watching it in my friends’  basement and I remember being amazed that they let that get by at 9:30.

MIB: We couldn’t believe it ourselves. And that’s one of those things that is just so fucking juvenile, but also so funny. It’s very fulfilling because you feel like we’re sort of getting away with something, which we are. And for some reason that’s very satisfying. That’s just a standards thing, that’s just a censorship thing, but the kinds of things that we gravitate to aren’t necessarily dirty in that way. They’re just sort of crazy or absurd or surreal in some respects. So the writers table usually consists of me and Showalter and we’ve got two other great writers who also appear on the show, Kumail Nanjiani and Jessi Klein, and I think any writer’s table works exactly the same: you try to make each other laugh and if you succeed it goes in the show and if you don’t, it doesn’t. It’s no harder than that, except that that process is very hard. And there’s also a very technical side to it to. We spend a lot of time arguing about character motivations and “Would my character really do that” or on this show it’s kind of like “Would I really do that or wouldn’t I?” We spend a lot of time trying to get the characters right and that doesn’t necessarily show up as jokes, but it’s important.

MICHAEL SHOWALTER JOINS THE PHONE CALL

Hi, Michael.

MS: Hi, sorry.

MIB: Hey, don’t worry about it.

MS: I’m sorry.

MIB: Don’t worry about it. I mean, the number of calls that I’ve been late, especially recently: so many.

MS: Is that true?

MIB:  I feel like it. I feel like I’m always late on telephone calls.

MS: I can’t tell if you’re being serious or not.

MIB:  I am. In a way I’m relieved that you’re late. It makes me feel less bad.

MS: I’ll bet our interviewer isn’t relieved.

I’m okay with it; you’re here now. But, you missed answering how you’d like a real life battle between you two to occur. Would you prefer shirtless on the front lawn or sword fight?

MS: I was going to say swords. I didn’t even know it was multiple choice; I was just going to throw out swords. Like pirate swords though. Like buccaneer swords.

MIB: You’d want to swashbuckle. You know how heavy those swords are though, right? The swords would have to be pretty short ‘cause you’d get tired.

MS: I’m strong. I’m in good shape.

MIB: You are. I would agree with that.

MS: Plus, I would use a graphite sword.

I’m  not sure how that would hold up.

MIB: You gotta get your licks in quick. If he had a graphite sword and I had my cutlass, my traditional cutlass, I could easily shatter the graphite sword.

Do you have a traditional cutlass? Is there a family Black cutlass?

MIB: No, I have a few of them.

Okay, then I think you’d win.

MIB: It depends; he’d be quicker with the graphite, so if you get in first then you stand a good chance.

MS: The whole thing for me would be hitting first and also I can’t make any contact with his sword. So, I’m going to be doing a lot of ducking and weaving and thrusting.

How much time do you guys have to do other things when you’re writing, producing and starring in the show?

MS: When we’re actually working on the show, not too much. But Mike has a lot of time ‘cause he doesn’t work that hard.

MIB: Well, I need that time so I can work on other things. It’s not that I’m not working hard.

MS: I stand corrected. I stand corrected.

So, what other projects are you working on now that you’ve got a little bit more time.

MS: Well, we’re going on tour, so that’s going to take up a month.

MIB: I started a jigsaw puzzle company that I’m trying to grow.

What prompted you to start a jigsaw puzzle company?

MIB: Just a love for jigsaw puzzles and feeling like it’s not a market that has really matured, that there’s probably an opportunity for somebody to come along with a great jigsaw puzzle company and take a large part of the market.

What kind of images are we going to see on these puzzles?

MIB: Horses running. I’m developing one with a rainbow.

So, very pastoral scenes.

MIB: Well, I don’t want to give away all the ones that I’m working on. There’s a couple that I can tell you about: One is horses running, one is rainbow, one is a close-up photo of a mushroom. And then we’re in R&D on a bunch of other ones.

Have you considered making another “State” or “Wet Hot American Summer” kind of movie, something that’s that overtly ridiculous in movie form?

MIB: At the moment we’re working on our TV show and touring and whatever comes of that stuff, but I don’t think either of us are opposed to doing anything like that in the future.

MS: Like what?

MIB: Like a State sort of project, a return to absurdism.

MS: Oh I see.

MIB: So, sure. If you’ve got something, if you want to write a check, go for it.

I don’t make that much money, but if you can run with a couple hundred bucks…

MIB: Well, that’s about what “WHAS” made in theaters, so you’d probably get your money back.

What can people expect from the live show?

MIB: We haven’t really decided yet.

MS: I think it will be a little of everything. We’ll perform separately, we’ll perform together, we’ll do tag team bits.

MIB: It’s gonna be great. You’re gonna love it.

MS: And I think Jessie Klein who plays Marla on our television show will be performing as well.

Is it going to be mostly new material or stuff from the show?

MIB: There won’t be anything from the TV show, no.

MS: It’ll be mostly standup.

MIB: And a bunch of stuff from the show. But nothing from the show.

I’m glad we got that sorted out. The last thing I’ll ask you then is what, out of all the movies and books and shows that you’ve done, are you most proud of?

MIB: Helping elect Barack Obama. I’ll say it; without Michael and my support he probably would not have carried New Jersey.

MS: I’m going to let Michael’s answer stand for both of us.