The original post for this episode can be found here.
Malcolm Spellman: This is Malcolm Spellman. I’m a guest on Scriptnotes this week. I swear a lot, so don’t listen to this podcast in the car with your kids, or the old folks in your family, or they’ll hate you. Craig and John August made me say this. Merry Christmas.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 228 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and…
Audience: Things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig: Is that right?
John: We have some pros. Yeah. Craig, welcome to our third holiday special I believe.
Craig: If you say so.
John: All right. So, people who are listening at home don’t have a sense of where this is. So, can you do some really great scene description so people reading at home get a sense of what this movie feels like?
Craig: Generic auditorium. Stadium seating. The crowd is — the theater is packed.
John: Which is nice, yeah.
Craig: Everyone looks vaguely writerly. Not too attractive, but not horrifying, you know.
Craig: A lot of J.Crew and Gap.
John: Yeah. I would agree so.
John: And the two hosts are at the front of the stage welcoming their audience to what’s going to be a really great night. So usually on the podcast we can have like one guest, sometimes two guests. These live shows, we can cram up to four guests into an episode, and that’s what we’re doing tonight.
We should just start with our first guest because —
Craig: No banter?
John: Well, we can banter.
Craig: That was it. Okay, first guest.
John: That was our banter. We just started. We didn’t plan this at all. But we should start with our first guest because he’s probably been our most popular single appearance guest —
John: In history.
John: So this gentleman, he first appeared in Episode 185. He is a producer on the television program called Empire. And he’s the one and only Malcolm Spellman. Malcolm Spellman is right here.
So, Malcolm, you have your name big up on that screen right behind you. How is that? How does that feel?
Malcolm: I’m winning.
John: You’re winning? How does it feel to have your name in the credits every week on a television program like Empire, like a huge hit?
Malcolm: Fifteen years working, three credits, two of them on Empire is good. [laughs]
John: [laughs] It does feel good.
Malcolm: Yeah, it took a long time.
John: So, welcome to our show here. And part of why I wanted to have you here is because I have so many things I want to ask you about because I have just no sense of what your opinion is going to be. And so I have a list of like random topics. It’s like, “Ask Malcolm about this topic and it’s going to be great, is my hunch.” So this is our last episode we’ll be recording before Star Wars comes out. So I want to know, what does Malcolm Spellman think about Star Wars?
Malcolm: Hey, I’m really, really excited about it. And, you know, it’s one of the most important movies for me. it’s a visceral memory, you know what I’m saying? They fucked up the last three, so I’m primed up. [laughs] I’m primed to be there.
Craig: They did fuck up the last three. [laughs]
Malcolm: They did. They did.
Craig: They, by the way, I like that we’re saying they, like it wasn’t one guy.
Malcolm: So, no, I’m excited to get in there. I think it’s the most important. And similar to Marvel, it is a mythology for movies. Like it’s super specific. Everyone’s imitating whatever but it’s the most important one out there.
Craig: Did you see this thing in WIRED? They said something like, “We will not live to see the last Star Wars sequel. There are going to be so many of them, assuming this works,” that’s kind of incredible. Like it’s never going to stop now.
Malcolm: Do they know your relationship to number nine?
Craig: My relationship?
Craig: It was my idea. That?
Malcolm: With Rian, but —
Malcolm: It was funny like when — he’s friends with Rian Johnson and when that —
Craig: Wait, you’re friends with Rian Johnson.
Malcolm: Yeah, but he’s better with you all, you know —
Malcolm: You guys. You know how it is.
Craig: He’s Swedish. A little Swede.
Malcolm: I’m his black friend. [laughs]
Craig: You are. By the way, you literally are like totally —
Malcolm: Everybody is. Everybody. [laughs]
Craig: Like from top to bottom.
Malcolm: But I remember when it came around, I actually was with him before any of you guys. He was taking me to a Godzilla screening and he was blushing and levitating. And then you realize when you’re talking to him — again, that’s why I’m saying about, important to the mythology, there isn’t anything else out there like it, you know what I’m saying? And, yes, so they’re going to keep pimping until it’s done.
Craig: Don’t you think like if Star Wars had been, instead of a movie it had been written down as a story 2,000 years ago, we all would be going to Jedi church.
Craig: I mean, it’s actually better than the Bible. It’s more exciting, I think.
Malcolm: Definitely better than scientology. [laughs]
Craig: Scientology makes no sense.
Craig: Yeah. Scientology, they literally make you pay like you want to see a sequel, you have to pay for like extra —
Craig: It is. It’s mythological.
John: They want you to pay for the sequels on Star Wars movies but like you get to experience it for free and like —
Craig: Wait, wait, we have to pay for those? [laughs]
John: Yeah. There’s no Netflix equivalent of scientology, I believe. You can’t just sort of like, you know, buy once and watch it forever.
Craig: You can’t get a subscription to jump right to Xenu. You got to really work.
John: Yeah, again and again.
Craig: Meanwhile, we’re literally in the middle of scientology world — I mean, they could, right?
John: Yeah. [laughs] Absolutely. Or like Stuart and his parents, like you can actually like just get their subscription to Netflix and not actually pay for it yourself. [laughs]
Can I have a show of hands here in the audience —
John: Who is watching Netflix or another streaming service using their parents’ login?
John: Wow. See, I had a hunch. We have a connected audience.
Malcolm: That’s why we’re broke. [laughs]
Craig: Alan, we’ve got a problem.
Craig: We’ll talk about that when you’re —
John: Yeah, indeed.
John: So it’s great that people are watching these shows but they’re not —
Craig: They’re sponging.
John: They’re sponging a bit.
Craig: Off their parents.
John: Off their parents. How dare they.
Craig: It would mean I’d have to talk to my parents.
Craig: It’s totally worth the subscription.
John: Malcolm, I have another question if you’re ready for another question.
Malcolm: I’m ready.
John: Okay. So we were talking about the Marvel Universe and so now they’re busy getting ready to do Black Panther and they have a director on board —
Malcolm: Ask me the black questions, right? [laughs]
John: I’m going to ask you the black questions. I want to know your opinion on —
Malcolm: It’s going to define my career. [laughs]
John: I want to know your opinion on hiring a sort of targeting, you know —
Craig: It’s the black question. It’s happening.
John: Targeting minority filmmakers to make the one minority character in a franchise.
Malcolm: I think it’s all part of a growing narrative, you know what I’m saying? So obviously, this discussion of diversity and black folks and black filmmakers particularly has become more and more relevant and important. And because of shit like Empire and Black-ish, whatever, and we’re winning, they’re like, “Oh, fuck.” And you look at something like Creed and that’s immediately where you’re like, I hate to say this, no white people were going to think of that story, you know what I’m saying? They just wasn’t because they don’t — none of them was going to imagine what the fuck is Creed’s son doing. And that is why you need —
Craig: I’m sorry. That is undeniable. There isn’t one of you white people in here that would have thought of that. It’s a fact.
Malcolm: It didn’t happen in how many years.
Craig: Exactly. Exactly. It was always like you were closer to probably like Rocky’s — like remember when he had a robot? The robot would have happened first.
Malcolm: Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s, I think, a great example of why Marvel doing this, whether they’re following a trend, I’m sure the reason they’re doing it is because they don’t want to get shit because, you know, they didn’t have any black filmmakers involved with the project. But the ancillary benefit of that will be that you get this perspective which is the most potent voice in pop culture.
And we forget that because we haven’t been able to do our thing in this medium. And everything else, we kill it and make it hot for everybody. And now they’re about to discover, like you look at what happened with Creed and there’s a good chance Coogler will do the same thing for Black Panther, like add something new and vital —
Malcolm: To the shit. So I was —
Craig: I mean, I honestly think that maybe there is a part of them that thinks we better do this to avoid some kind of pity.
Malcolm: I agree.
Craig: I think though, I mean, don’t they just smell money? I mean, isn’t that — you know.
Malcolm: They’re mostly scared.
Malcolm: They were just going out to all the black folks. They were like, “We just don’t want to get yelled at.”
Craig: Oh, because if we make Black Panther, we can’t make it with a white guy actually.
Malcolm: That’s right. And what they will discover is, “Oh, shit, this dude had some original ideas that no one else was going to have and gave it a freshness, you know what I’m saying, and they’re going to win with it.”
John: Right. So you are our TV friend. So John Landgraf who runs FX Network had a famous quote this last year. He said like, “We’ve reached peak TV. There’s too much television.” As a person who makes television, is there too much television out there?
Malcolm: It definitely feels like that, but it’s growing. There’s more people getting in with people more — like the real players are just emerging. Like Google wants to get involved, you know what I’m saying? [laughs] And SoundCloud and Spotify.
Malcolm: I just had this big meeting with the digital folks at the agency and there are ways like you know how we were coming up — the last five years whatever was feeling like how is anybody making money off this shit, right? They now know these people are making money. And they were saying Apple has this really detailed complex layout on how, like they know who’s going to pay this much in the first window. In the second window, who, for free, will let you feed them all kinds of ads and stuff.
I just watched a standup comedy show on YouTube and I spent $1 on it, right? I think once that gets cracked open, there’s going to be a whole — like once you can start billing a show to your cell phone bill for $1 or whatever, there might be so much more money out there than anyone can fucking imagine.
Craig: I think there is.
Malcolm: That all this shit can be supported.
Craig: I think there is. And what I think about sometimes when I look at the landscape now and I see, I don’t know, hundreds of channels just through the wire and then God knows how many if you include just things that are on the Internet, and the fact that people are still making money and then I think back, once there were three. How much money were those — oh, my god.
Malcolm: I know.
Craig: They must have been making so much money. It’s like the fact that they ever canceled anything is insane.
Craig: Why would you even cancel it? Don’t show anything. It doesn’t even matter.
Malcolm: No. They were making so much money it made them stupid. They were like, “Fuck, let’s don’t keep all this money right here.”
Craig: It’s so true. It’s so true. It made them stupid and it also made stupid people think they were smart because they thought it was them. No, anybody, anyone, you could have shot someone and put their dead body in a chair and NBC would have made money in 1963.
Malcolm: That’s right. That’s right.
John: That’s the new primetime special. It’s called “The Dead Body in the Chair” and it’ll get good ratings.
What is TV though? So you had a meeting with these digital folks of your agency. What are they even talking about with TV? Because like the digital stuff used to be like, “Oh, that’s the extra bonus. Like it’s the webisodes for The Office.” But now, like what’s the difference? I mean, if you’re making money somehow, that’s — if these people who are in the audience who are aspiring writers, what do you tell them? Should they be trying to write for, you know, Fox like you are or should they be trying to write for, you know, YouTube?
Malcolm: I think, well, what it feels like is right now, most of these companies are still thinking — like Netflix and Hulu, they’re still called digital companies even though they’re doing traditional formats, right? But that shit is about to change. Like I think it’s about a year or so away. I’m working with some folks on trying to change it. And once that happens, I think it’s going to all happen organically, right? I think the big gap right now in digital that I see, I almost don’t want to say this shit because I’m like, man, fuck, I might get rich off of it but — [laughs]
Craig: Well, if you say it in front of me, I will absolutely get rich off of it.
Malcolm: I think like what hasn’t happened yet is people like us, right, who are doing well and creating — when I say high-level, whatever, right, I’m saying the shit people pay for. Whether or not you guys like the shit we work on or whatever, that’s what I mean by it, right. The people who are creating high-level content are all like, “Yeah, fuck, digital could be awesome but I’m not passing up.” I know what your quote is, you know what I’m saying, I’m — you’re like —
Malcolm: Because you’ve been bragging motherfucker. You be like, “Malc, guess how much money I just made.” [laughs]
Craig: I forgot about that. That’s how.
Malcolm: So there’s no way they’re going to really get you, right? Not yet.
Malcolm: But what’s going to happen is there’s going to be people like me who aren’t quite where you’re at but make more money than the average person going there. And if I go in there and do high-level shit, and when I say high-level I mean the same level what you’re getting on FX and HBO, but it’s whatever format I want and it’s funded, that’s when you’re going to start getting to the shit where it’s like, well, what do you do with a 15-minute pilot, right? You put it on fucking YouTube and if you got hot motherfuckers in it, it gets 30 million fucking views and if you’re charging people $1, you’re like, “Oh, fuck,” you know what I’m saying?
Craig: We should mention that there may be some language in this podcast.
John: There’s a possibility, so —
Craig: If you’re in the car with your kids.
Malcolm: But I think that’s the new frontier. I think there’s going to be some people like me who are going to be willing to, for creative freedom and the potential for huge upside, pass up — because, you know, I’m in that weird level where it’s like I’m not getting Mazin/John August money, but I’m getting enough money that it might make me feel a little bit scared to go in here and do this shit for free.
Malcolm: But if I do it — you know what I’m saying?
Craig: Well, but the upside to it, I mean there’s ownership opportunities —
Malcolm: That’s right.
Craig: That happen at those levels. I mean, I think there are a lot of people that make a lot of money that it’s guaranteed money, it’s employee money, but then who do take these risks. I see it all the time. And then, you know, some people can do both. They can say, “All right, well, I’ll do a job but now I’m going to try something that’s mine.” And I think that’s really exciting. I mean, there’s more opportunities now than ever before.
I mean, for people out here thinking about television, I mean, would it be fair to say from your perspective, as somebody that’s, you know, now at the top of the heap of a network which is still a thing, that it doesn’t make any sense to write for a network or write for a not-network but rather to write something that’s exciting and see who grabs it.
Malcolm: By the time you get done, yes, that will be a thing. That’s going to be the big breakthrough. Like if your fucking idea had to come in at 17 minutes to be perfect and awesome, people are going to start reading that shit and there’s going to be people like me out there or whoever who are like, “Oh, I know what to do with this.”
Craig: It’s amazing how long the structure has lasted from —
Craig: Just the fact that there’s a season that’s based on when they used to roll new cars out. That’s why we had the whole, you know, September — and then the 30-minute/hour format is back from old days.
John: It’s arbitrary. Malcolm, what you’re describing sounds amazing but it doesn’t sound like a thing that just a writer does. It sounds like you are going to create stuff. And so it’s not just like writing a script. It’s not writing a spec for somebody. You actually have to make the thing that’s going to be — like the reason you have ownership is because you’re going to make the final product.
Malcolm: That’s right.
John: You’re just not writing the script, so —
John: It’s taking ownership of the whole process. And that’s a lot to ask of somebody. People just want to like throw Courier around on a page and that doesn’t sound like it’s enough to be that new kind of television thing.
Malcolm: But I think it’s going to be move so quickly that entities will exist by the time — I mean because you’re looking like how fast does it take to mount this stuff, is entities will exist that know what to do with it. Meaning, if you just write some stuff in Courier and the people I’m working with have now got four or five projects going that are proving to be lucrative or whatever, I can’t write everything, you know what I’m saying. You’re going to look around and be like, “Oh,” you know what I’m saying? I think exactly what we grew up doing is going to happen. And the digital space is just going to be way more free and open.
John: We’ll hope. Tonight’s theme is basically all creators who created TV shows. So we’re going to have answers to some of these questions for people who are doing the kind of stuff that you’re talking about doing. And we should get to it, I think.
Craig: Yeah. So we have to get rid of Malcolm is what you’re saying?
John: We have to get rid of Malcolm.
John: Malcolm, thank you very — you’re going to come back at the end.
Craig: All right, Malcolm.
John: Malcolm. Our next guests are the co-creators — well, Malcolm, he’s like family. He’s not a guest. Are the co-creators of Another Period. We’re going to show a clip from this but I want to set it up because it’s even better if you sort of know the setup on this. This is about the Bellacourt sisters. They are trying to enter high society. They have invited Helen Keller over to boost their standings on high society and they’re trying to impress the Marquis de Sainsbury who’s keeper of the social register. And so keep this all in mind as you watch this clip from Another Period.
Natasha Leggero: And it takes place in 1902.
John: Oh, 1902. You’ll see that by —
Female: More cocaine wine?
Female: A little bit more won’t hurt.
Male: Any lady in Newport society needs to know how to hold her liquor.
Female: Well, I can hold my liquor better than anyone.
Female: Me, too.
Male: Oh, my goodness, that sounds like a challenge. Shall we see who can drink it the fastest?
Female: Oh, yes. Yes. Helen, other person. Let’s race.
Male: One, two, three go.
Female: Wait. I have to tell Helen we’re doing a contest.
Female: Ahhh. You are all piles of trash. I am a mountain of gold. I won. I took the egg. Argh.
Female: I won, you dumb haybag. You don’t count.
Female: Second place. Why am I always second place?
Female: You’re not second place. Lillian’s second place. I’m first place. I won.
Female: No one asked you to play, whore. You’re fat. Other person? Other person? I’m the one that taught her to communicate. Without me she’d be nothing. You’re nothing without me, Keller. Nothing.
Female: I love you, Annie.
Female: That’s a Ming vase, you deaf bitch. We only have 17 of those.
Female: I wasn’t totally sure what was happening. But I knew I wanted to stab someone.
Male: Let go of my sister. You heathens. What is this, Baltimore?
John: Can we welcome up Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome.
Riki Lindhome: Hi, guys.
John: Good lord, how did you make — this show is — oh, I love your show so, so much.
Riki: Thank you.
John: And, Craig, have you watched the show?
John: He doesn’t watch anything.
Natasha: He’s been sending us emails all week with his favorite lines.
Craig: I’m like, “No, this is my favorite line.” So I don’t watch shows, as you guys know, and John said, well —
Natasha: That’s a thing? You just don’t watch shows? [laughs]
Craig: It’s not like on purpose. I’m just lazy as fuck and —
John: He plays Fallout 4. That’s basically —
Craig: I do. I play Fallout 4. Look, it started bad where I was talking about crossword puzzles with Natasha and she was like, blech. Now we’re talking about Fallout 4, it’s like —
Natasha: No, you were talking about crossword puzzle like chat rooms.
Craig: That’s cool. I don’t know why anyone’s laughing. So I started watching this show and I’m obsessed. I mean, honestly, in a fair and just world, they would be talking about the show the way they talk about Mad Men. I’m serious. I’m dead serious.
Riki: Thank you.
Craig: Because I have this thing having gone through in my life times where I was working on pure comedy. Just comedy that is completely pure. It is the hardest thing to do. In fact, I want to —
John: Yeah — !
Craig: That’s fucking pathetic. [laughs] So I want to actually start by asking you guys a question about process because — so your show is, I mean, I guess you could say it’s loosely a parody of Downton Abbey but not really. It’s kind of its own thing.
John: Can you tell us how you pitched the show? Because I mean, it’s so specific and the voice and the vision is so specific. What was the genesis of your show?
Riki: Well, we had a few glasses of wine. [laughs]
Craig: Cocaine wine.
Riki: No, just regular wine.
Riki: Natasha and I, we decided we wanted to make something. I mean when —
Natasha: Yeah. You know, we had this idea for this like fake reality show about these like dumb idiots and then I had this other idea about this other thing that took place in 1902 and Riki was like, “Well, why don’t we combine them?” And so we did that. [laughs]
Riki: But we kind of knew the idea was too weird to pitch. And so we went out and made like a 15-minute short. We spent real money and made a real short. And there was actually a scene from the short in the pilot.
Natasha: And I had read a book about Newport at the turn of the century before they introduced income tax. Like 90% of the wealth in America was all in Newport, Rhode Island. So it’s like a really fascinating place. And if you go there, you can still like go to all these house museum tours and see the whole world there. And people were living like it was bananas.
Natasha: And it’s American history because everyone loves — you know, Downton Abbey, it’s not our history, so.
Craig: Right. I mean, I think it’s a brilliant choice actually because there’s something inherently funny about wealthy aristocratic Americans because Americans don’t really — it’s not like we deserve it, you know. We’re not nobility.
But I want to ask you guys about the relentless and exhausting nature of writing stuff like this because your show is, I guess it’s what, like 25 minutes, I mean when you take out commercial and stuff?
Natasha: No, it’s 20.
Craig: It’s 20?
Natasha: Yeah, it’s so short.
Craig: Twenty minutes is a lot.
Craig: Because it’s 20 minutes, every page is like five or six jokes a page. But more importantly, you never get a break because nothing can be ever taken seriously in the show, that’s the magic of it. So there’s no point where anyone can just stop and be reflexive or —
Craig: I mean, how do you survive the pace of it, of writing it?
Riki: You’re making it sound so hard.
Craig: Maybe it was just hard for me. [laughs]
Riki: No. [laughs] I mean, we work really, really hard at it. I would love to say like, “Oh, it’s just natural and we just come up with this stuff.” But we, like, kill ourselves to make this show. We think about it from the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed.
Natasha: But it’s also the rhythm of a show that’s inspiring to us. So we want to be doing something fast-paced and funny and finding the funniest people we can to try to make that happen.
Craig: The cast is amazing.
Riki: We got so lucky. And that was part of it is we had all the cast, we had their pictures at the end of the writing table and we would be like, “Okay, Brett Gelman is so hilarious. What’s the funniest stuff he does?” And we’d watch clips of Brett and we would write specifically for him and then it just makes it easier and fun.
Craig: That’s my part, by the way, if he croaks.
Riki: You’re Hamish?
Craig: I’m stepping in. Yeah, for sure.
Riki: Hamish, the outwoodsman?
Riki: Yeah. [laughs] Slash abortionist?
Craig: Yeah. Slash Jew hunter. Don’t forget that one.
Riki: Yes, yes, yes. [laughs]
John: I would love to see the show.
John: So you shot this sort of presentation pilot. So it’s 15 minutes and is it sort of like the first episode that we saw? Was it like the pilot or just different scenes from the show? What did it feel like?
Natasha: We hadn’t really done any of the downstairs. We were just doing the upstairs. And then I think Comedy Central wanted to see more downstairs. And then we all got very inspired by the downstairs people because —
Craig: They are amazing.
John: Garfield and Chair.
Riki: Yeah, it’s —
Natasha: With Michael Ian Black and Armen Weitzman and Christina Hendricks and —
Riki: Yeah, Christina Hendricks is hilarious in the show.
Craig: She’s really funny. And you never know. Sometimes those people aren’t. Those people like dramatic actors —
Natasha: Those people.
Craig: The dramatic actors sometimes don’t fit in with that kind of comedy. And she does brilliantly.
Riki: She was so game to do anything. She had so much physical comedy. She was just totally fun.
Natasha: And I think she used to do comedy before.
Natasha: You know, or like in theater or whatever in college.
Craig: Got it.
John: So David Wain is on your show and is also from Children’s Hospital. He’s been a guest on the podcast before. But Children’s Hospital is a show that it’s like every episode is just completely brand new and there’s no continuity episode to episode. But you guys actually have a lot of continuity. So talk to us about figuring out how to be funny in an episode but also have arcs that sort of cross episodes. What was the plan? Did you know that Chair’s back story would be revealed in episode 6? What was the plan?
Riki: Yes. We map out the entire season. We have the luxury, I guess. Some people don’t like it but I think it’s a luxury to write the whole season at once before we start filming. And then we cross-board every episode. So we shoot all 10 episodes kind of at once.
Riki: Yeah. So if we have an actor in two episodes or five episodes, we can shoot them out in two days or three days or whatever.
Natasha: That’s why it has to be kind of fast-paced because you have to be able to jump plot lines, if you have to. [laughs] Like figure out —
Craig: But it’s incredibly helpful, I would imagine, that you can — I mean, I guess part of it is you’re forced to by budget and all the rest of it, but that you know the whole season. That means you can go back. And I assume you do a lot of backwards, retrofitting, because it really does feel so well-machined. I mean, there’s so much craft in it. I’m really amazed by the show, I got to tell you.
Natasha: Oh, that’s so nice.
Riki: Thank you.
Craig: You’re welcome.
Riki: Thank you. We love it, too, but we’re biased, you know. [laughs]
Craig: Like I don’t believe your —
Natasha: No, it’s sweet. This is a very sincere, serious podcast. I love it.
Riki: But, yeah, we map out the whole season and we really think about every character and their arc and where they’re going to end up in episode 10. And then we have it, you know, just all up on our little board and then —
Craig: Sorry, I really love the show. That the character of Garfield is insane. Every character is either insane or so stupid as to be profoundly retarded.
Riki: Yeah. [laughs]
Craig: Or both. Your character particularly —
Riki: I’m both.
Craig: Is both profoundly retarded and insane.
Riki: Yes, and violent.
Craig: And violent.
Riki: Yes. [laughs]
Craig: And yet, I actually managed to care. Like when Garfield comes back, I cared.
Natasha: Well, Garfield’s nice.
Craig: But he’s also crazy. I mean, he’s insane.
Riki: I mean he’s best friends with a towel.
Craig: He puts the potato — yeah. And then the potato is like the new thing. Like that’s his new towel.
Craig: I mean, you don’t have to see the show. You get it now, right?
Natasha: He might be the only nice person in the whole show.
Craig: Peepers has his moments. He is a man of honor.
Natasha: Right. That doesn’t mean he’s nice, though.
Riki: Peepers has his principles.
Craig: Yeah, he has principles.
Riki: I wouldn’t say he’s nice though.
Craig: Actually, he’s quite mean.
Riki: Yeah. [laughs]
John: So can you talk to us about the music because one of the most striking things and the reason why I love the Comedy Central, the blip at the end is because you have like this sort of heavy, hardcore rap soundtrack underneath it all. So there’s obviously a Downton Abbey influence, the upstairs, the downstairs, the striving for society. But then at what point do you figure out like, oh, we’re going to have cutaways like on the Kardashians, we’re going to drip — nail drops throughout it. When did that come? Was that part of your presentation? Was it always in the script?
Natasha: I don’t know. We always kind of like saw it that way somehow and then we asked Snoop Dogg to do the credit.
Riki: Natasha did the Roast with him, so —
Natasha: And so he did it and so him singing the song, like it kind of made it feel this reality vibe that we wanted and —
Riki: It just made us laugh so much when we had the cold open and then it would go into this hardcore rap song. We were like, “That feels right.”
John: Yeah. [laughs]
Riki: And so we just kept it going. And then when we had little bumpers at the end of each act, it’s like we just — I don’t know, it’s just funny, I think more than anything. You know, there’s no deeper meaning behind it other than that it made us laugh. [laughs]
John: All right. It feels like an incredibly challenging show to shoot. So is this shot here in town?
Riki: Yeah, in Silver Lake.
John: In Silver Lake, great. So —
Craig: Oh, I live really close to Silver Lake. So I’m just saying, if the guy dies —
John: If you need an extra in the background or a double.
Craig: Or if somebody kills him.
Natasha: It’s this old mansion in Silver Lake.
John: Right. And so, you’re basing out of there and you cross-board and cross-boarding means that you have all the scripts, you figure out what scenes you need and you’re shooting all those scenes with those actors no matter what episode they’re in.
John: But do you just go mental? As actresses, do you go crazy with the responsibility of like, “Here’s what I need to do,” versus also, “I’m creating the show and responsible for the writing,” how do you balance all that?
Riki: Well, we have to work really hard. On Sundays, I memorize my dialogue for the whole week and I have someone come over and drill it with me so that I don’t feel, you know, like the last minute trying to memorize. So I have it down by the time we start our week. And then usually like two to five minutes before each scene, I’m like, “I need some time.” Like I need to just relax. I need to like be in a free space for a second. I can’t answer any wardrobe questions. I get no fires. Like someone else has to put them out in the next, like right before the scene. And that seems to help.
Natasha: That’s interesting because I feel like I use the energy of the stress and maybe just lash out as my character.
Craig: That makes absolute sense because your character — I mean, so your character is kind of a monster.
Natasha: Yes. [laughs]
Craig: And your character is nuts and incredibly stupid. Her character can’t read.
Craig: So that’s like one of the basic —
Natasha: But that was common in the turn of the century. They thought if a woman read college level books it would shrink their ovaries.
Craig: There’s also the constant referral to weird like late 1800, early 19th Century or 20th Century understandings of medical science. I mean, the scene where the tension — like Chris Parnell plays Dr. Freud releasing their tension with this fucking vibrator, it’s —
Riki: That’s from the turn of the century. There’s so much real stuff in our show you wouldn’t believe it. Like cocaine wine was real.
Craig: Cocaine wine was real.
Riki: Like so many things are real, but yeah, Freud masturbating women to relieve hysteria happened. And so, of course, we’re like, “Oh, let’s all get masturbated together.” I don’t know if he did a group session but —
Craig: Like, you know, the mom’s there with her daughters and —
Riki: As a family. [laughs]
Craig: As a family, right. It wasn’t enough. She needed like a dildo machine. [laughs] This brings to mind a question.
I don’t have to tell you guys that we live in a time where people get in trouble constantly. Not for massive violations of taste but minor violations of taste at times. You guys kick the door down. You light stuff on fire. You don’t care. This show, while it’s lampooning racism and sexism and classism, it’s also like parallel with it. It’s like making fun of it and it’s with it.
Has there been a lot of backlash? Are you getting in trouble or you good?
Riki: I can’t believe how little backlash there’s been. We have a rape scene in episode 2 where —
Craig: I know.
Riki: One of our male characters gets raped and we were like just waiting for the, you know, backlash. We didn’t get it. You know, everyone on Twitter has got an opinion, but like it wasn’t like a mass, you know, hundreds of people. You know, there’s always one or two people who say something but —
Craig: A mass, by the way, is not hundreds of people. It’s like 100,000 people.
Craig: Like if you say smoothing about like, I don’t know, a female superhero character —
John: As an example, yeah.
Craig: Yeah, as an example, you might get a thousand people that hate you in the news feed. But —
Riki: Yeah. I mean, we had a puppy hanging scene.
Craig: Yeah, yeah. The puppy hanging scene is great.
Riki: There’s so many —
Natasha: Yeah, like at least they PETA people can come after us. [laughs]
Craig: Somebody just —
Riki: I know. We have —
Natasha: I mean, they’re desperate for something to talk about.
Riki: Your character dressed in Mickface which is making fun of Irish people —
Riki: It’s white makeup with freckles and a red wig. [laughs] And she did an anti-Irish song in her pageant.
Craig: It’s amazing.
Riki: And nothing. I don’t know. People don’t seem to get mad at us. I don’t know why.
Craig: I also love how the show brings in —
Natasha: Oh, because we’re in those fancy costumes.
Craig: I know. The customs basically do it, right? Like that covers everything.
A lot of times, though, in the show they’ll bring in characters that are historical of the time, roughly. So her character’s former lover is Ponzi, the guy that invented the Ponzi-scheme. And he’s basically trying to get money. He’s a total cad. He left her at the altar. And he’s back and she talks about how she spent a summer with him making love when she was 11. And there’s a picture of Ben Stiller man with 11-year-old girl and she just like — no letters, nothing. It’s amazing.
Riki: Nothing. [laughs]
Craig: And you guys are bulletproof. I love it.
Riki: I don’t understand it.
John: Maybe it’s the period that may help you though because it feels like, “Oh, well, it’s a period show.” It’s like, of course it’s different mores for that time. Yes, you’re making a joke —
Craig: No. [laughs]
John: I be if you tried to do the same joke that was meant to be set in present day times, people would be less comfortable with it.
Craig: Yeah. I think they’re just magic.
Natasha: Like when I started doing standup, I realized if I wore a dress and gloves I could be meaner. And people wouldn’t get as mad. So maybe that’s kind of part of it.
John: Can you talk to us about the difference between writing for yourself as standup and writing for a character that you’re playing or for all these other characters? Is the process of coming up with a joke, of coming up with how you would actually get that idea across different based on who’s going to have to say that line.
Natasha: Yeah. Well, it’s very collaborative, our show. And we really think about every person and what they would be funniest doing.
Riki: Yeah, this is not a show where the leads take the — or the writers take the best lines. Like we make sure everyone is funny. We will do our best to make sure everyone is funny. [laughs]
John: Do you have table reads before you shoot? Or is that even possible with the block shooting you’re doing?
Natasha: It’s not possible, but we do have them.
Riki: Yeah. It really —
John: All right. Yes. Yes and yes.
John: Yeah, yes.
Riki: But it’s also not possible, but yeah, we do have them.
John: And talk to us about improvisation because it feels like it would be much harder to improvise in a show that’s taking place in this period of times where and it’s also so serialized. Characters can’t go off and just do anything. Do you do those, you know, random last takes to try to get other —
Natasha: There are certain actors that we let do that like Tom Lennon and Mike Ian Black and David Wain and Brian Huskey are kind of made to do, you know —
Riki: 1902 dialogue.
Riki: But most of us are not made to do that because we lose the affect. Or we’ll be like whatever or we’ll say something modern.
Natasha: You can’t say that. Like when she called her whore, it’s because her name is Hortense. Like you wouldn’t just call someone whore, right?
Riki: But Tom Lennon would be like, hot pudding, it’s a scandal. And you’re like, what does that mean? You know, you’re just like, okay.
Craig: Something like it was like butterscotch or scotch bucket.
Riki: Scotch frog hat.
Craig: Scotch frog, yeah, like what the fuck does that mean?
Natasha: He could do that for hours.
Natasha: Just act surprised in 1902.
Riki: Yeah. We said some line to him and he goes, “What Christmas?” And it just sounded normal. And we’re like okay. But I personally cannot improvise like that, so I don’t.
John: Where are you guys at with a second season? What’s going on right now?
Natasha: We’re writing it.
Craig: So it’s definitely, it’s going. It’s going to happen?
Riki: Oh yeah, we start filming in January.
John: Yeah. Just down the street from Craig.
John: Yeah, so —
Craig: And have you settled on all of the cast for the —
Craig: Settled? Settled on that?
Craig: No Jews? No, like a Jew character? Like a funny — okay.
Riki: I mean I don’t know if we’ve thought of it that way.
Natasha: Are you an actor?
Riki: We’re not like no Jews. [laughs]
Craig: Yes. Yes, I am. I am an actor, of course. I’ve never done any acting, but right now —
John: Yeah. Craig Mazin just grew this beard by the way. And he will shave his beard —
Craig: Why would I — no, no, this is very —
John: It is a period beard.
Craig: I just want to be in the show.
John: We want you to have 18 seasons of your show.
Riki: Thank you.
John: So please keep writing your show.
Natasha: Thank you.
Riki: Yeah, everybody watch it.
Craig: Yeah, no. You guys really should watch it.
Riki: Maybe we’ll get more people to be mad. It would be nice to have a controversy because then it would get more attention.
John: Absolutely. So reference like green female superhero and you’ll get a lot of controversy. That’s our advice to you.
Craig: I’ve got in so much trouble. You don’t even want to know because I don’t wear dressing gloves. And boy.
Natasha: You guys should all access your parents’ cable provider and put in the number and watch it on Comedy Central on their website.
Craig: Yes, you guys go home and do this.
Natasha: It’s not on Hulu anymore.
Craig: Another Period, awesome, awesome show.
John: Natasha and Riki, thank you so much for coming here.
Natasha: Thank you.
Riki: Thank you for having us. Thank you.
John: Craig has a mild crush as you can see on —
Craig: On the show.
John: He has a talent crush. We also have a bit of a crush on this next show as does a lot of America. It is a show on Netflix. It is called —
Craig: Oh, you don’t know?
John: I know what it’s called but I want to see if —
Craig: Master of None.
John: All right. And we want to show you a small clip of this program so you can see what it’s about.
Alan: I got to say, out of the 15 X-Men movies that I’ve seen, that was definitely top nine.
Aziz: Yeah, there was, like, 30 heroes and 40 villains. There are just too many people in these movies now. Text from my dad — “Please come and fix my iPad. Now it won’t stop dinging.” Does your dad always text you to fix stuff?
Alan: I don’t think my dad knows how to text. He also hates talking in person. He averages, like, three words a week.
Aziz: Our dads are so weird. I told my dad I got to call back on The Sickening.
Alan: Oh, the black virus movie? That’s great.
Aziz: Thank you. I told him. He’s like, “Uh, okay. Can you fix my iPad?” How about, “Hey, son, great work,” or, “Hey, son, I’m proud of you”?
Alan: I have — I have never, ever heard my dad say the word ‘proud’. It’s always like, “That’s it? So that’s all you’ve done?” Like, if I went to the moon, he would honestly be like, “When are you going to Mars?”
Aziz: Yeah. “Oh, Brian, you went to the moon? That’s like graduating from community college. When are you gonna graduate from Harvard, AKA, go to Pluto?”
Alan: I just feel like Asian parents, they don’t have the emotional reach to say they’re proud or whatever. Have you ever hung out with a white person’s parents, though? They are crazy nice.
Alan: I had dinner once with my last girlfriend’s mom, and by the end of that meal, she had hugged me more times than my family has hugged me in my entire life.
Aziz: Yeah, dude, most white families, they’d be so psyched to adopt me.
John: All right. Let’s welcome the co-creator of this wonderful program, Mr. Alan Yang. Sir, congratulations.
Alan Yang: Thanks, man.
John: I remember talking to you, we were both wearing aprons. We were at this crazy meat-filled event where they were roasting things. And you’re describing the show that you’re going to make with Aziz. I was like, that sounds cool.
Alan: Yeah. I wear that apron everywhere, though. Yeah, so it’s been kind of a long time gestating and evolving since we came up with it, but yeah, it got made. [laughs]
John: It got made, congratulations. So when you described it, you said it was going to be an eight episode — sorry, 10-episode series for Netflix and it was all going to be in New York and it was going to be Aziz and sort of individualized stories. He said it was Louis-like. And it’s that but it’s also so much more. It feels like it’s such an amazingly 2015 show.
Alan: Yeah. You know, we put kind of a large priority on making it hopefully feel different and fresh and hopefully original too, you know. So we kind of have this rubric of, “Hey, if you could see it on another show, maybe push harder and do another topic or do it in a new way or make it stretch over a longer time period.” Just anything we could do to make it feel original. And we had this idea from a long time ago where any characters we wanted for the episode, just the ones that we needed, we would use. So we wouldn’t have the same repertory cast in every episode because you know in real life, you know, if the three of us are buddies, we still don’t spend 24 hours a day together. So like not every story I go through involves you and Craig.
Craig: John and I do spend 24 hours.
John: Yeah, it basically is that.
Alan: Yeah, so you can have an episode with Aziz and alt person or Aziz and his parents or whatever and you might not see Eric Wareheim or Lena or whoever.
John: Cool. Give us a sense of your back story because I don’t know sort of how you got — I know you’re from Parks and Rec, but I don’t know you from before then. So how did you get started in this?
Alan: Yeah. So I majored in biology in college and that was just a rocket ship to comedy, just like right into — [laughs]
Craig: I did that, too. I did that, too. Were you pre-med?
Alan: I wasn’t really anything. I didn’t know what I wanted to do and I loved writing and I loved comedy growing up, but that didn’t really seem like a real possibility, right?
I grew up in Riverside, California which is like an hour from here. And, oh, someone from Riverside, sorry about that buddy. [laughs] But yeah, so it’s just — I read a study that said it ranked all the cities in America in terms of how Bohemian they were by sort of a metric of how many people worked in creative fields or, you know, did kind of, you know, things that we do I guess. And number one on that list was LA because there’s a lot of entertainment people so they counted that as artistic for some reason. And the last place city on the entire list was Riverside which is crazy, which is like it’s an hour from here but I guess if you wanted to do something creative, you just get the hell out of here.
John: So you started at the bottom and worked your way up here.
Alan: Yeah. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s like that Drake song. [laughs]
John: Your life is a Drake song.
Alan: Yeah. So I went to school and, you know, I was doing biology and I kind of hated everyone. And I didn’t really like — like I felt like I didn’t fit in. But I found a couple of things I liked to do. And one of them was I played in a punk rock band which is really fun. And so I got out of the campus and was able to tool around. And I started writing for this comedy magazine. And the comedy magazine was called Harvard Lampoon.
Craig: Did you say Haverford Lampoon?
Alan: Yeah, it’s called a Howard Lampoon. I went to Howard University.
Craig: Got it.
Alan: No, it’s a —
Craig: That’s the best way to work at Harvard ever. I was working at…Harvard Lampoon.
John: I was in Boston and yeah.
Alan: Yeah. So it’s an oftentimes horrible magazine that is not funny at all, but there’s a lot of funny people there. And basically, all I wanted to do was hang out with funny people and be funnier. So I grew up, I was watching the Simpsons, and Seinfeld, and SNL, and Mr. Show and I was like, wow — when I started working on The Lampoon I was like this maybe is a job in some way. Like I didn’t know that it was a job.
So after I graduated, I moved out to LA and just started writing scripts and was broke and unemployed and trying to get an agent. So that’s how that started.
John: So my perception of The Lampoon folks who move out to LA is they basically like just load in a van and everybody moves out to an apartment and just start working together. Was that the experience?
Alan: The van part is not accurate, but what’s great about it is you just don’t feel so alone.
Alan: So you move out. And there’s not that many people on the magazine, so my year for instance, there were probably six writers or something, five or six writers. So yeah, a few of us moved out to LA and what you do is you move out here and you just don’t – you’re all broke together, right? So you feel less like a crazy person and, you know, I respect the hell out of everyone who does it and comes out alone because that’s really scary and intense and it’s a huge risk and that’s tough. But it was cool to have like a couple of buddies who could be your roommate or you could go have a beer with or something when you’re all struggling growing up.
Craig: I was struck you when you were talking, you were saying you grew up with The Simpsons and Seinfeld, so I’m guessing you’re quite a bit younger than John and I are, but the show has this really interesting ’70s vibe to it. And even like the credits remind me so much of like Woody Allen. So I assume this is intentional?
Alan: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. You know, again, that was another thing where we just wanted the show to feel different. And one of the things we had been doing recently while we were coming up with the show is watching a lot of these ’70s comedies, you know. Hal Ashby, you know, obviously The Graduate, Elaine May, Heartbreak Kid.
And what was really cool when watching those movies was just the realism and how they let scenes breathe and how it wasn’t necessarily, you know, 100 jokes a page, like a lot of these sort of network comedies are.
Craig: I like those.
Alan: Well, yeah, those are great. Listen, like there’s no better show than 30 Rock, right? It’s an amazing show, but we just didn’t want to necessarily do that show.
Craig: Right. But you like that pace?
Alan: Yeah. It was like, you know, we have scenes where there are no jokes.
Alan: We have scenes where there are ton of jokes. We have scenes that are a little broader. But for the most part, we were trying to do things that felt a little bit like a conversation that you might have with your friends.
Craig: Well, speaking of that conversation, there’s something really interesting. You know, so I’m watching, you know – I watched these episodes of your show and pulled out — like there were a lot of moments like this where I thought, I wonder if you and Aziz ever found yourselves in this weird dilemma where on the one hand, part of what the show is is presenting this perspective of what it means to be Asian-American in Hollywood and you’re sharing a unique perspective. That’s part of the unique voice. On the other hand, you don’t want to feel like, “Oh, now I’m representing four billion Indian and Chinese people and that that’s what I have to do.”
Craig: Like do you ever feel like, “Okay, we’re kind of ping-ponging back and forth between these two things. We want do it, we don’t want to do it.”
Alan: Yes and no. So that’s actually — that’s a very astute question because you do feel that way, right? You feel like, “Man, there is one show with an Indian guy as a lead like in the world right now?” [laughs]
Alan: Like this one, right?
Craig: So we can probably —
Alan: Yeah, so you feel responsibility be like, you know, you don’t want to — but the number one thing is we just want the show to be good, right? So you want the show to be good and this is a thing I actually talked about with my friend last night who’s half Asian and I’ve worked in really, really fun rooms and very, very open, very, very progressive like really, really fun places. I don’t think I’ve ever worked with another Asian writer. [laughs] You know, it’s like I’ve been working for 10 years, you know. So you’re always — so if it ever comes up — and you know on my last show on Parks and Rec, it was a very diverse room, you know, oftentimes majority women or at least half women which I thought was great.
But there were times where, oh, we had one black writer like my old roommate, Aisha Muharrar, was a writer there. And we had an issue where it’s like, “Okay, is this offensive and like, we have to ask Aisha?” Like you don’t want to ever put a person in that position, but you have someone who is black or someone who is Asian and you’re going to ask them. So it’s just a tricky place.
And what we ended up doing was, anytime there was this sort of interesting or controversial or an issue that might be offensive or sticky in that way, we just have the debate. We would all yell at each other in the room. And our room was, you know, some Asian people, some Indian people, some white people, too. [laughs] But oftentimes, we put that conversation in the show. We would just put it in the show.
Alan: So, you know, there’s some literal like transcriptions of arguments we had in the writer’s room —
Craig: I love that.
Alan: And they just go in. Yeah.
Craig: I love that. Because there is a certain fearlessness to your — and that’s kind of what’s required especially for comedy, even when it’s comedy of this — which is very — you know, this tone is a really unique tone. I think the second you start kind of, I don’t know, crafting it and being careful about it, it feels like it’s fake.
Alan: Yeah. We weren’t in the business of like, “Well, we don’t want to offend people.” Like we don’t really care about that. [laughs] It was like —
Craig: Good for you.
John: But I think what’s working about your show and Another Period, even though the tones are just so vastly different, is they’re both incredibly specific. They’re not the same version of the everyone in a kitchen set kind of show. It’s a very specific way of looking at this world and characters who want things that are not the common things we’re expecting to see characters want.
Alan: Yeah. I think there’s a fallacy that it’s like, “Well, we have to make this character sort of as generic and relatable as possible like an everyman.” I think Aziz wrote a good piece in the New York Times or something where he was interviewed where he said the everyman isn’t always like the most common person in America. It’s not always a younger white guy or, you know, whatever. When you get relatable is when your specific emotions and motivations and characters, you felt that so strongly yourself that you know how to put it into the script. And when you do that — I think we discovered that while we were writing the show, it’s like, “Well, these characters are us.” So we know how we felt when that happened and a lot of these experiences are ours, you know. A lot of that stuff in the parents episode, that stuff all happened with my dad. You know, he killed this chicken when he was young. And I’m an ungrateful shithead.
But yeah. So that’s real. So that’s real.
Alan: And so I knew how to write that. So when you’re able to do that, the specific becomes universal and it becomes relatable.
John: You’re also able to write a version of yourself saying things that are like the kinds of things you would say, but specifically to that scene to what point you’re trying to get across and so it’s not an everyman because it’s you.
Alan: Yeah, exactly. So, you know, my white ex-girlfriend or whatever, her mom loved me. [laughs] Like, you know, that’s why that’s in there. But it’s like, you’re right, you know, when things become personal, I think that’s often times when they become really good especially in comedy.
Craig: I’m kind of curious. I’ve written with actors before. You’re in a really funky little situation here. I mean I’m sure it’s — I mean these two are both acting, so they can’t really — they can kind of neutralize each other if one is like this scene is about me. But your co-writer, your co-creator is the star of the show.
Craig: And he is also not just the star of the show, his character, Dev, is basically it’s him. I mean his parents are his parents, right?
Craig: So have you ever looked Aziz in the eye and said, “Nah, Dev wouldn’t say that.”
Alan: [laughs] In those words, no.
Alan: But, you know, in the writer’s room, he needs someone to tell him — he does need someone to tell him no.
Alan: And he respects that. I mean we’ve known each other for so long now. You know, we met first season Parks and Rec so we’ve known each other for seven, eight years or whatever. Yeah, I’m not scared of that guy. [laughs] But, you know, and it’s good because when we have conflicts, that makes the show better generally.
Alan: You know, and it’s like we’re such good friends. You know, we hang out so much outside of work. And we’re going on a trip to Europe tomorrow. [laughs] But that means also like I can yell at him on the set. Like if it’s like, “Hey man, like I don’t think — I think you should do it this way.” And then ultimately, usually we shoot it both ways and we see it in the edit room or whatever.
Alan: Or in the writer’s room, I think it’s good for a person in his position who has such a strong point of view and who generally knows what his character would do. You know, I put 100% faith in that. But at the same time, there’s so many other concerns when making a show like how the story is shaped and the structure of the episode works and what the series arc is.
Alan: All those things need to be taken care of as well. And so, you know, we have conflict but we always resolve it amiably and I think it’s generally worked.
John: Awesome. Alan Yang, congratulations on your show yet again.
Alan: Thanks so much.
Craig: Awesome man.
John: And stay put. Now, can we have everybody back up here because we’re going to do our One Cool Things. All right. So traditionally on the podcast, we do the thing at the end of the show called One Cool Thing and Craig always forgets his One Cool Thing and we sort of stall for a time and I do mine first. But tonight because it’s a holiday show, I thought we would do sort of a secret Santa kind of One Cool Thing.
So what I asked everybody to do is to put their One Cool Thing on the back of a card and it’s going to have someone else’s name on the front of the card and that’s who’s going to get that gift of the One Cool Thing. So we’re going to pass these out. So hold on one second.
Craig: [laughs] Malcolm is so excited for this. That’s a show I would totally watch, by the way.
Malcolm: It’s so John August.
Craig: Like you and August together is going to be an amazing show.
Malcolm: Grand closing.
Craig: It would be so great.
John: I will read aloud what someone is giving me and then I need to figure out who is giving me this gift. My gift to John is the magical power to give everyone in America at least one Muslim friend or at least a barber or a dentist or something, so people are a little less scared. You’re welcome, John.
Craig: Well, you know, that wasn’t me.
John: No. I don’t know, Malcolm Spellman. Did you give me a Muslim friend?
Craig: Are you kidding me? You thought that was Malcolm? Oh my god, never. Malcolm doesn’t want anyone to have anyone —
Natasha: That is clearly someone who went to Harvard.
John: Was that you, Alan?
Alan: Yeah, it was me.
John: Oh, I have a Muslim friend. Thank you very much, Alan Yang.
Alan: Great hand. Great hand.
Craig: She nailed it.
John: How do I get a Muslim friend? Is there like a —
Alan: Yeah. I don’t know, I didn’t really understand the assignment but, so I just wrote down a bunch of words.
Alan: No. But, you know, that was just a thing that I was thinking about the show a little bit because I knew I was going to talk about it. And one of the things we realized when making it was like, man, like, for all these episodes we did research like when there is an episode about old people and we had — we spent the day with a bunch of older ladies in New York and I had lunch with them and learned stories.
And it’s like, man, the more you meet people and like they become your friends or at least your acquaintances, you’re a little bit more empathetic. You just know them a little better and whatever, not to get political — I don’t really care about politics. But, you know, if they didn’t let Muslim people in America, Aziz’s parents wouldn’t have been able to come to America. And he wouldn’t have been born.
Alan: And I wouldn’t have been able to do the show with him.
Alan: And you guys wouldn’t have gotten to hear me say all this amazing shit.
Alan: So that would have been a huge tragedy. [laughs]
Craig: It all boils down to you.
Alan: Yeah. Like it’s basically about, do they get to listen to me or not.
John: Yeah. Well thank you for the gift of understanding.
Alan: You’re welcome.
John: Thank you very much. Riki, what did you get?
Riki: I got a KRUPS F23070 Egg Cooker.
John: Oh my.
Craig: You got to know who that’s from. It sounds like a robot talking, so who could it be from?
John: Yeah, it’s me. [laughs]
Craig: That literally sounds like robot talk. KRUPS 01243 Egg Cooker.
John: So here is why I’m giving you this specific egg cooker, because it’s the best egg cooker. So over the summer, we were staying at an Airbnb and the person showing us around was like, oh, and there’s an egg cooker. I’m like, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Who needs something to cook hard boiled eggs? You just boil water and you have hard boiled eggs.” But it was like I woke up early one day, I was like, “I’m going to try the egg cooker.” And it’s amazing. So essentially, it cooks seven hard boiled eggs at once and like cooks them perfectly. So you don’t have to like set a timer. You don’t have to do anything. It’s just like you have hard boiled eggs.
Natasha: How many hard boiled eggs do you eat a day?
John: I eat one a day. So you do a whole bunch at once and just keep them in your fridge.
Natasha: I eat like one a year.
Riki: It would be the first egg I’ve ever cooked, so —
Alan: It’s been a decade.
Riki: I don’t cook eggs at all.
Craig: I eat one a year.
Craig: It’s egg day.
Alan: You celebrate egg day. Yeah. Yeah, June 20, right? June 20th?
Craig: It’s egg day! Yay.
Alan: You guys don’t celebrate that?
John: I think you’d actually genuinely enjoy it.
Riki: I think I might. I mean, I think I might. I’ve never cook anything, so it would be a welcome change.
John: Yeah. I mean it’s easier than using a hairdryer. Like it’s how simple it is to make.
Riki: Wow. But then I would have to buy eggs as well.
John: Yeah. Or you can have —
Riki: It’s like another step.
John: Or you can have someone buy you the eggs.
Riki: True. [laughs]
John: True. All right. Natasha, what did you get?
Natasha: I have a question, though, do you peel it? Like you just eat it with toast or do you just like carry it around with you, the egg?
John: I would advise you to peel the egg before you eat it because like the shell is crunchy and —
Natasha: But you just bite into it like that and eat the dry yolk and just eat it?
John: Yeah, it’s fine. Yeah.
Craig: Bite into it, eat its nutrients.
John: Or rip it open. Yeah, it’s delicious, it’s healthy.
Natasha: Okay, cool.
John: Natasha, what did you get for your Secret Santa gift?
Natasha: I got Postmates. Well, I think this person probably also like me and Alan didn’t really understand the assignment. So I feel like this is maybe from Malcolm and he just discovered Postmates. And he wants me to know about it, too. But I already know about it. But thank you.
Malcolm: No. I’m the king of Postmates. Like —
Natasha: You can order from many different restaurants at once.
Malcolm: I’m on the level where I order that shit while I’m driving home at the same time.
John: But I don’t know what this at all. So talk us through. Sell us on this.
Malcolm: It changes everything.
John: All right.
Malcolm: They are — it’s Uber for everything else particularly food. So any restaurants you want in LA, you just tell them, you know, you do your order, whatever, and they bring it to you and it’s not like — the difference between this and delivery is when you order food from delivery, they’re stopping at other people’s house, your food shows up cold. They order your shit for you, go pick it up, bring it straight to your house. And again, once you get really good with it, that’s when you start ordering in your car at a red light. You try to —
Natasha: And also —
John: How did Malcolm Spellman die?
Natasha: We should also be clear, this is an app for rich people.
Alan: Yeah. It’s like $40. [laughs] No, it is good.
Natasha: And also, one of the other amazing things about it is you get things delivered that don’t deliver. So it’s not just like your Domino’s Pizzas is hotter. It’s like —
Craig: What about like say, egg cartons? Do they do the eggs?
Natasha: Your Mr. Chow’s crispy rice sushi.
Craig: So it’s like a messenger service for food basically.
Natasha: For restaurants.
Craig: Or for restaurants.
Malcolm: But they’ll go pick up your ink cartridge from Staples, all that shit.
Natasha: Oh really?
Alan: Any object. It’s great. It’s an object delivery. Yeah. Or you push the limits.
John: Alan, will they bring me a Muslim friend?
Alan: Oh yeah. [laughs]
John: They can do it, because that’s an object —
Alan: Here’s your Muslim friend and the egg cooker, John.
John: Fantastic, it’s all —
Alan: One car.
John: Backstage, we were talking about actors who do voiceovers for commercials. I feel Malcolm Spellman might be the right voice for this delivery service.
Alan: Yeah, he’s got a great voice.
John: You’d buy it from him, wouldn’t you?
Craig: Oh yeah, this place will pick up your shit.
Craig: That was a pretty good impression.
Malcolm: Charges on Postmates.
John: Alan Yang, what did you get for a Secret Santa gift?
Alan: Oh yeah. I got, I would follow him on all social media as a Christmas present.
Natasha: I didn’t understand the assignment.
John: So do you follow him on any social media?
Alan: Do you not follow me, Natasha?
Natasha: Well, I thought like if you are were on some deep —
Alan: Oh no, no, you think I’m — you think I’m young person, I’m not that young.
Natasha: Oh okay, I thought you were on like Snapchat.
Alan: I am on Snapchat actually. [laughs] You’re right.
Craig: You are that young.
Natasha: Okay, so I’ll —
Alan: I should make up a bunch that don’t exist.
Natasha: Are you on Periscope?
Alan: I’m not on Periscope. I don’t do any broadcastings. You’re on like Twitter and like what do you —
Natasha: Of course, I follow you on Twitter.
Alan: Instagram, of course. Yeah.
Natasha: But Instagram, I don’t follow you. But I’d like to.
Alan: Follow me, man. Some great pics up there.
Craig: Christmas is getting weird.
Natasha: I’m going to do that tonight.
Alan: I can’t wait. I can’t wait for that follow. This has actually have been a good moment for me.
Alan: I get an additional follower. Everyone follow me, AlanMYang. [laughs] No, it doesn’t matter.
John: Alan is going to spend half an hour on any person, trying to get each person in this audience to follow him.
Natasha: But Alan’s aesthetic, I bet his Instagram is good. I bet it’s kind of anal-retentive.
Natasha: But you have some good like, you know, visuals up there.
Alan: Yeah, it’s not bad. It’s not bad. It’s not great. It’s not bad, though. [laughs]
John: Malcolm Spellman, what did you get from Santa?
Malcolm: Kitchen Hacks: How Clever Cooks Get Things Done. I’m going to guess Mazin.
Malcolm: I’ll tell you why I knew it was Mazin, ‘get things done.’ If you know this dude, the authority in that.
Craig: Yeah, you got to get things done. Quite a great book. It’s not appropriate for you because you don’t cook anything, you order your shit from Postmates, but if you were to chop a vegetable for once in your fucking life, it’s amazing, Cook’s Illustrated is my favorite because they’re, you know —
Craig: Why? I mean I just feel so degraded.
Natasha: No, Cook’s Illustrated. I just never heard of that. Sounds cute.
Craig: Oh, it’s the best. They’re like the scientists of coking. And they give you all these tips of the best ways to cut things like how do I cut this. Oh, we figured out after a thousand cuts of a pepper, this is the way you do it. And the way you’re nodding —
Natasha: No, that’s cool. I have no talent in the kitchen, so I’m just — I’m inspired and intrigued.
Craig: Then it could help you if you ever did try because —
Natasha: Oh, no interest either, but —
Craig: Just making sure.
Natasha: But I appreciate it in others.
Craig: If you fuck something up, there’s a whole chapter on how to fix your fuck up.
Natasha: Oh, that’s cool.
Craig: So it’s wasted on Malcolm.
John: And I really think that could have been the title of the episode, Wasted on Malcolm.
Craig: Yeah. I think it should be the title of every episode.
John: Yeah. We had fantastic guests and a fantastic venue, but we did not have a fantastic recording. And we lost Craig’s gift. Craig did not get to open his gift and discuss it. And it was a pretty great gift you got.
Craig: Yes. So I got my gift from Riki Lindhome and it was something that I’ve already put on the show as my One Cool Thing which is the Hamilton soundtrack. And so Riki and I bonded over our obsession and memorized love for the Hamilton soundtrack and then — you see, this is why people need to come to the live show because the two of us then did an impromptu version of the opening song. We made it through a good like 30 or 40 seconds of the lyrics of the opening song. [laughs] Just together, doing a duet, it was lovely.
John: I have a hunch that our technical glitch was actually the Broadway League sneaking it and shutting it down so that it could not be recorded because that’s, you know, Lin-Manuel Miranda is like he’s very adamant that he’s not going to want bootleg recordings. And you guys were so magnificent singing that song.
John: That he had to stop it.
Craig: Well, I get it. I don’t want to — look, I don’t want to mess with Mr. Miranda. It was something to see, man. It was something to see.
Craig: And unfortunately then after that, we did have some pretty good questions and answers that got eaten, so —
John: Yeah. And often, we tape the questions and answer and put them through as a separate episode in the premium feed, so we won’t have that for this time. But there were some interesting questions asked. So I thought we’d just summarize kind of the things we talked about and do the short version of what those were.
John: So the questions that came up at the microphones were about writing staffs because we had these great TV people there and they were able to answer questions that Craig or I could not normally answer.
A question about the diversity on writing staffs and sort of spring boarding off what Alan Yang had said about being like the Asian guy on the staff. And so the question was like, well, what if you are the black guy or the Muslim guy, what does it feel like to be the person who has to answer the questions of like, is that offensive?
And so Alan actually had a really interesting answer about how in Master of None, stuff would come up, there was specifically a situation where the women on the writing staff were describing what it felt like to be a woman at a restaurant who wasn’t introduced and they had a big discussion, a big argument kind of in the writer’s room and that made it into the script.
And so he was arguing in favor of diversity on staff just because you got that diversity of opinion and that diversity of opinion was what led to this some really great dialogue and scenes in the show.
Craig: Yes. So he was sort of saying that rather than assign or not assign the role of representative of race, gender, sexual identity, whatever category, that rather it was just, let’s have a discussion. If a discussion is a debate, let’s have a debate. Then let’s actually portray the debate which on his show, I think, is very doable. On a lot of shows, it’s not quite like that because the show maybe isn’t about relationships in that sense.
But having the debate, I think he was basically saying having the debate is worth it. It’s actually more important to have a debate than say to isolate individuals and say you are now the arbiter of what is acceptable for this topic or that topic.
John: Absolutely. Okay, next up. Riki Lindhome fielded a question about how she assembled her writing staff. And we actually asked all the show creators how they assembled their writing staffs. And Riki Lindhome said, well, I would read the first three pages of the script and if I didn’t like the first three pages, I would toss it aside and start reading the next one.
And to be clear, Riki Lindhome does not listen to the Scriptnotes podcast, so she has no idea about the Three Page Challenge. She was just speaking honestly of like how she put her staff together. And I thought that was actually great because it’s such a testament to this is why your first three pages are so important because if they don’t like three pages, it’s not that — they’re not going to read page four, they’re not going to read page 20. They’re just going to stop reading and they’re going to go on to next one.
So be it a TV spec or spec script you’ve written, you got to hook them so quick.
Craig: Yeah, you know, there’s a test that you and I apply when we do our Three Page Challenges here on the show and mostly because I assume 99 percent of the people sending them in are not professional working writers yet. The test that we’re applying is basically, “Can you do this? Do you have the fundamentals down? Are you making certain rookie mistakes? Are you making blatant mistakes?” Our test isn’t, “Is this wonderful?” Our test isn’t, “Is this really great?” Our test isn’t, “Would I hire you?”
Now, for Riki and for Natasha, when they’re looking at potential people to work on their show, you’re making a show. These are the people that are your life-support system. So they’re not looking to see if you’re avoiding problems. They’re looking to be inspired.
Craig: I think specifically, Riki said something like, her test is, “Do I care?” Not just, “Is this good?” but do I care about it? Do I remember it? Do I want to tell other people about what I just read? That’s on a whole other level of existence. That’s about being inspiring.
So just be aware. I want people to be aware that when we do this, don’t think like, oh, if they can get through those guys that they’re, you know, they’ve got it made. We’re kind of only doing a very fundamental first pass look at these things. What’s waiting for you out there is Riki going “Mm-hmm.”
John: Mm-hmm. Doesn’t care. So it’s really, we’re setting a pretty low bar, like, “Do they clear this low bar?” Like, this person seems like they can kind of do it.
John: And we’re also taking a lot of time to talk through various things on the page that tripped us up. Riki is not. She’s just basically like, “Did I laugh? Did this click with me? Do I want to meet this writer?” And that’s a very different kind of standard than what we’re doing when we’re doing a Three Page Challenge.
Craig: No question.
John: So it would be fascinating to have somebody who does a lot of staffing come on and be a guest on a Three Page Challenge because I bet it would be brutal.
Craig: Oh, well, because they don’t really do anything like what we do. I mean, there is that, you know, the book, Blink. I mean, everyone is using Blink when they’re doing this. There’s too many — I mean, I think Alan said they get 300 scripts, you know.
Craig: I mean, so staffing season is like this swarm of piranha in the water all trying, you know, to grab this one tiny little thing to eat. So everyone is getting inundated by these scripts. I think they open them up and, I mean, she says three pages, I guarantee there’s some where you don’t even make it to half a page. Because just, you have that blink moment you’re like, “Nope, not for me.”
John: Yeah, I don’t think we’ll ever do this but a fascinating exercise would be to take a big bucket of the scripts that come in. And sit down with somebody who does this for staffing and just all of us spend an hour just like going through and reading those first three pages and at the end of it discuss which of these scripts would we even want to read page four.
Craig: Yeah. Well, and you could also, while you’re doing that with this person, have them take — give them a red pen and have them make a little mark on the page where they stopped reading.
Craig: Because I think that would actually be fascinating to see.
Craig: And sobering.
John: Yeah, after we did the Q&A we had a few announcements. And so I need to have those announcements down so that everyone who wasn’t in the audience can hear them. First off is that on Monday of last week, so a week ago, as you’re hearing this podcast, I sat down with Ice Cube and Andrea Berloff and F. Gary Gray and the filmmakers behind Straight Outta Compton. And so that was a special Q&A in Hollywood. And so I got to ask them questions. So it was about a half an hour of Q&A with those folks and it was great and it was — I loved that movie. I loved sitting down and talking with them about it. So if you are a premium subscriber, you can listen to the audio from that. It’s up in the Scriptnotes premium feed. So you can subscribe to that at Scriptnotes.net and listen to that. We should have one or two more writer interviews up there before the end of the year as well.
We also had a very big announcement about our next live show. Craig, tell us.
Craig: So this is something that we’re doing for a charity organization called Hollywood HEART and I admit that at the time that we did the show last night, I wasn’t quite sure exactly what the charity did. In my mind I knew it wasn’t about actual cardiac health. But there was a representative there from Hollywood HEART who came up afterward to explain that it’s about helping kids here in Los Angeles. And it’s a terrific organization.
So we have wonderful guests. This is going to be a live show on January 25th. We’re doing it downtown. And who’s coming? Well, we have Jason Bateman, star of screen and also a filmmaker in his own right now. And we also have the screenwriter of the small movie that is coming out. It’s like a prestige movie coming out in December. It’s called —
John: Yeah, it’s one of those sort of “remakey” kind of like, you know, some people may have heard of it.
Craig: Right. It’s called Star Wars: The Force Awakens?
John: Yeah, I think so. I think you got it right.
Craig: Or is it “The Force Awakens”.
John: Either one I think would work. It’s translated from French.
John: So you could try it either way.
Craig: Star Wars, and his name is Larry Kasdan. He also in the past, he has written another Star Wars film called The Empire Strikes Back.
John: I saw that one. It was really good.
Craig: And then he wrote a side movie called Raiders of the Lost Ark.
John: Yeah, we discussed that movie. Do you remember that, a zillion years ago, we discussed that?
Craig: Oh, that’s right.
John: We did a whole episode on Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Craig: Yeah, yes. And he’s also written Body Heat. And he’s also written Big Chill. And he’s also written The Bodyguard. And, and, and, and — perhaps the greatest living screenwriter. I like to call him that.
So Lawrence Kasdan, co-writer of the — what will undoubtedly be the biggest movie of all time — Star Wars: The Force Awakens, will be with us on January 25th along with the very funny, very brilliant Jason Bateman. That’s a show you definitely want to come to and the proceeds do benefit Hollywood HEART. If you want tickets and you want to learn more about Hollywood HEART, go to HollywoodHEART.org/upcoming.
Craig: And that’s how you get tickets and so forth.
John: So this ticket apparently includes cocktails as well. So, come on, it’s bargain.
Craig: It includes cocktails?
John: That’s what it said on the thing. I’m only going with what I saw on the website.
Craig: Wow. So, just to be clear because I said it was about kids, I think that’s a little vague. It’s specifically, it’s designed to nurture creativity and community through the arts and it’s targeted at at-risk kids who either have HIV or AIDS or who are homeless or who are in foster care or the judicial systems. These are kids that are definitely in trouble. They are in trouble and they’re using the arts to kind of help get them out of trouble. And I’m a big believer in effective charity. That’s my, you know, like I get very angry when I see ineffective charity because it feels like such a wasted opportunity. I know that this is a great way to get through to kids who are in trouble. It’s a great way because the arts are part of everyone’s life. It is instantly attractive especially to kids. So I think this is a great idea. There is a camp that they run. So you should totally buy tickets for this. I mean, if you don’t buy tickets for this, you’re just a bad person.
John: [laughs] So the carrot and a stick, the guilt, the love, all of it together.
John: The Craig Mazin special holiday gift.
Craig: I just hit you with everything I could.
John: The last announcement was that on the previous show we talked about how an upcoming episode will have us talking about advice for things that are not screenwriting-related. So advice about anything. So we’ve gotten more than a hundred questions in about that.
Craig: Wow, my god.
John: But keep sending in those questions. And we will plow through them and we will answer as many of them as we can on a future episode. I’m really looking forward to that. Off air, I’m going to talk to Craig about a potential guest to join us to help answer those questions.
John: Ah. But we should wrap up this episode with a lot of thanks. So we need to give thanks to the Writers Guild Foundation. Its wonderful volunteers who helped staff that event and Chris Kartje for putting it all together. Thank you so much. LA Film School for hosting us. Leon who did all our tech stuff. We had clips up there. We had clips on a big screen. It was like we were a real show. So thank you for that.
Craig: Like a real show.
John: Matthew Chilelli, as always, did our intros and outros and edited this episode. And Stuart Friedel, our producer, our long-serving, long-suffering producer was there along with his parents and his grandparents who got to hear Malcolm Spellman —
Craig: Oh, my god, that’s so great.
John: Swear so much. Yeah. And so —
Craig: Oh, my god, Bubby was there. She must have been like, “Oy”.
John: “Oy”. Yeah, so —
Craig: Even the way you say “Oy” is Christian.
John: I know. I can’t help it. I come from a Christian heritage.
Craig: You do.
John: I knew where they were sitting in the audience but as I looked up there I thought I still saw like the paper on the seats. So I thought like, “Oh, well, the grandparents didn’t come.” But it just turns out they were so small that the paper on the chair backs behind them was still visible.
Craig: Oh, that’s so cute.
John: So cute. So it was a cute fun night. We had amazing guests. So in the show notes at johnaugust.com you’ll see the links to their Twitter handles, their other bio information about them. You’ll also see links for most of the things we talked about on the show that we could squeeze into the links. As always, subscribe to us on iTunes if you’ve not already subscribed. That helps us a lot. Leave a comment. We were not one of the top podcasts of 2015 for some reason, so let’s make that a life goal for 2016 to be one of those top-rated podcasts on iTunes.
If you have a question for me or for Craig, write to email@example.com. That’s also a place where you can write your question about, you know, non-screenwriting advice for our special episode. On Twitter I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. And thank you everyone who came out to our live show and thank you all for listening.
Craig: Go buy tickets for January 25th.
John: Cool. Thanks, guys. Bye.
- Malcolm Spellman on IMDb and Twitter, and Scriptnotes, 185
- Natasha Leggero on IMDb and Twitter
- Riki Lindhome on IMDb and Twitter
- Another Period on Comedy Central
- Alan Yang on IMDb and Twitter
- Master of None on Netflix
- Harvard Lampoon, and on Wikipedia
- KRUPS F23070 Egg Cooker
- Postmates will deliver you stuff
- AlanMYang on Instagram
- Kitchen Hacks: How Clever Cooks Get Things Done
- Cook’s Illustrated
- Hamilton, the Original Broadway Cast Recording on iTunes and on Amazon
- Scriptnotes, Bonus: Straight Outta Compton
- Get your tickets now for Scriptnotes, Live on January 25 with Jason Bateman and Lawrence Kasdan, a benefit for Hollywood HEART
- Scriptnotes, 73: Raiders of the Lost Ark
- Email us or tweet John or Craig for advice on things that have nothing to do with screenwriting
- Thanks to the Writers Guild Foundation and the Los Angeles Film School for hosting us
- Intro/Outro by Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)