By Gill Pringle and Will Tentindo

With so many comedians working on a film – Will Ferrell, Amy, Nick Kroll, Rob Huebel, Andrea Savage, Lennon Parham, Michaela Watkins – what’s it like when the camera stops?

 I consider it to be very lucky on this project, specifically that when we did have downtime I was just hanging out with people that otherwise I would just choose to hang out with anyway. On this one, everybody laughed. I think that’s just because everybody feels very comfortable with each other. I think people try to not laugh when they’re nervous that somebody they don’t know, an actor they’re working with that they don’t know very well, will judge them or will be mad at them for breaking. But because everybody here was friends, everybody broke constantly.

Even Jeremy Renner?

 I’m trying to think if Renner broke. He did, he definitely did. At stuff Will was doing he was cracking up.

When you have such a veteran cast of comedic actors and it’s Andrew Jay Cohen’s first movie as a director, do you just do what you want to do?

 Oh no, he definitely was in charge in a good way. When you’ve got a lot of people who are strong personalities or are veteran performers, you do need someone leading the charge and corralling everybody. It can often feel like herding cats, because in some of those scenes there’s a lot of people in them. A town hall scene, we shot that all day because you put us all in a room together and everybody’s just going to start riffing. And on the day, on his feet, he would rewrite the scene to be an amalgam of both the script he and Brendan [O’Brien] had written, but then also the contributions that people were improvising. So, actually, he was really valuable in that process, because otherwise it would just be chaos.

Does it get competitive or does it feel very generous on set with all these comedians?

 No, no, it’s pretty generous, actually. Everybody’s very supportive, because there’s also room for everybody… And a lot of the people come out of the same improv scene built around the Upright Citizen’s Brigade [UCB] theater, or in the case of Will and Michaela and Savage, the Groundlings Theater in LA. These are improv-centric comedy theaters, the central ethos of which is support and make everybody else look good. I think this is definitely a movie that illustrates that.

There seems to be this UCB mafia in Hollywood. Is it just that it’s such a good training ground or that you all networked?

 I think both. Right now, it’s UCB. I think every generation, for the most part, has some sort of focal point of comedic talent. The 15 years prior to UCB were dominated by Groundlings and the Groundlings talent base. That obviously includes Will and that whole generation… and then, previous to that, it was Second City Chicago and Toronto that produced the cast of SCTV and a lot of the people from the original Saturday Night Live cast, The National Lampoon, the Lemmings cast, so I think that every generation has a theater that defines a comedic point of view, and I think right now it’s UCB, mostly because UCB was new and has grown in the 20 years it’s existed. It happens to teach and produce a comedic skillset that for whatever reason currently is in demand.

With your podcast How Did This Get Made?, the more you work on film projects yourself, are you becoming more sympathetic to when bad movies are made?

 Oh of course. Listen, I approach that podcast talking about movies not because it is trying to trash or take anything down. We really are, more often than not, celebrating. Like, those Fast & the Furious movies, when we talk about them, I love those movies. The first movie is about guys who do street racing and then are stealing combination TV/VCRs. In this last movie, they are driving cars against a submarine on the frozen ice. It’s crazy what’s going on. So, I think we take our approach to be about celebrating movies that don’t work, which I think is much more fun than just trashing something. A lot of times when you watch a movie that doesn’t work, I know why it doesn’t work, I see where something went astray, or where it loses its way. But a lot of times we just try and cover movies that, when it does so, it is particularly fun to have watched. It makes it more fun, oftentimes.

Getting into comedy as a profession, when is the moment that you realise you’re funny and the moment you realise this is gonna work out professionally?

 I realised I’m funny as a kid. When you make your parents laugh or kids at school. And I realised that it might work yesterday. There’s a long, long time where I did not make a living at this but was very committed to doing it. There were years where I’m working terrible day jobs all day and doing comedy all night. When we started doing UCB in New York in the late ’90s, there was no sketch and improv in New York. New York was a stand-up town. And so, we didn’t have many people coming. We didn’t have audiences for the first three, four years. It was very small. We would go out to the parks and hand out cards to try and convince people to come to our shows. That hustle, that grind, was hugely important. Talent is just one piece of a career. There’s a lot of talented people who don’t figure it out or aren’t successful because there’s all these other components that you have to learn as well. Work ethic, tenacity, drive, ambition – all of these things have to coalesce into something that gets you to keep going. There’s a lot of people, some of the funniest people that I came up with in comedy in New York, who don’t do comedy anymore.

You just have to wait everybody else out?

 A little bit. I will say a lot of times you watch everybody succeed, perhaps that aren’t the most talented people, but are the most tenacious.

What was the breakthrough point for you?

 For me, the transformative moment was a stage show in New York with a woman named Jessica St. Clair, who’s on a TV show called Playing House now. We were a comedy team for many years and we did a show that was popular and went to the Aspen Comedy Festival, which was a big comedy festival for what was considered to be undiscovered talent. We did our show and we got a standing ovation and we had that classic Hollywood moment where, after the show, all the agents and managers were handing us their cards and wanted to take a meeting. We sold that show to Comedy Central to do a pilot. That was the first true transformative moment that went from, ‘we’re just doing this for the theater audiences that come every week to UCB’ to ‘oh, wait, no, this is now a career opportunity that has been birthed from this.’ That was 2003, so it’s 14 years ago.

When you were a struggling comedian, did you have a certain end game in mind?

 I didn’t really. At the same time, I was trying to be an actor, I was also writing. So, some years I wouldn’t get any acting jobs at all, but I might sell a TV pilot as a writer. There were years where I was like, ‘I’m gonna be on Saturday Night Live’. Then The Daily Show became very significant and important, and I was like, ‘I want to be on The Daily Show’, and I didn’t get that. But then for many years I was a successful writer, so I was like, ‘Oh, maybe this will be my career. Maybe I will create TV shows, but then I got a bunch of acting work, and I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I can.’ You’re kind of calibrating and recalibrating based on what’s happening based on cumulative experience, and somehow, in a nice way, I get to do all of it, to some degree or another, which isn’t bad.

The House is in cinemas June 29, 2017


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