Donald Glover interview with ComingSoon.netMar 2, 2015
Unless you were already a fan of their popular sketches on YouTube, you probably hadn't heard of Derrick Comedy before Mystery Team exploded at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, before hitting other festivals and Comic-Con, converting many new fans to Derrick's distinctive brand of comedy. Contrary to first impressions, Derrick Comedy isn't a person but a comedy group, the brainchild of five individuals: actor/writers Donald Glover, D.C. Pierson and Dominic Dierkes, director Dan Eckman and producer Meggie McFadden.
Their debut feature film plays on the classic kid detective stories of old, but in this case, the Mystery Team have all passed puberty and they're not quite as cute as they used to be as kids. Glover plays Jason Rogers, the team's "Master of Disguise," Pierson is Duncan Wheeler the "Boy Genius," and Dierkes is Charlie Day, the "Strongest Kid in Town," and their latest case involving the murder of a little girl's parents might be over their heads, but it also might finally allow them to finally be taken seriously as detectives in their home base of Oakdale. You can get a really good sampling of the type of irreverent humor at work by checking out the trailer and the hilarious recent short "The Case of the Haunted Hotel" over on the group's website.
Last week, ComingSoon.net got on the phone with the ever-affable Donald Glover, who also stars in one of NBC's breakout comedies of the season Community on which he plays Troy, a high school football hero trying to create an identity for himself while attending community college.
If you want to know more about Derrick Comedy, Donald, Mystery Team and what to expect from his character on Community, read on!
ComingSoon.net: I hadn't really heard of Derrick Comedy until I first saw the trailer for Mystery Team shortly before Sundance. Was Mystery Team something you had been doing before or was it something you created specifically for the movie?
Don Glover: It was just for the movie. We had done a few sketches and we're not a really character-based sketch group, but we had saved all our money from the YouTube revenue, but I always wanted to do an Encyclopedia Brown movie, I really did. I wrote an outline for it and it just was never gonna come to be, like the rights were all tied up for Encyclopedia Brown, but I brought it to the guys. I was like, "I really like this idea. Maybe we can do something like this for our bigger project." Everybody just jumped on it, everybody really loved it. It kind of had the inherent things that all Derrick sketches have, which is just people who are refusing to live in any reality other than their own. That's the core of a lot of Derrick's sketches and I think that's what attracted us to this idea immediately.
CS: Did you guys ever do live shows as well, or was it just the shorts you did for YouTube?
Glover: Absolutely. We were a live group mostly, like that's all we were for a long time. We were doing improv, and it just so happened we had these transitions into things, this other sketch group called Hammerkatz, and we had all these sketches looked over and Dan Eckman, the director who's also in Derrick, started filming them and we had them and we were like, "Well, we don't know where to put them." We would've shown them anywhere. We were showing them at UCB (the Upright Citizen's Brigade) for a while, then YouTube came out, we were like, "Let's put it on this YouTube thing except we can't afford the bandwidth." Then YouTube got big. It came out of nowhere.
CS: Even though you guys come from improv, the movie seems very scripted, so did you just build what you normally do into the script, work on stuff and then write it out?
Glover: Actually, we wrote it entirely in the only way we know how. A lot of our sketches are kind of not improvy, but we will understand the beats, so we never really have to write them out, because we will be talking together and we'll understand the beats of the sketch and what people are gonna say and how things are gonna go. So they never really have to be written out, but with the movie, I had just gotten hired to write for 30 Rock. So we basically ran the movie like the writers room of 30 Rock. Basically we all had things written that was a first draft, we all came in and we put it together. So there was hardly any improv involved on set. Like we didn't really have the time. I had to be back at 30 Rock six weeks later so we had no time for improv.
CS: How did Dan and Meggie fit into the live shows, because I assume they don't really perform, right? Were they just involved with the writing?
Glover: Well, as we started doing more and more... we were doing live stuff and it was just the three: me, DC and Dominic, and whenever we had like a sketch or a transition that needed to be filmed, Dan would do it. But that was about it and Meggie would sometimes produce our live shows and would help get the things that we needed. The more we started making stuff that needed to be filmed, Meg became like, the head of organizing, because she's just the most organized person in the world. To deal with four boys like she does, it's just amazing. Meg's the organizer and Dan just has an eye for the type of comedy that we're doing, and they just played more and more of a central role the more we started doing films, because we realized when we do a live show, we'd have maybe 80 people come. So we'd do that once a week, so that'd be like 300 people a month. But if you put a sketch online on YouTube, you get like 10,000 in a day. So it just made sense to start doing more sketches online and we just moved away from doing them live.
CS: Had you guys ever thought about doing a TV show or anything? A lot of the bigger comedy groups got discovered from doing their own TV shows. Was going the YouTube route just an alternative to doing a TV show?
Glover: It was. We had an idea that we're still kind of working on, that we actually sold to Comedy Central a long time ago, but they ended up not making it. We really loved that idea, but we were faced with that we really wanted to make the next move as far as, what's the next big thing for Derrick? We were like, "Well, we can make a television show. We can start from scratch." We were all kind of heartbroken about the one we really loved wasn't being made. "Or, we can try and make a movie," which seemed impossible, but we talked it out and just figured out a way to do it. We wanted to do a television show, and we still do talk about it, but movies seem to be something we really enjoy doing and taking it in that direction.
CS: How did it work out expanding what you normally do into a more long form thing? Usually movies are a director's medium, but did you guys work closely with Dan even through the editing phase or did you just let him do his thing once it was all filmed?
Glover: Most everything in Derrick, someone takes the lead on something and then everybody has a say. Like, basically he edited the whole thing and we would see it and if there was something really jarring, the rest of us were like, "That doesn't feel right," then we'd usually come up with alternatives so that's basically how it is. I wrote the score for the movie, and it was the same thing where people were like, "That feels weird." I'd be like, "Let me go ahead and try something else."
CS: Since you were kind of the lead on this one, having come up with the original idea, did you have more say on what jokes got used or not really?
Glover: No, not at all. It's weird, we always say whenever we get into arguments, "This isn't a democracy." It's not like someone's out-voted or anything, but in a weird way it's just that we have to come to a consensus. Usually, when we fight or we argue about an idea that we're passionate about, we'll come to a decision that both parties loved more than both of the ideas that they had before, which I think is the best thing to have with people you're working with, like to come out of an argument with something better than what both of you had is really beautiful, it's really amazing. I don't think that happens with a lot of people. Whenever somebody disagrees with something, it's just like, we have to keep talking about this until something comes of it and usually something great will come of it.
CS: Do Dan or Meggie jump in and act as Kissinger when you don't agree on something and you have to move forward and make a decision so things get done?
Glover: Meggie. (Laughs) Meggie is the one... Meggie was on set and like all she did was, "Dan, we don't have the time. Dan, we don't have the time." It's funny when they're together, but yeah, Meggie kept us all in line, like all the way from making sure the budget wasn't going over, making sure that we had film and making sure the crew was happy all the way down to doing the sheets at the house we were all staying at. She keeps us in line and made sure we kept moving no matter what.
CS: How did you work geographically? I know Dan and Meggie are in New Hampshire where you shot the movie. Did you guys all come together again every couple of months to write stuff?
Glover: I got the job on Community and since Mystery Team was coming out in a couple months, we all decided all the work we need to start doing is kinda in L.A. so we all moved to Los Angeles. We all lived together for a couple of months and now we're all in Los Angeles living in different places.
CS: So you're all together now. I was wondering about that. When I first heard of this and saw the trailer, I didn't get a California vibe whatsoever.
Glover: Oh no, this is way darker. (Laughs) If anything we're all New Yorkers. We all love the New York scene and that's our thing. We just moved out to L.A. not too long ago.
CS: The movie's R-rated, but except for a couple sex things and kids swearing, it doesn't really seem like the normal R-rated comedy. Is that just because of the tone of the characters or do you just not like taking things too far?
Glover: A lot of people would be like, "Wow, you went really far." Like if you watch our sketches, especially the one "Spelling Bee," we use the word "n*gger f*ggot" (Laughs) and people freak out. We never want to go there just because we want to go there. I think that was a problem we always kinda had with a lotta comedies that were coming out. It seemed like boobs and farts and poop and stuff like that were there just because it was like, "Oh, guys want to see poop." It's like, "No, the point of it is to make you laugh, not just shock value that you can point to it." We like to do stuff that's outlandish and crazy and insane, but we're not the type of group to be like, "Oh, this fart joke's here because fart jokes need to be there." It's like, "No, that fart joke's there because it was appropriate at the time." If a fart joke can ever be appropriate. (Laughs)
CS: I've talked to some of the guys from Broken Lizard and The State, and while there are certainly rivalries in play, there's also quite a bit of influence between various comedy groups. Do you have any groups that influenced you back when Derrick was starting out?
Glover: I think the group or rather the show that had a big influence on us was Mr. Show. We had kind of straight-up jacked that format for a while. We were doing those one-minute interstitials where sketches didn't really end. I know DC was really into Monty Python and I really liked The Holy Grail when I was little. SNL we were always big fans. Mr. Show and The Kids in the Hall I guess are our biggest influences as far as sketches were concerned. Just like those strange kinds of ideas that play themselves out.
CS: Did the Community thing come out of Mystery Team? or did it come out of writing 30 Rock and the connections you made there? How did that come about?
Glover: It definitely came out of Mystery Team. There's a direct link actually, because they were having free screenings of the movie in New York and L.A. and I wasn't even able to make it to the L.A. one because I was writing for 30 Rock. The Russo brothers came out and saw Mystery Team because they had heard about it at Sundance, and they came out and saw it and I guess they liked me and asked me to audition for Community and I got it. It was great.
CS: When you went to school, did you go more for writing or acting? You seem comfortable with both at this point. Was it going to always be a combination of the two things?
Glover: I went to a performing arts high school and I was writing there, and then I went to college for writing, but in high school, I ended up playing a lot of my own parts because I was like, "Oh, I know what I need. When I wrote that, I knew what I wanted to do." So I ended up doing that a lot and it just kind of came natural at the end. It was like, "Oh, if I could write it." I always kinda felt like, "Who's gonna write this movie? I just have this part and see me in this part." So the more you're able to do it yourself, the better, I've felt.
CS: I've heard a lot from producers and directors that they want their actors to know how to write, because that's the only way to get anywhere in the business, by being able to write your own parts.
Glover: Writing with Tina Fey, you kind of learn like, "Oh, she's the whole package." That's where the industry is going. They're not gonna want to hire teams all the time. They're gonna want somebody who can handle themselves. Tina Fey is like a machine. She's always on. She's always funny, very smart, writes all of her own stuff, produces, acts in it. It's like, "Okay, why would you hire someone who just writes or just acts?" You have to combine them and find the right person for that person. It's way better to get somebody who can do all that stuff. I think it felt like that's the way things are going, that's the way entertainment is kinda going. Derrick is kinda that. We made some Clearasil commercials about a year or two ago, and the whole reason they hired us was because they're like, "Oh, you guys can edit it, act in it, produce it, do all this stuff." We just ran it like a production agency and it was simple, it was easy. We just came to them with a product rather than them having to get directors and producers and where are we going to get these actors and where are we going to get the scripts? It was all-in-one.
CS: Very cool. Have you been able to do any writing for Community yet? Is that something they want you to get involved in?
Glover: There was some talk about it before and I really would love to, but as of this year, probably not just because I really want to focus on doing the best job I can, but I would love to write for that show, it's like really fun. I know all the characters really well now and that would be like a dream.
CS: The stuff you and Dan do at the end of each show, did they actually write that for you or did you guys come up with some of that on your own?
Glover: Some of them are written and others are improv. The only one that I can really think of that was improv'd entirely was the Halloween episode one where we're sitting down and I'm talking about being a gingerbread man and wanting to eat myself. That one is entirely improv'd, but most of these are ideas. Some of the ideas come from things that we've done on set, like the "La Biblioteca" one came from, we were hanging out at this TV Guide thing and started rapping. Then Dan saw that and was like, "Oh, that would make a funny thing at the end," and it just worked. They're all written by the writing staff and stuff like that except for a few.
CS: Are there any more episodes coming up where we get to learn a little more about Troy's backstory?
Glover: Yes, I think it's the third one after we get back from the Christmas episode. There's a big Troy storyline where we find out a little bit more about not only Troy, but I think if you watched it the right way, it's me. (Laughs) So, it's a pretty intense one and it has to do with a new class that I'm taking, so yeah, definitely watch out for that.
CS: Have you guys talked about what Derrick wants to do when you're on the break from Community next spring?
Glover: We want another movie. We want to have a bigger project. We have ideas for Mystery Team 2, but we think it's better probably if we work on something different before we dive into that, but we definitely want to make another movie.
Mystery Team is now playing in New York at the Quad Cinema, plus it opens in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the Guild Cinema on Friday and in Chicago on February 4. If you want the movie to play in your city, town or village, make sure to get over to the movie's Demand It site and, you guessed it, demand it.
The Comic's Comic meets James AdomianMar 2, 2015
I first encountered James Adomian before I knew he was James Adomian. At the time, he was playing Gary Busey in a show during the Upright Citizen Brigade's Del Close Marathon in New York City. And he was hysterical. I later saw him pull off a Frank Caliendo impersonation, which is quite meta-tastic. You can see James Adomian's Funny or Die videos or his UCBTLA profile/videos for plenty of evidence of his talent. If I were putting together a sketch comedy show on TV, I'd cast him in a New York or Hollywood minute.
As my brief sojourn into the heart of darkness that is Hollywood, Calif., capital of Business Show, comes to a close this weekend, I thought I'd share a little bit more of James Adomian with you. During my week exploring the Los Angeles comedy scene, I saw Adomian follow Eddie Pepitone onstage at Largo by impersonating Pepitone, along with Lewis Black, Paul Giamatti and more; the next night, he blew away the audience at the Unknown Theatre with a grizzled comedian character named Manny Berg who was so good, one of my hosts didn't even know that it was Adomian. So, this week, instead of presenting you with a "Meet Me In New York" profile, I put the questions to James Adomian for this installment, called "Going Hollywood."
Name: James Adomian
Arrival date: August 1989
Arrived from: Atlanta, Georgia
When and where did you start performing comedy? There were some very fun years of amateur comedy and theatre in college. Then I beat around the Groundlings program for a while in my late teens and early twenties. I met Josh Fadem there and started performing at his awesome shows at the Ramada basement lounge in Los Feliz. During that time, I joined The Deviants, a gay-oriented alternative sketch comedy group. In 2005, when I was 25, everything took off: I broke into uncredited late-night television and started performing at Garage Comedy and Comedy Death-Ray; that summer, the Upright Citizens Brigade opened their L.A. theatre, which has been my comedy home ever since.
What was your first credit? My first professional gig, uncredited at first, was playing George W. Bush on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. My earliest short film credit was Vincent Price in Yacht Rock, the celebrated Channel 101 series.
How did growing up in L.A. shape your desire to be in show business? Though showbiz seemed to me like an impossible and fantastical other world when I was a kid, I slowly realized that I had a rare geographical advantage to do what I loved. When was 14, I started doing impressions of political figures for local talk radio shows (B-1 Bob Dornan was my favorite). Later in high school and college, I became dimly aware that there was an alternative comedy scene on the other side of town, so I started taking the bus out to Hollywood to see shows and take classes whenever possible.
Why did you decide to stay in L.A. instead of going to NYC or elsewhere to launch your comedy career? Moving to New York has always been and still is a contingency plan. I hate car culture, dry weather and the arrogant illiterati that runs Hollywood. Nor am I a fan of the deliberate dis-engineering that went into ruining this part of the world, from an urban planning perspective. I used to loathe L.A. for all these reasons, and wanted desperately to move away, but I've stuck here because of friends, family and connections, and because people keep coming to my shows and hiring me to do things. So I guess I'm here due to inertia. I've lately come to a grudging respect for this city, but I still wouldn't live here if it weren't for comedy.
When did you start doing impersonations? As early as I can remember. When I was 3 years old, it struck me as very funny how seriously newscasters would talk, so I used to run around repeating what they were saying at the time, in their stupid grave tone: "More news about the bombing in Beirut, after this!" Dark from the very beginning! As I got older, like anyone with a talent for impressions, I moved on to teachers and coaches, who really are the training wheels for any talented comic impressionist.
Do you have a favorite character to play? Lately, Christopher Hitchens. I'm also having fun doing Lewis Black, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti these days. I get bored easily, so I like to keep coming up with new impressions that nobody else is doing, or at least radically new interpretations of impressions that have not been done to death. As far as original characters, I love to play Miss Corona Martini, a filthy bitch who embodies my feelings about drag queen comedy.
Do you feel more comfortable playing characters and impersonations than doing stand-up? I used to. I come from a sketch comedy background, and I've always had a talent for mimicking people, so that was always a strong factor in what I wanted to spend my time doing. But then there was this fun, strange period in my life a few years ago when people started asking me to play Bush or other characters of mine in their standup shows, so that helped me figure out how to work my sketch talents into the world of standup, with its presentational format. More recently, in the last 18 months or so, I've been doing stand-up as James Adomian, which allows an entirely different and thrilling way to communicate my ideas. I have to thank Greg Giraldo for his blunt advice last year: "You're a funny guy -- you should be doing stand-up! What are you wasting time for with all this other bullshit?" Now I'm doing stand-up all the time and I love it -- I don't have to drag my bags of costumes around to bar shows anymore!
What is it about that (characters, impersonations) that drew you to it? I find it uniquely satisfying to make fun of someone through the vehicle of their own personality. It's a way to show, rather than describe, what's funny, strange, evil or loveable about a person. Plus, it's funny and fucking fun to do. I'm a huge fan of Phil Hartman, Phil Hendrie, Peter Sellers, Peter Serafinowicz and other masters of character comedy whose names begin with the letter P.
What tip would you give to any comedian who moves here? Perform all over the place as often as you can. Check out different styles and scenes. Learn from your heroes and peers without stealing material. Find what intimidates, annoys or scares people and make fun of it. Above all, nothing matters whatsoever, so have fun and get as much free shit as you can along the way.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? Powering through season four of a television incarnation of The Midnight Show!
Watch him in this Midnight Show video as the late Orson Welles:
Ellie Kemper profiled in St. Louis Post-DispatchMar 2, 2015
In 1999, in a white satin gown, Elizabeth Claire Kemper was attended by maids and pages as the Veiled Prophet's Queen of Love and Beauty.
In 2009, in gold lame and tall black boots, Ellie Kemper struts through a music-video spoof in a webisode for The Office. Same Kemper? You bet.
The girl who led an undefeated field hockey team as a member of John Burroughs' class of 1998 found her passion not on the playing field but in performing.
Kemper, 29, was hired last season to fill in for a few episodes as the receptionist on The Office. Producers were charmed and in June asked Kemper to become a regular on the NBC comedy. Since September, she's been answering the phone at the Dunder Mifflin paper company and playing an increasingly large role in Office story lines.
Critics are noticing. Variety named her one of its "10 comics to watch." Alan Sepinwall of the Newark Star-Ledger praised the "infectious joy and sweetness" she has brought to the show. Others have called her fresh, adorable and "appealingly goofy."
A bit of that goofiness carries over into real life, too. After publicists failed to connect a planned phone interview, Kemper pulled into a Los Angeles parking lot to call from her car -- only to be interrupted by a man knocking persistently on her window, asking to repair the big dent she got while figuring out LA traffic.
Working on The Office, a show she loved, is "the coolest job on Earth," Kemper says.
She first auditioned when executive producer Greg Daniels was casting a new, then untitled comedy that turned out to be Parks and Recreation. When the opening on The Office came up, she got another call, "and I felt more comfortable going in because I'd met them before."
Originally, Erin was "different from who she is now," Kemper recalls. "The scenes I read for the audition were more Office-esque, more sarcastic and dry. They've tweaked the character a lot, so now she's more of an exaggerated version of myself. It's fun for me to play her, and this is such a cool place to be."
Cast mates, including fellow St. Louisans Jenna Fischer and Phyllis Smith, have made things easy for her, Kemper says.
"We have this little St. Louis clique here, and that's so great. It's nice to be able to talk to people who come from where you do. I acted like such a dork when I came on last spring. I went up to Jenna and I was like, 'I'm from St. Louis, too!'"
As a whole, the cast couldn't have been more welcoming to the new girl, Kemper says.
"These people are all so grounded," she says. "I haven't had a lot of experience, but this cast is just so nice."
Even lead Steve Carell doesn't give a hint that "he's this really big star," she says. "He is honestly the nicest person ever."
Kemper is starring with Mindy Kaling (Kelly) in a four-part NBC.com Web special, "Subtle Sexuality," which finds the two forming a girl group and recording a music video, backed by Ryan (B.J. Novak) and Andy (Ed Helms).
"They're funny, aren't they?" Kemper asks of the webisodes, remarking on her "insane costume" and praising Kaling as "so talented, plus such a normal person."
Kemper's passion for performing started at John Burroughs, where she acted in "every play and musical I could."
She was particularly taken with improvisational comedy, and not just because one of her teachers was Jon Hamm, who was 10 years ahead of her at Burroughs and taught there when she was a freshman.
Hamm, now the star of the Emmy-winning Mad Men, played the lead in Kemper's high school play, Stage Door. Thus she can legitimately say she performed with Jon Hamm, and she can also say he's watched her perform; last spring, when she brought a one-woman show ("Feeling Sad/Mad With Ellie Kemper") to LA from New York, she invited Hamm, and he attended.
"Everyone was all ga-ga over him," she says with a giggle.
After high school, Kemper attended Princeton University, performing with the improv group Quipfire! and the venerable Princeton Triangle Club, a touring musical-comedy troupe. She graduated in 2002 with a degree in English and attended Oxford University for a year.
"I was in an English Studies program, but I knew that wasn't what I wanted to do," she says.
Instead, Kemper headed for New York.
"I knew it was an uncertain path, but I had to try it for a couple of years and see what happened," she says.
Kemper got an agent and supported herself by landing "a lucky string of commercials" while taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and People's Improv. She performed improv, mostly unpaid, and teamed with Scott Eckert, a fellow veteran of Princeton's Quipfire! Group, to write sketch shows.
Writing is as much a passion as performing, and Kemper wrote for the satirical newspaper the Onion and literary humor magazine McSweeney's and appeared in sketches for Late Night With Conan O'Brien and Important Things With Demetri Martin. Back home, her parents, David and Dotty Kemper, "helped me stay afloat that first year, and they were always emotionally supportive," Kemper says.
His daughter's persistence doesn't surprise David Kemper, chairman and CEO of Commerce Bancshares. "She has always been very focused and organized, and she was a very good student," he says.
His daughter's success as a performer is no surprise, either.
"She always had a lot of poise on stage," her father says, recalling how 5-year-old Ellie skipped to the piano at a CASA recital and played for a room full of adults without missing a beat."
Wayne Salomon, head of the theater department at Burroughs, isn't surprised at Kemper's success. He clearly recalls her as far back as ninth grade in a production of Godspell, where she was "awesomely funny" as the Seed in "The Parable of the Seed."
"Ellie has this amazing natural sense of humor," Salomon says. "Actually, the whole family does. Her mother, Dotty, is hilarious."
The second of four Kemper kids, Ellie was born into a family of bankers. The Kemper family founded Commerce Bancshares, based in Kansas City, and Ellie was born there, moving to St. Louis at age 5 when the bank established headquarters here. Her grandmother was Mildred Lane Kemper, whose name is on the art museum opened in 2006 at Washington University; the Kemper family gave $5 million to the project.
Ellie attended the Conway School in Ladue and then Burroughs, where "I was really into everything," especially athletics. At Princeton, where her field hockey team went to the national championship her freshman year, she spent "most of my time on the bench, which turned out to be a lucky break, because I quit and got into performing."
Kemper has been coming home to St. Louis a lot lately, since her older brother John, 34, and his wife, Ashley, had a baby boy, Brennan, in July. Brother Billy, 20, is a junior at Stanford University. Sister Carrie, 25, a comedy writer, lives in Los Angeles and has been an anchor for Ellie in recent months.
"I am liking having a job out here," says Kemper, who moved from New York when The Office called.
If working on The Office is a dream come true, there's one drawback.
"It's the coolest job on Earth, but it's also a job in an office," she points out. "I'm always sitting, and there's so much food around. Craft service feeds you constantly. I've gotten like, hey, why isn't there any mac and cheese?"
And that's bad why?
"I'm worried about getting secretary spread!"