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Michael Showalter Discusses His New Comedy Central Show & More

July 29th, 2009 10:37am EDT
Michael ShowalterOne half of the issue burdened Michaels from "Michael and Michael Have Issues," Michael Showalter, joined us to discuss his and Michael Ian Black's new show on Comedy Central (Wednesdays at 10:30 pm ET). Michael also talks about his time at "The State," what the status is with that "Wet Hot American Summer" sequel and breaks down his recent appearance on "Late Show with David Letterman."

Mike: I'm kind of happy this interview was delayed a few days because now I've seen the second episode...

Michael Showalter: Oh, good.

Mike: I really liked the first one but I think I liked the second one better; the show just kinds of grows on you the more you watch it.



Michael Showalter: I hope that's true. I really hope that's true. I think they keep getting better, actually, too. I think episode three is better than two and so on and so forth.

Mike: Obviously you and Michael Ian Black have known each other for quite some time so the chemistry was there from the first episode.

Michael Showalter: Yeah.

Mike: People that may not be familiar with "The State" or familiar with the previous work, the longer the show continues the more they will get what's going on.

Michael Showalter: As long as they keep watching; that's the key. People have a habit of making snap decisions. It's that and it's also a different kind of show for Comedy Central. It's a single camera, narrative show. Sarah Silverman is kind of like that but Sarah's is a much more absurd reality than our show. I think we agree, it's going to take a little while for people to kind of get used to it and learn the characters and the sensibility and all that stuff.

Mike: I've always been intrigued by just the process of comedy sketch writing ... It was fascinating for me to watch "Saturday Night Live" from the writers' room and watching what the writers would laugh at as opposed to the audience -- almost like on certain jokes there's a funny story about how that was written. Do you think that sometimes the funniest moments are at the writers' table?

Michael Showalter: Gee. Mike and I haven't done sketches in so long that we're almost relearning it. So, the sketch part of the show is still very much a work in progress because it's been over ten years since we were writing sketches with any regularity. I think, for us, it may have actually been the opposite. That the sketches may have gone a little bit better in the shooting of them (laughs). When we were doing "The State," all we did all day long was write sketches. With this, it's not as much like that because there's all the narrative stuff and that's really where most of our energy is going in to. So, figuring out that balance is something we'll have to work on.

Left: Michael Ian Black Right: Michael Showalter © Comedy Central



Mike: I almost kind of meant it more as drawing off your memories from "The State." When you guys were in a groove, did funny things happen and you say, "we're putting this in because we think it's hilarious but we don't know how it will play."

Michael Showalter: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely, yes. Definitely. And that's, I think, where you want to get to. Where you're at a comfort level of trusting that what you find funny is what the audience will find funny. And you do start getting to a place where the jokes that you're doing in the sketches are just whatever crazy idea you have that you guys thought was really funny in the room. But at "The State," that's where things really started to go in the third and fourth season. It was just us being silly with each other and making sketches out of it.

Mike: On "Michael and Michael Have Issues," you see them so rarely, is that a real studio audience? Are they just brought in for the sketches part of the show?



Michael Showalter: Yes. That's a real studio audience.

Mike: Do you show them the footage from [the narrative]...

Michael Showalter: No. They don't know that there's a storyline. If we make another season, they will.

Mike: Oh, that's interesting.

Michael Showalter: Those audiences didn't really know what they were looking at and they saw only sketches. They saw the sketches we were shooting live; a lot of which were those "Michael and Michael" segments sitting in the chairs. And then we would shoot maybe one or two live sketches with the costumes and then role in on camera some of the other sketches we'd been shooting on location. But, they didn't know anything about the behind the scenes stuff. A lot of the sketches we shot live, got cut. The majority of the things we did that got cut were the live sketches. They didn't come out right, somehow. Like I say, it's a work in progress. They were funny but they clashed a little bit with the rest of the show.

Mike: So if you're in the studio audience, all you know is that you're coming in for this new sketch comedy show?

Michael Showalter: Kind of. They kind of know it's more than that but they're not really sure what.

Mike: I do love the fact it incorporates sketch comedy. If you look back, "The State" had a nice run, but why do you feel, other than "SNL," it's hard to get sketch comedy on the air? I like that "Michael and Michael Have Issues" is doing it in a unique way with the story, then a sketch, then more story.

Michael Showalter: Gosh, I don't know. I really don't know. I'm not sure, I wish I had an answer. It's a good question. I have no idea. What do you think?

Mike: I don't know either. I've been trying to figure it out because everyone I know loves sketch comedy.

Michael Showalter: I really don't know. I really don't. That's a really good question.

Mike: So [July 14] I saw you on David Letterman. What's it like going on Letterman? I've heard stories it can be pretty nerve-wracking.

Michael Showalter: It's as terrified as I've ever been to do anything in my life. I idolize David Letterman and he's an icon to me. I've watched the show thousands of times. I was terrified




Mike: You didn't come across terrified at all. Very impressive.

Michael Showalter: I ended up taking the attitude that what I think I could have done that would have made it bad is if you get caught up in -- and I've watched the show enough to see it when you watch people on the show -- feeling impressed with that I was on Letterman. Meaning: I must be a really big deal or something if I'm on David Letterman. Because then you start putting pressure on yourself like, "This is my big chance. I have to be amazing on Letterman or my career is over," or something like that. And I just tried to think of it more along the lines of I was there to promote my television show and just try to be a good guest. And to also realize he's a human being -- he's also an icon but he's a human being -- and to just try and go there and be myself and it ended up going great. He was really nice to me and I had heard he was intimidating, as well, but I found him to be very nice.

Mike: And you don't get to meet him before the show, right?

Michael Showalter: No, no, no. When you go out there, that's when you meet him. It was totally surreal. It's like walking into your TV set and all of a sudden you're there.

Mike: Right. I've been to Letterman before in the audience and even from that perspective it felt like you're inside your TV.

Michael Showalter: It's very surreal but I'm really happy with the way it went and he was nice.

Mike: The cat story was hilarious. Do you spend time practicing that?

Michael Showalter: I definitely told the story a few times at a few small comedy shows just to see if it was funny or not. But I was not in there scripted or rehearsed. It's a true story so I just told the story as it really occurred. I really just tried to be myself; I really tried to go in there and not be too prepared.

Mike: I have a few questions from readers on Twitter, is that OK?

Michael Showalter: Of course.

Mike: (From Ryan in Arlington, VA) How did you come up with "Wet Hot American Summer" and how much was improvised?

Michael Showalter: None of it was improvised, really. We came up with it because David [Wain] and I both had formative summer camp experiences and sort of just -- we wanted to write a movie together -- started writing down what we thought would be funny characters in scenes based on that and it just kind of grew out of that.

Mike: (From Katie in New York City) Wasn't there a mention of a sequel to "Wet Hot American Summer"? What happened to that?

Michael Showalter: David and I just haven't had a chance to connect and talk about it. But I definitely think it's something we would be interested in doing one day.

Mike: (Dave from Hoboken) says he has seen you out playing poker before. How much do you enjoy poker and how good are you at it?

Michael Showalter: I love playing poker. And I play very aggressively and I'm a very loose player, they call it. And I'm pretty good. I think I'm a pretty good poker player. I'm a big risk, high return guy.

Mike Ryan
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
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