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What Brings Comedians Together? According to 'Hotwives of Orlando' Creators, 'We Want to Feel Like We're Still in That Old Porn Theater'

Photo of Liz Shannon Miller By Liz Shannon Miller | Indiewire August 7, 2014 at 10:11AM

Ever wonder why you seem to see the same comedians working together all the time? The short answer is because they're funny, but the longer answer involves the Upright Citizens Brigade theater.
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Kristen Schaal, Angela Kinsey and Danielle Schneider in "Hotwives of Orlando."
Hulu Kristen Schaal, Angela Kinsey and Danielle Schneider in "Hotwives of Orlando."

Founded in 1999 by Matt Walsh, Matt Besser, Amy Poehler and Ian Roberts, the UCB theater has given birth to a community of comedians who crave collaboration -- which Dannah Phirman and Danielle Schneider took advantage of when creating Hulu's "Hotwives of Orlando," a parody of Bravo's "Real Housewives" franchise. 

"Hotwives" brings together an ensemble including Kristen Schaal, Angela Kinsey, Tymberlee Hill, Casey Wilson, Andrea Savage, Stephen Toblowsky and a number of other familiar faces from the current world of comedy; below, Phirman and Schneider (who are also now writing for "Happy Endings" creator David Caspe's new show, "Marry Me") explain how the series came together and how UCB not only shaped "Hotwives," but shaped their careers. 

So it goes without saying that you're not the first people to take on parodying the genre. How do you go about making sure that your approach is unique to not only your voice but to the comedy ecosystem?
 
Danielle Schneider: What I think made ours a little bit more special was that it's not just some five minute sketch. It's a series. It's seven 22-minute episodes. So we had to take something that is on some level a parody and turn it into real lives. These are people, though they are a little bit bigger, you know? But not much more than what you see on the actual shows. You have to fill them actual relationships and actual emotional arcs and stuff. So I think we had stories.
 
Dannah Phirman: Yeah, we really mapped out the whole season as if it was a real show. We had to write a beginning, middle and end for each character and make sure that everybody was tied up.  
DS: We almost wrote a drama.
 
DP: It's like one of those mini-series, "North & South." We felt like it something like that. So I think that's what makes ours a bit different. I think it also comes from a place of love, not just like, "Ah, let's make fun of these people." 
 
How much of it is scripted versus improvised?
 
DS: We always did a take of what was scripted because we shot it in seven days. Seven episodes in seven days was really fast, but we did do some improvising. We worked with some great improvisers, so everybody got a chance to do that. But everything was scripted. 
 
Seven days for seven episodes is incredible. How did you go about pulling that off?
 
DS: I think we really have to thank on some level our executive producers, Jon Stern and Paul Scheer, because they have worked with tight schedules before, and they just made it work. You know, they'd schedule it out. They are used to working like this.
 
DP: They got a great crew together and then we also had a fantastic director, Alex Fernie, who was so good under pressure and just kept us moving, but kept it light and fun, and really was fantastic.
 
READ MORE: Watch: Casey Wilson and Kristen Schaal Spoof Reality Show 'Housewives' in the Trailer for Hulu's 'The Hotwives of Orlando'

So how did the project come together initially? You mentioned Paul Scheer is one of the producers on it.
 
DS: Jon Stern, who also produced "Childrens Hospital," came up with the idea, and he went to Paul Scheer, and Jon and Paul thought about us because they knew we were fans of ["Housewives"] and that we were a writing team. And we just jumped at the chance because that's like a dream job for us. We knew it would be so fun and that we'd have a blast writing these great big characters. 
  
Then we did a sizzle reel and Paramount showed that to a bunch of places and Hulu just seemed the most excited and let us have the most creative freedom, which is what we were looking for. 
 
Talk to me a little bit about bringing the cast together, because it's a really strong ensemble.
 
DS: Yeah, it's fantastic. We got really lucky. You know, we're friends with most of the ladies. We were able to just ask and say, "Would you do this really fun thing with us?" and we got lucky and they said, "Yes."
 
DP: Yeah, Casey and Tymberlee and Andrea Savage are very good friends of ours and we knew of Kristen and Angela and we're such huge fans of them. And I think, once they read the script, they got excited about it too. Seven women getting to lead a series and be funny and weird and outlandish with the men in the background -- that doesn't happen a lot in TV. So I think, for them, that opportunity to work that closely with a strong female comedic ensemble made everyone want to climb onto the project as well.
 


There's a fascinating interconnection between so many comedy projects right now, where it's "this person appears in this thing and this thing and this thing." I know a lot of it came out of UCB -- you guys are old school UCB folk --
 
DP: Yes, we are. We're 100 years old.
 
At the very beginnings of your UCB career, did you have a sense of how big a community it was going to become?
 
DP: I think when we very first started, we knew that we were working with some amazingly hilarious and talented people, but I don't think we knew what it was going to become, where these people where going to go. I remember doing my first improv scene with Rob Riggle and saying, "That was so fun."
 
DS: Our first improv team was me, Danielle, Donna, Jackie Clarke, who's another writer here at "Marry Me" and was a writer for "Happy Endings," Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel, Rob Riggle, Owen Burke, who's a producer at Funny or Die now, Chad Carter, who works at "The Daily Show" --  that was our first improv team.
  
DP: And none of us were getting paid.
 
DS: Just doing show after show, 9pm, midnight show -- just to have fun and stage time together.
 
DP: I don't think we knew where it was going, but I do think [it came from] the UCB Four -- Matt [Walsh], Matt [Besser], Amy [Poehler] and Ian [Roberts]. You know, work together, depend on each other, come up together, back each other up.
 
DS: Yeah, definitely. That ensemble feeling, like you can't do it alone, I think it's something the UCB Four bred amongst all of us and I think their influence kind of has made the UCB community. That's why every movie and TV show you see now has some actor that came out of the UCB, and probably a few of them. They started that in my life, anyway. We had so much fun working together, coming up together and being poor and doing comedy at 3am in an old porn theater. We want to feel like we're still in that old porn theater.
 
DP: Just a few less dirty condoms lying around.
 
Just a few less. Not all of them.
 
DS: I think one or two, to keep it real.
 
DP: Exactly.
 
In terms of your sense of the community, is it like high school? Are there cliques? Or is it more amorphous?
 
DS: I don't think it's cliquey at all.
 
DP: That's true. It may seem cliquey. I don't know. But I do know we work with the people that we've worked with coming up and there are new people who we're introduced to and we're like, "Ah, that's fantastic. Let's work with her too."
 
DS: Yeah. It doesn't feel cliquey. If I feel you're funny, I want to work with you. That's how it feels like. That's what the clique is -- I think you're really funny. You made me laugh. I want to work with you. 
 
DP: That's a clique.
 
DS: It is, but even if you're not in-- Like Dannah said, there are so many new people I've met over the past five years that I didn't know before, and they were so funny. All I wanted to do was be friends with them and work with them.

"There are funny cool people out there, so why waste your time on someone who's funny and a jerk?" - Dannah Phirman

DP: I think there are different ways about going about comedy and seeing what people find funny, but I think ultimately it's just like, does that person make me laugh? I want to work with them. And that's all I think. It doesn't go deeper for me. 

Oh, and cool. Some people can be really funny, but if they're a dick, I don't want to work with them. To me, you have to be cool to work with too. Because there are funny cool people out there, so why waste your time on someone who's funny and a jerk? 
 
When you've got a show like "Happy Endings," which ran three seasons, what does that do to the community? In terms of, like, "Oh, I can't work with this person now, because they're tied up on this show?"
 
DS: Well, we had that situation on "Hotwives," where people were busy doing shows, so they did the sizzle reel but they couldn't do the series, or we had to grab them for four days and make it work. Still, I think if you still really want to work with someone we all try to make it work. It doesn't necessarily take them out of anything. It's just something we have to deal with.
 
Of the people involved with "Hotwives," what percentage of them came from UCB?
 
DS: I think it's everyone but Joey McIntrye. But our connection to him came through UCB because our good friend Jamie Denbo, who we know from UCB, who's also in "Hotwives," knew Joey from working with him on something else. So it was a UCB connection to Joey McIntryre.
 
DP: It's a lot of UCB.
 
Do you still go to the theater today?
 
DS: Sometimes we go on and perform. We get asked from time to time. But sometimes to get out after eight o'clock at night is exhausting with a full time job and young babies. We sometimes do Friday nights at 10 when we can get ourselves, our old bones, out of the house. But we love that place. It will always be home. It's always the place we go back to, and it's so fun to improvise with old friends and new people. It'll always be in our lives. I can't imagine that not happening.

READ MORE: 'Happy Endings' Creator David Caspe on Why the Show Got Canceled and Why His New One - NBC's 'Marry Me' - Won't
 
You're writing on "Marry Me" now -- what was the process of getting onto that staff?  Were you were hanging out on the set with Casey Wilson and she said, "Oh hey, you want to write for the show?"
  
DS: Not quite, but I think it does come through, again, UCB. We were friends with Casey and Casey had brought me in on "Happy Endings" and so we ended up knowing David Caspe.
 
DP: We actually went in for writing on "Happy Endings" right before, you know, it didn't get picked up again.
 
DS: We've written movies and we've written TV, so I think it was both our writing sample and our writing careers.
 
DP: The perfect storm.
 
DS. And our relationships. All three of those things I think contributed.
 
Is it ever tough to balance the business aspects -- the fact that sometimes people you consider friends have to say no to you? 

DS: No, I mean, because you've been on both sides of that -- we've had to tell people no and also had no said to us. You have more of an understanding of it, but you have to kind of separate it in your mind and not take it personally. I think we can put it into perspective because we've been on both sides.
 
For "Marry Me," a lot of the writing staff is UCB – how does that affect the writers' room? What is the actual process of brainstorming and pitching jokes like?
 
DS: I mean everyone is throwing out ideas, throwing out jokes. I think -- even if they're not a performer, everybody here has a spirit of working together and that kind of collaborative feeling. So it's performing, but it--
 
DS: But it still feels likes a group mind, like one person having an idea, another person balancing on that idea, and after that building it together. So in that way it is kind of improv. Except that we write it all down.  

This article is related to: Marry Me, Marry Me, UCB, Television