Moderator and “Grantland” writer Andy Greenwald tried to wrangle a troupe of Comedy Central’s funniest people into having a semiserious conversation at PaleyFest, to almost no end. With nonstop improv and banter on steroids, it was an afternoon soundtracked with laughter.
The energy in the room was infectious as Comedy Central stars Abbi Jacobson (“Broad City”), Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (“Key and Peele”), Nick Kroll (“Kroll Show”), Andy Daly (“Review”) and “Workaholics” stars Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, Anders Holm and Kyle Newacheck took the stage to discuss the creative process, and how far the network has let them go.
From what the stars said, it seems anything goes at Comedy Central. Well, almost anything.
On what made the network squeamish, the “Workaholics” guys said an episode about creating an unburnable American flag (which would have required burning dozens of flags on screen) was rejected from Season 1, but made it through cleanly for Season 3.
And Kroll pitched a sketch called “Cake Train” for his show’s pilot, which involved Zach Galifiankais as a baker throwing cakes from the back of a train, into the mouths of people running behind it. While the sketch appeared in Season 2, it was tabled for the series’ premiere.
“We were told it would be the most expensive thing to do on the show,” Kroll said. “It doesn’t make sense with the rest of my show at all, but they let us do it by not having very stern oversight.”
The network does give some script notes, though. Daly remembered receiving a note that read, “Hey, maybe we don’t go back to pancakes,” after dedicating two “Review” sketches to eating increasing numbers of the breakfast favorite.
Jacobson cited a scene from “The Matrix” episode where co-star Ilana Glazer has a sexual encounter with a tree, which the network didn’t see ahead of time because it didn’t make it into the script.
“At the show, when we write it, we really want it to deal with important issues,” joked Jacobson. The network sent Jacobson a note asking what the scene’s purpose was, but didn’t ask for changes.
Meanwhile, both Key and Peele praised the network’s love of improv and respect for its talents’ unique points of view.
“As the show grew, we let it breathe and we improvised more, so sketches would go right off to the side in the middle of the script,” Peele said on the press line. “It makes it creative and fun for us and the editors. They’ll go: what the hell is this? The product you see is something we came to in an organic way.”
So how do these goofballs get any work done? By working with people they like. Everyone admitted to some form of nepotism — that is, hiring their friends. While Kroll said that “comedy is about chemistry,” Jacobsen said that she and Glazer purposely sought out their friends from Upright Citizens Brigade not only because they’re “fucking geniuses” but also because they know and understand her and Glazer so well, which gives their show authenticity.
DeVine, Anderson and Newacheck all lived in the house where they filmed the first season of “Workaholics,” in which they stayed for three years to capitalize on free rent — and because they were convinced they were getting canceled.
The heaviest moment of the panel came when Kroll discussed the end of his show, which is in its final season, saying in the Q&A that he felt it had reached “a natural conclusion.”
But he panel ended with Greewald asking each panelist to list their comedy heroes: Daniel Stern (Newacheck), Chris Farley (DeVine), Jim Carrey (Anderson), Rick Moranis (Holm), Gilda Radner (Jacobson), Peter Sellers (Key), Phil Hartman and Mark Lawrence (Peele), and Martin Short and Charles Grodin (Daly).
“President Obama, because his presidency has been a joke,” Kroll laughed — before naming Mel Brooks.