We were in a large conference room at the Beverly Hilton, which IFC had taken over for interviews at the Television Critics Association press tour, and Armisen and Hader had stopped by to say hello to Gould in between interviews for their own series “Documentary Now!”
In the space of less than two minutes, Armisen told Gould, “I still quote some of your stand-up,” and Hader and Gould riffed with each other on an impression of a San Francisco comedy club owner. Meanwhile, I just sat there, enjoying the opportunity to witness further proof that the vast majority of today’s greatest working comedians know each other and like each other. Gould, especially, is one of those guys in the comedy world who knows people and whom people like — an inescapable consequence of decades working as a stand-up comedian. But it also has been instrumental in helping the stand-up and “Simpsons” writer create his first television series, the horror/comedy hybrid “Stan Against Evil.”
“Stan” features “Scrubs” favorite John C. McGinley as a cantankerous former sheriff who has to help his small town’s new constable (Janet Varney) fight off a legion of undead evil witches. The horror aspects are legit — Gould wants real scares — but the blueprint, he’s quick to say, is John Landis’s “An American Werewolf in London.”
“It’s really funny. Nothing in that movie that makes you laugh is something that could not happen in real life,” Gould said. “That’s why it works. [With ‘Stan”‘], the horror elements of it are straight as a heart attack. The people in it are funny in the way that funny people are funny in life.”
An avowed pop culture aficionado, especially when it comes to horror and sci-fi, Gould (who also plays a small role on the show) said that the opportunity to create the mythology of “Stan” from scratch was “too much fun. I get to go to a creature shop in the valley and develop creatures and monsters and we blew stuff up with an air cannon. It’s like I’m making a horror movie, but it gets to be funny because I can’t not make something funny.”
And it’s an opportunity he not only refuses to take for granted, but refuses to believe will ever repeat itself. “This will never happen again,” he said. “I’m very grateful and I’m enjoying it.”
To help bring “Stan” to life, there’s another guy Gould knows: Greg Nicotero, the now-legendary mastermind behind the zombie effects of “The Walking Dead,” is one of his closest friends and was an early consultant on “Stan.”
In fact, originally, Nicotero’s KNB EFX Group was going to handle creating the special effects for “Stan,” but according to Gould they were too busy to take on the project. But it was Nicotero who recommended Jason Collins at Autonomous FX: “It was like, ‘look, we can’t do this but this guy’s great,'” Gould said. KNB EFX was able to contribute an animatronic goat to a battle sequence at the end of Episode 2.
Getting to play in the horror sandbox has special meaning for him as a member of that community. “The people that are into this are really into it. It’s like a secret handshake kind of thing,” he said.
To explain what that meant, Gould brought up Hader as an example: “Bill is as into horror movies as I am, and there’s this guy in L.A. named Bob Burns, who has a house full of horror movie props going back to the ’20s. He has the cane that Claude Raines used to beat Lon Chaney, Jr. to death with in ‘The Wolfman.’ He has it in his house.”
Continued Gould, “We were talking and Bill Hader goes, ‘Oh have you ever heard of this guy Bob Burns?’… Then I get to take Bill over to Bob’s house. If you know that stuff, it’s like ‘Oh, you know Bob Burns? I know Bob Burns.’ Oh, okay, we’re a member of the same club.”
Listening to Gould tell some of these stories was Janet Varney, who happened to be sitting near us in the aforementioned conference room… which I confess I didn’t notice until I asked Gould about casting her. Here’s how that moment played out:
IndieWire: I was really excited to see Janet Varney in the cast–
Varney: Yeah, Janet Varney! She’s so great.
Gould: Well, I’m very connected to the trans community.
Varney laughed at the joke. Varney’s a well-established presence in the comedy world, known for co-founding SF Sketchfest and great on-screen appearances, including a notable recurring role on FXX’s “You’re The Worst.” And Gould freely confessed that he wrote the role directly for her: “Janet’s an old friend of mine. I’m as big a fan of hers as I am a buddy. I never imagined anyone else in the role from the minute I turned on the computer.”
Varney also inspires Gould in a different way — upcoming projects for him may include more animation, and Varney’s voice work on Nickelodeon’s “The Legend of Korra” has him rethinking how comedy and cartoons might work together. “Having worked on ‘The Simpsons,’ what I’m trying to do is bring comedy more towards the genre of animation that Janet does. Like, I look at the animation of ‘Korra’ and I want to do that as a comedy. I want it to be beautiful.”
Meanwhile, Gould would like there to be “seven, 25 seasons” of “Stan Against Evil.” “I don’t think I will ever again have the opportunity to put on camera something that is such a direct shot from what I saw, and what I wanted to do in my heart to what I saw in my head, to what I get to show people,” he said.
And those people are, for Gould, the people from the horror community he loves: “We love all the same things, and we have the same level of reverence for them.”
When you talk to Gould, that community feels like a very real thing, indeed.
“Stan Against Evil” airs Wednesdays at 10pm on IFC.