If you’re wondering what the future of women in comedy might look like, consider Caitlin Barlow’s armpits. “We’re painting my armpit hair on for this episode,” she said to IndieWire. “I grew it out for a week, but it wasn’t dark enough.”
That’s just one example of the sort of creative choice made regularly in the course of making “Teachers,” the bold, profane and hilarious comedy created by sketch comedy group the Katydids and executive produced by Ian Roberts and Jay Martel (“Key and Peele”). Having just wrapped the first half of its second season, the TV Land series features Katydids members Barlow, Katy Colloton, Cate Freedman, Kate Lambert, Katie O’Brien and Kathryn Renee Thomas as an eclectic group of educators who work at an elementary school, doing their best not to warp young minds with their outrageous behavior.
While I did my best in transcribing these interviews, I still want to offer a preemptive apology to the women of the Katydids if any of the quotes below are attributed to the wrong Caitlin/Katy/Cate/Kate/Katie/Kathryn. Though right from the beginning, they acknowledged that it happens. “We’re totally used to it,” Thomas said.
“Your Type Is Just Weird”
This makes sense, given that the group’s origin story is rooted in the variants of their common first name. The six women first began improv-ing together in Chicago after they had the idea to band together as Katie-s. Years later, the team has moved out to Los Angeles, and when IndieWire visited the “Teachers” set midway through production of the second season, they’d become a concrete comedy unit determined to create their own roles — because no one else would do it for them.
The entire genesis of the series — the Katydids in general — is that all six women at one point thought they were too unconventional a type to get offered any parts, or the parts they were being offered were boring. Seriously, all of them.
Barlow: “They said we love you — your type is just weird, and we don’t know what to do with you. And when you hear that when you’re 20, it’s like… thanks?”
Thomas: “I never thought I’d be on camera doing what I do. I shied away from acting because, I thought, I’m not that pretty.”
Lambert: “I was never told what type I was, but I did find that sometimes I felt like I wasn’t necessarily going out for roles that I thought I could play really well.”
Colloton: “I had an agent basically tell me I could play the best friend or the mom, but I wasn’t going to go out for any character roles. And I was like, ‘That’s really cool — because all I want to be is a character actress.'”
O’Brien: “I could never book anything. I would audition all the time — it could have been because I was bad, there’s definitely that possibility. But I had a really hard time because what I would get a lot is, ‘Oh you’re pretty, but you’re funny, so I don’t know what to do with you.'”
Freedman even experienced a meeting that seems so cliche, it literally echoed a decade-old joke from “30 Rock.” “It was 2012, and my first agent had just passed away. It was a real bummer, and a few months later I realized I had to meet some other people. My boss at Second City set me up with this meeting with this agency that my comedian friends worked with,” she said. “They seemed excited to meet me, so I dressed up in my best H&M dress and I sat down with a man and a woman and we had a great conversation.”
Then… “At a certain point in the conversation I could tell that they, the woman especially, were just staring at my body. And at the end of the meeting it came to the point where we needed to reach a conclusion, and they said to me, you either need to lose 10 pounds or gain 20 because the ‘in-between shit I was doing’ meant I would never work.”
Freedman left the meeting and “just cried and cried,” but eventually decided that their opinions weren’t more valuable than her own. And after brushing herself off and finding some far superior representation, the story took the best turn possible. “Those two agents who said ‘you had better change or you’re never going to work’ — six months later they saw me in a show and they called me up. I didn’t answer, of course, but one of them left me a voicemail that was like ‘Heyyyy Cate, we saw you in this show and we would like to talk to you. We were not aware you were talented.’ This motherfucker actually said that.”
Freedman smiled with triumph. “It couldn’t have gone better for me.”
“The Science Behind a Queef”
Within the group, there’s a bravery and boldness that’s worth acknowledging. This is because while the six leads are all white women, they represent an incredible diversity of character and performance style, something deliberately honed when “Teachers” moved from being a web series to television.
For many of them, this is the longest they’ve ever spent playing the same character,but fortunately those characters are rooted in something deeply personal for each of them.
“No one knows what you’re capable of better than yourself, and so we tried to write for ourselves for each other’s strengths,” Lambert said.
“We picked a not-so-positive flaw that each of us had within ourselves and used that as a seed for our character,” Friedman added. “That made sure that each of us was very very distinct, and with that exercise the dialogue became much more character specific and the storylines became much more specific.”
And in that specificity audiences have found the emergence of a sort of comedy that is not just raunchy, but raunchy in a way very specific to women. “In Hollywood the vast majority of writer’s rooms are male and our room is very female, and in most schools the teachers are mostly female,” Thomas said. “So I think that we are able to capture that voice and capture that experience.”
The fact that they’re playing teachers doesn’t mean they need to sanitize any of their jokes — in fact, quite the opposite is true. For example, the second half of Season 2 (airing this fall), will include a “serial pooper” plotline that is based on real stories from real teachers: “Any teacher can tell you at their school there’s a serial pooper a kid who poops in random places and no one knows who it is,” Barlow said. “Every school I’ve ever worked at has had a serial pooper, so we fought for like two and a half years to get the serial pooper plot on.”
The catch is working with Roberts and Martel, two straight white men who have required some education on certain matters. “Sometimes that’s meant having to explain to them what a Diva Cup is,” Freedman said, “And talking about the science behind a queef and the noise of the queef and what’s the difference? Having roundtable discussions about what that is.”
“Poor Jay and Ian. I feel so bad every time we put something disgusting and horrific in a script,” O’Brien noted.
Both men are fathers of daughters, but the daughters are still young enough to have spared them these conversations to date. “So we happily and pridefully took on that role,” Freedman laughed.
Central to it all is the fact that they’re not afraid of looking ugly on camera. “I love a good pair of glasses and I would love to wear braces,” O’Brien said with gusto. “Give me braces, give me crutches — that is my dream role.”
And Barlow looks forward to showing off her new and improved armpits. “I think maybe 10 years ago I would have been really insecure about that, or thought that other people would be weirded out by that. But I think that now, with Amy Schumer and the ‘Broad City’ girls and Tina Fey and Amy Poehler paving the way before us, it’s becoming more okay to be ugly and gross.
“Which women are,” she added. “We’re just as gross and ugly as men. We fart too. We’re real.”
“Teachers” is streaming now on TVland.com. The second half of Season 2 will premiere this fall. Check out a clip from the musical finale below.