When Chris Elliott came to L.A. to promote the second season of his Adult Swim show “Eagleheart,” we got a private audience with him. The show’s producers – Andrew Weinberg, Michael Komen and Jason Woliner – joined him.
The producers spoke about upcoming guest stars and jokes that were just too weird even for “Eagleheart.” Elliott talked about “Get a Life” and the state of TV comedy. Season Two of “Eagleheart” premieres tonight, April 12 on Adult Swim.
CraveOnline: What is coming up on season two of “Eagleheart?”
Andrew Weinberg: It’s a lot crazier than season one. I think we took that as a jumping off point, the kinds of stories and episodes we were doing last year and kind of went even further with them this year.
Jason Woliner: Yeah, I think we just got better at doing the show and writing for Chris and the two other main characters. It’s more of an ensemble show and the stories take weirder turns and are kind of more dense with the jokes and stupid ideas. They’re way better. The first season was terrible.
Chris Elliott: We weren’t sure what we were doing with the first season for the first few episodes. We were trying out different stuff and it sort of defined itself in the last six episodes. Then we knew what we were doing at that point.
CraveOnline: Were “Creeps” or “Sky Crime” before you found your way?
Jason Woliner: Definitely.
Andrew Weinberg: Those are very simple stories.
Jason Woliner: Those are much more straight ahead than the newer ones which I think take kind of more surprising turns and have a little more going on.
Michael Komen: I think we figured out how to tell a more epic kind of story with a bigger scope to it.
Jason Woliner: This year it’s just more violent and action packed and crazy.
Andrew Weinberg: Last year we were trying to figure out what the show on the whole was and specifically what each episode was.
Chris Elliott: And who I was. Specifically how I was going to play it or how I should play it or if I needed to be on the show at all. You are slowly writing me out.
Michael Komen: As per his contract.
Chris Elliott: Yeah, I’m still going to get paid. Just watch next year.
Michael Komen: Next year it’s going to be Season Three: The Phase Out.
CraveOnline: Chris, what does it mean for your humor to get crazier?
Chris Elliott: That’s a good question. These guys were fans of mine right from the start so they did have my voice down right from the start. In terms of getting crazier, they’re crazier I think than I am. In my day, I took what I did to a certain level but these guys, there are certain scripts that I get and stories that I hear them talking about where I know I could never think of that. For me it’s like handing it over to the next generation really.
Jason Woliner: But it’s not like a bunch of smarty pants whatever, is it? We just try to think of ideas that make us laugh. Luckily Adult Swim lets us use their money to shoot them and put them on TV.
Andrew Weinberg: It’s almost universally described as a dumb humor.
Michael Komen: People do compare it to shows like “Get a Life” so if anything, if we grew up watching certain kinds of comedy, we’re making it more violent but we’re just trying to [emulate it.]
Chris Elliott: If “Get a Life” may have influenced to a degree some of the humor in it, it’s evolved into its own type of humor. And I think what I’m playing has evolved. I don't think I’m playing the same guy from “Get a Life.” I’m playing maybe that guy grown up, a little more surly, who sort of needs a drink between takes.
CraveOnline: And frighteningly, with some authority.
Chris Elliott: Well, yeah, a little bit of authority he likes to throw around. That’s really me. That’s more me.
CraveOnline: What is the difference between doing a show like “Eagleheart” in 15 minute blocks on Adult Swim and doing “Get a Life” and trying to get it through the network system for two years?
Chris Elliott: Well, “Get a Life” was plagued by the network wanting it to be more real for one thing. That was something we had to fight constantly was “a moment.” They wanted real moments between me and my parents even though we had scenes where my parents in the morning over breakfast were cleaning their guns. They wanted that moment to be real with me coming down and eating cereal with them. I don't think they ever really understood that it’s never going to be that. With “Eagleheart,” there’s never been any discussion of that from Adult Swim. It’s always been, “Oh yeah, we get this.”
Andrew Weinberg: It’s almost the exact opposite. Nothing’s ever too crazy for them. They always want things to be weird and out there.
Jason Woliner: If it’s weird in the right way they like it. There are some ideas that we wanted to do that they weren’t on board with.
CraveOnline: What was too crazy for Ault Swim?
Jason Woliner: We wanted to do an episode where Chris was on the road and he was hit by a truck, and he just rode the grill of the truck to this other city. And he kept getting hit by trucks and every time he would land he would be stupider, so it was almost like a Memento thing where he would try to remember what case he was on and keep getting details more and more wrong.
Michael Komen: But also because he didn’t know who he was, he got taken for a Woody Guthrie berry picking folk hero so it’s like Bound for Glory where he’s going from town to town on the grills of 18 wheelers.
Jason Woliner: And there’s this evil berry picking company that was employing these stranglers to put down their workers. It just got really dumb and they weren’t into that idea. There’s been a few ideas.
Michael Komen: There was one where the entire episode was based on a PBS “Miss Marple” mystery that they thought might not connect with our fans.
Jason Woliner: Basically the marshals were on the case investigating the kidnapping of a rich young woman. He’s at her father’s house and basically stopped caring about the case and just started imagining what his life would be if he was really rich like these people. And then in his imaginary world there was a different mystery in his head and he just became obsessed with that and stopped caring about solving this kidnapping.
And that was originally a lot of our idea for this show would be Chris loses interest in fighting crime very early on in the episode and it just becomes about something else, which some of the episodes are still like that.
CraveOnline: When you see network shows like “Community” and “30 Rock,” they’re still struggling but they’ve been on for years and can be a little out there. Does that show how far network’s come in 20 years?
Chris Elliott: Well, definitely. Those shows, when I was doing “Get a Life,” they would have had the same problems that we had with “Get a Life” back then. But at the same time, our show is way weirder. There’s no way we could do our show on NBC or anywhere else right now. So it hasn’t come that far.
Michael Komen: I think for people like us it’s a very lucky time to make comedy shows just because cable channels don’t need that big an audience. You don’t need to make “Cheers” to make a TV show. So as long as there’s a certain number of people who’d be into it, it’s worth making stuff like this.
CraveOnline: Is the 15 minute time block well suited to your humor?
Jason Woliner: We love it because we like to write the show where it just moves very fast and the momentum is a lot of what’s so fun about watching it. I feel like if it kept this pace at 30 minutes, it might just be exhausting.
Chris Elliott: We’d definitely have to slow down to do a 30 minute show.
Andrew Weinberg: Sometimes it feels maybe a little too dense. We’ll show an episode to someone, I’ll find myself watching them watch it because if they blink or clear their throat, “No, you’re missing something and now we have to start over.”
Jason Woliner: Because the point is not to just do as much as possible. We also do want to tell these stories and have them make sense and have there be very clear laughs and not just assault people. It is finding the balance between it being dense, a lot going on but not just pushing people over.
Andrew Weinberg: But sometimes we do have to cut whole scenes because there’s just no time, but to fit what we’ve written into the timeslot it has to move so fast.
Michael Komen: And in a good way I think since it’s 15 minutes, it kind of influences the ideas that you have in a good way. It would be fun to do all of this in a short amount of time where if you spread it out over half an hour, it might seem like something you’ve seen before.
Jason Woliner: It is fun for us to do these kind of epic stories that try to move you at the end but that are over, and it’s not 15. It’s actually 11 minutes and 15 seconds.
CraveOnline: Right, but the shorter network slot.
Jason Woliner: We try to make sure the commercials are really fun to watch.
CraveOnline: What is Conan O’Brien going to be playing?
Andrew Weinberg: He basically plays himself who was a producer. In the episode, Chris Monsanto was cast as a Texas Ranger in a fictional show and Conan was the executive producer of that fake show.
Jason Woliner: He basically ended his career by producing that terrible show.
Andrew Weinberg: It was this huge flop and Conan’s very angry about it.
CraveOnline: So also a stretch for you the insinuation that you would have been attached to a show that did not do well.
Chris Elliott: Yeah, that’s never happened in my career at all. Yeah, I guess a little bit of a stretch.
CraveOnline: Was it always part of Conan’s deal that he would appear on an episode or something he wanted to do after the first season?
Andrew Weinberg: We had to try to find time or something worthwhile.
Jason Woliner: We wanted to find the right thing because he is such a presence that he can’t just play a random character. You’re always going to be aware that it’s Conan so we wanted to make sure it was the right thing for him to be doing.
Michael Komen: Like something he could shoot in 10 minutes before he got in his car after the show.
CraveOnline: What other guest stars are you going to have?
Andrew Weinberg: Ben Stiller’s in an episode. Bud Cort from Harold and Maude.
Jason Woliner: Dean Norris from “Breaking Bad.”
Michael Komen: Joanna Kearns.
CraveOnline: Is that true?
Michael Komen: Yeah, yeah. She was great. We were lucky she did it.
Jason Woliner: But also we try not to have too many recognizable guest stars on it. We try to do it very rarely because we kind of like the show to be its own little world. A lot of comedy shows now you see the same people piled in on each other’s shows. They’re all really funny and they’re all friends of ours but we thought it would be a little more fun to kind of keep this world as its own thing and not just have a parade of cameos.
CraveOnline: Is it a chance for stars like that to come on and do something totally different than they do anywhere else?
Michael Komen: Like Dean Norris I felt like I had not seen him do anything like that. He’s such a good actor. I really only picture him as the guy he plays on “Breaking Bad.” I thought he was pretty fantastic.
Andrew Weinberg: They certainly don’t do it for the money.
Michael Komen: They all really wanted to do it. It was nice.
Jason Woliner: And it might not be super fun for someone because you’re generally playing straight on our show. Chris and Brett and Maria are very funny characters and everyone else who comes in has to take the material very seriously because there’s not a lot of goofiness of the supporting cast. We take the world of it very seriously.
Michael Komen: When we were working on “Conan” asking serious actors to be in sketches sometimes and they get really mad if it wasn’t goofy.
CraveOnline: Is there a rule in comedy that whatever character the comedian plays has to have the same first name?
Chris Elliott: There’s a rule in my comedy, my world. I’m more comfortable playing a character named Chris. I feel like I’m not as good an actor unless I can play a guy named Chris. I always have. I think I’ve just about always played somebody named Chris.
Jason Woliner: And Brett would just get distracted if people wouldn’t say his name.
CraveOnline: If there had been 11 minute shows or online shows when you were starting your comedy career, would you have tried different things or even tried “Get a Life” online or in shorter blocks?
Chris Elliott: I probably would’ve tried to do “Get a Life” online. I was sort of doing this kind of thing on “Letterman” to a degree. I used to do seven and eight minute bits there and film and tape pieces there that were not that much shorter than this so for me it was really comfortable to do a 15 minute, 13 minute or 11 minute show. It seemed like that’s where I’m the most comfortable, doing this quick stuff. And actually, “Get a Life” probably would’ve worked in that format too. Certainly we could have truncated some of those stories that “Get a Life” had and done it in 15 minutes.
Michael Komen: But Bob and Ray did a 15 minute TV show in New York, didn’t they?
Chris Elliott: Yeah, well it started as a half an hour and then Kukla, Fran and Ollie took the other 15 minutes so they made a 15 minute show. Yeah, other shows used to do that.
CraveOnline: Did it help you as a developing comedian to have to forge a career in the format that was in place 20 years ago?
Chris Elliott: Well, I think when I left “Dave” to do “Get a Life” or whatever it was that I was going to do after “Get a Life,” it was going to be a longer version of the kind of stuff that I was doing on “Late Night.” I couldn’t leave “Dave” and then go just into a regular sitcom because my audience was already growing and was already expecting me to be odd and do something odd. So the whole concept behind “Get a Life” was if I was on a regular sitcom, I would’ve been the goofy neighbor next door but “Get a Life” was like taking that character and making him the center of the show. On any other network show, like the “Newhart” show, I’d be the guy coming in in overalls. On “Get a Life” we actually went home and saw where that guy lived.
CraveOnline: Do you have more “How I Met Your Mother”s to do?
Chris Elliott: Not this season. I’m hearing next season they have some storylines with me so I’ll be doing some more of those.
CraveOnline: Talking about more epic things you get to do on “Eagleheart,” do you get to go to more places and locations?
Chris Elliott: That’s season three.
Andrew Weinberg: Actually shot on location? No, we still stay around here.
Jason Woliner: There’s definitely more in the woods this season. There’s actually a handful of episodes that take place either in wooded areas or islands and stories about people leaving the world of man. It gets a little more primal at points.
Michael Komen: We shot one scene in New York and if people can spot it they’re welcome to write in.
Chris Elliott: How are they going to spot that if it’s supposed to match a set in L.A.?
CraveOnline: Is it an exterior?
Michael Komen: It’s the other side of a room. We had to shoot one half of a room in New York and the other half in L.A. Movie magic.
CraveOnline: Will we ever get a “Get a Life” complete first and second season DVD set?
Chris Elliott: It’s going to be happening.
CraveOnline: Really? With all the music or substituted?
Chris Elliott: I think with the music. I think Shout Factory’s going to do it.