In Idiotsitter, Charlotte Newhouse plays a woman tasked with making sure a house-arrested rich adult-child, played by Jillian Bell, doesn’t get into trouble; while as writing partners, Newhouse and Bell are prone to egg each other on. It’s a relationship that is on full display in the writing of their frequently ridiculous show wrapping up its first season on Comedy Central tonight. The dynamic was honed at the Groundlings, L.A.’s famed improv and sketch theater where they first started working together. This is why Vulture asked comedian/Oscar winner Jim Rash, who himself is in a Groundlings-born writing partnership (with Nat Faxon), to interview Newhouse and Bell. The three talk partnerships, writing processes, and karate companies.
Jim Rash: Are we all here?
Charlotte Newhouse: Is Jillian here?
J.R.: No, not yet. I think she’s doing “fashionably late” to the conference call.
C.N.: That’s guff right there. What are you doing, right now?
J.R.: I’m at our office in Santa Monica, our little shabby rinky-dink office.
C.N.: Oh, you guys have an office? That’s so cool.
J.R.: We’ve had it forever. It’s like literally at the Santa Monica Airport above this restaurant. You’ve wrapped, right? Or are you still shooting?
C.N.: No, we wrapped last May.
J.R.: Oh good lord.
C.N.: Originally, they were going to air it in July, so we were going to have this crazy turnaround and then they switched it so that Another Period had the summer airing and we had the winter airing. We had this huge waiting period when we were done. Like Michaela [Watkins] started shooting Casual and her first day was our last day of shooting and now she’s already in her second season and we’re just airing our first season. It’s so weird.
J.R.: That is weird! Where is this girl?
C.N.: I think if she doesn’t come on in the next five minutes, we hang up and we don’t talk to her for a month! And that’s going to be hard because she’s my writing partner.
J.R.: I’m so onboard. Nat [Faxon] and I haven’t spoken in years and we’re still quote-unquote “writing together.” We just do it by facial expressions. One of us says something out loud and the other one either nods or shakes their head.
Jillian Bells’s manager: One moment for Jillian.
J.R.: Oh my God, Charlotte.
C.N.: She’s got her manager connecting her.
J.R.: She’s using her people.
Jillian Bell: Hello!
J.R.: Oh, hi! Thank you, guys, for getting on this conference call. Jillian, clearly you waited until the last second to be the last on the line.
C.N.: And had your manager connect you, which we appreciate as well.
J.R.: Mm-hmm. Hollywood! WeIl, I think everyone has the numbers for this quarter in front of them. Should we start going through them?
J.B.: Oh shit.
C.N.: Do you not have them, Jillian?
J.B.: Yeah, I have them. You guys just go ahead.
J.R.: Oh, I was going to have you read the first two numbers, but I’ll do them first. We’re all concerned about office supplies.
J.B.: Yes, we should be buying more? Less?
C.N.: Oh, Jesus. Focus.
J.R.: What would be the company that we are discussing? What do we sell?
C.N.: I hope it’s office supplies.
J.B.: Honestly, I think it’s karate.
J.R.: Did you say karate? “Hi, welcome to our karate company. ‘I’m sorry, what do you sell there?’ We sell karate. ‘Wait, like lessons?’ No, no, no. Just the concepts behind karate. ‘It doesn’t seem tangible.’ It is tangible.”
Okay, I’m going to jump in. Do you remember the first time you guys met? Because I assume it was at the Groundlings?
J.B.: It was.
C.N.: Jillian was in Sunday Company. I was in Main Company. And I’d just seen her do a show and obviously was obsessed with her. We’d only had one conversation and Annie Lennox was playing. And we both talked about how we liked the song “Walking on Broken Glass.” So, we all had our first writing meeting for the holiday show and I pitched this weird idea where we’re women who hate the holidays and our families. Someone gets a karaoke machine and they’re all singing Christmas carols, but then by accident, “Walking on Broken Glass” comes on. We get really into it and start smashing all the glasses over our husbands’ heads. Jillian wasn’t like, “That’s weird.” She goes, “Yeah, and then we put all the glass shards in a line and we take off our shoes and we walk across it.” It was like, boom! Writing partners forever!
J.R.: I remember during workshop, leaning over to whoever was next to me and saying, “This sketch will never work.” I then remember rehearsing onstage and leaning to whoever was next to me, and going, “This’ll never work.” Cut to, we’re doing the scene that night, I take a moment to lean over to the person next to me to say, “This isn’t going to work.” And then it was a huge hit.
J.B.: I’m so excited about your perspective of our sketch and how you were so negative about it. Your nickname at the time was “The Asshole 3.” It was just that you were an asshole three times about a certain thing. And then, if you remember, the audience threw up because they were laughing so hard at our sketch.
J.R.: In my defense, it was because of the Rule of Three. I swear, in my head, it was always “Be an asshole three times.” Everything that happens in threes is funny.
Do you remember your biggest fight? And did it happen while you were shooting Idiotsitter? I hope.
J.B.: No, I don’t think we fought during shooting. Did we?
C.N.: No, it wasn’t really a fight. We usually envision things the same way. But there was one scene that we just saw differently. Do you remember this, Jillian? It was episode two with the flash cards and we couldn’t wrap our heads around the other person’s idea. And the crew was just standing there for a half-hour.
J.B.: Oh, right! You really see how much we see eye-to-eye because it’s literally talking about flash cards, which is the smallest thing. I thought that we should hold them a certain way and she saw them as being held a different way.
C.N.: And you saw yourself at your desk and I saw you on the other side of my desk. That is minutia that held up the shooting for a long time.
J.B.: We clearly have no problems.
J.R.: Where did we land with the issue?
J.B.: You won, didn’t you?
C.N.: I won. I won.
J.B.: What do you and Nat fight about?
J.R.: Oh, you know, typical things.
J.B.: Like who’s gonna keep the Oscar?
J.R.: Yeah, like who’s going to keep the Oscar, even though they gave us each one. Who gets to keep both? I don’t understand why we can’t just split them up.
C.N.: We’d just started writing together, when you guys won your Oscar. And we were like, “That’s going to be us someday. We are Nat and Jim. We’re Nat and Jim!”
J.B.: We definitely decided who is who, also.
C.N.: I’m Nat.
J.B.: And I’m definitely Nat. Both of us are Nat.
J.R.: What was the process where you were like, “Neither of us wants to be Jim?”
C.N.: It wasn’t like, “Neither one of us wants to be Jim.” We’re both were just like, “I’m totally Nat!”
J.B.: We did have that one moment when we were like, “Oh, God. Can you imagine if we had to be Jim?”
J.R.: It might be because I was doing that “be an asshole three times” thing. That really chipped away at my likability.
What was it like when you guys started working with a writers room on Idiotsitter?
C.N.: It was a big shock.
J.B.: That was definitely the toughest part of the whole process because we’re so used to sharing a brain. To open that up and have all these other opinions, you feel like an asshole sitting there going, “Oh, no, that’s not the show.” And you also want them to feel that they can create in the space, so you don’t want to shut everything down.
J.R.: There’s probably a growing pain to everyone understanding you guys’ voice.
J.B.: Obviously for a Comedy Central–type show, my character was being a sort of frat boy. So, there are so many ideas. With her character, we wanted to go just as weird, just a different kind of weird and they struggled with that a little bit.
C.N.: And we would be like, “Come on, guys. We can write this character, too.”
J.B.: We had days where we were like, “Come in with ten Billie ideas tomorrow.”
J.R.: Pitching out ideas, was there one where everyone got excited and it was like, “I’m not making it?”
C.N.: Jillian, tell them your murder-mystery one. Jillian loved this idea.
J.B.: I don’t remember how we landed on it happening but it was something where the next-door neighbors came over. And we end up playing a game with them and we think it’s a murder-mystery thing, but, really, the people that live next door are in a cult and they got a signal at the same time that this is the time to go. So, they start dying off slowly — killing themselves off. We think it’s part of the game. There are so many dead bodies.
J.R.: Oh my God. I’d be like, “We’re doing that!” After that sort of fell apart —
C.N.: It never died. It got to the point where everyone was so fervent about it, we were like, “You know what? Just pitch it to Comedy Central.” And Comedy Central said, “No, thank you.” And the pro-murder-mystery camp kept going with it. It wasn’t like they came back and they were sad, they were just like, “We’ll make it different.”
J.R.: “Oh, we have this idea called ‘murder party.’”
J.B.: There was one sad day where we realized it was gone. When we had picked our ten episodes, we needed to map stuff out on the whiteboards. The idea was always in this right corner on this one whiteboard, but we needed that space, so we had to erase it. So, all of us took pictures of it on our phones, so we could save the idea forever, but it was gone.
J.R.: It’s an interview law that I ask this question. I’m always like, “Why do they ask that?” So, I’m going to ask it: Who’s the practical joker on set?
C.N.: Was it Gareth [Reynolds]?
J.R.: Oh, you really have an answer!?
C.N.: Yeah, we have a writer.
J.B.: You think Gareth?
J.R.: Oh my God, this got serious. Now I know why they always ask this question.
C.N.: There was someone who would take gaffers tape and tape over the names on all the chairs — like, the director’s chair, writer’s, whatever — and they would give them different names, like Jillian Bell became Tinker Bell. And the joke was they would never do it to me. Like everyone got a fun name except me.
J.R.: Well, that makes sense.
J.B.: I was going to say my favorite bit with Charlotte was that I would always call her an extra in front of the whole crew.
C.N.: And they’d all speak to me like an extra. They’re like, “Ma’am, can you move over a little bit?” And I’m like, “But I’m in the TV show!” “Just little bit. You’re in the way of the light.”
We also had a bit that no one really liked, which was we’d go, “Best Patrick Swayze movie?” And they’d say their opinions. But it was wrong or right depending on what we thought. So, we’d be like, “Wrong! Wrong! You, best Patrick Swayze movie?” And someone goes, “Dirty Dancing.” “That is correct.”
J.B.: Our poor crew.
J.R.: Do you guys improvise through writing or do you separate stuff and take passes?
C.N.: We ideally do it all together, but we had to start doing it on our own. Right, Jilly?
J.B.: It’s funny. I always think of when we found out that Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham improvise everything and then they write it. We don’t have one specific thing that we do. Sometimes we’ll talk about an idea and then one of us will write for 15 minutes. And then I’ll take it for 15 minutes. And then we come back to it and we’ll improvise a little bit.
C.N.: How do you guys write? Jillian, they have an office!
J.R.: We have a super-fancy office. We do a little bit more of what you’re saying. We beat stuff together and I don’t mean writing. We beat off and then we get down to writing. It’s just one of those things guys do. That’s what Nat told me guys do and it seems normal to me.
J.B.: Your motto is “Rub one out, write one out,” right?
C.N.: That’s why they have their own office.
J.R.: Oh, if you walked into our office with a black light, you’d be like, “No, thank you.”
J.R.: You know what? I want that on the record, but off the record, I would say, it’s a very clean place. Off the record, it’s a nice, clean place. On the record, there’s jizz everywhere. But anyway, Nat’s got three kids so I sometimes get obsessed and will go and write for a bit and then bring it back to him either to have it judged or accepted or fixed. We should do just a fun little series, where it’s the four of us.
C.N.: I want to say that Jillian writes with Nat and I write with you.
J.R.: Yeah, we do a mix-and-match session and just see what comes up.
J.B.: I like that.
C.N.: Okay, wow. That was easy.
J.B.: What if we did that and then realized we were with the wrong partners all along? And we gave up our show over it.
J.B.: And then you guys threw your Oscars in the trash.
C.N.: Jillian, you just took the Asshole Award away from Jim. You really did.
J.B.: Who should I thank with my new award?
C.N.: No one. This is not the time.
J.B.: Nat, first of all.
J.R.: Well, I feel like now that you’ve won the award, we’ve come to a good place. This has been highly enjoyable. Everyone name their favorite part of this interview. Jillian, you go first. What was your favorite part?
J.B.: Um, I liked the jizz part. That was my favorite.
J.R.: It’s easy going blue. But people love blue. Even in print, jizz is funny. Charlotte?
C.N.: Mine was when Jillian was really late and her manager connected her and we got to talk about her behind her back.
J.B.: Oh, that’s not nice. Now you’ve got the Asshole Award.
J.R.: For me, I think my favorite part — because I want this to come full circle — Jillian, by now you’ve probably found your printout for the meeting with the numbers. I have concerns with our karate company. We have a wonderful product, but money’s going out the door. Jillian, can you pinpoint what you think is the biggest problem with our karate company?
J.B.: Yeah, I think, not enough supplies, honestly.
J.R.: I need you to get specific.
J.B.: Not enough office supplies.
J.R.: Okay, so you’re still sticking with that because I do see that we bought 14 cases of pencils.
C.N.: We bought them in bulk.
J.R.: It’s a lot.
J.B.: And all of those are for breaking. All of those are to hold between your hands and have somebody chop.
J.R.: That stands to a bigger point, which is the problem with our karate philosophy because we’ve asked people to just break pencils and then we give them the highest belt for that. It seems pretty easy. Charlotte, what’s your biggest concern?
C.N.: I want more ads. I want us in the ads. We are the face of karate. We need people to know that this is what karate looks like.
J.R.: And Jillian, I remember you were really big on these catchphrases. You had it written down. Can you just rattle it off, if they’re in front of you?
J.B.: Yeah. “Karate, more like ‘karat-hey.’ Because we start with hello.”
J.R.: Yeah, love that one. That’s one.
J.B.: The other one was “Hi-Ya doing?”
J.R.: Taking those quickly apart. My concern about “Hi-Ya doing?” is if I’m a customer and I call Hi-Ya Doing Karate and our assistant goes, “Hi-Ya Doing?” it’s going to be a Who’s on First situation. Why don’t you guys call me and I think you’ll know where I’m going with this. Jillian, give me a call.
J.B.: Bring, bring, bring.
J.R.: Hi-Ya Doing?
J.B.: Fine, how are you?
J.R.: I’m fine. Hi-Ya Doing?
J.B.: I’m doing good.
J.R.: Yeah, I know. What I’m saying is how can we help you? You’ve reached Hi-Ya Doing.
J.B.: I’m good.
J.R.: See what I’m saying? These are my concerns, folks.
C.N.: When we get a season two, you’ll be in it?
J.R.: Thank you. This is so petty, but I’ve been just writing down whenever I see mutual friends on the show just so I have it. It’s just a list for me.
J.B.: We have a part where you’re the dean of a college. A community college.
J.R.: Okay, I’m in. I just want some lines I can crush. I just threw up in my mouth.
J.B.: We’re going to give you only crushers. We always say when we’re pitching ideas, “And then the crusher enters. Crushes that line.”
J.R.: At this point, people are like, “Hmm, I want to hear about jizz again.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.