How thin is the line between terror and laughter? Between psychological thriller and comedy? The answer to those questions is explored in the newest Adult Swim special, Mr. Neighbor’s House, a 20-minute mashup of a children’s program and a David Lynch film created by Brian Huskey, Rob Corddry, Jason Mantzoukas, and Jesse Falcon that airs this Friday at midnight. [Note: These interviews were conducted this past summer, before recent allegations were made about sexist hiring practices at Adult Swim.]
Described as a “Fucked up Mr. Rogers” by Huskey (who also stars as the titular Mr. Neighbor), the episode revolves around planning a birthday party for Mr. Neighbor with all of the colorful people in the town. What’s unique about this special is that the elements that stand out as terrifying or dark are kept that way; there’s nothing tongue-in-cheek about those moments, they play out as straight as you’d see from Lynch without any winking at the audience to reassure them that they’re watching a comedy.
“Improvisers and comedians love really, really dark stuff,” says Huskey, who helped evolve the idea at the bar with Mantzoukas and Falcon one night after their weekly improv show at the Upright Citizens Brigade theater in Los Angeles. “I think it’s sort of the same thing of recognizing what a privilege and rare experience it is to get to be insane in front of people. There’s that titillation of ‘Oh I can go even further. I can go this close to something that’s really taboo.’”
Together they formed the basis of what the show would be about and then recruited Corddry to help produce, as he had a lot of experience working with Adult Swim after years of making Childrens Hospital. But ultimately it was Huskey’s opportunity to show what he could do given the opportunity to make something as his own.
“This is Huskey’s brainchild,” says Corddry, “He’s very much working out a lot of his issues and this is the closest we’ll get to a snapshot inside his brain.” The pair lived together during their early days with the UCB in New York, which is also where they met Mantzoukas and Falcon. “Rob and Brian were on a team, and Jesse and I were on a team, so we’ve been friends for ages,” adds Mantzoukas.
For nearly two decades the four have been doing shows at the UCB, beginning in New York and now in Los Angeles, but “Mr Neighbor’s House” was their first opportunity to make a show together. In fact for Falcon, a top toy designer at Marvel, it was his “first time on the Hollywood merry-go-round” at all.
“We perform and then talk about what we liked about the show, and that’s kind of how this happened,” says Falcon. “We were talking about children’s programming and how when we grew up, before cable popped up, it was regionalized. We started looking up these shows on our phones and doing bits and Huskey was pretending to be a children’s show host and Jason was like “Oh I know what this is.’”
What it is: A snapshot into the mind of someone carrying a secret as he goes about his day talking to creepy dolls, puppets, visions, and the librarian – but there’s clearly something “off” about everyone in this world. “The best of Adult Swim to me feels like something is just wrong about it,” says Corddry. “Some of the 4am stuff, what’s most appealing is that it’s almost downright scary. It borders on horror.”
It’s the same tone we’ve seen before in Adult Swim specials like Too Many Cooks and Unedited Footage of a Bear, but this time there’s something more innocent and real about the fears being addressed, such as trying to live up to your parents’ expectations like Mr. Neighbor has to do when his mother (played by flying purse) drops in to express how disappointed she is in him.
“It’s pretty dark and that makes me terribly happy,” says Falcon.
The relationship between horror and comedy is also something that interests Corddry. “A scare is like a punchline; setup and it builds to a punchline, then it builds to the next one,” he says.
“Adult Swim allows for things to weave in and out of a comedic sensibility, a horrific sensibility, sometimes just true absurdity,” says Mantzoukas. “Here’s a show that has all of these different components. These really weird eerie pieces, these sad melancholy moments, these really terrifying emotional meltdowns. And then all of it, this reveal at the end. There’s also one million jokes in it.”
After 20 years of knowing each other and working side-by-side, the quartet was finally able to bring something off of the stage and into a TV program, something that was not available until recently with the onslaught of Adult Swim shows that border on horror and comedy without a defined line in between. “There’s that titillation of “Oh I can go even further. I can go this close to something that’s really taboo and see what your comfort zone is.” says Huskey, who is now seeing himself come centerstage some 20 years after his start in comedy and currently starring in TBS’s People of Earth. “The director Bill Benz and I were sitting back there saying ‘This is crazy. This is going to get so crazy.’ and just giggling because it’s so exciting. It’s gonna get so insane.”