Talking to Erica Oyama, Creator of ‘Burning Love’

Since debuting last year, the Yahoo web series Burning Love has quickly grown into not just one of the best comedies on the internet but one of the best comedies anywhere – web, movies, TV. Centered on a reality dating show, Burning Love masterfully mocks all the vapid, fame-hungry weirdos who populate America’s reality shows, while also expertly satirizing the reality shows themselves.

Burning Love was created by Erica Oyama, a comedy writer who’s previously penned scripts for Childrens Hospital and David Wain’s web series Wainy Days, and directed by Oyama’s husband, Ken Marino of The State and Party Down fame. With Burning Love’s third season having just kicked off, I had the chance to talk with Erica Oyama about why Season 3 is “the dumbest season yet,” adapting the profane childrens’ book Get the Fuck to Sleep into a movie, and why so many people on the internet mistake Burning Love for a real reality show.

So where did the idea for Burning Love come from originally?

Burning Love originally came from just my love of reality TV. I was a fan of The Bachelor for many years before I had the idea. I wrote it, and I was just planning on doing it as an internet short. Upon reading it, we realized we could expand it and make a whole season out of it, and that’s what we did about a year later.

What was it like transitioning it from a short into a web series?

Well, the short was basically parodying the last episode of The Bachelor where the guy has to choose between two different women to select who he’s going to propose to. I had just watched the season where there was an obvious good girl and an obvious bad girl who were the choices, and the guy chose the one that the audience hated. So, I just wrote a short that was basically the ballerina character and the Annie character, and the ballerina was played by Ken Jeong, so it was the obvious one you should pick and the other one. So, we liked those characters. We were like we can just transition it to a full season, then you have the ceremonies and the dates and everything. It came pretty easily. There was a great format already in place that we drew from to create our show.

Have you always been a big fan of reality TV?

Yeah, I’m not into every single thing, but I do love The Bachelor. I was really into American Idol for a while and Top Chef. Those competition shows. There’s something about coming back every week and whittling it down to one winner. It makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something in life.

What were some of the first comedies that you got into when you were a kid?

I remember watching a lot of SNL as a kid. I feel like I have a Wayne’s World book. I was into Wayne’s World. I just grew up watching sitcoms too, like Cheers and The Cosby Show. I was really into that. My first really favorite movie that I still love today was The Jerk.

Awesome. The Jerk’s great.

It’s the best.

It holds up really well too.

It really does. It’s like nonstop jokes.

When did you decide you wanted to become a comedy writer?

I’m from Alabama and I came out to college here with the intention of acting and auditioning and stuff. Early on, I was taking film classes in school, and after my first screenwriting class, I was like, “Oh, I kind of like this a whole lot better than the other thing that I’ve been trying to do.” So, I switched to that and, over time, really got into comedy writing. That’s where it all came from. And I’ve written my whole life just as a secondary hobby, so it all fell into place after school.

What was the first comedy script that you wrote?

The first comedy script I wrote that was produced was I co-wrote an episode of Childrens Hospital with Ken [Marino]. It was in the second season. It’s where Ken morphs into Hitler. It was not our idea. They basically assigned us. They were like, “Write something where Ken turns into Hitler,” so that’s what we did. I love that show so much, so it was a great way to get my first TV job. I also wrote an episode of [David Wain’s web series] Wainy Days before that, which is a little on the risqué side, but it happened and it’s out there.

Which episode of Wainy Days was it?

It was the one where he’s stressed out, and he goes to the masseuse. It’s called “Happy Endings,” so you can infer what happens. We couldn’t find anybody to play the person, like everybody was busy, so I did it. I was like shame-spiraling ‘cause I hadn’t acted in a while, so I hope it’s okay. I hope it holds up. It probably doesn’t hold up as well as The Jerk.

[Laughs] I guess up and coming comedy writers won’t be studying that episode like they study The Jerk.

I mean, it’s too early to tell, but probably not. But Burning Love was the first big thing that I wrote by myself.

Did you write any Childrens Hospital episodes for the upcoming season?

I didn’t do any this year because we had just finished Burning Love, and I was a little burned out, but I am working currently on NTSF. I wrote an episode this season, and I’m working as a producer on the show. This is my first time working on this show, and it’s been great.

And you’re also adapting Go the Fuck to Sleep with Ken. How did that come about?

We just heard about it. Our agent was like, “Yeah, they’re making this movie. I don’t know if you’ve seen this book.” As soon as we heard, I was like, “Oh my gosh, that’s amazing.” I just remember seeing it online and connecting to that idea of being totally underslept and just wanting your kids to go to sleep. The book is eight pages or something, so we’ve come up with a story dealing with those themes, but obviously, there’s more going on in there. It’s not like sleeping tigers and babies.

Can you talk at all about what that idea is, or do you not want to give it away?

I’m not sure we’re supposed to at this point.

So, tell fans what they can expect from Season 3 of Burning Love.

Season 3 is basically the dumbest season yet, and I mean that in the best way possible. It’s just everyone’s come back and they’re really proud of themselves and they’ve got celebrity status and everyone’s competing for this amazing cash prize of $900. There’s tons of stupid challenges and people hooking up and people backstabbing and fighting and romance.

Mark Orlando is back, played by Ken [Marino]. June is back as Julie [Diane Raphael]. We have Carly back, played by Janet Varney. We have some new characters. We have a man virgin named Noah. He’s a character who was in Annie’s season. We never saw her season, but we said that he’s from that season. Also, Leslie Bibb plays the drunk Southern party girl. Also, we have a superfan played by Armen Weitzman, and he’s hilarious. He’s a lucky audience member who got to be on the show. He’s watched all these people and looked up to them. He’s basically treated like a second class citizen because everybody is so obnoxious now, so that’s a lot of fun.

If you do a fourth season, do you plan on changing the format again like you did in changing it from a dating show to a competition for money in Season 3?

Yeah, I think we would have to think of some different angle if we did a fourth season. I wouldn’t want to repeat anything.

How did the show airing on the E! network come about? Did you guys pitch Burning Love to a bunch of different networks or did E! come to you?

We actually didn’t have to pitch. I think based on people seeing it online, E! wanted to put it on. It seemed like a great fit with their network. They were so pop culture-centric. It was just kind of the perfect fit, so we were so excited when they picked it up to put on TV. I think a whole new wave of people have discovered it and are confused by it. There’s so many tweets like “Is this real?” and people being concerned for the people on the show.  Like, “This guy is such a jerk. Why are they even competing for him?”

Yeah, I see that a lot on the comments for the videos. I don’t understand how people think it’s real because there are so many recognizable actors in it and it’s clearly a comedy.

I know, it’s funny. I think it’s because we always said we wanted to promote it as if it’s a real dating show. We didn’t want it to be jokey in the marketing or anything. Paramount did a great job listening to us. I guess for some people, the sincerity of how it’s presented, they just take it totally seriously. A lot of people find it through Yahoo. It’s on the front page a lot, and I think people going about their day looking at the news, they’re like, “What is this?” They go on it, and they don’t realize that there are famous people in it.

Have you seen any particularly extreme instances of somebody thinking it’s a real show?

Oh my gosh, every day. Every episode, there’s people confused by it or saying terrible things like, “This is why society is going down the toilet. ‘Cause these idiots.” People get in fights on the comments because they’re the people who don’t get it, and there are other people who do get it who defend it. It’s entertaining to just scroll down through that, but it’s also scary.

New episodes of Burning Love’s third season began debuting daily on Yahoo this week.

Talking to Erica Oyama, Creator of ‘Burning Love’