Billions of jokes large and small pack the original run of Arrested Development, many of which you can imagine being birthed in a late-night writers-room spitballing session. But some of these gags and story lines seem so random and specific that we sensed there was a fascinatingly weird origin story to them beyond “It was 2 a.m. and we were picking at a pizza …” Indeed, when we called Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz to ask about the gestation of some of our favorite jokes, the stories behind them made them all funnier. So read on for his tales of the inspiration behind the Cornballer, Tobias’s dalliance with the Blue Man Group, Carl Weathers’s cheapness, and more.
Invented by George Sr. in the mid-seventies, it is an appliance used to make cornballs. It was made illegal after it was found to cause serious burns.
“I knew this one episode, ‘Bringing Up Buster,’ was going to end with a father-son rapprochement, if you will, so I was looking for some way to comment on that. Now it’s called ‘meta’ I guess, but it wasn’t called ‘meta’ then. The phrase I wanted to play with is, ‘That’s a little cornball.’ I don’t really know if people know that phrase. It’s kind of an old Broadway phrase, like, ‘a big cornball ending.’ I just sort of had that pun, and at that time, almost to a fault, I had gotten into all these literal evocations of clichés. When I was doing The John Laroquette Show it’s almost all I did. It really got obnoxious, like ‘the other shoe falls’ and then this fake shoe would fall and it coincided with some other information that would come out, you know? This was like one of those. ‘Let’s articulate this cliché! That’s a little cornball!’ Let’s have them make cornballs! And then I always like that George Sr. was like a self-styled Ron Popeil, and he would just engage in all these crazy businesses. What if there’s a fry-at-home thing to make these cornballs with that you would get horribly burnt on? Growing up with my father, we were always trying to invent things. We invented water weights once. Now you can probably get them in Front Gate or Sky Mall, but I remember my father thinking of these inflatable bladders you could take on trips, people could exercise on planes with them. It actually goes back to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”
The chicken dance
To taunt someone, often Michael, the members of the Bluth family would do a chicken dance, each with their own spin, none of which resembled a chicken.
“I think this was executive producer Jim Vallely. Sometimes he gives me credit. Will Arnett, who physicalized it, sometimes gives us both credit for being on set and working out the moves with him. But I’m almost certain Jim pitched it and put it in the script as Gob starts acting like a chicken. And claps. As inspired as the idea was, a lot of the credit goes to Will. I remember watching him do it and thinking, This guy comes from drama? I’ve never seen anyone commit to a joke like this. To this day that’s true! Maybe Phil Silvers’s Sergeant Bilko. But to [shouts] stiffen your [shouts] back and think about it … even if you tried to do it yourself, it’d be like, Oh, so I’m really going to go for this, huh? I’m going to have a solid back and I’m going to kick my feet! So angry! Anger is just at the heart of so much comedy. I’m. So. Angry! Then we quickly turned his dance into an ancient insult in Mexico.”
Carl Weathers as cheapskate
Tobias hires Rocky star Carl Weathers to teach him how to act, but all Carl wants to do is mooch.
“We’d previously talked about how Tobias spent money on Carl Weathers’s stage fighting class, so it seemed like we should get Carl Weathers on the show. I always liked adding stuff that made it look like this is a whole world, and there’s a history between these two guys. Then we had this great idea to do a parody of this very homoerotic scene in Rocky 3 of Carl and Sly Stallone running on the beach. There were shots of their crotches and this big finish to some imaginary race and they were jumping up and down in the water in slow motion. We gotta do this with Carl and Tobias! Then I needed to call Carl Weathers. There’s always [that thing when you’re making] fun of something until you realize, oh, right, it’s a human being.
“So I called Carl, and said, ‘Hey, I don’t know if you’ve seen the show but we wanna use you for it, and you’d be working with David Cross.’ And he goes, ‘Great, but let me ask you something. It’s not going to be just a bunch of Rocky jokes is it?’ I laughed, ‘No! No! Give me a little credit, Carl. Of course not! It’s a multidimensional character.’ And he was like, ‘Because I direct and I’m a funny guy and I don’t wanna just do a bunch of Rocky jokes. Nobody wants that. Maybe I could be really cheap or something?’ And I said, ‘Whaaaat?’ ‘Maybe I could be really cheap?’ ‘Really? You’d like to do that?’ ‘Oh, absolutely, that’s what I’m saying. I want to play someone funny, not just be a sight gag.’ It was so much better. I went back to the writers room and said, ‘You’re not going to believe this. Carl Weathers wants to be incredibly cheap.’ All credit to Carl on that.”
George Michael tells his dad that his girlfriend Ann loves to eat an egg and then squeeze some mayo in her mouth at the same time. “It’s so cute.”
“I was just always grossed out by eggs. And mayo. The whole thing together. Egg-salad sandwiches always bothered me. I often think of myself as George Michael, and sometimes I think of myself as Michael. In that instance I was Michael and I thought, What would be really awful for me to see my son do?”
Franklin Delano Bluth
During Gob’s bout with ventriloquism, he brought in his foul-mouthed puppet Franklin.
“I had always wanted to do a ventriloquist. There were all these kind of plagiarisms or homages to Soap in the show. I worked for the producers of that show Witt/Thomas/Harris, for many years, so I knew it very well, and I just always loved the idea of all the accoutrements of [the ventriloquist character, Chuck] including the puppet. So we gave Gob a black puppet he would offend people with. Franklin was basically Franklin from Peanuts. We’d had a story on the board for a long time, something that happened to Brad Copeland; someone had given him a CD and he’d never thanked them enough. I remember the idea of doing a show that had these big, broad elements but also these really human brother elements, so we had this idea for a while that a CD had been given to Michael that he didn’t properly thank Gob for, and Gob was bent out of shape about it. That morphed into Michael should have paid for the CD to be made and it cost him $5,000. He spent $5,000 on Franklin’s CD because he thought it was an investment, a mutual fund CD, when really it was just an album by a black puppet.”
Blue Man Group
In his quest to become a legitimate actor, Tobias attempts to join the musical troupe of mysterious blue men.
“It was on the very last sound mix of the last episode of the first season and our composer, who is such a funny, great guy, David Schwartz, comes in and says, ‘I just saw a Blue Man Group ad and they’re auditioning. They’re looking for more Blue Men. Like, they’re having an open call for Blue Men.’ He was just making conversation, and I said, ‘That would be a funny way for George Sr. to escape something.’ Because he kind of looks like a Blue Man, if you made him blue. That got a big laugh in the room. By the time we came back from hiatus I transformed it into Tobias’s pathetic effort at becoming a known actor. Probably not the best road to recognition, painting yourself blue.
“We worked with the guys in Blue Men Group, too, and they were great. They did say to us, ‘The only thing is, we don’t really want people to know that Blue Men are people.’ And they said it with a laugh, but they also added, ‘We don’t want people to just think we’re actors.’ I mean, it’s really everything that made it a misguided choice for Tobias: They want it to be anonymous, you don’t know who they are or where they came from, you don’t want to know that they put on makeup … They just are. To their credit, they asked, ‘What if Tobias just wants to be one? What if he just auditions?’ And I thought that was even funnier. He’s not a Blue Man, he just wants to be one. That worked for them and it was actually better for us. He just blue himself.
“One of the jokes I loved the most was just having blue everywhere in the model home, on every knob… But for awhile the crew kept painting over it. And I’d visit the set and be like, ‘Stop! Can we possibly do it one more time, and this time can we get more blue on the wall?’ This happened probably eight times before I had to have a big staff meeting to say, ‘We want there to be continuity to this world.’ Everyone had come from the style of resetting to zero every time. So we ended up just painting it on the walls. We painted the blue marks on the walls and no one could erase them.”