As Sacha Baron Cohen’s longtime writing/producing partner, Dan Mazer is responsible for co-scripting Borat, Brüno, and both the US and UK versions of Da Ali G Show, but now he’s going out on his own with a new comedy that he wrote and directed solo. Called I Give It a Year, Mazer’s feature directorial debut stars Rose Byrne, Rafe Spall, Anna Faris, Simon Baker, Stephen Merchant, and Minnie Driver. The film hits theaters tomorrow in the States following its UK release. I recently had the chance to talk with Mazer about the comfort of making a non-prank movie, his love of Nathan for You, and the next wave of British comedians we should be looking out for:
What made you want to tackle a romantic comedy?
Well, I would say that it’s probably not a romantic comedy, bizarrely, and I think it’s quite easy to label it as such. But to me, it’s a comedy about romance, which may seem like nitpicking, but I think that the phrase “rom-com” is slightly pejorative and you go into that with a certain set of preconceptions about what that means and what that is. This isn’t any of those things. This is meant to make people laugh first and foremost. It has a slightly cynical point of view on relationships and romance in a view that most romantic comedies are quite saccharine.
But you’re subverting certain tropes of the rom-com in it.
Yeah, definitely. I mean I think it is a reaction to the rom-com, and it has some of the same - as you say - tropes and same kind of formulae as a rom-com, but the idea is to undercut those.
Were there certain movies that you looked to as influences when making this?
I mean, not really. My favorite film ever is When Harry Met Sally… What’s great about that and what’s successful about that, I think, is it feels authentic and relatable and doesn’t have to be super broad or go out of the realms of authenticity in order to make you laugh. I sort of wanted to do that because comedy, when it’s best, comes from truth, I think. So that was important to me, to retain that element of truth. Also, I wanted proper laughs, and there were proper laughs in When Harry Met Sally… Also, sort of the Apatow films, as well, are really good and there are real laughs in that, again not at the expense of credibility.
Was this the first entirely scripted screenplay you’ve worked on, or had you written others before?
No, I’ve written others before, and I’ve rewritten lots of scripts for other people and stuff like that, so I was used to a more formal, non-Borat or Brüno script. Actually, the first movie that Sacha and I did together was an Ali G movie that didn’t come out over here that was non-scripted, as well.
What was this like, compared to working on movies like Borat and Brüno?
It’s really nice to get up in the morning and know you’re not going to be chased by white supremacists or spat on by Alabama football fans, your life fundamentally isn’t in danger and you’ll have a nice lunch somewhere and you won’t have to stay in a Motel 6 in Alabama and all those sorts of things, so that’s really nice. At the same time, doing those movies, it’s just an incomparable experience of just adrenaline and thrills that you don’t get when you’re sitting in a nice set in Ealing [Studios].
Would you ever like to go back to that kind of movie? Have you talked about it with Sacha?
We’ve talked about it, and again, we love doing those things. Of course, we do because they’re thrilling and dangerous and the adrenaline is great. Also, they are incredibly hard work, and as we get older - as I get older. I can’t speak for Sacha. As I get older, the desire to put yourself out there and risk life and limb diminishes.
How did the cast come together for I Give It a Year?
It was sort of like a dream cast. It was like fantasy football for me where I’d, over the course of the previous years, made mental note when I’d seen people I’d like. Thinking, ‘Oh God, wasn’t Minnie Driver great in that?’ ‘Wasn’t Rose [Byrne] fantastic in that sort of thing?’ I’d assembled this list in my head of people that I’d love to work with, and fantastically, they all seemed to respond to the script and embraced it and when I asked them, agreed to do it. So that was kind of incredible.
Do you write with specific actors and actresses in mind?
No, not really. You sort of write what’s funny. The one part I wrote with somebody specific in mind was Stephen Merchant’s part, Danny, because that sort of unique ability to put his foot in his mouth and make it not so horrific that you have to turn away. There’s something innately funny about the way he does that. I didn’t really imagine that he’d do it because he doesn’t really do that much that isn’t his own stuff, but [I] was thrilled when he did.
Had you guys talked about working together before?
No, we knew each other, not particularly well, but we kind of knew each other from around. It’s funny, in Britain, there are slightly separate camps of comedy that don’t necessarily always come together. There’s Ricky [Gervais] and Stephen. There’s me and Sacha. There’s Edgar [Wright] and Simon [Pegg] and Nick [Frost], and we kind of all do our own thing and there’s not that much cross-pollination really, so it was nice to do that.
Are there any British comedians you’re fond of who haven’t broken here in the States?
The guy that I really love, who’s actually in the film, plays the life insurance lister guy. He’s a guy called Tim Key, who’s just fantastically funny and gifted and talented. Then, there’s another guy who’s also in the movie, who plays a very small part: the violinist in the dove scene. He’s called Dustin Demri-Burns, who’s in a double act called Cardinal Burns, who are just brilliantly funny, and I think they’ll kind of be the next big thing.
There’s that wave of British comedians that came here and broke about the same time. You guys broke here a couple years after Ricky Gervais and Simon Pegg.
Yeah, there’s so many. The biggest show in Britain over the last few years has been something called The Inbetweeners, which was a huge hit and they did an MTV remake over here as opposed to showing the original. The original was just brilliant. So, that was great. I think in Britain, we’re kind of waiting for the next big thing to come along. I’m not quite sure what is is, but if I had to put my money on anything, I think that Tim Key and Cardinal Burns are the two funniest.
Did you see the movie as an opportunity to get your favorite comedians in it? I saw other people, like Alexander Macqueen’s in there.
Yeah, exactly. There aren’t a vast amount of British comedy films made, and there are so many funny people and so many gifted actors. It was great for me to give them a forum. That was a real thrill for me because I’m a huge admirer of theirs.
As far as American comedy goes, what’s some of your favorite stuff right now?
I think Nathan for You is probably the funniest thing that I have seen in the last ten years, bar none. I think it’s amazingly, sublimely brilliant. Have you seen it?
Yeah, I love it.
Yeah, I think it’s amazing. I love that. I discovered that kind of accidentally and just devoured it from London.
That gas station episode is so great.
It’s unbelievable. All of them…
Yeah, all of them are great.
Yeah. When they go up that mountain. And the child molester one. They’re all just brilliant. He’s absolutely brilliant. That to me, is the best.