Co-created and co-hosted by standups Nikki Glaser and Sara Schaefer, MTV’s late night talk show Nikki & Sara Live debuted its second season late last month. The series is a mix of topical jokes, sketches, on the street bits, and celebrity interviews that quickly found an audience and earned a renewal from the network after premiering this spring. I recently had the chance to speak with Glaser and Schaefer about the new season, how they go about hiring writers, and why they’re not doing their show live anymore.
How does season two feel different from season one so far?
Sara Schaefer: We are definitely more confident in what we’re doing. We know the show. Season one was kind of figuring out “What is the show? What does it look like? What is the format?” This season is more like, “Okay, now, let’s make it great.” We built the foundation in season one and in season two, I don’t know how to continue that metaphor, but I guess it would be putting up the framework of the house?
Nikki Glaser: [Laughs] Now, we know we can do it. First season was kind of proving to ourselves and to the network that we knew what we were doing. Now, I feel like we definitely have more confidence in our sensibilities and now we can just have fun and take more chances because we trust our sensibilities.
Sara, I saw your blog post about the guidelines for how you hired writers last season. Did you hire more writers this season?
Schaefer: Yes. Yeah, we did the same process where we did it blind, and we hired three new writers. We lost one, who went to write for The Colbert Report, so we hired three. The staff grew a little, which is great. It’s just bringing more variety to the jokes. They’re all collaborating with each other and writing things together. It’s just been really awesome.
Did you encounter a lot of the same problems with people’s packets who submitted before?
Schaefer: This time, we kept it smaller. It was more of an invite-only situation, but it was definitely good to do it that way again because some of them are your friends and you don’t want to make it so personal. I want to judge everybody based on the quality of their writing and not feel bad when I have to say no to that person. It’s like, “I didn’t know it was you.”
Had you heard of other shows doing taking blind submissions or is that just something you came up with?
Schaefer: I’m sure other shows do it. We didn’t invent that, but I’ve never heard of a show doing it that way. Nikki and I have both submitted to write for shows before. I think we both felt, having been on the other side of it, that it would be a more fair and valuable process. If I had submitted to a show and knew that it was blind, even though it would be hard to swallow – knowing like, “Okay, I didn’t make the cut” – at least that’s a very honest way of experiencing the rejection as opposed to wondering, “Well, do they just not like me?” It’s like, “Well, no. You just weren’t right for this show.”
Glaser: We also made a point to write the people who did submit and let them know that they were not moving forward. It’s a rare thing to hear back from who you submit for. Usually, you just don’t ever hear and you just hear who eventually got the job. We let people know, which I would have appreciated as a submitting writer.
Do you guys have a dream guest for the show who you haven’t been able to land yet?
Glaser: Yeah, Justin Timberlake for sure. We’ve mentioned him on every episode. We love him. He’s kind of the reason Sara and I…
Schaefer: … became friends.
Glaser: It was our first topic of conversation, and we made a sketch that kind of led to us getting a show based on him. He would be a big get. Also, I think Taylor Swift. Someone who resonates with our demographic who…
Schaefer: … we also love.
Is it tough kind of finding a balance between people who resonate with your demographic and people who you’re fans of?
Glaser: Yeah, Sara and I are both huge fans of all things pop culture, so we definitely get what our demographic likes, but there are certain times when we’re pitched a guest who we just don’t get. We have to research them pretty excessively beforehand because we’ve never even heard of them but the kids are into them. But it’s fun. We’re learning about new stuff. I feel like I’m more up on pop culture than I’ve ever been, which is something I like to be. But no, it’s not often… We generally like the guests we have on, and we’re excited about them. We do want to have more guests who branch out to like YouTube celebrities. People who are famous on the internet. We want to just widen the scope so that we can get more interesting people on to…
Schaefer: … maybe expose them to a new audience and vice versa.
Does MTV give you guys a lot of notes on the show?
Glaser: We don’t have a Louis C.K. deal, by any means. We don’t always get to do what we want, but they are very understanding of why the show exists, which is Sara and I have our own sense of humor and our own brand of comedy. There are times when they give a note that is correct. They know the demographic so well that we’re trying to hit. Sometimes, they’ll be like, “Well, kids don’t get this. This doesn’t resonate with them. This is over their heads.” We have to kind of pull back a little bit, which is a good note. It’s frustrating when we’re so excited about some kind of absurd sketch or something that’s just kind of off the wall, but ultimately, it makes for a better show if we’re targeting our demographic the way we need to be.
Schaefer: It’s a collaboration. I think MTV wants the same thing we want, which is a really funny show people love. It’s just a matter of give and take and trusting each other. They trust us that we know comedy and we know what we’re doing, and we trust them that they know their audience. Every show comes together the way it should. They don’t say no to a lot of stuff … They’ll just say, “Well, what if we changed this and this?”
Glaser: And a lot of times, we win those battles. We’ll be like, “It’s not funny without this.” They’ll be like, “All right, fine.” The fact that we’re not doing the show live anymore has really allowed us a lot more freedom with the network because we can say, “We can try it.” Then, we get to try it, and they don’t have to take it out. Because it’s not live, they have the option to take it out. But then they see it works, and they don’t.
What are some other factors that went into deciding not to do the show live this season?
Glaser: That was one of them.
Schaefer: Yeah, and just being able to tighten the show up. Ultimately, I just think it’s a funnier show when it’s not live. We miss some of the excitement of it being live and being able to interact live with Twitter or whatever, but that stuff was so miniscule compared to the rest of the show. Just being able to control the outcome a little more I think has helped it a lot. I’ve definitely seen a major difference between the shows last season and this season already.
Do you feel like live comedy on TV will eventually die out? There’s basically only one show doing it at this point.
Schaefer: I now know for comedy, live is tough. A joke falls flat … We’re trying to get to the point where the show we tape is not that different from what you see, but while we’re still so young in this process, it’s great to be able to control it a little more. I think live TV is great when it’s a certain type of show. Kathie Lee and Hoda needs to be a live show. Anything can happen. They’re really fun. But that’s a longform, hour-long daytime situation. Watch What Happens Live is live, but I don’t know that I would care if it wasn’t. You know what I mean? I think those are the only two live shows… well, Saturday Night Live, but that’s different. That’s sketch. It’s like a completely different beast.
Do you guys have any other talk shows, either from the present or the past that you look to to model your show after?
Glaser: I grew up on Conan. I just think his sketches were so different and funny. I always aim to reach his caliber of writing.
Schaefer: I think also, for me, The Daily Show is a huge influence over the years and Colbert of how they have taken a format and really made it their own. The voice is so clear. Seeing what can happen to a show over time when it’s allowed to become what it should be is so great.
What are some other comedies right now beyond talk and late night shows that you enjoy?
Schaefer: I’m really into Portlandia, and I’ve been a life-long SNL fan. Those are my two comedies that I pay attention to the most probably.
Glaser: My favorite comedy right now is Inside Amy Schumer.
Can you talk a little about why those shows are your favorites?
Glaser: I wish that our show could be as risque as Amy is because that’s where my humor often goes, but it is a challenge to pull that back and make that kind of joke for a younger audience that isn’t ready to hear an ejaculation joke. We dabble in innuendo a lot more than I’m used to, which is fun. You’ve gotta work around it. But Amy’s show, I think is so authentically her and really captures her voice, and I admire that. Almost like Chelsea Lately. I think that that show is so her. Whether or not you like it, she doesn’t give a fuck. She’s doing what she does. I think that Sara and I really want to be as much of ourselves and have our voice resonate as much as it does in those shows. I think we’re getting there. I think we’re there.
Schaefer: Portlandia, for me, is so brilliant at capturing really subtle situations and types of people. Fred Armisen is so brilliant at doing a character that is someone that you’ve met in your life. It’s not a celebrity impression … He does the most subtle characters on that show, and it’s like, “I know someone that does that! Ugh!” He’s so good at it, and they both do that. It’s such a brilliant show. And SNL, it’s like my football. I’m like, “Who’s gonna get picked in the draft for next season?” You know, sometimes they miss, but when they hit, it’s just so awesome. They do topical humor really well.
Do you have plans to include more comedians in the show this season, or will there be just as many as last season?
Schaefer: We definitely want to involve more comedians in the show. We have some ideas and some correspondent stuff that’s happening. Last season, we had Griffin Newman, and he’s returning this season. And we have another person showing up on the next show, so stay tuned. Then, there’s been talks of some others that we want to get involved, even if it’s just a one-off, walk-on role or something like that. And we try to incorporate as many of our funny friends as we can in the sketches that we do.
Is that one of the best things about having your own show, being able to hire the people that you want to work with and see succeed?
Glaser: Not getting to hire people is even better. [Laughs] No, yeah, hiring people is awesome. It’s the dream, to be able to give your friends, who you’ve always known are so amazing… you get to reap the benefits of having really talented friends. It’s great. It’s the best thing about this job, I think, is just being able to work with the funniest people. Our writing staff is amazing.
Schaefer: Also, all of our producers and editors, everyone on the show is funny. Even our web producer is funny. Everyone is a funny person, a cool person, and it’s like we’ve been giving this playground to collaborate and make things come to life, these stupid ideas that we have.
Nikki & Sara Live airs Tuesday nights at 11 on MTV.