When the first season of Comedy Central’s Review ended with host and critic Forrest MacNeil punching his boss, quitting his job, and disappearing without a trace, it was uncertain whether or not we would see more expertly reviewed life experiences in the future. But thanks largely to critical praise and an avid fan base, Review returns tonight at 10pm for its second season on Comedy Central. I talked to the show’s creator and star, Andy Daly, about the new season, his work in podcasting, and whether or not he’ll ever let his children see his work.
You mentioned that you just got back from a little family European vacation. When you’re shooting away from home, do you try to take your family with you?
Yeah, but truthfully, I try not to shoot away from home. So many things don’t shoot in Los Angeles. When I get something like that there’s a lot of hand-wringing, because I don’t like to leave town. But if it’s going to be for a decent amount of time I’ll say, “I’ll go if you’ll fly us all there.”
Other than Yogi Bear, what of your work have you been able to show your kids?
That’s a good question. I would say absolutely nothing. I’ve done some other animation voiceover stuff that perhaps would be ok, but I haven’t shown them anything else other than Yogi Bear. That’s enough for now.
Your children are eight and three now. What about when they get a little bit older and are looking around on the internet and come across some of your podcast appearances, or Review? Do you have a speech prepared for them?
I don’t. I was thinking about that in reference to the first episode of Review this season where Forrest reviews glory holes. My parents are big supporters of my work and get very excited when I’m on television. They watch, share it with their friends, and tell everybody to watch. They’re fairly conservative people and are not going to love the glory hole thing. To my credit, I do not think about those things when we’re making the show. I really just think about what’s going to be funny. I don’t even necessarily think – when we’re coming up with things to do on the show – about the fact that it’s going to be me having to do it. Once we’re on the set there are a lot of moments of, “I did this to myself. This ridiculous position with my pants around my ankles, pressed up against a bathroom partition, pantomiming having oral sex.” I did that truly to myself. I, at many points, could have said, “I don’t want to do that.” But there it is, out there forever. That is going to be a fascinating moment. My children obviously don’t have any concept of me as a person who would do something like that. They will have a moment of, “Oh, I thought I knew you,” when they discover some of my work.
One thing about Review is that you play the character in such a sincere way. Of course, when you get deep into some of the experiences, you turn into a bit of a monster. But at the same time, the setup is always pretty straightforward and sincere. I could see thinking from a child’s perspective, “Hey, there’s dad and he seems normal,” right before it takes a sharp turn.
I hope that they don’t discover much of what I’ve done until they’re what… 30? At least 16 or 17. Old enough that they’ve seen enough outrageous and extreme art – if I can use that term – from other people that they can contextualize that this isn’t just their dad doing some weird thing, but that there’s a long tradition of people pushing boundaries in comedy and I’m a part of that. I hope they would be proud.
When we left Season 1, Forrest had quit and disappeared. Then later came the #FindForrest campaign. Did you write his disappearance as an ending to Season 1 in case there wasn’t going to be a second season?
In the creation of Season 1, I would say that we did not really expect to get a second season, to be honest with you. We knew that we were making a show that could appeal to Comedy Central’s core audience. We have crazy, exciting, outrageous things happening to this character. But we also knew that it was going to be a challenge to get to those people, because it’s a show about a forty-something square in a jacket and tie exploring those experiences in a very academic way. He’s got a wife and kid that he cares about. A lot of that stuff seemed like it wasn’t going to necessarily hit the sweet spot with Comedy Central’s audience. We were kind of satisfying ourselves creatively and making the show we wanted to make. We didn’t quite envision that there would be a second season, so we gave ourselves and ending to the first season that was satisfying unto itself. Just kind of saying, “If it doesn’t go any beyond this, we feel we ended it well.”
The other side of that coin is that we were fortunate enough to connect with an audience in a big enough way that we got a second season and so now we found ourselves saying, “Well, we really just ended quite satisfyingly. Now what?” That was a little bit hard. The idea of having Forrest out in the wilderness and the #FindForrest campaign weren’t things that we envisioned before. We were well into writing Season 2 and the Comedy Central digital promotion team paid us a visit and said, “How can we start to generate interest in the show a while before it premieres?” The idea came about that we had left Forrest running away from the show and the camera crew couldn’t find him, so we continued with that idea.
The marketing for Season 2 is interesting because Comedy Central is pushing the show as a “cult hit.” Obviously, from a network perspective – and probably yours as well – you don’t want it to just be a cult thing. As we know, usually things that are considered cult hits aren’t popular until after they’re long gone. What are the expectations for Season 2?
My feeling is that, in Season 1, it was very difficult to promote the show for what it was. It’s a complicated idea that in each episode there are these individual scenes on a topic, but they all work together to create one cohesive episode. That’s hard enough to communicate. To communicate on top of that that there’s a season-long arc and that there is a bingeworthy narrative to the show that’s grounded in the real world and takes high comic leaps is all a lot to communicate before people watch it. People have to be enticed by the idea of a square having extreme life experiences and watch it based on that, then learn while watching that it doesn’t reset after each review. The only way to appreciate that was to watch it. But luckily, it’s been on Amazon, iTunes and YouTube. Right now the entire season is on the Comedy Central app and cc.com. Through word of mouth and a lot of great television writers writing about it through the season and putting it on 2014 “Best of” lists, people have found it after the fact. The hope is that now that there’s enough of an understanding of what the show is and how multi-faceted it is, people are going to come to it knowing what it is, excited for what it is, ready for what it is. Then we can build on the Season 1 audience in a big way. Describing it as a cult hit communicates to me that a small, dedicated group found the show and loved the show, so please check it out. We certainly don’t want it to still be a cult hit after this season.
You mentioned the glory hole experience. What are some other notable experiences we’ll see in this new season?
There are so many. I hesitate to throw too many out there, but I’ll give you some ideas. Similar to the glory hole, he’s asked to join the mile high club. He’s also asked what it’s like to be a cult leader. That will give you an idea of how extreme some of the experiences are going to be. Internally, some of the people who have seen the entire season have said that things go far more off the rails for Forrest in Season 2.
How do you and the writers go about choosing topics?
We have a wall in the writers’ room that is floor to ceiling with index cards that people have thrown out at various times. We spend a lot of time staring at that wall trying to imagine ways that a topic can tie in to the larger narrative arc we have in mind. If something sparks, we’ll grab a card off of the back wall, put it on the front wall, and gang up on it to talk about what could happen there. An alarming amount of the time we get 45 minutes or an hour into a discussion about one of these topics and somebody will point something out like, “It’s too similar to x,” or, “We can’t do that because it breaks the rules of our universe.” So that card will get moved back to the back wall. But it will never get thrown out. We never throw any out. I refuse to believe that there are any topics that could not at some point be cracked. I’m sure I’m wrong about it, but it’s a belief that I have.
You were talking to Paul F. Tompkins on his Speakeasy show and you said that the demands of shooting Review are pretty intense and that you have to physically pull yourself away so that you attend to other things and take care of your family. What’s an average day on the Review set like?
It’s crazy. An average day is a 12 hour day. We block shoot it, meaning that, for instance, we shoot all of the office scenes during one period of time. We’re hopping from episode to episode. Anything you see that was shot in one location in Episode 1 and shows up again in Episode 8, that was all shot in the same day. That’s difficult, but the harder thing is that there are very few scenes that are just kind of hanging out talking. Forrest is having extreme life experiences. He’s scared, he panics, he’s nervous, he’s in danger a lot of time. It’s a lot to do in a day.
It’s hard for me to even process how you keep all of the topics straight in that shooting structure. But that must be in your wheelhouse, considering the amount of characters you juggle on podcasts like Comedy Bang! Bang! and The Podcast Pilot Project. Those storylines are sprawling and elaborate. Have you always found it easy to keep things sorted and organized in your character work?
I think that’s definitely something that I learned while learning how to do long form improvisation in the early days when I was training with UCB in New York to do the Harold. There’s a certain brain re-wiring with that. In the Harold, you’re taking three completely different scenes that begin to fold into one another. You’re finding connections between the scenes as you revisit each one. There’s a lot of story and character to keep in mind, because it may have to come back. I did that for years in New York with great groups of people who really challenged one another and helped one another to remember different strings of things. I think I picked that up there. It’s just a brain wiring thing. You have to train your mind to work that way.
Your characters almost inevitably tend to get into dark territory pretty quickly, whether it’s the occult, violence, sexual deviancy, or suicide. You doing alright?
(Laughs) Yeah, I always say that I’m aware that the way I come across in the world is as a suburban guy, a happy guy, a friendly guy. That is who I am a lot of the time and it’s definitely how people receive me. To me, it’s always funny and always surprising to start off as a heightened version of that guy and then go someplace really dark and unexpected and wrong. I never get tired of that.
Will we see more of the Podcast Pilot Project in the near future?
My expectation of how 2015 was going to go was that we were going to wrap up post production of Review in early June and I would spend June and July doing the Pilot Project. The post production of Review sort of ended up going and going and going as we continued to tweak things, discover things, rewrite voiceovers, and do visual effects. It was more than I had thought. I never really changed channels into thinking about the podcast. I intend to do it. I hope to do it. It’s all about finding the time and mental space, really. It requires a fair amount of mental space, but I hope to do it because it’s fun.
Photo by Mark Davis.