Last year, comedians/writers Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse released a six-episode web series for Comedy Central called Idiotsitter that they were hoping could be picked up for cable despite an extremely tight schedule with which to produce the show. Starring Bell (“Jillian” from Workaholics) as a female Billy Madison-type 25-year-old who shucks all responsibilities in favor of partying, and Newhouse as her adult babysitter-for-an-adult, Idiotsitter showed the network more than enough to be picked up for a full season.
The two met at The Groundlings and have not separated as writers since the first time they collaborated on a sketch together. How difficult was it to make the transition from web series to TV, how did they find the proper tone for a modern day “Mr. Belvedere,” and what prompts a show to kill off a main character right from the jump?
How much has changed since your last interview about Idiotsitter with Splitsider last year?
Charlotte Newhouse: So the big difference is that it’s a TV show now. We wrote it for three months and we shot it for two months and we edited it for a month and a half. That would be the one difference I think.
Jillian Bell: That’s the only difference.
So that was not expected at the time you were making the web series.
Jillian: Well, we were hoping for it. That’s the reason why we did the web series, we wanted them to see our chemistry together and our writing and what our show would look like. The hope was to get picked up. And we did! So yay.
I imagine the budget changed then and does that change the tone of the show at all?
Jillian: That’s the only thing that stayed the same.
Charlotte: We went from a week of shooting and we only shot for six days on the web series to a month of shooting, and writing, and longer and more episodes.
Jillian: And writing tigers into episodes and then taking them because they’re very expensive.
Charlotte: They’re weird about tigers at Comedy Central.
Do you think doing a web series before a show will just be the norm for a lot of networks now?
Charlotte: I think it’s more cost effective to incubate something as a web series because you don’t have to test it, it’s just out there you can see if people like it, and you can get further into the series as opposed to a pilot. You can see where it might go. So it feels more of a glimpse into how it would fare.
Jillian: It was nice when we were interviewing writers because they already had a sense of the world. We had six episodes online as opposed to a pilot that none of the writers would have ever seen.
The atmosphere feels a bit like Workaholics, was that intentional at all, did you work with a lot of the same behind-the-scenes people, or am I crazy?
Jillian: Maybe you’re crazy.
Charlotte: If that happened, it might be because we had a lot of the same crew, but tonally I think it’s probably more like Mr. Belvedere, or Diff’rent Strokes, or The Nanny. It harkens back to a more high-concept eighties show than something like Workaholics, where they’re playing more heightened version of themselves.
Jillian: Right, I think even more tonally would be like an Arrested Development.
Charlotte: I’m sticking with Mr. Belvedere.
Jillian: We met at The Groundlings and that’s what you do. You write sketches, you write interesting characters, and that was always appealing to us.
Was Gene a character that you had prior to this?
Jillian: No, it wasn’t. We figured out the world first and then the characters. It just sort of fit into who this person is. Somebody who’s been on house arrest, they’re 25, and they don’t have their life figured out. Who would this person be? And their only parent is more of a friend than a parent. That person will end up spoiled, a little bit of a brat, and childish.
Jillian: No, don’t say horrible. It’s not horrible. So that came naturally.
Yeah, tonally I think there’s plenty to draw from perhaps from Billy Madison too?
Jillian: Billy Madison was for sure one, but The Toy was also a big influence. I had never seen The Toy, Charlotte introduced me to it. So, thank you, Charlotte.
Charlotte: You’re welcome.
Idiotsitter already begins in a pretty insane world, have you thought very far ahead about how much crazier things could get?
Jillian: We had to sit down with the heads of Comedy Central and discuss with them where we saw it going and future seasons, because it can get crazy if we let it. You just want to make sure that you don’t do that in the first season and you just sort of, as they say in Hollywood, “blow your load.” Right, Charlotte?
Charlotte: They always say that. In every professional meeting they say, “Don’t blow your load.” But yeah, knock on wood, if we go further with it we have thought of different ways it could go. There’s a couple options.
Jillian: Or even season two.
What do you think is so appealing about adults acting immature in comedy, because that formula seems to keep working and being funny.
Charlotte: I think what we find interesting about this dynamic is that it’s two people that are so sheltered in very specific ways. Billie has no life experience, she’s never partied, she’s never done things that normal people have done. Gene has no adult experience, she has no responsibility, she’s never had a job. To have these two people are fundamentally lacking in a way, and to feel responsible to help them, is sort of fun. They’re both right and they’re both wrong. That’s what’s fun to watch.
Jillian: Great answer, Charlotte. Did you get that?!
Yep, I got it, it was very good. Another interesting thing about this show is that very early on things happen – like you don’t expect certain characters to die – is that something to be expected going forward?
Charlotte: That was just that one character.
Jillian: That was something we fell in love with. We thought it would be a funny twist, it was something we hadn’t really seen before. Getting rid of a main character pretty quickly.
What’s the dumbest thing you’ve done recently?
Charlotte: Oh gosh, I do dumb stuff all the time.
Jillian: I have ongoing kidney stones right now?
Charlotte: That’s not dumb.
Jillian: You have kidney stones and tell me that’s not dumb! I feel like I’m always about to do something dumb and then someone smart talks me out of it. Like I almost got the words “Brendan Fraser” tattooed on my foot.
Charlotte: That’s dumber than kidney stones. I yelled at my mom like she was a three-year-old in an American Girl Doll place.
What advice would you give to the young people out there that are trying to break into comedy, be it as a writer or performer?
Jillian: I mean, there’s so many avenues that I don’t think there’s any way to go wrong. The way we did it, we went through The Groundlings and that was incredible for both of us. And that’s how we met each other.
Charlotte: Just work hard. Whatever avenue you pick, just go with it and work your ass off. Well, don’t work your ass off.
Jillian: You need some ass. But work it, she’s saying.
Idiotsitter premieres Thursday, January 14 at 10:30pm on Comedy Central.