How Comedy Central’s ‘Delco Proper’ Reps the Real Philly

If you haven’t heard of John McKeever and Tommy Pope, you will soon. The two Philly-born comics debuted the pilot episode of their Comedy Central web series Delco Proper last summer, and the three new episodes dropped today. Delco is ostensibly about Philly – Delaware County – but not any Philly we’ve seen on TV before. Frustrated with slipshod, in-name-only representations of their home turf, McKeever and Pope set out to give life to the blue-collar world they grew up in. They star as, surprise, John and Tommy, employees at a Delco lumberyard populated by colorful characters and equally colorful schemes.

I spoke with McKeever and Pope about the new episodes, which you can watch here.

How’d making these new episodes compare to making the pilot?

John McKeever: It was kinda similar – we obviously had a little bit more of a budget for these. They were more stressful in terms of generating a crew. We had a much larger crew for these three episodes, it was a lot of favors and calling in some repayments just to get things done within the budget. But it was great. We shot three episodes in three days and they were all nine-page scripts, so it was a very daunting task. Toward day three, we definitely felt not only exhausted, but super happy that we were able to get everything we needed. We had an amazing crew and a really cool cast and really came out with a product we’re proud of.

Tommy Pope: The only thing I would add to that is, we felt like we were creating an actual series. The first one was obviously just a one-off, and it felt more like it was a full sketch, whereas this felt like we were completing a story – actually creating a world. Which was much more fun for me.

Was that more challenging to write?

Tommy: I don’t think for me, no. I think the challenge is just it’s a little more work. We know this world and we live this world, so it’s fun. That made it a bit easier.

John: And I think part of it, too, is that the first episode was – we were figuring how to introduce these characters in such a short period of time without being expository. And that’s tough. There are six characters and you’re introducing a world. So the first episode had the most rewrites in terms of trying to get it smooth, and then episodes two and three were obviously a lot easier. Because at that point we had more of the tone figured out. By episode three we were just having fun. And that was kind of how we imagined if the show ever went bigger – we’d have much more time to play with. The amount we cut out of the script was just insane, me and Tommy started with like 11-12 pages per script and we had to pare down from there.

Can you talk a bit about the world and the tone you’re trying to create? How is this a different representation of Philly than, uh, other representations of Philly in TV and film?

John: I mean, we don’t in any way reference Philadelphia and won’t reference Philadelphia. We’ll never do that. This world we’re trying to create is more of a world of its own, kind of like Springfield is, or Quahog. We want to create a world where the characters can only exist there. And that’s what’s fun. We’ve said it before, but we won’t show exterior shots or, like, talk about fucking cheese steaks, because it’s unbelievable lazy and it’s pandering. We just – Tommy’s from Delco, I’m from Northeast Philly, and we’re used to these weird people that we’ve never seen represented on TV before. We want to represent people. We’re not trying to represent, like, this Eagles football fan that everybody who makes any type of reference to Philly goes right for.

Tommy: It’s also more about, as John said, a community that we feel hasn’t been represented, in a blue-collar manner, on television for quite some some time. We’re trying not just to change the perception of our area, but to put something on television that isn’t just some living room, or the corner of a bar, where you don’t really explore how these people are.

Yeah, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a lumberyard on TV before. Except, like, fleetingly in mob movies or things like that.

John: Yeah, and we do try to go outside the lumberyard, too. Two of the four episodes take place outside the lumberyard – that’s the culture wanted to explore. We wanted to get out into the world and see these people in bars, in softball fields, things like that.

To what extent is the show biographical?

Tommy: I think it’s pretty accurate. I think all the characters we’ve developed are pieces of people we were exposed to. The personalities of the characters we’re writing – I think you can find them in my history or John’s history. An uncle, or a cousin, or a friend growing up. These stories that we’re pulling from actually happened, they’re people we dealt with coming up in this world. I think that’s the fun part of it, as I said earlier. It’s pretty much true to life. Northeast Philly is very similar to Delco, very similar to the surrounding areas. I think it’s pretty true and also a little off – it’s obviously not all true, but the personalities are similar. John, you wanna add something to that?

John: No, I think that was well said. I think we drew from experiences. All the characters we pitched to each other, you know, they were derived from interactions we’ve had with someone similar. I don’t think anyone in the show is really farcical. As far as Mike – the white guy with the beard who’s always dressing in FUBU – goes, that guy is someone we’ve both worked with like eighteen different times. Somebody you see on every job site in Philly, somebody’s perfect kid who needed a job so they’re like “Alright, go hang out in the office and don’t bother anybody.”

That guy who wrapped his necktie around his arm so he could do a shot with it – that has to be something you’ve witnessed.

John: Exactly. My dad was a bartender in Fairmount in the ‘70s and he says a lot of businessmen would do that trick before they’d go to work. Because they were all alcoholics – they’d come in in their suit, loosen their ties, and take the shot that way. We always thought that was a funny idea.

You guys have both made a good deal of sketch and TV. How’s working with Comedy Central compare to other networks, or any of the web stuff you’ve done?

Tommy: John can speak from the directorial side, but for me they were just so super supportive. The input they gave was always dead-on, and they gave us a ton of creative freedom from start to finish. Hiring our own crew, people we’ve worked with for a few years – I’d say we got lucky, but it was through years of hard work growing a team that we trust. John could give a nod or a look and they’d know exactly what had to be done. It’s a testament to the team we’ve compiled over the last few years. That’s how we got three episodes done in three days. And Comedy Central’s been great and supportive in allowing us to keep every single team member that we wanted.

John: That’s exactly right. The first thing that Comedy Central did was allow us to use our own crew, which was such a huge moment for us. Because that’s all we wanted to do. We wanted to use the guys we’ve worked with forever. We’ve developed a shorthand with them. There’s people on our crew that are unseen, but they’re so important. Like John Donner, Chris Newhart, guys who are so important to what we do and how we make what we make. And we really couldn’t make these things without them. For Comedy Central to step up and say, “Yeah, we’ll do what we can to make that work,” was really amazing on their part.

They put the creative first. And that’s something you don’t see with networks that much. Normally networks are scared – networks are like, “I don’t want you to say this,” “I don’t want you to do this,” “We don’t have enough time to shoot this,” they have a million things that they want to say that are mechanical. Whereas Comedy Central comes to you from a creative standpoint first – they would rather you run out of time and not have an episode, than have an episode that was not aligned with what you wanted creatively. That’s a testament to the way they work – they build a very specific tone, they really nurture comedians, writers, and directors, and you can see how important that is in the end product.

I don’t mean to speak for Tommy, but those three episodes look exactly the way we thought they would look in preproduction. And that is not usually the case. Usually you’re like, “Well, okay. It’s kind of close.” There were things in there – dolly shots, jib shots, things that other people would’ve been like, “You gotta cut that, we’re not gonna have time for that.” The producers were on set and they were like, “Go for it, have fun.” We never felt at any point like they were going against us, and that was really exciting.

Are you guys working on anything else now? Tommy, I know I saw you in that Seeing Other People web series a bit ago…

John: Tommy and I are both working on a couple scripts that we’ve been putting off while we wait to see what happens with Delco. Just ‘cause, you know, we could sit in an office and write Delco all day for the rest of our lives. But now we want to work on other stuff and have other scripts ready to go, some irons in the fire. And Tommy’s doing a ton of acting, which he’s not really speaking up about.

Tommy: Yeah, there’s been a lot of bombing auditions, a lot of shitty acting stuff. And some of it works out. There’s a couple good shows we’re working on, a couple things we’re writing together that hopefully we’ll be able to work out in the next few months. But this has been our baby and our focus, and – I don’t want to speak for John here – it becomes emotional. It takes up your mind and all your free time and I just cannot wait for Monday to come, to get the feedback and see what the next steps are. Because it does put a creative hold on a lot of other projects and other ideas. Standup, travel, John and I both have taken a break from doing a lot of road work. But I’m excited to see how we can move forward.

How Comedy Central’s ‘Delco Proper’ Reps the Real […]