For decades, a stand-up special was the best way for a stand-up comedian to get their name and comedic sensibility out there. However, there has never really been the equivalent for up-and-coming improvisers and sketch actors. Netflix is going to try and change that this Friday with Characters, in which the streaming service has given eight such comedians — Lauren Lapkus, Kate Berlant, Phil Burgers, Paul W. Downs, John Early, Tim Robinson, Natasha Rothwell, and Henry Zebrowski – 30 minutes to do whatever they want. This is an opportunity for Lapkus, who, depending on who you are, is best known for her role in Jurassic World or for multiple appearances on the Comedy Bang! Bang! podcast, to show off her arsenal of hilarious, ridiculous characters.
To discuss the special, Vulture asked another comedian with a Chicago improv background, Silicon Valley’s Thomas Middleditch to interview his friend about the opportunity. They also discuss doing gross shows, watching their friends’ projects, and The Bachelor.
Do you remember, I asked you out at one point? You said no.
No, you didn’t.
I swear. I had just broken up with [a mutual friend] and I said, “Hey, do you want to go out?” and you were like, “I don’t think that’s a good idea.” [Laughs.]
[Laughs.] I don’t remember that!
I swear! I swear on it. It was probably a totally tactless ask-out. I probably did it on Facebook.
Yeah, or because you had just broken up with my friend and I was like, Maybe I should not be that person who does that. That would make sense. That’s funny. Do you hold a grudge against me forever? And I forgot completely.
I’m still really mad about it. No. All the best. [Both laugh.] You do [the monthly live show] Wild Horses and I’ll do Improv Shakespeare, or an improv show with [Ben] Schwartz or something. But I like the other shows, too. The weird ones. The late-night stuff. Sometimes, when comedians get success they don’t do as much weird stuff as they normally do.
Totally. I don’t go see a ton of shows anymore because I like to have my free nights. But the one show that I always try to go to is Celebrity Barf Machine. It’s the sickest show. It’s at UCB and the premise is that there’s an underground bunker where celebrities go do the grossest thing they can and no one will ever know. So everyone is doing celebrity impressions and they come onstage and do the grossest thing you can imagine. You’re not allowed to share what happened in the show, so I can’t really tell you, but I’ve almost thrown up every time. It is so foul. I love that show.
Oh my goodness. At the Del Close Marathon last year, Anthony Atamanuik does this real weird late-night show called Pie Babies. It’s probably on at like 3 a.m. and I was probably too many tequila shots in by that time. They were like, “Do you want to do the show?” I was like, “Hell yeah, let’s do it.” Then he hands me a diaper. He’s dressed up like a clown and he’s [high-pitched voice] talking like this, like the Paul Bearer from old-school WWF. And I’m one of his pie babies. We all go onstage and he does a weird scene and then he puts pies on his pie babies’ faces. It’s so weird. It’s done in 15 minutes and that’s it. You’re walking offstage being like, What just happened? What was that?
He is so funny.
Have you seen his Donald Trump?
I’ve seen some videos online, but I haven’t seen it in person. And not to make a really horrible segue, but he’s in my Netflix special. He’s so great.
Hot damn. What’s that like? Because I’m interested in doing one at one point in my life.
Netflix basically just picked eight alternative comedians, people who don’t do stand-up or are a little different than a straight-up stand-up. We got to do whatever we wanted. They gave us 30 minutes each and it’s like a sketch special. I did a bunch of characters from my podcast or Comedy Bang! Bang!. They’re fully actualized in a way I never got to do before, so it was really fun.
Is it a season and each episode is a different person?
It is a release-it-all-at-once thing, but it is a series, though the episodes are not connected, necessarily. You should definitely do one. It’s fun to get to do characters you’ve done before, but with actual costumes and shit. The only other time I really get to do that is doing the Comedy Bang! Bang! TV show, because you actually can pick whatever you want your character to look like and they’ll make it happen.
Are you in a car?
[Laughs.] Where are you going now?
I’ve got to do a little voice work on this Disney XD show called Penn Zero: Part-Time Hero.
Oh yeah, I did a couple episodes of that. I haven’t seen it.
They’re actually pretty fun. My friend’s kids who watch the show came over and they were like, “Wait, you’re Penn Zero?” They couldn’t handle it. It was great.
I feel like that would be pretty strange to meet a voice actor as a kid.
It could only be disappointing.
Imagine meeting that woman who does Bart. You’d be like, “No.”
“No, you’re not. Bart Simpson is yellow and has spiky hair.”
Wait. You were on Animals on HBO? I feel like I saw your name on it.
Animals? No, no. Just good ol’ Silicon Valley, though my goal always within the HBO family is to be on Game of Thrones. I’m even wearing a Game of Thrones T-shirt right now.
Oh my God. That’d be so amazing. Do you think you could really do it?
Yes, yes. Over the years, I’ve had a slight ebbing and flowing of confidence in my non-comedic role abilities. I think I could do it.
I believe you can do a dramatic role but Game of Thrones specifically is so extreme.
It’s melodrama for sure. I feel like I could do the nose and the accent and all that.
That would be so good.
Hashtag squad goals.
Hashtag Thomas for Thrones. Trending.
What is your number one of things that you really want to still do in this silly old game?
Oh, man. I would really like to create my own show. And I really wanna meet Oprah.
Really? Are you a big Oprah-phile?
I love Oprah. I love her so much but I’m honestly not sure which one of those is more likely to happen. They both seem really difficult. What about you?
Oooh. I want to work with Wes Anderson, Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, or Spike Jonze. There are lot of people I’d wanna work with but Wes Anderson … I would just wanna sit down with the guy. If he would ever put me in one of his movies that would be the end.
Yeah, I would kill to be in a Wes Anderson movie. I just love the way they look.
Yeah. I wanna be in a little doll house. That’d be great.
I have vision boards. Though I haven’t made one for a long time, I went back and looked at my old ones and I had achieved some of the things on it. One of the things that I was really happy about was getting to work with Judd Apatow [on the pilot for Crashing].
You’re going on a Comedy Bang! Bang! tour, right?
Yeah, in May we’re going to 17 cities, possibly more. With Scott Aukerman and Paul F. Tompkins and Neil Campbell. I’m really excited. Have you ever gone on a tour for anything?
Not like a tour-tour. I’ll line up a few colleges or a club. Now, Kumail [Nanjiani] and T.J. [Miller] or any combination thereof can go and hit up venues and it’s free fun and we don’t have to be on the road for eight months. Are you going on, like, a tour bus?
There are only a few of us, so we’re, like, hopping from city to city every day — mostly flying. We’re doing two shows a night some nights and it’s all gonna be characters, so I’m really excited. My brain is gonna be fried.
That is going to be so fun and exhausting.
How’s your show going? Are you almost done?
We are. We’re almost done. In the homestretch. The writers put a lot of pressure on themselves to be good and also authentic to the world, because if we don’t get authentic then the internet gets angry. It’s taken a bit to form these last couple of episodes but they’ve got them now and we’re going straight through. There’s some really good stuff in this third season. So if any readers are fans, season three is gonna be a real premium blend! Do you watch the show?
Yeah, I do watch it. I’ve seen every episode, baby.
I really love the show. It’s right up my alley anyway but I also love watching anything my friends are on. I will DVR anytime I see someone’s gonna be a guest role on something. I like to see what everyone’s doing.
I’m the antithesis of that. Not that I actively avoid it. I’m very sensitive and I really have to watch out for that green envy. You’re telling me about this Netflix thing and I’m like, I want a Netflix thing. It’s not like you and I are archenemies, but I still want that. I try and just stick to my video games and The Bachelor.
Oh, I’m a huge Bachelor fan!
I know. You were on a Bachelor after-show [Bachelor Live]. What was that like? I want to do that but I don’t know.
It’s a very interesting time. I really loved meeting Ben and I love meeting reality stars, but the show itself is difficult because you can’t really, as a comedian, make fun of the show. I don’t want to make fun of them to their faces. I’m not rude like that. You’re mocking people who are doing something earnest. It feels mean to make fun of them. As a comedian, you’re at a loss for what to say on the show because you can’t make fun of them, but if you take it seriously, it’s not funny.
Yeah. You’re a little stuck where it’s like, “What do I do with my cynicism?”
Exactly. I had fun talking about it because I enjoy the show, but it’s hard to make a joke without hurting someone.
Yeah, yeah. I ran into Nick from Kaitlyn’s season at a bar and I asked him, “Okay, I know there’s a lot of producer stuff going on. They’re obviously writing these weird scenarios for group dates, trying to make it as awkward as they can, but what’s it like? What are the people like?” He said, “To be frank, what you see is kind of what you get. Yes, they’re gonna edit some stuff in a certain way but people are really genuinely going on that show to try and find love.” I thought that was so bonkers. Every season, you look at these people and all of them are very handsome and pretty and you think, How do these people have trouble finding love? And then you get to know them and they’re just all so strange. And they’re like 24.
That definitely is part of it. They’re so young and they’re like, “I have to get married” and it’s like, “Well, just wait. You’ll probably meet someone next year. You’re not old enough for this to be a problem yet.” It should really be people who are in their 30s and are actually like, “I really want to settle down.”
Yes, of course. Like the frontrunner this season is a flight attendant and she’s beautiful, so you know she’s doing international flights. She’s never even gonna be around. He’s gonna be like, “Cool, let’s try this thing out,” and she’s gonna be like, “I’m in Dubai.”
She has a really good chance, but I’m thinking JoJo might win.
When I watch the show, I have to put my phone away because I have the inclination to just tweet really catty, bitchy shit. I don’t want to incur the wrath of Bachelor nation.
They’re very intense. It’s like if you tweet anything about One Direction, you’ll get a lot of hate — immediately. They’re just searching the words and then writing back to anybody who writes about them.
Well, I just want the readers to know and I want you to know that I think you’re the funniest and I can’t wait to work with you in a more substantial way. I’m not joking, when I try and figure out what script I wanna do next, it’s always like, How the hell are Lauren and I going to play brother and sister in a ridiculous bonehead comedy?
Oh my God, that’s all I care about. You’re just the best.