As former head writers on Saturday Night Live, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider made a name for themselves with a distinct series of sketches like “The Beygency,” “Back Home Ballers,” and “(Do It on My) Twin Bed” that lived in and poked fun at the day-to-day chaos that is pop culture. Their new Comedy Central show The Other Two, about what happens to two older siblings when their little brother suddenly becomes famous on YouTube, heads even further into the maw of the entertainment industry, though it never slips into cynicism. The younger brother, Chase Dreams (Case Walker), is a nice enough kid who’s happy about his viral fame, even if his Scooter Braun–like manager (Ken Marino) keeps making him do weird things like eat a bunch of eggs and dye his tongue. The other two siblings, Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne Yorke), try to use his success for their own gain, tend to trip over themselves in the process, and end up having to confront their own flaws. “We wanted Chase’s fame to not just lead to ‘Brooke and Cary are jealous,’” Kelly said of the show. “We also wanted it to be, ‘How does this fuck them up? How does it make them have to deal with real shit they’re going through in their real life?’”
The Other Two is first and foremost a comedy — there are jokes about everything in pop culture from Survivor to Instagays — but it folds in moments of drama and introspection. Kelly, who wrote and directed the indie drama Other People, and Schneider reference shows like You’re the Worst, Catastrophe, and High Maintenance as inspiration, as well as the surreal experience of seeing what Justin Bieber’s life was like when he hosted SNL. Ahead of the show’s premiere, Vulture caught up with them to discuss The Other Two’s tricky balance of pop-culture cynicism and heart, their memories of being theater kids, and whether Justin Theroux knows they set several scenes in his apartment.
I feel like one of the things that’s central to the show is that Chase isn’t a jerk — he gets caught up in this giant, terrible thing but is essentially kind of a nice kid.
Chris Kelly: We wanted him not to be a little shithead. We thought that would have been the easier or more expected route, but we like that he was a sweet kid who still loves his older siblings. We liked more that he was an innocent and then the industry descends on him and all these older men and women kind of take him and mold him and change him and make decisions for him, and as the season goes on you kind of realize he’s a sweet little prisoner. [Laughs.]
Sarah Schneider: If the kid is unlikable, it’s easier to dismiss him and for them to be like, “Fuck that kid, we don’t have to interact with him. Bye forever.” We like that it forces them to stay in his world.
You’ve talked about how the bit where Ken Marino, Chase’s manager, feeds him a ton of eggs is inspired by the time Justin Bieber was hosting SNL and Scooter Braun had him eating a ton of eggs. Were there other things you took from that experience with Bieber?
SS: No, we didn’t witness Justin’s tongue being dyed or anything. Our main takeaway, besides the eggs joke, was just that interesting dynamic of a young kid and the people making the decisions for him. We got an idea that someone is being told exactly what type of person they should be to succeed. Now you need to be sexy, now you need to be chaste, now you need to be … religious.
CK: A lot has been written about Justin Bieber being a bad host at SNL, but I guess that wasn’t 100 percent our takeaway. Our takeaway was like, Oh my God, what is this kid going through?
This is your first show, and you used to be head writers on SNL. What made you think this was the idea you’d want to run with?
CK: It just made us laugh, and we wanted a grounded show with characters we related to or were loosely based on us or things we’d been through. At SNL we also liked writing pop-cultural or topical stuff, and we wrote a lot of music videos for the girls, so this was sort of our way to meld the two things we wanted to write.
SS: At its core, we kept coming back to laughing about the layers of introspection and roughness that would come if it were actually our little brother.
CK: That idea where you’re in your 20s, specifically when you’re in a creative field, you’re constantly comparing yourself to other people and you’re worried that you’re not doing well enough, or not doing well enough fast enough. We were like, “What’s the worst-case scenario of that?” and we came down to “What if the person you’re comparing yourself to is your little brother and he didn’t even try that hard and he’s fine, he’s good, but he’s not the best of all time?”
What did you look for in casting Brooke and Cary? It feels like they have to act as an entry point for the audience, where they’re relatable even if they’re sometimes terrible.
SS: We knew Drew [Tarver] through UCB. We’d seen him perform, and he’s such a likable Everyman, that’s his vibe. We always loved him and thought he was so funny, so we cast him first. When we were looking for Brooke, her character is a little bigger, and she is definitely all over the place, so we wanted someone who brought relatability to that and could have vulnerability underneath this big confidence. We’d seen Heléne on High Maintenance and loved her, so we asked to bring her in and she was just Brooke. She was great.
I think of Heléne from American Psycho on Broadway.
CK: Oh, we never saw that!
SS: She’d love to hear that.
CK: Not just them but for all of the supporting cast, we really wanted people who were obviously super-funny first and foremost, but were also good, grounded dramatic actors, like Molly Shannon. As this season progresses, it’s funny, but we still wanted the comedy to be grounded in real worries, fears, and insecurities. Molly’s character goes through a little bit of a drama and Drew certainly does, so we wanted people who could do both.
It also feels like with Cary, he’s trying to pass as straight for his work, his auditions. Then, in another scene, he takes it as a compliment when another gay guy assumes he’s straight, which turns that guy off. That feels like a little bit of commentary on the trope of the gay character who seems straight that you sometimes see in TV shows. How did you think about that?
CK: I guess with Cary’s character — and Brooke, and all the characters — we would brainstorm real insecurities we’ve had, or that other friends have had, or that people in the writers room have had. I do think sometimes there’s a conception that — and I can only speak for myself and for my friends — when you come out in high school or college or after college and you’re like, “Great, I used to be a little self-conscious, a little uncomfortable in my own skin, but now I came out and I am perfect.” That’s not always true. There can be residual weirdness, or still not feeling comfortable in their own skin or who you are, so I think that’s a little bit of what Cary’s going through. When he auditions for that commercial and then they ask him to do it again but “straighter,” and he doesn’t even think twice about it, he’s like, “Of course, that’s what you do,” and he feels a little shitty later that he allowed himself to do that, and you’re like, “Oh, buddy, don’t do that.” But you also can’t blame him because the industry makes you feel homophobic and self-hating. He’s trying to be like, What do people want from me? but it’s also, Should I allow myself to change because of what people want me to be?
I love the recurring joke where Brooke and Cary always put their drinks on Billy Eichner’s tab when they’re at parties. Where did that come from?
CK: It just felt like a thing Brooke would absolutely, at a party, do. “Oh, I’m just going to pick a famous person who’s probably here.” She could have been like, “Put this on Billy Eichner’s tab,” and they’d be like, “He’s not here,” but she just picks someone she thought might be there and it worked. So then she’s stuck with it, and everywhere she goes she tries it, and the joke is that it always works because wherever she goes, he’s always there.
SS: It was just a one-off joke in that episode, but there just happened to be a couple of other places we could stick it in.
Chase and his mom, Molly Shannon’s character Pat, move into Justin Theroux’s apartment — did you have any basic idea what Justin Theroux’s apartment is actually like? It seems very accurate.
SS: We had this idea of what it might look like and then we looked [it] up … he did some spread and they took pictures of his house.
CK: An Architectural Digest spread.
SS: We saw it and we were kind of right!
CK: We were close! [Laughs.] It’s very masculine. Our main idea for the show was, we didn’t want it to be a regular sitcom where you go back to the same set every episode, or you go back to Cary’s job in every episode. It’s not quite like Party Down, but we liked that idea of episodes that open at different events and before every episode you never know where they’re going to be. But we still needed them to have some sort of home! We were like, “If we’re going to go back to a location more than once, it should be dumb and funny and big and look crazy!” So that’s what got us started on a celebrity’s house, and Justin Theroux’s just felt way too masculine and hard and adult for a little boy and his mom to live in.
SS: We did run it by him.
CK: He knows about it, and he’s down with it. We don’t think he has a motorcycle toilet, but I will say I think that he should, and might, if he sees the show.
In casting Chase, Case Walker who plays him was a Musical.ly star, right? What made him right for the part?
Sarah Schneider: We saw a top-ten list and he was on it. We’d brought a couple people in from the list, actually, and he just had a look. We’d been seeing a lot of Broadway kids and TV kids and actors. Amazing voices, so well-trained, and he just was so authentic to how we imagined this character, and you can’t really teach that. He just had … we were a little scared of him and we wanted him to think we were cool.
CK: Now that we know him more, he’s obviously very different from his character and he’s not playing himself, but there’s enough overlap that you buy it.
SS: It’s an inherent coolness. He came in for his first audition, he was like, “I hope it went well, but if it didn’t, that’s cool, too.”
Speaking of theater kids, you have written a lot of jokes about high-school theater, both on SNL and in The Other Two, where there’s a joke about Grease on Mars. I assume you were theater kids?
SS: Is it not clear?
CK: But I will say, I know we have a joke in the show that no one is actually very good in their plays in high school, and no high-school theater is good, but I will say that is a joke and we were both excellent in all of our shows.
What were your big roles?
CK: I was famous for being goodish in comedy plays, but once a year they had to do a musical, and let me tell ya, I couldn’t sing and I wasn’t good. But I was so enmeshed in the “theater community” that I think directors were like, “We gotta cast him in this! It’ll kill him! He’ll cry!” I was often just a funny improvised side character. The musical you know and love is happening, and then one small side character was in it more than anyone remembered in other productions.
SS: I was Smitty in How to Succeed … so, I was comic relief. I remember botching one note in the song so badly during one performance that I felt the people onstage around me cringe.
CK: You felt a tightening?
SS: I felt a tightening onstage. It will haunt me; it still does.
You were SNL writers during the election, and I’ve read that you talk about the exhaustion of having to keep up with the news cycle writing on it. In The Other Two, there aren’t very many political jokes. It’s very far away from current politics. Was that intentional?
CK: There’s no president in this world.
SS: They live in a utopia.
CK: I think the show is still topicalish and talks about social issues and stuff, and is pop culture-y, but it’s not “Political” political.
SS: Yeah, we like political stuff, but we didn’t need it for the show.
CK: It was super fun when you were at SNL for that amount of time, but I think it was fun to just try something completely different. We were more interested in the character side of things than the political side.
Do you still watch SNL?
CK: Yes. I watch it every week.
SS: I usually watch it the morning after, but I still watch.
CK: But there was that weird couple weeks where we watched them live because it’s on at 8:30 on the West Coast now. We’d be writing at my house on Saturday, writing the script, and we’d be like, “SNL’s coming on now. Should we watch it live?” And we would! They were fun! It was like a little treat at the end of a long day of writing. I was a fan of the show before and I still am.
Do you think about what your legacy was as head writers, or the directions you wanted to push the show?
CK: We didn’t really think in a macro sense like that because it feels too weird. We cared about the tone of the show, and we just wanted it to be good. We had a big part in hiring writers our last couple of years there, so that was nice. But we weren’t trying to hire writers to be like, “We want to hire people exactly like us.” We just wanted new voices, different voices, voices that felt fresh or felt like they were writing things I’d never seen before. Julio Torres was a really good example, and Anna Drezen and Sudi Green. They just had a strong point of view in their writing. We just wanted fun people.
Was there anything specifically from your own lives that made it into The Other Two?
SS: It was a lot! For both characters. It’s not just that all of Chris went into Cary. But then a lot from our writers. Like, one of our writers was in a cab and the cab driver asked to lick her foot for money.
Did anyone have a roommate who, like Cary’s, only watched Survivor and watched it way too much?
SS: Actually, Chris is the one who watches Survivor.
CK: That is based on me! Cary and the straight roommate are based on me. I love Survivor. I talk about it whenever I can. Thank you for asking the question. I don’t know why … but it also felt like a good show for that character. I know I’m in the minority because not many people watch it 37 seasons in. He’s not watching the new season, he’s watching old seasons from way back, which was funny to us.
SS: I started watching this season of Survivor because Chris made me.
CK: It’s not a bad show. To watch old episodes of it in the middle of the day is maybe rough, but it’s a good show!
Were there other shows that you used as inspiration for what you wanted The Other Two to be?
CK: I mean, the show is obviously nothing like High Maintenance, but we had the same DP and a lot of the people who shot The Other Two were camera operators on High Maintenance, because I thought High Maintenance looked beautiful. We talked about shows we liked a lot but that I don’t think are similar, like Fleabag, You’re the Worst. We tend to like dramedies. We demand our comedies be funny, but we like when they’re more grounded in the drama or a sadness or something.
SS: We think our show is a “come-dra.”
CK: Ew, gross! That’s gonna be in there. [As if quoting the news story] “Sarah, instead of saying ‘dramadey’ says ‘come-dra,’ because it’s a comedy first.” That’s disgusting!
SS: It will catch on!
In what ways do you feel you are most similar and most different to Cary and Brooke?
CK: I’ll watch episodes of Cary and just see myself from years ago and be like, “Oh my God, don’t do that! You’re going to be fine! Pull it together! Be more confident!” A lot of the struggles of when you’re in your 20s and trying to date and figuring out your career when you move to New York, I relate to that.
SS: I relate to Brooke trying to convince people to go to parties with her and trying to convince herself that parties are fun, that combination is very me.
CK: [To Sarah] We have so many similarities, and that is where we diverge. She likes parties and Halloween, and I do not like parties and Halloween.
SS: I relate to her desire to make big moves in her life. Like, we always talk big games about “Oh, I’d love to just buy land upstate.” Or “What if I just didn’t write anymore and I owned a paper store?”
And how are you different from them?
SS: I don’t make the big moves and she does. [Laughs.] I just talk about them.
CK: I don’t really relate to Cary as much anymore.
SS: It’s more of your past.
CK: I think we relate to the family aspect of it, too. We have obviously different families and grew up on opposite sides of the country, but I think our upbringing was slightly similar. Family’s important to us, and we’re close to our siblings, and we just have a shared language when it comes to family. I think that was a no-brainer when we decided to write a show that it would be a show about a family.
SS: Not for family. Not appropriate for family.
CK: A show about family that is not a family show.