underrated

The Scammy Charm of Kaitlin Olson and The Mick

The Mick. Photo: Fox

One of Chris Redd’s first breakout pieces on Saturday Night Live was a dark reimagining of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where the Philly toughs follow Will to Bel-Air. It’s jarring, to say the least, to see characters as anodyne as Uncle Phil taking out motherfuckers with a shotgun. Redd likes to find the heart in hard characters, like the “Friendos” who are working their feelings out in therapy. So it makes sense that he loves the now-canceled Fox comedy The Mick. An heir to the “How did one such as I wind up with these precocious kids???” sitcoms like Fresh Prince, The Mick simultaneously had some of the most heartwarming moments and some of the most traumatic injuries to children in a TV show. The cutest little tyke in the family swallowed balloons of heroin and was inadvertently covered from head to toe in nicotine patches and burns his tongue on a Benihana grill. And that’s just in the first season.

Redd recently released his first stand-up album on Comedy Central Records, But Here We Are. He’s currently in the middle of his second season of SNL. The Mick ended its second season last year and was not renewed for a third, something that Redd grieved like he had been a cast member. Redd spoke to us about his guest-star role that never was, his personal uncle style, and why living in a mansion doesn’t mean you’re not still trash.

Tell me what you like about The Mick.
Oh, besides everything? I really liked that show because it made unlikable characters likable. It had strong female leads that weren’t typical for a sitcom, which was super dope. And it found a creative way to use kids, too. They were really joking on the rich, and using everything, which is in my bag as well. Kaitlin Olson is the absolute truth. To watch her carry that show was insane. At the crux of it, I like terrible funny people who do terrible funny shit yet they somehow need each other. They had growth, but it was never fake. The daughter and Kaitlin’s character disliked each other, but they learned to be warm without it being phony. Sometimes there were no redeeming qualities to their actions, and I love that type of shit. Because I’ve known people my whole life that, to the world, are assholes. Bad people. But they’re also some of the funnest and funniest people you will ever know. And I like when someone can really capture that on TV.

It also felt like an interesting throwback to that ’80s sitcom trope of “How did I get these kids??”
Yeah, and even the way they were dealing with that was how shitty people would deal with that: Let’s take advantage of this shit! Oh wait, I have to grow up real quick. It also went into adults who never really grew up and are always trying to scam and hustle. I find that intriguing as well. There are a lot of layers to the show.

It struck a really tough balance between going harder, especially with the kids, than I think I’ve ever seen before and having more heart than I would have expected.
Exactly. It got to a point where I wanted to see Kaitlin talk about different motherly things just so I could see how she’d fuck it up. How far she would go rolling up to a school. Having her fuck buddy in the house playing a really shitty dad role.

Jimmy.
Yeah, that guy was also brilliant. An insane person doing insane shit the whole time. People just rolled their eyes at him and accepted him, so he had free reign to do the nuttiest shit in each episode. And people would go “Oh, that’s just Jimmy.” I love characters like that.

It was a show I really wanted to be on, too.  It got canceled earlier this year, or late last year. When I heard, I posted about it like I was on the show. This is a campaign to renew the show, man. That’s all this interview is.

We’re bringing it back, then you’re getting a guest spot. What would you have wanted to do?
I would want to be from Jimmy’s world. That would be perfect if I came back, and we played that “I’m your dad” thing. And I’m clearly not his kid, but he wants a son so bad that he just takes me in. None of the timeline matches up, but Jimmy just needs to guide someone through life so bad. I had it way thought out.

You were saying that something you liked about the show was how Kaitlin Olson was the strong female lead on this show, but that she was still deeply unlikable.
It was such a refreshing female lead. A refreshing lead, period. Even the maid [Alba, played by Carla Jimenez], who wound up being the best friend, her road dog down for whatever. That relationship was amazing. Them being a duo, fucking life up more — it was so fun. Having this maid be a caretaker for the children, but she has her own agenda. Those were the moments when I laughed the most — that new take on the maid or butler character. The Fresh Prince butler was like a butler. He had quips, but I’m glad we didn’t go that route with this show. I said “we” like I was involved somehow. But they made her a whole person. You got to see the layers on her. They kept her flawed too. It was beautiful.

Nearly every scene she had would reveal another chunk of her extremely fucked-up backstory from Guatemala. You get these pieces and it’s like “Oh, you’ve lived a life.”
You’ve lived a full life, and you almost deserve to be this bad after all the shit you’ve had to deal with. It reminds me of The Good Place, with Kristen Bell’s character. They really do that fantastically, dropping little hints of how bad this person was in life.

But I love how Kaitlin really did it. And how [her character] tried to grow. But even as she’s growing, she’s not elevating who she is as a person. She’s just elevating what the bad looks like.

You can change your external environment, but that’s not the same as changing yourself?
I’m in a mansion now. This is going to change everything. But by the end of season one, they’ve burned it down. It’s literally all burned down. Now you’re in a shitty-ass mansion that’s been burnt to nothing. The symbolism in that!

Did you get anything as a writer or performer from seeing the show make such bold choices? Burning it all to the ground or being so unlikable as a protagonist?
I live in the dark. I like the dark. That’s my favorite stuff — it’s always been. Stuff like this inspires me because [it shows that] there can be assholes on TV. We can use them to satirize certain ideas. That’s what Glenn Howerton is doing on A.P. Bio, too. But that’s a constant in my work — trying to figure out how to write something from my background, my culture, that may not resonate with that crowd. Especially with SNL. How can I get jokes that relate to me, the people that I came up with, that are similar to me? How can I bring that dark stuff and put just enough light on it that people can accept it, even if they haven’t experienced it? Seeing that done well, that energizes me.

Do you have nieces and nephews?
I do, I do. Well, I have little cousins who are more like nieces and nephews to me than cousins. And I have a godson.

What’s your uncle style? Do you try to be a fun uncle?
Yeah, I definitely try to be a fun uncle. And if there are teachable moments, I bring them where I can. When they’re acting up, I gotta put the Scarface on. I have a brother that’s more serious than me, so he handles all the school stuff and some of the serious-serious talks. I’m the one that’s going to teach them to use condoms. Not now, but for future shit. I get to spoil them if they’re being good, and I can give them a talking-to. But I always let them feel like they have an outlet for their creativity, because that’s what I feel like I didn’t have growing up. One of my little cousins loves to dance, so I always check in on him, make him show me the moves he’s working on. Or another likes video games, so I wind up playing these games I hate. Just so they always feel like they have a connection. We can’t be serious all the time. They see me joking constantly, so they’re always ready to play when I come around. I let them know who I really am — that it’s not jokes every minute of the day. But I’m the fun one! If I come around, we’re gonna have fun. As long as your grades are up.

That’s a unique position you’re in, showing them not only that it’s okay to have fun sometimes but that it’s also possible to make a living as an artist.
But you’re really going to have to work. You’re going to have to work hard. Like, is that your math homework? Well, here’s my brother who’s going to help you do it. I’m not doing that math homework. Fuck that shit. I called my role. Y’all do the rest.

Back to the grifting nature of the family. It’s been a real year for scams, huh?
Oh man, scams are on the rise. Scamming has always been around in the culture, but big-time scams [are happening today]. People are getting a lot more ambitious and a lot less … good at scams.

I’m wondering if you feel the same way I do about people just now getting hip to scammers, like I’m a fan of a band that is just now getting popular.
Yeah, these scams have been happening. It’s weird that people are surprised at how many scams there are. I used to work at this call center, and we would sell infomercial workout equipment. And nothing is a bigger scam than 3:30-in-the-morning infomercial workout chairs. That shit, you know it’s bad. The chair was like a stool with a resistance band on it. The thing was to sit like a regular stool, but with the resistance band on it you’ll get abs. The commercial said this. And I was sitting here thinking No one can believe this. But you wouldn’t believe how many people I sold that shit to. All you gotta do is sit and you get abs? Yeah, that’s never how you get abs. That’ll never work. I don’t care what you use.

Would you say that’s your scummiest job, or have you had scammier?
I’m not gonna incriminate myself on this phone call! Let’s just say I’ve had my fair share of cons.

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The Scammy Charm of Kaitlin Olson and The Mick