Midway through the third episode of I Think You Should Leave, Netflix’s summer sketch sensation, co-creator Tim Robinson asks a focus group for some ideas for Ford. A simple enough sketch premise. Co-creator Zach Kanin, playing Paul, suggests “Bluetooth capabilities.” Sure, fine. It goes around a little. But then a mysterious man offers the idea of “a good steering wheel that doesn’t fly off while you’re driving.” Wait, what? A couple more ideas, then again: “A good steering wheel that doesn’t fly off your hand while you’re driving.” A couple more ideas. The man suggests the car be “too small.” Robinson asks for any other ideas and, waving his hand in front of his nose, the man suggests “stinky.” A star was born.
Of course, the sketch was “Focus Group,” one of the best of the decade, and that man was Ruben Rabasa, a Cuban-born working actor and one of the most memed men of 2019. But where did this sketch — and more important, this man — come from? How was the sketch written, shot, and edited? Those questions and so many more (like whether they shot anything else with Rabasa) were answered as part of the live oral history of the sketch that took place at Vulture Festival earlier this year. You can read a transcript of the conversation below, or listen to this week’s episode of Good One right here. (You can download the episode from Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.)
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One More Thing
Zach, you’re coming from the Harvard Lampoon and working at the New Yorker. You started at SNL as a writer in 2011. Tim, coming from Second City Detroit and then Chicago, joined the cast in 2012. How and when did you start working together? Was there something specific you bonded over? And then how did you know it was a fit?
Tim Robinson: We started writing together mostly my second year on SNL, when I got moved into the writing staff, which I think was a good decision.
For you or for the show?
Robinson: For everybody.
Zach Kanin: I think we maybe wrote one thing when you were in the cast, which was the “Weekend Update” where you played a guy who was … it was a real-life story about a guy who’s making a replica of the Titanic.
Robinson: Yeah, he was building a replica of the Titanic.
Kanin: Calling it Titanic 2 and using all the same parts.
Robinson: This is identical. Completely identical. Same course.
Kanin: Yeah. It was. There was something about that guy, writing that guy who just had the stupidest idea and spending a billion dollars on it. I figured out that was the kind of thing I’d like to write.
I think there’s probably an assumption based on your backgrounds that Zach is sort of the structure and like more cerebral guy, and Tim as an improviser is more of a wild card, I think. Would you say that assessment is correct?
Akiva Schaffer: 100% no.
Robinson: Yeah, I wouldn’t say that. I don’t think so.
Robinson: I’m definitely not a wild card. I don’t like that.
This is not my assumption.
Robinson: You said “wild card.” I am not a wild card.
There’s probably an assumption …
Robinson: You said probably a wild card. I don’t like that.
What is your working relationship like?
Kanin: I’m better at typing.
Robinson: That’s true, that’s true.
Schaffer: They’re falling into the stereotype.
Robinson: Just the typing thing. Other than that … Oh, no. I ain’t no wild card!
Kanin: You are at typing. You’re a wild card at typing.
Robinson: I’m a wild card at typing. That one thing.
And you’re a Harvard at typing?
Kanin: I’m a Harvard at typing.
To just back up again to Tim’s first year, there are a few things that you got on the air, that I’m assuming you had a hand in. There’s “Z Shirt,” there’s a sketch where you play real-estate agents complaining about vandalizing their posters. And I think there’s maybe one sketch that felt most like I Think You Should Leave, which is where Jason Sudeikis plays John Tesh and you play his brother and you’re pitching executives at the NBA, pitching executives on an NBA and NBC theme song. Do you remember this sketch?
Did you write this?
Robinson: Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was an old Chicago bit. It was one I used to do years ago in Chicago.
So obviously at that time you’re like, “And then one day I’m going to have a sketch show on Netflix.” But of the things you did on air, did you feel like “Oh, there’s something there”? Because it is a similar thing of “Here’s this guy, and I think they’re like ‘want him to leave.’” They’re like, “Stop singing!” and then he hits everything. Do you think that was …
Robinson: To be fair, every sketch has someone in it they want to leave.
Not every sketch.
Robinson: Most sketch comedies. Like, “Oh, I think you need to get out of here now.”
What about “Lazy Sunday”?
Schaffer: That’s not really a sketch.
All right, then never mind. You’re right.
Robinson: Like “Cowbell.” They’re like, “Stop that!”
Kanin: “You gotta go.” Yeah.
So what about that genre of sketch, which you’re saying is most sketches, do you think you responded to as opposed to rap parodies?
Schaffer: Watch what you say here.
Robinson: I don’t know. I guess it’s probably just that sort of thing is what Zach and I find the most funny.
Do you remember things that you wrote when you guys started out writing together on SNL?
Schaffer: You mean things that didn’t make it?
If anything made it, that would be useful. But things that made it on SNL that you guys wrote together.
Robinson: Yeah. There’s kind of a lot I feel like that aired, but yeah.
Kanin: I think probably the first thing that we felt [we had] control over and were happy with was the “Bugs” video with Mike O’Brien.
Robinson: Yeah. It’s Mike O’Brien going out. He’s trying to interview bugs — when you always see bugs, they’re always running — and he was interviewing them being like, “Where do you have to be?” That was one of the first things we got, and we felt real proud of that one.
Why? What were you proud of?
Kanin: It started with such a stupid premise but one that you immediately are like, “Yeah, they’re always running, and why? It’s just to get, like, a little dot over here?” But then we really dug into his psychology at some point. He takes a call and says happy birthday to his son. Like, why is he doing this?
Robinson: And his brother, who he’s having work with him right away, lies and says, hey, like Mike keeps saying, “I can’t get these things to answer!” And then his brother right away just goes [to a bug] “Where you going?” And it’s what’s his name?
Kanin: Josh Hutcherson.
Robinson: Josh Hutcherson! And he’s like [to a bug], “Where you going?” And he fakes [the bug saying], “I’m going to the supermarket!” And clearly it’s him faking it and then it comes back at Mike and he’s like, “How did he do that?!”
Kanin: It also, you know that bugs are running around but when we shot it in winter and when it’s cold, bugs don’t move at all. It was really hard to get them to move around.
Robinson: And the person who brought the bugs, there was one, this bug started to run away. He goes, “Oh, don’t let that thing out!” I was like, “Why?” He was like, “If this thing gets loose, it’s going to fuck up the ecosystem.” We’re like, “Put it in the box! Don’t use that bug!”
Are there other sketches from SNL that you guys are particularly proud of?
Robinson: Zach, can you?
Kanin: There are.
Robinson: There’s one that’s very I Think You Should Leave — it’s another magician one. But it’s that trick where they pull out like a kerchief from your sleeve, and it’s a joke where they get to that point where they get to the underwear, like they’ve pulled off the guy’s underwear. They’re like, “Oooh, it smells, it smells a little bit.” And they’re doing it to the boss at like a corporate event, and the boss, sits back down, and he sits there kind of thinking about it. The magician carries on. At one point he’s like, “What were you implying? That I shit my pants?”
Schaffer: That aired?
Robinson: That aired, yeah.
Kanin: Peter Dinklage.
Robinson: Peter Dinklage, yeah.
Kanin: “By your logic.” He keeps saying, “By your logic.”
Robinson: He actually said, “I didn’t say you shit your pants.” He said, “So what made the smells, just piss?”
Kanin: He was insisting there was a skid mark.
Robinson: Oh yeah, skid mark, yeah. I just said there was like a skid mark.
Kanin: “By your logic, there’s a loose log in my pants.” But he keeps saying, “I like the joke.”
Robinson: Oh, yeah. He keeps saying, “I’m a good sport, I like the joke.”
You’ve said there are some ideas that didn’t work at SNL that eventually made it on I Think You Should Leave but haven’t said which specifically. So I asked Seth Meyers if he remembered any. He said “Hot Dog Car” was something you wrote for SNL.
He said it killed at table [read] — this is what Seth Meyers said. So do you remember how it was different or why it didn’t work on SNL at first?
Robinson: It didn’t go to dress. So I don’t know why it didn’t work on SNL. I think there was something about …
Kanin: Just the set was really complicated.
Robinson: Yeah, like bringing a hot-dog car was, yeah.
Kanin: That was definitely our most complicated set on the show, getting the hot-dog car.
Robinson: I remember trying to figure out “How do we get a hot-dog car in on Saturday?”
Kanin: And how do we smash it through the window.
Before moving on from SNL, I want to talk a little bit about your The Characters special, because it seemed to pave the way [for I Think You Should Leave]. And I specifically wanna talk about the “Sammy Paradise” sketch, I think, is one of the great sketches of the last decade. What happens in the “Sammy Paradise” sketch, for those who have not seen it?
Robinson: Um, like a kind of fake Sinatra guy comes in, and he’s a local at this casino and he’s a hot shot, and he comes in and he tips everybody, pays for everybody’s meals, lights a guy’s cigarette, and in one roll of the dice, he loses everything, melts down, comes back, and takes everything back that he gave.
Did working on The Characters, which was a different situation than SNL and you are now performing it, did you learn something that you think then helped pave the way for I Think You Should Leave? Because you worked on that as well, right?
Kanin: Yeah, yeah. We were. We did that together. I mean, I think it was just a blueprint for it. Not exactly, but just kind of. We felt good about The Characters.
Robinson: It maybe just like solidified exactly what we wanted to do.
I had warned you about this beforehand, but this is going to be one of the boring questions. So coming from SNL, what really interests me about that sketch is it’s paced very differently than an SNL sketch. An SNL sketch, because there’s a live audience, you have to have it be very clear at the very beginning what is going to be happening. Where this sketch is essentially like it’s a crescendo of like this guy’s happening and then the decline. Are you aware of form or thinking about that? Are you like “Oh, I want to do something that is not sort of an SNL thing?”
Robinson: I don’t know. SNL does all sorts of stuff. I feel like a version of that could work on SNL.
Kanin: Yeah, I think just the nature of it being taped and edited, you can do that. Like I think SNL has tape pieces where the joke isn’t until pretty late and you’re given a little more leeway.
Robinson: People have a little more patience for a taped piece than they do a live piece. And you can edit it faster.
So enter Akiva into this story. Hi, Akiva.
Schaffer: Hi. You don’t … okay, thank you.
I believe you had already left the show by the time at least when Tim started.
Schaffer: Yeah, neither of them worked there when I started. I think I just learned — I thought you were a writer first, got promoted to cast, and then became a writer. But you came in as a featured player. So I also just learned that right now.
What is your history with the guys? How did you meet them?
Schaffer: I don’t know exactly, but I would come back occasionally. Like when Timberlake would host, me and Andy would come back for the week. I think that was the first episode where you guys worked there because I remember the ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-basketball one that you just brought up, being at the table read and then not going but everybody thinking it was super funny. That was the first time I guess I knew of your guys’ stuff.
As Tim tells it, it was your idea for I Think You Should Leave to happen. Not the show itself, but for Tim to have a sketch show. Can you talk about that conversation you had with Netflix?
Schaffer: Similar from everybody in this room, I was just a fan from having seen them a couple times in the show. But then really from The Characters — when I saw that. I was like Oh, there’s so much more here, and The Characters is just as good as anything on the show that we made. Like a year had gone by and I was kind of like Why doesn’t everybody notice that this is the funniest thing? So I was just telling a lot of people like “Oh, did you see this?” and kind of that stuff. And then I had a lunch with Robbie Praw in that department at Netflix and he just kind of said, “I’m thinking about getting into sketch if you have any ideas or anything.”
Assuming like for you guys to do something?
Schaffer: I think he like, really just fishing; it was just a general lunch. Just if there were any ideas out there. And basically I came to him saying it’s easy to go to like UCB and stuff and pick some kids out, but a lot of times, I didn’t feel like they were necessarily ready for their own show. Whereas like Key and Peele — I always use them as an example of people that had done 15 years of sketch comedy before they got a show, and that’s part of why it was so laser-focused. I was racking my brain, [and] Tim was kind of the only person I could think of that I felt like had done SNL and had done all the years and had put in the work and really was already making Detroiters, which is super funny, with Zach. So I was like, “If you give them a show, they’re not going to waste it. They’re gonna know how to do it.”
Do you remember reacting when Akiva was like, “I think I got you guys a show”?
Schaffer: I texted them right when I left and kind of like, “Would you even want to make a sketch show like The Characters that would be a real show?” Detroiters wasn’t even canceled so we didn’t know if they would even have time. But I know your response was like, “Yes, that has always been my dream.” And I was like “Oh, all right.”
Robinson: We were shooting on Detroiters actually and I remember you texted me. It was like our last week and I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.”
Schaffer: That show was very stressful for you.
Robinson: Yeah, I couldn’t do it. I was so stressed out.
One last question of this section. Have any of you participated in a focus group, witnessed one, moderated one? Have any of you driven a Ford?
Robinson: I’ve driven a Ford.
Cover all bases.
Robinson: I never owned one. I’m a Chrysler man. You made a note of that.
[Writing.] “Chrysler man.” Anything else?
Schaffer: I have driven a Ford. I’ve seen focus groups for movies. Equally mundane I would say.
So you get the show. It’s time to start writing some sketches. Are there conversations beforehand of what you would want the sketches to be, before you even start doing things? Are you having conversations about existing sketch shows and how you guys would do it differently or similarly?
Kanin: We’re definitely having those conversations. That’s more of like when we were picking the sketches and editing that we would think about what we would want it all to be.
Robinson: There was definitely a time when we were writing and just writing what we thought was making us laugh and that we found funny and then we noticed that they were so …
Schaffer: Similar themes.
Kanin: In the writing process, we have a lot of other sketches that we at some point were like, “Oh, these don’t fit anymore” or, “These are too cartoony for this” or something about them doesn’t feel quite right.
What was the sort of first kernel of idea that became this idea?
Robinson: I think it’s such a simple premise. You know that people have done focus group sketches before, and I don’t think it really clicked into us as being something that we’d want. I think we were just like joking around with the idea. I don’t think we were like let’s actually write this until we found the character being mad at another person for doing well or what he thinks is doing well and wanting to do the best at a focus group. We were like okay, this feels different.
Why did you find the idea funny?
Kanin: Anytime you have someone antagonizing someone else and feeling jealous, there’s usually a lot there.
Robinson: For wanting to do good at something that just doesn’t matter.
Schaffer: That’s true to every real focus group, too. There’s always someone that just starts raising their hand and talking and kind of messing it up.
Kanin: I think it’s such a simple idea that it was probably something we pitched around while we were doing other things, and Tim, when you figured out like “too small” and “stinky,” we kind of started there like Oh, there’s something here. We don’t know what the sketch is. It’s funny for someone to suggest those and be mad that the guy’s not writing them down and just be like searching and not finding it, but then yeah, once-
Robinson: Once you call a guy teacher’s pet for like getting one, and someone saying “oh, ok.” [Mimics writing.]
So at that point, we do know that Zach is the one typing. Beyond that, how do you write out?
Schaffer: You’re like pacing, sweating.
Throwing a tennis ball.
Robinson: I got a Hawaiian shirt on.
Schaffer: You’ve got your tennis rackets.
But are you just sort of riffing on the idea?
Kanin: Yeah, just coming up with different lines for him and ways he’s getting angry and then finding an order for those things.
I’m now just going to say parts of the sketch and offer you the opportunity to say why you find it funny. And you can say “pass.” So the fundamental idea that he doesn’t want the steering wheel to fly out the window when he’s driving — why is that funny? When did you think of that? How did that come to you?
Schaffer: I’ve wondered this the whole time.
Robinson: Pass, pass.
Schaffer: Can I ask you a background question? Did it happen to him before?
That was going to be a followup. Is that a thing that his whole …
Kanin: No. No.
Schaffer: He’s just worried about it.
Robinson: I think he just said something and then he …
Kanin: That would be good for the car.
Schaffer: Yeah, he’s like, Why aren’t people agreeing? It was a softball. Obviously everybody should be agreeing with me.
Robinson: Right, right, right.
When you wrote the stinky with a hand-wave joke, had you already written the sketch where he’s choking and he says, “This stinks!” Is it a call forward?
Robinson: We had written it, but “stinky” wasn’t part of it. We already shot that. That was the first?
Kanin: Yeah, that was the first. We had, there were a lot more hand waves.
Robinson: We cut probably ten people saying things stink.
Schaffer: And I think you’ve written it into some season two things already, so look forward to some “stinky.” These guys just like people going [Waves hand in front of face, disgusted.]
Kanin: In the wig sketch, we asked a background guy to just, way in the background, smell food and go like [Waves hand in front of face.] but he didn’t do it.
Robinson: I was watching Friday the 13th around Halloween. I saw an extra. There’s like a barbecue and they give this extra a burger, and he instantly picks it up and goes, uh. [Waves hand in front of face.] It doesn’t have to be a problem!
Schaffer: He’s telling his own little story.
Robinson: It’s a story.
Schaffer: There’s a mini arch in your bigger Friday the 13th.
Robinson: You know me, I’m the guy that doesn’t like the burger! I don’t remember that guy.
Schaffer: He’s adding layers.
What is your line of thinking that multiple people say “mud pies” or the show’s willingness to repeat jokes? Were there people like, “Oh, you’ve already used that before”?
And what did you respond to this person?
Schaffer: “We’re creating a universe.” I don’t know that we said that.
Kanin: Yeah. There’s also just a thing that Tim and I talk a lot about is people repeat the same words over and over and over again, and especially when you say something you think is smart, I’ll sometimes say something and then just start right at the beginning of the exact same sentence.
Robinson: You accidentally stumbled upon something smart so you resay it. Yeah.
Schaffer: I do that constantly. So this person, just to clarify, said “mud pie.”
Robinson: Mud pie.
Kanin: Thought mud pie stinks.
Schaffer: But then another person in a whole other sketch said it.
Robinson: Yeah they’re brothers. They’re brothers.
Schaffer: No, I’m following.
You described the theme as people not wanting to be publicly embarrassed and then taking it so far it becomes a much bigger problem. How does this fit as a slightly different version of that? Or in so much as a lot of these sketches are based on insecurity, how is this also a manifestation of that?
Schaffer: I mean, it’s what you guys said. He’s at a focus group and he’s trying to be the best at it. Why would somebody do that? How small do they have to be to be like, I’m going to kill this? And I’m better than all.
You’ve said in interviews that you would overwrite the sketches.
Robinson: What’s that?
You write longer than the sketches would be.
What does that mean in practice?
Robinson: Oh, we would just write a lot. I feel like the Tim Heidecker one was … I think that had another, like, eight minutes.
Kanin: Yeah, that was really long.
Schaffer: Some of them were like 12-page sketches. And that should normally mean like 12 minutes and then they’re three minutes on the show or four minutes or five.
Can you say other things that were in this? Now this is three minutes. Can you think of bits that were in the eight-minute version?
Kanin: It talks a lot about what Paul ate for lunch. He says like Paul ate “slop sandwich.”
Robinson: Oh, right.
Schaffer: That’s what I’m saying — it was right around the farting.
Kanin: Because he said he farted. Yeah. And he says, like …
Robinson: “You farted because you had a slop sandwich for lunch.”
Kanin: Yeah, yeah. And you want like the police to say, “Oh, it stinks in here. What did you eat for lunch, slop sandwich?”
Schaffer: I feel like Paul had a response but I can’t remember. Can you remember?
Kanin: No, I don’t remember.
Robinson: I can’t remember what’s in there. Is it stuff about him with the police, the paramedics finding the cars?
Kanin: They find the car, the paramedics find [the car] and they’re like, “This is too small, there’s no steering wheel and it stinks in here. What did you have for lunch?”
There’s no police stuff in the …
Kanin: There’s no police stuff in this.
Robinson: There is a whole thing where he’s like, “Why would you not want the steering wheel to fly out?” I forgot what that is.
Kanin: It explains.
Robinson: Because if it flies out the window, you’re toast. The police are going to be pulling your dead corpse out of the things and saying it stinks in here.
Schaffer: Him saying it stinks wasn’t as connected to Paul farting, in fact. They were kind of separate.
Kanin: There were more “stink” things in it, and when it was edited together, it was like a bunch in a row. Like you kind of saw how he figured out that Paul, he decided Paul had farted.
Schaffer: It made a lot of sense.
What was, in general, your approach to casting?
Kanin: It was similar to our approach on Detroiters, which is, you know, we have some friends and know some people who we love to put in things, but we really like to just find people that we haven’t really seen before much so that they don’t take you out of the sketch as much.
Schaffer: And so everybody’s at the same age. When you can feel when it’s all fellow Groundling/UCB performers, [you should] get real actors.
How did you determine that it was going to be an older person instead of maybe you playing this man? What was the thinking behind that?
Robinson: Well, we auditioned every role, even if it’s written for me.
Robinson: Yeah, just to see — or a lot of them.
Schaffer: We had talked about it being you, though. That was on the table. And we had talked about doing a guest star, like a Will Ferrell if we could get him type of thing as well. It was not written, I want to say, to have an accent of any sort. That was not part of it.
It was written as man between ages of …
Schaffer: Like 50-year-old man, yeah.
You know, I do feel like if we’re going to talk about casting, there should be someone else here. Ruben?
[Ruben enters holding a steering wheel.]
Ruben Rabasa: I grab it before this. Paul, what are you doing here? I thought you were getting married with your mother-in-law, man!
I wanted to back up a little since we don’t know much about you, Ruben, and I think the world wants to know: You have 62 credits on your IMDb page. Can you quickly run through your history as an actor before Tim’s show?
Rabasa: Oh, my God. Well, I came from Cuba in 1955. I think I started working in New York and I did a lot of plays in New York, and I went to Miami and I got a lot of movies. I always get killed. So I decided to go back to California, so I can get a movie where I can be alive. So the first movie that they gave me, I was a ghost. I said, “This is going to be my life. My God, this is terrible.” And then I went back to Miami and I start doing a lot of shows too. Now I’m doing a show in Miami. It’s called The Amparo Experience and it’s a beautiful play. It’s about the Cuban Revolution, how Fidel Castro took over the company of Bacardi and the play, I love my play. I really, really enjoy this play very much.
So, what did you think when you first saw the audition materials for this?
Rabasa: Oh, my God. When I read that, I said, “What the hell is this?” Then I say, “I don’t know how I can do this. This is terrible.”
Robinson: It’s fine.
Rabasa: Then I start practicing in front of the mirror and I like myself. I said, “This is getting to be good.” But I keep practicing and then when I come into audition, they love it. They love it. They really love what I did and I really was enjoying every minute, every minute I was there. Especially when I was talking to Paul.
What did you think when you guys first saw his audition?
Kanin: Oh, we were blown away. So funny.
Schaffer: Genuinely. They called me in and were like, “I think we just discovered a star.” That’s not a joke. We watched that audition more than any audition I can think of, and it was exactly what you see up on the screen.
To back up a second, Akiva, what was your approach to directing I Think You Should Leave sketches generally, and then sort of the Ford focus-group sketch specifically?
Schaffer: I mean, it’s a really low-budget show, so a lot of it is determined by that, where you have to just figure out how to make things work. I think this boardroom happened to be in the same place that has the airplanes that are chopped up for the Will Forte sketch where he’s the man in the airplane. I don’t even know if it’s made for filming. I think it’s literally for their use as their boardroom as the company that rents you the plane. And we were like, “They have a boardroom, we can shoot this.” That’s how scrappy you have to be. Then we were just trying sketch to sketch to make them not feel the same.
Did you cross shoot?
Schaffer: Yeah. Always two cameras because we do two sketches a day, if not three. So there was no time to be really precious.
Ruben: when shooting, what was your decision of how you wanted to play … this man, nameless man. Does he have a name?
Kanin: Did he have a name?
Rabasa: No, no, no. I just started and every time they laugh I said, “Well maybe I’m doing something wrong,” you know? Because they were laughing at everything I said.
Schaffer: Just like this.
Rabasa: I was scared at the beginning, but I really had fun with that — really. And I love the way they talk to me and we become a beautiful team when we’re doing that. And that’s the most important thing when you the … how do you say?
Rabasa: Chemistry. I’m sorry. Chemistry was … it works together and it’s perfect. I have such a good chemistry with them that it was unbelievable.
You had, as you said, a pretty long script. Did you also add things during the day or is there room for improv in a thing like this?
Schaffer: I mean, we would tweak the lines for sure when people were saying them and try alts.
Kanin: Yeah, but we would pretty much …
Robinson: And in the editing we, ‘cause if I remember, you hit the bottle flip twice, right?
Rabasa: Twice, right.
Robinson: And then we used both [shots] in that kind of thing at the end where it goes around him using two [cameras].
Rabasa: I know. I remember when you told me you had to have the bottle to throw it. I said, “Oh my God, that’s going to be hard.”
Schaffer: And then he did it.
Rabasa: The second time, boom. I was surprised. I guess that’s what happened, huh? Oh my God, I did it.
Kanin: I think in the script he does it and the cap is off so it just spills everywhere. But Ruben kept getting it.
Rabasa: I know. It was unbelievable.
Ruben, I wanted to talk about two other moves. How did you sort of master your “stinky” wave? What was your approach to it? And do it right now.
Rabasa: I was sitting very close to Paul. That’s what happened.
Schaffer: So it just was natural.
Rabasa: So it came out naturally.
Did you [Schaffer] instruct him how to dab?
Rabasa: You mean when I go like this? [He dabs.] I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I don’t know. I got a stick neck. I did it three times.
Is there anything else any of you remember from the day of shooting it?
Schaffer: I mean just, you know, we’re looking at the monitor while you’re shooting and it’s like having Brad Pitt. Every shot is already the funniest sketch I’ve ever seen.
Kanin: When we shot, Ruben was just like two feet from my face. The commitment was so … I laughed in every single take, and then Ruben would wink at me when I cracked. I’d be red-faced, in tears. You couldn’t use anything I had done and he’d be so angry at me.
We brought it up now. So explain that beyond this sketch, tell the story.
Schaffer: Well jumping over a lot of what you’re going to be asking us about and we’ll go back to it I’m sure. But obviously we were so in love with what you [Ruben] had done on this sketch that these guys were like, “We’ve got to bring him back.”
Kanin: Yeah, so we just wrote another — we added another beat to something to bring Ruben back.
And we have that beat.
Schaffer: Do we want to say what it’s at the end of just in case? Or is it self-explanatory if people watch it?
I think it’s pretty self-explanatory but it’s the …
Robinson: The “Laser Spine.”
Schaffer: Yeah. It’s the “Laser Spine” sketch that turns into the record-executive guy.
Robinson: Yeah, Robbie Star, yeah.
Schaffer: This clip is pretty short. It’s just right at the end of that sketch.
Play that clip. Let’s see.
Rabasa: Oh, my God.
Schaffer: You haven’t seen that.
Rabasa: I didn’t see that one.
So we’ve talked about how this sketch essentially gets rewritten in edit. How long of a process is that? What are you looking for?
Kanin: Usually, our editors were really kind of in sync with us on what we really wanted to do. Our editors were Stacy Moon and Andrew Fitzgerald, and so I think Fitz had this one, and we had about a five- to seven-minute version first and just kind of worked through to cut it down to what feels right. And then we would put it the actual episode where there are sketches around [it, and] it would come down even more.
Robinson: Once you get what you think is good, and once you go into what a show’s going to be, you cut ‘em down.
There’s a small continuity error in the sketch.
[They all shake their heads.]
There goes the question of, “Was that on purpose?” People have talked about the sort of density of the show, that it feels like every moment could be GIF-ed or memed. Is that something that’s coming out of editing, of every shot should be as interesting as possible?
Robinson: What’s the continuity error?
Fox: Your shirt collar is on the outside of the jacket one time.
Fox: I didn’t know if it was like … I watched the sketch a lot to prepare for this.
Robinson: No, it’s not on purpose.
I don’t know. In the edit, are you trying to get as dense as possible?
Kanin: I mean, we’re trying to have a pace that feels good to us that we’re never bored in. And sometimes, like with gift receipt or something, that includes long silences or something, but we never want to be bored by the pace of it.
Schaffer: And while you guys were trying to figure out the order of sketches, you guys kept finding that you could do kind of one long one at the end of an episode, but if there was a long one in the middle, then everything after it felt wrong in some way.
How did you decide which episode this sketch would go in?
Schaffer: We edited all the sketches individually first, and then really just tried lots and lots of combinations with different sketches. Some, thematically obviously, couldn’t go together because they’re too similar or aesthetically too similar, and then just things that were, it was possible to put in the same episode we would try and try all the different permutations of them.
So it’s time for it to come out. What did you expect the reaction to be, and what did you see when it came out and what happened?
Robinson: We expected just to be one season to be honest with you. Just like yeah, we’re so happy we get to do this and we felt lucky to get to do it. But we just, yeah …
Kanin: We had no idea what to expect.
Robinson: Yeah. Or low expectations.
What was it like then seeing — I know you aren’t on Twitter , but — how people reacted to the show?
Robinson: I mean, it was nice. It was cool.
Kanin: It was really nice. It felt good.
Do you have theories of why specifically people responded to it?
Akiva, do you, as an outsider?
Schaffer: No, no. I mean, it’s the same thing I responded to in The Characters, which was just that it was super funny and even if I was involved in these, when they would give me a script, I was just getting to be a fan of the characters and read another sketch. I would add what I could, but for the most part, I was being a fan and just helping them put it out there.
Ruben, how was the reaction for you? Do people recognize you on the street?
Rabasa: Oh, yes. Yes. My God. I went to a restaurant the other day. A guy come in and he throw a bottle right in front of me. I said to the waiter, “It’s crazy.” The guy said, “No, do it for me. Do it for me again because I want to see how you did it in the show.” I go, “Oh my God!”
Robinson: Sounds like a nightmare.
Rabasa: I know.
What was it like seeing how specifically your character, even for you [to Schaffer, Kanin, Robinson], you saw this guy and you’re like this guy’s a star and the world being like yes, you are correct. I mean, there must be something satisfying to be like star is born and we …
Rabasa: A star is born.
Fox: [to Rabasa] Was it vindicating for you?
Rabasa: I don’t know. I still confuse it, you know what I mean, because sometimes the people come over to me and they talk about the show. The other guy comes in: “What do you want in a car?” So I said, “What? I just bought a Jeep?” Say “No, Ruben, that’s not what you want.” I said, then “What I want?” “No, you want the one with the steering wheel flying doesn’t off your hands.” I said “Oh, that’s right! I forgot about that.”
As you said, you didn’t think you were going to get a second season.
Rabasa: You’re not going to get a second season?
No, they thought. At first they thought he wasn’t going to get it. They’re getting a second season; it’s announced.
Rabasa: I need money, please. I need money.
Have you started working on the second season?
Robinson: Yeah. Yup.
Writing and shooting?
Robinson: Just writing right now.
Do you know what you’d want from it generally? Is it going to be different?
Robinson: We’re kind of in the same place as we were the first season of this. We’re just writing right to now to what’s making us laugh at the moment, and there is no bigger picture of what will be different or what will be the same. Right now it’s just writing it until we have a big group of sketches. Then we’ll know.
You made the first season in a vacuum. Are you responding to knowing what people responded to with it? What have you learned from just how people have responded to it?
Robinson: I think that we’re not saying like, “Oh, people like this, let’s do more of this.” I think at this point, we’re really just trying to write things we think are funny right now.
Does it make you more confident knowing that it works?
Have you written anything that you think might be good for a certain actor that’s here? Will you say confidently?
Rabasa: You better.
Robinson: We have an idea where he plays a dead guy.
Rabasa: Oh my God, no! No, please.
One More Thing
With one minute left, we talked for an hour about this sketch. I want to talk for one minute about one more. Tell me everything you remember from the day from “The Day That Robert Palins Murdered Me,” bones are the people’s money. Just remember everything about where the idea came from, what you remember from shooting it.
Schaffer: Tim loves Halloween.
Robinson: I do.
Schaffer: He loves spooky stuff. Did that come into play in the writing?
Robinson: Not really. It was an idea that I can’t really remember. I know that they were separate ideas. It’s like something … the day the skeletons came to life and then the idea of like those troupes and Johnny Cash movies. Whether they all started playing the song together. I wanted to do something with that, where somebody was like “I don’t know what this song is,” and they’re making up their own thing. They were two separate ideas that we smashed together.