In an era of antiheroes, of Jokers and sitcoms with cusses in the title, Sam Richardson is a revelation. While Richardson is a nice guy, he isn’t typecast as nice guys as much creatively driven to explore the nuances of what it means to be nice as a man in our society. Through his work on Veep, his roles this summer in The Tomorrow War and Werewolves Within, and his turn in Promising Young Woman, Richardson makes the case that niceness and kindness can be as complex and compelling as meanness and cruelty.
Still, it is Detroiters, the short-lived Comedy Central show he co-created with his best friend/comedy soul mate Tim Robinson, that stands as the greatest testament to Richardson’s vision. A champion of comedy’s light, silly, sweet side, the show was born out of a deep-seated desire to display Detroit differently than the media has chosen to. To this day, it is a testament to the healing power of joy.
On Vulture’s Good One podcast, Richardson discusses Detroiters, his relationship to Robinson, a lack of cynicism, and poop. You can read an excerpt from the transcript or listen to the full episode below. Tune in to Good One every Thursday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Overcast, or wherever you get your podcasts.
On His Connection With Tim Robinson
It’s hard to describe. Comedic soul mate [is right]. It’s the person who completely gets even your slightest joke — like your half jokes — and you get theirs. It’s being fully understood. You kind of become a comedian because nobody understands you, so there is a beauty in that.
He is my best friend in the world. Truly, I love him to death, so I can’t even describe fully how much it means to know him and to watch the things that he does. I understand them at a level where I know every little morsel of those things, and I love it and I get it. It’s an incredible thing. And also to watch him become like this comedic icon, and I’m like, Of course, he is. He’s the funniest person in the world.
I’ll recognize a tone of a bit we’ve been working on for a long time. An energy of something that we’ve played with for years and years. I feel a huge stake in ownership of Tim’s success, and not in the sake of, like, Oh, Tim wouldn’t be where he is without me — more like, Oh, man, I’ve been invested in this for my entire adult life.
On Detroiters and Detroit
We would always get frustrated and annoyed with the depiction of Detroit in most things. People would use it as a punch line for “What’s like the most horrific place you can go to?” — the idea that it’s the most dilapidated, dangerous place. I still get visibly mad when people do that, because it ignores the people there. Detroiters are the most resilient and charismatic and wonderful people you can meet in the world, so we really wanted to shine a positive light. We made a comedy show, a hyper-not-realistic comedy show, so you can’t say that it was “realistic,” but we wanted to make it positive because Detroit isn’t only car thieves and drug dealers. But if you look at depictions on television, you think that that’s all it is. It’s only RoboCop. We were like, “Detroit deserves a fun comedy.”
We knew that we couldn’t make our careers the way we wanted to and still live in Detroit, because the opportunities just aren’t there. But we knew that we wanted to come back with something and do something when we came back. We would talk about that before we even left Detroit, before we had any idea that we were really going to be able to do anything. So when the opportunity came, we were like, “Remember when we used to sit on the porch and talk about that?” And like, “Yeah, you know!” And then we start crying.
I do think that I have a sort of micro and then macro view of Detroit, from growing up in Detroit and also in Africa. It shaped my perspective on the makeup of Detroit as it relates to America and how the world views America versus how the world views Detroit specifically and race in Detroit. In Ghana, everybody is Black, except for the people who are immigrants. In Africa, you’re not like, “Oh, look, a Black guy.” But Detroit is 75 percent Black, so having the appreciation for that and we’re seeing that, while maybe even taking that for granted as a youth, is something I could see. So that was very important for us to reflect that in the show. On the show, we made sure that it’s 75, 80 percent Black — all the extras, the casting. It wasn’t going to be a white guy and a Black guy in the sea of white people. No, Detroiters is a Black show that has Tim in it. And that was very much on purpose.
On Poop Jokes
There’s no funnier joke or thing than poop. We can intellectualize as much as we want to, but the idea of this brown thing that comes out of your butt and stinks and you have to deal with it and you’re ashamed of it, there’s nothing funnier in the world. And it makes a sound when it comes out, and sometimes the sound is just a sound, but it reminds you of a thing, and this thing stinks like the poop — like, it’s just objectively funny.
So as smart as we can get, you will never get smarter than the idea of a fart being funny and poop being funny. It is a concentrated shame. There’s nothing funnier to me than, like, a cat who is snooty, and he turns around and you see its butthole. I’m like, “Haha. There you go. Rug pulled out from under you. I can see your entire anus. I can see your butt. As highfalutin and as much of a majestic creature as you are, there is your asshole.”
On the Importance of Joy in Comedy
Something happens when growing up from youth through adolescence, where we think that cynicism is being adult. Everyone gets to that phase of “Oh, I only listen to sad music and I wear all black, because actually I’m an adult, because there’s sadness in the world. And because I’ve discovered sadness, I’m now more aware of the world than you are, you stupid child who only likes the color turquoise.” I fear using the word “importance” when talking about comedy, but I feel, for lack of a better word, there is an importance to positivity and niceness and buoyancy and a positive energy that it is healing. People need to see that. Nobody has the capacity to only absorb nothing but negative. It affects us; we are what we take in. So if all we take in is just this bleak, negative thing, then we will then put that out in the world as well.
When Detroiters opened, the show aired and then we were flying to Detroit to do a screening. Literally getting off the plane, there’s a guy on the tarmac who has the wheelchairs and stuff. That guy was like, “Hey, Detroiters!” I was like, Wow, the very first step. It was like out of a movie, really. The online response was a little mixed from the people from Detroit, because I don’t think they knew that we were from Detroit. So they were like, “Oh, what is this? You’re trying to make Detroit silly.” But then the more people watch it, the more they’re like, “Oh, this is just heart.” They’re so used to the depiction of Detroit being a tough-guys city. And it is a tough-guys city, but we’ve seen that. We’ve seen Detroit 1-8-7. Our point was to show another facet of Detroit. Detroit has drug dealers, but it also has my mom and my dad, my grandmother. It was important for us to have that energy to it.
Even to this day, people from Detroit are fans of it because we’ve always been about representing Detroit in conversation, in life, and on television. I was very happy for the positive response, in fact, to a point where I was even a little annoyed, because sometimes people’s reviews would be like, “If you’re not from Detroit, you won’t get it. So don’t watch.” No, don’t do that. Tell everybody to watch the show! Everybody can watch the show.
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