“Fear and Desperation Drive a Lot of Comedy”: Bill Lawrence, Chuck Lorre, Darren Star and the Comedy Showrunner Roundtable - Hollywood Reporter
Jun 18, 2021 7 mins, 20 secs
And yet, for three of the six gathered for The Hollywood Reporter‘s annual Comedy Showrunner Emmy Roundtable — PEN15‘s Anna Konkle, Chad‘s Nasim Pedrad and The Upshaws‘ Wanda Sykes — it’s only half the job.

Adds Lorre, “Part of the fun of hanging in there in this business is finding out that there are different paths, and so I’m in awe of the people here because who knew these paths existed.

BILL LAWRENCE Well, I will take it, but I’m going to answer for PEN15, is that weird.

KONKLE Really, every piece of trauma is in PEN15 — or a lot of trauma is in PEN15.

And everybody had such interesting stories that all found their way into that show — it’s all straight from them?

I’m actually hiding because apparently the people from Discovery want me to develop a show about mold and remodeling your kitchen.

My parents were pretty cheap, so it was fun doing all those bits, just add water and you get a new gallon of shampoo.

But really, I just wanted to write something that felt honest to my experience growing up as an immigrant kid here in America?

PEDRAD I do find it really cathartic to be able to revisit those horrifying moments now that I am on the other side and have some distance from that time — and getting to explore it through the lens of comedy is a lot more fun than having endured it at the time.

I can’t imagine playing — on top of going back to 13 — a boy?

PEDRAD I feel that way about you — the vulnerability you guys have.

KONKLE There’s a part of me that’s like, “OK, I’m very masochistic.

Why am I doing this to myself?” Then there are times where it’s really so refreshing to be naive and innocent and optimistic.

… Like, I’m OK, but my dad passed away during filming, and right after I’m doing scenes with my TV dad — that I, as a showrunner, was like, “He must wear the same corduroys, he must drive the same car” — then all the sudden, I’m like, “This is too weird.” So, I feel like in 10 years I’m going to look back and be like, “Oh, that’s why I was so messed up.” Or I’m going to be like, “It’s better, I’m better, I need less therapy.” (Laughter.).

And the seventh episode, the only one I’m going to write, is going to be a realistic and long portrayal of what it means to have a panic attack.” I just remember submitting that [to our execs at Apple TV+], and I think all of us as writers have had the experience where you know the people who are paying the bills have completely different expectations of what your show is?

But it was weird doing it, because I also thought I was going to be doing a comedy, and we’re now dealing with trauma and panic and anxiety.

STAR I think you’re nervous every episode, because you’re wondering if it’s going to work.

With Emily in Paris, we’re writing a character that’s a bit of an ugly American, and so you wonder, are people going to get the joke.

They don’t realize that the character’s not supposed to be perfect and that the journey of the character is [in the] learning — but not everybody wants to go on that journey or accept the fact that somebody’s starting from point A and then they’re going to go to point B and that’s part of the series, and you’ve got to hang in there for the ride.

I’m curious what those conversations are like, and then how you decide whether you continue and how you continue.

And the smallness of that story appealed to me — about someone coming to grips or not coming to grips with how they feel when they have lost a loved one.

I was like, “OK, we have a show here.” So when we went back and did the last five episodes without an audience, it did give us confidence, because we knew that what we were doing was working and knew what that felt like?

KONKLE I feel like every day I’m having some awkward conversation with a [child].

The more emotional things where you’re going back to [the year] 2000 — and social dynamics that you hope are different now — those are the trickier conversations, where in the moment we’re doing one scene with a kid addressing homophobia or [whatever it is], but in that scene there’s just one flippant reference to it.

So, we try to be cognizant of that and discuss, like, “This is where the arc is going, this isn’t a joke for us, this is how it was in the year 2000, we hope it’s not like that now.” It’s a lot of that?

Do you ever worry that a parent is just going to yank their kid in horror mid-taping.

And I found I was just really lucky to get kids that I got — and I did wonder going into it how dialed in they would be to the comedic sensibility of the show?

They’re just living — they are in that trauma, present day, so they don’t have that distance and that perspective yet, so I wondered if they’d understand why certain moments are funny for the reasons that they are funny.

KONKLE And Maya and I, even when we were making the web series, we’re just weird and can get a little Method-y with it.

I’ll be at monitor and have a note or something, and — even though I love everybody very much — half the time people are like, “Oh, the 13-year-old has another note.

OK, I’ll let her say something.” (Laughter.) And the days where I’m dressed as an adult, they’re like, “The showrunner has a note.” So it’s weird.

Scrubs was, like, 15 to 20 years ago, but we were told we can’t do that story even with doctors doing it for a cancer patient.

It’s really cool.

STAR I’ll tell you what’s really annoying is my writing staff is always referencing Sex and the City and telling me, “Oh, we can’t do that, it was done on Sex and the City.” I’m like, “Don’t throw Sex and the City in my face.” They do it all the time, as if I had nothing to do with it.

And now, I’m torn about that question, because with stand-up, I know a lot of comics are saying, “Oh, you get canceled, you can’t say this, you can’t do that,” but I’m of the mindset of, “If it’s funny, you can do it.” It’s just how you execute it.

I mean seriously, it’d be like, “You need some white people in here, come on.

And so the battles with CBS, which were endless, were us trying to defend what we thought was really good stuff comedically — “This is going to get a big honest belly laugh!” — and I don’t want to cut it.

But if you have a really good writing staff, sometimes you find yourself doing what I like to call the “lateral punch down,” which is when you change stuff just for the sake of changing it

And I’ve reached a point in my life now where I allow writers to go, “Hey man, I think you took this scene home and just did a lateral punch down on it, because it’s the exact same only, like, longer and a little less funny.” And so when you take the ego out of it, it frees up your life a bit

STAR I wish I got used to the sense of panic earlier — that “Where’s my next script going to come from?” panic — and just accepted it as part of the deal

The whole, “We’re doomed, we are screwed, we are never going to make this table, this script …” It’s constant, and it always somehow manages to work itself out

I was afraid this was going to all blow up, the show’s going to get canceled, we’re all going to go home, and it’s just going to be horrible

And if it’s not, just focus on the fact that there’s an element there that they are not getting and ignore their solution, because the solutions can generally be somewhat dreadful

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