Executive producer and comedian discuss new Comedy Central show
Weekender Interview | David M. Stern and Pete Holmes
Published: Thursday, March 18, 2010
Updated: Thursday, March 18, 2010 08:03
In anticipation of this week's premiere of Comedy Central's new animated series, "Ugly Americans," the Daily sat down with Executive Producer David M. Stern and voice talent Pete Holmes to get the scoop on the latest installment of American monster pop culture.
Question: How did you come up with the idea for "Ugly Americans?"
David M. Stern: Well, the idea came off a web series called "5-On" (2010). It was created by Devin Clark and Dan Powell, who was executive in charge of production at Comedy Central. Internally, he took it to a point with the basic structure and the basic concept mapped out and brought me on to execute it. I wouldn't try to take credit for it.
Pete Holmes: Yeah, I actually worked for "5-On." I did some of the voices. Horror comics are a style that I haven't really seen. We've got our own vision and our own stories to tell. We definitely have comic book elements in all of our episodes. We are going out of our way to have it that way, too. It is the vision of this show; "Family Guy" had [Seth] MacFarlane, "The Simpsons" had Matt Groening, and we have Devin Clark.
DS: … And ["5-On"] was a very crude form of animation, which I happened to really like. It was basically on-street interviews with all these freaks, demons or wizards, with interviews on some topical event. I tried to carry some of that over into "Ugly Americans," which takes form in the group counseling sessions at the Department of Integrations.
Q: David, you've been in the animation business as far back as the '90s writing for "The Simpsons," which has a knack for featuring guest stars. If you could get other voice talents to be featured in your show, who would you want?
DS: Well, I was going to say Bill Hader, but we already got him. Bill Hader is a great voice actor and super funny. But what's great about when we were first making "Ugly Americans," we'd say, "Oh you know who would be great to have is Jack McBrayer [Kenneth Parcel on ‘30 Rock'] or Kristen Wiig [SNL cast member]," and then they'd do it. All these people would read the script, like it and want to be a part of it, so that made it like a dream show. And a dream job. I also want Alec Baldwin. He's kind of the king of New York, right? And this is a very New York-based show. We've tapped into like half the SNL cast. I'd love to get the "30 Rock" cast. I'd also personally like Eugene Mirman, solely to play the actual role of a merman.
Q: With all of the animated series already out, like the new FX series "Archer" and of course "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," "South Park" or the dozens of shows on Adult Swim, do you think "Ugly Americans" will resonate with your audience as the new kids on the block?
DS: We have a lot of horror comedy elements that I don't see anywhere else. I wrote for "The Simpsons" for a few years, and "Treehouse of Horror" was always the highlight of the year, but I always sort of wanted more of that. But because of the structure of "The Simpsons," it wasn't really possible, being it was so specifically based on this grounded family. In our show, the character lives with a zombie, dates a demon and has a wizard coworker. We have a lot of fantastical and horrific creatures, which seems to me is sort of everywhere right now. There always seems to be another werewolf or vampire movie coming out, and this is a chance to really spoof all of that. If there's a "South Park" that involves Hell, it's really a wild episode. I'm writing an episode now where they go to Hell for the holidays, and in our show it's all completely regular. It's a weird way to set the show, but it's a way that will hopefully resonate with the audience.
Q: There have been suggestions that "Ugly Americans" has a hint of political commentary on immigration policies. Do you confess?
PH: Any time we start to get too overtly political, it instantly feels heavy-handed and not funny. We're telling more the story of east coast immigration, coming through Ellis Island — the story of America, not so much what's going on with the new immigration along the Mexican border. We try to stay away from that; we find that that's not the richest place for comedy.
Q: David, you've co-produced "Monk" during its early years, wrote for "The Simpsons" and now are starting your own project. Is this your dream come true?
DS: "Ugly Americans" is a dream job, being able to work with the funniest and sharpest writers in New York and L.A. to write a limitless show where we can make anything happen. As long as it makes us laugh and makes other people laugh, I think that really is the dream. I can do six voices and go out on the street, and no one will really bother me. If we start doing live shows, that would really be the icing on the cake for me.
Q: Are any of the ghoulish and demonic characters of the show based on people you know?
DS: Yes, and that's as far as I'm going to go.
PH: Leonard is an alcoholic wizard. I'm guessing that's your dad?