On Nobodies, a new TV Land original comedy that premiered on March 29, creators Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson, and Larry Dorf star as versions of themselves: Veteran comedians with the legendary L.A. troupe the Groundlings who have witnessed their friends and colleagues ascend to stardom while they toil away in children’s animated series. On the show, Rachel, Hugh, and Larry — also their characters’ names — are desperate to quit their jobs as writers on a gassy kids’ cartoon called The Fartlemans. To do so, they convince their friends and former Groundlings Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone to come on board their movie idea, Mr. First Lady.
Flavorwire spoke with Hugh, Larry, and Rachel about their actual relationship with McCarthy and Falcone, co-dependent working situations, and what it’s like to watch your friends win Oscars (on TV).
Thanks for agreeing to speak with me!
Rachel: Our pleasure! We’re not used to people wanting to talk to us.
I guess that’s appropriate. You got the idea for this show because you three actually pitched a movie called Mr. First Lady to Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone, is that right?
Rachel: It is true. We’ve known Ben and Melissa for almost 20 years and we had been working on a children’s animated show, much like in the show. Ben had worked on that briefly with us, too. In an attempt to sort of break out of the kids’ business, we thought, let’s write a movie. But we were too lazy to write a movie, so we actually just came up with a premise, and we thought, it sells itself, right? Mr. First Lady, Melissa McCarthy is the president. Who wouldn’t buy that?
What was that meeting like when you pitched it to Ben and Melissa?
Larry: We were too afraid to pitch it right to Melissa, so we thought it’d be easier to pitch it to Ben, and then Ben can pitch it to Melissa. We just said, “Ben, we want to have lunch with you.” It was very weird. Ben didn’t seem very excited about it but it turned out Melissa was booked up for the next three years doing movies and Mike and Molly and everything. So we said, alright, we’ll pitch it on our own. People were sort of interested in it, and then they’d get to the point of the meeting — like we did in the pilot at the Paramount meeting — where they’d say, “So what have you guys been working on?” And we’d say, “We write on an animated show for children.”
Rachel: They were interested in the idea and then they found out that we’ve never written a screenplay and we write on The Looney Tunes Show, and it was like, “Well you know, we’ve been pitched this idea a lot, we’ve heard this a million times.”
Larry: And then it’s just me and Rachel desperately trying to namedrop all the famous Groundlings we know. “If you like Kristen Wiig and Melissa McCarthy then you’ll like us, ’cause we’re all the same, we came up together, we’re the same as them!” And more desperation, and then meeting’s over.
Hugh: We so didn’t know what we were doing that one time, the three of us did all of that and then the man talking to us revealed that he was the assistant to the person we were supposed to be talking to, and the meeting hadn’t even started yet.
At what point did the lightbulb go off that this whole episode would make a good TV show?
Hugh: I think we realized there was something comedic about people who think they’re just as good as their colleagues and friends, but they’re in a decidedly worse position relative to them in the business. We were indignant that we were in the position we were in, and that always seems funny.
Rachel: I also think it came at the right time in our lives. It’s something that might have seemed painful and that would have made us bitter [at an earlier stage], but it just truly struck us as funny. We were in a place in our lives where we thought, let’s just mine all these uncomfortable events for comedy and just lay it all out there and poke fun at ourselves.
Larry: The big moment when it really dawned on us how far behind, in our minds, we were to our famous friends was when we were watching those Academy Awards where Bridesmaids was nominated — Melissa and Annie Mumolo and Kristen Wiig, and Jim Rash and Nat Faxon won [Best Adapted Screenplay for The Descendants]. We knew all these people, at the most glamorous night of the year, and we were having to go to bed early to get up to write on our kids’ cartoon the next day.
I often think about this with Lena Dunham’s character on Girls — are we supposed to feel that she’s got talent, or is her writing supposed to be a joke? Are your characters on Nobodies good writers? Are we meant to laugh at their efforts, or are they really just as good as their more successful friends?
Hugh: I think it’s not clear. The reality is, we were Groundlings with those people at the exact same time, and on occasion, probably all of us got as much or more laughter than the people who moved on to become more famous. So on some level, your mind is telling you you are just as talented. The downside is, as the years tick by, they have a bigger audience, and they’re successful on TV or in movies, and you are not. I think the older you get, you start losing confidence. It doesn’t matter how talented you are — you can sabotage yourself with a lack of confidence or just bitterness.
Hugh: The boat’s passed you by, and now you’re gonna ruin it because of self-hatred.
There’s a long tradition of comedians creating TV shows based on their real lives and careers. Was there any worry about distinguishing your show from those?
Hugh: We just felt like we were telling our story.
Rachel: I think for a lot of stand-ups, if they just went and auditioned for a pilot, they’re not gonna get it, but the thing that they bring — the truth of their story and that authenticity, and hopefully vulnerability — is something that no one else can play. If we wanted to tell a story and we wanted to be authentic, this had to be the venue we chose, which is a story about our lives as these three writers.
Hugh: That or we would have thought of something really original, like we could’ve all been policemen or firemen or worked in a hospital.
Larry: Hopefully it goes beyond Hollywood. I think it’s a relatable thing — a lot of people feel like their peers have sort of passed them by, no matter what industry you’re in.
As the show goes on (I’ve seen the first five episodes), it becomes more about the relationship between the three of you and the complications of working so closely with your friends — that kind of co-dependency that inevitably develops. How much of that comes from your own experience working together?
Rachel: We are definitely a co-dependent trio. We worked at Warner Brothers for so long and people would laugh that we’re always together. We had lunch together every single day — we would go in one car. We were just never apart. It’s probably not healthy. Everyone comments on it. Even Michael McDonald, our showrunner, who has known us separately for years and years and years, kind of couldn’t believe that we really are the way that we are on the show. It’s like this weird three-person marriage.
How did Michael McDonald get involved? I think he’s one of the most underrated comedians of the past two decades.
Larry: He’s the showrunner, and he directed all the episodes, except for the pilot — Ben directed the pilot. Because Hugh, Rachel, and I are such a tight unit — I just came back from therapy, actually, and my therapist said that a triad is healthier, because with a two-person writing team you don’t have anywhere for the anxiety to go. But because we’re such a closed unit — the three of us are the writing staff, we don’t have any outside writers — Mike, I think, is the only person that could have been our showrunner, at least at the beginning. He’s someone the three of us trust.
It seems like you three play relatively realistic versions of yourselves, maybe with a few exaggerations. But Ben and Melissa are sort of caricatures of what people might imagine they’re like — Melissa’s a classic narcissistic celebrity and Ben’s this kind of desperate hanger-on. Was that your idea or theirs?
Rachel: Originally we wrote Melissa more as she is, and she was the one that was like, “That’s not fun, I want to be a monster!” All our Groundlings friends who are famous were very game to come in and play heightened, unflattering versions of themselves.
Do you feel like you have more license to be assholes to the people below you now that you have your own show?
Rachel: Who’s below us?!
Nobodies airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on TV Land.