Human Giant: The TV Squad Interview - AUDIO
By being funny. Damn funny, in fact.
Rob Huebel, Aziz Ansari, and Paul Scheer (l-r), otherwise known as Human Giant, are entering their second season on the cable network, starting tomorrow night at 11 PM ET. I spoke to the guys by telephone last week as they were doing a round of promotion for their second season, as well as the DVD of the first season, which was released on March 4.
Tidbits from the interview, and audio clips, are after the jump.
Aziz met Rob and Paul at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater in New York*; Rob and Paul had performed together for years in the popular improv group Respecto Montalban, and Aziz was an up-and-coming stand-up comedian. They started doing stage shows together and, with the help of their director, Jason Woliner, producing their ideas for short films and putting them online.
"They were never immensely popular online but they did have a cult following among people that, you know, like indie music and blogging," says Aziz, the youngest of the group. Though some of what you see on Human Giant is generated from the stage shows, most were generated for the purposes of the show.
The most interesting aspect of the shows is that some of the recurring sketches, like "The Illusionators," about a pair of dumb Criss Angel rip-offs, and "Shutterbugs," about child actor agents, utilize story arcs that carry not only throughout a single season, but over into season two as well. "Those characters were fun to play," says Rob. "We never never just wanted them to repeat their catch phrases or anything like that. So we just figured, well, we'll just give them a little bit of a story and have them follow that arc."
"The Illusionators" is especially funny, because Paul and Aziz play idiot magicians Scott Devil and John Satan, who mimic Criss Angel right down to the cheesy Long Island accent. "We just happened to watch Mindfreak when no one was really watching it and we thought it was really funny," says Aziz. "So we said we should do a version of those characters. So we had it sitting in our head for months and we finally got to do it. And this whole time no one knows who Criss Angel is." More in the first audio clip:
Aziz and Paul on The Illiusionators (1:01)
A new recurring set of characters will be "The T-Shirt Squad," which Rob explains: "You know those guys who come out at halftimes of basketball games and fire t-shirts into the crowd and get them fired up? That's their day job, but they're actually these elite military commando guys that go on missions with t-shirt guns." The group tried out "The T-Shirt Squad" on stage at the UCB Theater in Los Angeles; but shooting off high-powered guns in a small space isn't exactly the safest way to go, as the group found out:
Human Giant's t-shirt gun mishap (0:48)
Right after Rob told this story, I couldn't resist asking him about an overly-sincere Olive Garden commercial he appeared in. You may have seen it; it's where a couple come in to celebrate the fact that it's "just Monday." Wow. Anyway, the ad's been reshot with new actors. Rob tells the whole sordid tale in this clip:
Rob's Olive Garden commercial (1:31)
Even though he had the ad pulled, Rob missed one aspect of being in a too-sincere commercial: "When I got back to my apartment in LA, I had a stack of checks. it was making me so much money, so it was stupid to pull it."
All three guys live in Los Angeles now, even though they spent years in New York. Paul, in fact, grew up on Long Island and lived in New York for ten years. When asked what he thought the main difference was between the cities, he said, "You hang out and have a tendency to make more bad choices in New York and have more insane nights than you have in LA. In LA, everything's in moderation, you have to drive, so you can't get too drunk. But in New York, it's like 5:00 in the morning and you're in a Chinatown restaurant going, 'How'd I get here?' That doesn't happen in LA that much... unless you're doing lots of coke."
When Human Giant got picked up, they didn't necessarily ask anyone for advice, mainly because they just decided to bring in their friends in the comedy world, including Rob Riggle, Matt Walsh, Brian Posehn, Patton Oswalt, and others. Aziz, perhaps wondering why I asked about that in the first place, claimed he called someone else:
Who Aziz called for advice (0:28)
Fans saw a lot of the best comedians and comic actors on the show, including child actor Bobb'e J. Thompson, who played the boss of the Shutterbugs agency, a part the guys wrote specifically for him. "If we hadn't been able to get him, then we would have completely changed that bit. We would not have shot that," says Rob.
Also appearing was a pre-Superbad Jonah Hill. "let's be honest here... Jonah Hill is famous because he was on Human Giant," jokes Aziz. "Then Judd Apatow said, 'This guy's great. Let me put him in Superbad.' And we're like, 'Well OK, if you're not going to mention that we discovered him, that's cool, but, you know, that's not right.'"
This season, expect to see a lot of familiar faces pop up in Human Giant sketches: Andy Samberg, Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, and Will Arnett, among others, will pop up. Paul is especially excited, though about two unexpected guests showing up. "We've got some people from The Wire, especially Michael K. Williams, who plays Omar." You'll see Williams with The Illusionators. Isaiah Whitlock will also be there. "We just really think they're awesome actors," says Paul.
But they weren't so lucky reaching out to others, as Rob laments in the next clip:
Who rejected Human Giant (1:14)
Has the show opened doors for the three? "We've been so busy working," says Paul. "Even though we've only been on for eight episodes last season -- we're doing six this season -- they take a long time to produce. We've only been off for a handful of weeks; we haven't been w/o the show for too too long."
Still, Paul had called into the conference call from the set of Year One, a Harold Ramis-directed movie starring Jack Black and Michael Cera. And he also gained some notice playing NBC head page Donny Lawson on 30 Rock earlier this year. When I asked if the character was coming back this season, Scheer's buddies had some bad news for him:
Paul on whether his 30 Rock character is coming back (0:32)
But, according to Rob Huebel, they're just happy to be doing their thing. "We feel like right now is a really good time for comedy and there's some really good stuff going on and it's good to be in the middle of that. for sure. If people saw the first season, they're definitely gonna love the second season, and we think the DVD is going to do really well, so we're basically just glad to be in the mix. The show is really hard, but really fun for us to do. hopefully it'll get us a little bit of recognition and open doors for us."
*Some quick disclosure here: Paul taught me in a Level 2 improv class at UCB in 2001. When I asked him about it at the top of the call, he definitely remembered it, mainly because a) he had to take over for another instructor, who flaked out on us, b) people kept dropping out and c) the class had to continue after 9/11 happened. Considering the circumstances, he did a pretty good job.