Often a comedian’s only barometer is his own funny bone. If you work as part of a comedy team, there’s more potential laugh fodder, but at the same time, more opportunity for diverging opinions to shut down potentially good ideas. That’s why the creators of Workaholics adhere to the code: let no stupid idea go unexplored.
Meet the creators of Workaholics: Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Anders Holm. All three also star in, write, and executive produce the show, which is now wrapping up its third season on Comedy Central. As friends and longtime co-conspirators, they credit a lot of their success to trusting each other’s comedic judgement and their collaborative process.
Workaholics follows a crew of three post-college slackers working as telemarketers. At any given moment THC and alcohol is likely in play, but despite the standard assumptions about it being stoner humor and bro comedy (it is), the show is still building steam for good reason.
You rarely get the sense when watching a Workaholics episode that you’ve seen this one play out before. The writing is sharp and unexpected plot twists are allowed to resolve into absurd conclusions. And best of all, the creators are not afraid to “get weird,” which is one of the de facto mottos of the on-screen trio.
Anderson, DeVine, and Holm have faith in the collective comedic mind they’ve conjured. They realize that often there’s no line between funny and stupid, so they take care not to let the weird get killed off during their process. And if an idea passes muster with the group–if it makes them laugh–they’re pretty confident it will make you do the same. Or not.
We spoke with the stars and creators of Workaholics to find out what goes into making an episode and what makes funny.
Co.Create: Watching the show it’s clear you guys do a good amount of improv while shooting, but you still have to do plenty of writing beforehand, right?
Adam: Yeah, we write every episode and we really work hard on getting a tight script. But then you find something doesn’t work or it’s not as funny as when you wrote it–or it is funny and you still feel like gettin’ weird and doing something a little different.
We like to keep the weird, random brain farts. I had an improv line earlier this season where I say girls are like cats because when you get home they’re waiting on top of the refrigerator for you. Which doesn’t make any sense and is pretty dumb. It was just really early in the morning when we shot that and my improv brain wasn’t quite working. But that’s the one we kept because when we got in the edit bay that was the weirdest and the dumbest one.
So how do you know the difference between something stupid that should be cut and something you want to keep because it’s funny?
Anders: We don’t.
Blake: Yeah, it’s no different.
Anders: It just ends up being what we think is funny to each other and maybe it ends up being stupid to everybody who watches it.
Adam: You kinda know once you get in the edit bay, you see what makes the room laugh. It’s all about the delivery of the line and how it feels.
Do you guys write the episodes collaboratively?
Adam: We come up with all the stories and we work on all the outlines together and then Anders or one of the writers will go off and write it up. And then we take a final pass at it to add different jokes or maybe a beat doesn’t work that we gotta punch up.
Let’s take the episode “The Meat Jerking Beef Boys” for an example. In that one, Adam and Blake decide to butcher a cow in the apartment the same weekend Anders’ father comes to visit. How did you arrive at that storyline?
Anders: On that episode, if I can remember correctly, we knew we wanted to do an episode about Ders’ dad coming to town. We already knew he was gonna be this big businessman guy who would not approve of their lifestyle. So from there it was like, “What’s the worst thing the guys could be doing when his dad visits?” and it was, “How about slaughtering a cow all around the house?” And then it’s like, “Oh shit, how would the dad react to that? Maybe Ders has to lie about living another life.”
So one of you comes up with an initial idea and then you flesh it out as a group?
Anders: Yeah, we all get together at the beginning of our writing weeks and say, what are some directions we want to go with episodes. And somebody will just shout out this one, that one, and one of them happens to be, “What if we finally meet Ders’ dad?” And it’s like, “Oh, that’s cool.”
Adam: We have like a hundred ideas that we just toss around and then whatever kinda makes the group laugh collectively are the ones that we pursue.
Blake: When you hear a good idea your brain already starts working towards it. Everybody has a pitch for it. Like, “Yeah, this could happen, this could happen…” The ones that come out more naturally, I think we chase harder.
What effect does being friends have on how you share ideas?
Blake: There’s a positive and a negative side to it. I think the positive outweighs everything. You never wanna be too quick to shoot down an idea. When you get so comfortable with somebody you can be like nah nah, no, no, no, no. But the fact is that we do have a common comedic mind, so we can be pretty good at filtering out what we wanna do.
Adam: I don’t think any of us have a real problem, being like, “Naaaah,” to an idea. Because it’s not hurting our feelings, it’s just an idea and we’ll come up with a new one. We try not to be too precious with any of these ideas. And we’ve worked together now–like really, really worked hard together–for the last six, seven years. So we’re really comfortable knowing whether the guys are gonna love this one. Or the guys aren’t gonna love this one but I’m gonna keep pitching it anyway.
Does one of you tend to pull the brakes on an idea more than the others?
Anders: You gotta juggle that role around or else all of a sudden somebody becomes the cop. Then as soon as that person speaks it’s like, “Uhhhhggg, here comes the cop.” For us everybody puts on the badge every once in awhile.
Adam: It’s really important [not to say no] right off the bat when somebody comes with a weird idea. Sometimes an idea can be really funny but if you totally fumble the pitch, it might not come across as funny as it is. So you have to really “yes, and” everything that comes down the pipeline. Like if Blake says something and I don’t know if it works, you still have to go, “Ok, yeah, we could try that or we could go down this road.” You might talk about it for five, ten, fifteen minutes and half hour into talking about an idea, that’s when you find the original, really funny thing. And sometimes there are days of just beating our heads against the wipe-board, trying to think of something good before you really find it. So if you just say “No” off the bat, then that’s how you come with those really cheesy, well-worn ideas.
And the concept of “Yes, and” comes from your improv roots, right?
Anders: No, we invented that shit.
Adam: Yeah, that’s all ours.
[sinister laughing from the whole group]
Does the fact that you are the creators make the show more fulfilling for you?
Adam: It’s really cool to see it from the beginning when you have the tiniest idea to seeing it fully cut, fully mixed, color-corrected, and you look back at it and you’re really proud of the episode. And then you go on Twitter or Facebook and people are like, “Wow that was really funny. I really loved that episode.” It’s a really cool feeling.
Are there any drawbacks?
Anders: The drawback is that you have no life outside of the show when it’s going
Adam: If I didn’t like the show as much and we had to work on it this hard, that would be a real bummer. But I really love the show. We’re making the show we set out to make. It’s something that we’ll look back on when we’re older dudes and we’re like, “Wow that was really cool. Now back to selling cars in the valley.”