Sitcoms and sketch shows tend to be the television vehicles stand-up comedians and comedic actors create for themselves when they get the chance. But Natasha Leggero, famous for burning the likes of James Franco and Justin Bieber at those Comedy Central roasts, and Riki Lindhome, half of the funny folk duo Garfunkel and Oates, went in a different and more unexpected direction while brainstorming a new TV project, coming up with a comedic period piece titled Another Period that combines the vapid and vain behavior we see exhibited by today’s reality television stars with the pomp and pageantry of the historical drama. “The visual of a family like the Kardashians walking into Downton Abbey—it just made us laugh,” says Lindhome.
Comedy Central bought into the grand idea, and Another Period debuts on the network June 23 (the pilot was made available June 15 on the Comedy Central website as well as through the Comedy Central app.) Produced by Ben Stiller’s Red Hour, the show is set in tony Newport, Rhode Island (though Drunk History director Jeremy Konner, who helmed all 10 episodes, faked it, shooting Another Period on location in Los Angeles) during the Gilded Age where we find the wealthy Bellacourt family living large in a mansion full of servants played by the likes of Michael Ian Black and Mad Men alum Christina Hendricks.
Shallow, self-centered and not so smart, the eldest Bellacourt sisters Lillian, played by Leggero, and Lindhome’s Beatrice—credited for taking the first-ever selfie well before Kim Kardashian ever snapped one!—crave attention. In fact, they are desperate to be famous, and they refuse to let their lack of any real skills or notable talent stand in their way.
Here, Leggero and Lindhome, who first met and became friends through the standup comedy scene, talk to Co.Create about how they got Comedy Central to buy into their mashup of reality and period drama, what it’s like running a writer’s room for the first time ever and how they benefited from having each other to lean on as they developed and produced Another Period.
Co.Create: Why did you choose Newport as the setting for the show?
Leggero: I had read a book about the Gilded Age and found it fascinating that apparently 90% of the wealth in all of America at the turn of the century was all in Rhode Island and all in Newport. They were living like rappers. I was interested in that, so I went to visit, and then Riki and I went again together. You can take tours and hear how these people lived. They would have their houses constructed in Florence and then broken down and sailed across the ocean and then built back up in Newport.
Lindhome: There was an episode we were watching of Upstairs, Downstairs, and as a present one of the ladies of the house gave her daughter her favorite maid, and she was like, “Happy anniversary. I’m giving you Rose!” It was all very serious, but this is how things used to be. Upstairs, Downstairs, Downton Abbey—that is all in England, and until I went to Newport, I didn’t really understand that America had its own age of this, but it was just a little more tacky.
After visiting Newport and doing all the research, did you sit down together and write a pilot for the show? How did it come together?
Lindhome: We made a short first. We just went out and made it ourselves and got a costumer and a location, and we made, basically, a presentation of what the show would look like, and then we wrote the pilot, and then we went to Ben’s company [Stiller’s Red Hour], and they helped us sell it to the network.
Was Comedy Central surprised to learn that you two had come up with a comedic period piece? It’s a unique concept.
Lindhome: Yeah. It was definitely something someone had to take a risk on. You don’t always make a short before you sell something, but because this was so different than anything else, we knew we would have to make the short just to show the tone with the comedy because it is a specific tone. It’s not super over the top. It’s subtle comedy, and there is a realness to it, but it’s also kind of silly.
How did you handle writing the rest of the show after you wrote the pilot?
Lindhome: We had a writers’ room. So Natasha and I were the showrunners. But we had this room of really, really talented, hilarious writers, and we all got together for 10 weeks and just divided and conquered.
Was this the first time that either of you had overseen a writers’ room?
Lindhome: This was the first time.
Leggero: We just jumped in, and we called every showrunner we knew and asked them for advice, and we got great advice from people, and we just took what they said and figured out what worked for us and what didn’t and just sort of made it up as we went along. I think after a week we pretty much felt like we could do it.
Lindhome: It was great. So few people get this opportunity.
Leggero: I loved it. I’m sure people who work in writer’s rooms for a living would know this, but we learned there are certain ideas that can only happen from a group mind.
While you had scripts for each episode, was there any opportunity for the cast to ad lib when you were shooting the show? You had so much talent with the ability to improv, including Michael Ian Black [who plays the Bellacourt’s butler Peepers] and Thomas Lennon [who guest stars in the first episode as the Marquis de Sainsbury].
Leggero: It honestly depended on the day. Our actors were so amazing that we wanted to give them the chance to make things up if there was time in the day, but it was a fast schedule, so sometimes we just had to get things done. But most of the time people had freedom.
Lindhome: Someone like Michael Ian Black, he would just constantly be thinking of things. So he would just very quickly be like, “Okay, I’m going to be holding custard in this scene,” and he already talked to props, and he already had the custard. So we just kind of rolled with it because these people—performers from David Wain to Brian Huskey to Tom Lennon to Michael Ian Black—these people are such brilliant improvisers it just kind of comes out of them naturally.
How did you snag these great comedic talents–was it easier given that you probably know a lot of these people?
Leggero: I don’t know if it was easy. But we wrote the parts [in the pilot] for each person, and we really wanted each person, and by the time we asked them we had sent them something like, “Here’s the scene we wrote exactly for you.” I think that made it easy for people to say yes, and I think we got lucky that we just got our first choices all across the board. But we did really work at it to make sure that each person’s part was tailored to their comedy. We did everything we could to make sure we had the best cast.
Christina Hendricks is also part of your cast, which was a nice surprise. It was great to see her doing something funny after all the drama of Mad Men.
Lindhome: She comes across so great, and we just really wrote to her strengths. She was pretty much playing almost like a Jason Bateman-type character who is like reacting to all the insanity, and her facial expressions are so hilarious. She was just kind of thrown into this world, and it just came so naturally to her. It was pretty awesome.
You both have a lot of acting experience and have taken parts in projects created by other people. But you obviously decided it was time to create something for yourselves.
Leggero: Yeah. Totally. It’s really luxurious to be able to write your own part.
Lindhome: I feel like it’s really important. If you’re trying to be an actor, sometimes you get lucky, and you end up on The Office, but if you don’t, and you know that you have something to say, it’s really, really fortunate to be able to get to write and star in your own comedy. When Natasha and I both started, we were just kind of acting. But then when we sort of looked around at the amazing comedies we loved and were like, “We want to be on a show like that. If it isn’t happening through straight auditioning, let’s make it happen.”
Leggero: It is fun to be thinking about everybody’s character and making sure everyone has great storylines and making sure they’re coming across in a great way. I definitely wish people would spend as much time creating characters for me as I’ve been spent creating characters for other people.
What’s it been like working together creating and producing and starring in this show? What have you gotten out of collaborating?
Leggero: I’ll think of things sometimes, but then I won’t write them down, or I won’t make sure that they’re documented, and Riki is great at that. She’s just like this great engine who makes sure we already have the editor set up for the day, that the footage is going to be in, and all the new character descriptions are already written. She’s always ahead of the curve in terms of workload, and that really helps. She’s already done the work a lot of times, so then you’re just always on top of everything.
Lindhome: I think Natasha’s the quality control. She’s the one that says, “Make it funnier, make it funnier, make it funnier,” until the day we have to turn it in. She just wants to top it. It’s a pretty great partnership. I think we have different strengths, and I think that actually makes us both get things done and makes them funny—it’s easy to do one, it’s not easy to do both.
I have to ask about your wardrobe. When you were in costume for Another Period, were you two wearing the torturous undergarments women wore back in the day?
Leggero: We decided not to wear corsets because when we did the short my character had two corsets on, and I was like, “Oh, I can’t really breathe,” and if you can’t breathe, it’s not as funny. You need to be able to be as free as possible within the confines of that fashion, and so we were like, “Let’s be funny. Let’s be able to take a deep breath and tell a good joke rather than wear a corset.”