Eric Slovin and Leo Allen have been called modern comedy's greatest comedic duo since Abbot and Costello or Laurel and Hardy. Together they've earned accolades, devoted fans, a television pilot, and written for Saturday Night Live, all without ever compromising their comedic sensibility.
What would you say are your earliest memories of seeing or hearing things that made you laugh?
Leo: My brother and I used to watch Monty Python when we were kids. They had it on PBS.
Eric: I think for me it was The Two Thousand Year Old Man and Mel Brooks's movies at a young age. Probably Young Frankenstein more than anything.
Leo: And my dad took me to Pink Panther when I was a little kid. That was pretty great.
Are you able to pinpoint one of the first times that you were consciously aware of your ability to make other people laugh?
Eric: I remember making a joke in the fifth grade that made the classroom laugh and I felt good about myself, but it was an inside joke that I can't repeat now.
Leo: Does it involve the word cunt?
Leo: I think saying stuff in class, like as a third grader. Silly things like having to fill in the blanks in some silly language arts class and being a smartass and people laughing.
Can you think back to one of the earliest times when you started thinking about comedy as more than just cracking jokes?
Eric: I went to an all boys school and it wasn't about being captain of the football team, but you needed to survive using your wit so I do remember that. There was a lot of sort of sitting around and attacking others and defending yourself so I remember being aware then of who was funny and why people were funny, I think.
Leo: I think I remember making a conscious decision to always never admit that I was joking in a school situation, just to be completely serious and then let people decide what they thought was happening.
Did your humor ever land you in trouble at school for something?
Leo: In my elementary school, the worst thing you had to do was sit and eat on the steps in front of everybody because that meant that you were in trouble. That would happen sometimes, that was humiliating.
Eric: I once yelled at a French teacher and called him incompetent and meant it and then realized that I said something terrible and played it off like it was a joke and everybody laughed in the class and he laughed and everyone was like, "I can't believe Slovin had the balls to do that." But it was only because I lost control of myself and then I was able to make a joke out of it. I did it again another time and he didn't find it funny the second time.
What were you like in school then?
Eric: I wouldn't say that I was a class clown type. I think I definitely liked comedy, but I was too shell-shocked. I was much too shell-shocked for the whole experience trying to survive, to be the class clown. I wasn't that animated.
Leo: Yeah, I wouldn't say I was the class clown. I'd say I was quieter, just saying things to my friends who were sitting next to me.
Eric: I was too desperate to get out alive to be joking around.
Leo: It was more out of boredom for me.
I read this biography on Michael O'Donahue and he had mentioned that when he was growing up, because he was sickly and for other reasons, he spent a lot of time alone in his formative years and that proved to be very influential later. Did you have a similar experience perhaps to that?
Eric: My parents both had busy careers so there was plenty of making logic of things, waiting for them to come home.
Leo: I sort of grew up in the country, so there was a lot of just going on a bike ride by myself for three hours.
Where did you grow up, Eric?
Eric: I grew up on the Upper West Side.
What sort of creative outlets did you have growing up?
Eric: Toward the end of high school I started to act, but before that I don't know. I only cared about the Yankees. I think high school I started to act and write, but before that as a younger kid, I don't know if I actively considered myself creative.
Leo: I played sports. I played three sports and I was in a band for a while. My one friend had an older brother who had a real band and we would use all their equipment.
Would you, say, try to incorporate humor into your school assignments?
Leo: Definitely, yeah. I would.
Eric: My school was so obnoxious and tough that I was scared to. I had impulses to do it, but I was terrified.
Leo, do you have any examples of how you used to incorporate humor into assignments?
Leo: In English class my stories would just be ridiculous. Always on a test like math, economics, or something, if I didn't know an answer I would just write a really long ridiculous fake answer that started off like it was going to make sense and then just became completely absurd. One teacher wrote "seek counseling".
Eric: I always want to revise my history to where I'm precocious and saying whatever I want to say, but the truth is I was saying whatever I thought would make teachers leave me alone.
Were you in any clubs in high school other than, you had mentioned playing some sports?
Eric: I was the editor of the newspaper in high school.
Leo: I was the editor of my newspaper in high school.
Eric: We're like underachieving Woodward and Bernstein.
Leo: I was in the student government. I was the historian for four years, the fifth and most completely unimportant office of the five. I remained in power through four complete different administrations. Then I got to give an obnoxious speech at our graduation.
What does the historian do?
Leo: The historian is supposed to summarize what the class has done every year and then at of the graduation give the speech in front of the whole school.
Did you do public speaking of any sort during high school then, both of you?
Eric: I acted a lot in high school so that was my only public speaking. No speeches.
Leo: We had a public speaking class and I had to give the speech as the historian.
What sort of aspirations did you have throughout middle school and high school?
Leo: I didn't really have any aspirations.
Eric: I wanted to be alive when I was eighteen.
Leo: I wanted to have sex before I died and I still want to. I also wanted to have a job that I didn't hate, but I didn't really understand what that meant. I didn't want to have to go to an office every day. That was all I knew.
What did you do then, once you had graduated from high school?
Eric: I went to college. That was never a question.
Leo: I went to college and I quit and then I lived in Philadelphia and then I went to another college and then I finished with that and then I moved to Israel for like eight months or nine months, I think. And then I moved to Hoboken and then I-
Eric: Similar war zones.
Leo: Eventually started to do comedy.
What did you study while you were in college?
Leo: English and then history and I think I was a communications major, they call it radio, tv, and film, at Temple University. But it's communications. I just picked the one major that would allow me to graduate the quickest, after I switched schools and had to make up a bunch of credits.
Eric: I majored in English and minored in procrastination.
Leo: And now you major in procrastination.
How helpful then would you say your college experience was in your careers as say writers and comedians?
Eric: I went to a very irony free college and it definitely made me love irony. I lost patience for people who took themselves too seriously, I think.
Leo: I, myself, I did not like college and I am largely anti-college, but there is really something to be said for having to write a bunch of papers and learn how to organize your thoughts in a coherent way. I think it's important and I'm glad. No one would ever do that on their own. Why would you ever write a comedy sketch if you weren't going to be fired if you didn't or if you weren't going to do a show and going to be embarrassed? There's no way to learn it except for by doing it so why would you ever write a seven page paper about James Baldwin or on one of James Baldwin's novels unless you had to. It makes you organize your thoughts, which is important and rare.
Eric: I think I'm positive about certain college experiences or the need for college for certain careers, but I definitely value four years spent with smart earnest people having smart earnest conversation, but it also left me really wanting to make fart jokes. I mean, if we're going to be talking about deconstructing Proust then I'm definitely going to want to respond with something obnoxious.
Eric, while you were in college, did you do any sort of performing?
Eric: Yeah, I did a lot of theater in college and I started to do improv seriously in college. I was in the college improv group and that's definitely where I fell in love with that. So yeah, I did a lot of that in college, a lot of improv. We used to perform in lounges and the student center. We performed all over campus for different people and every audience was really enthusiastic and good and I think I thought it would always be that easy, which it of course wasn't. But college audiences watching college improv groups are, for whatever reason, just insanely supportive and enthusiastic and laugh a ton so I definitely am glad I had that experience. That definitely cemented my wanting to go into comedy.
And, Leo, in between leaving high school and going to Hoboken, did you do any sort of performing or was it more a lot of the traveling and self-discovery?
Leo: I did do stand-up maybe like four times in Ann Arbor and I did act, but not really much. I think I was in a short film. I didn't know anybody who did it and it didn't seem like a thing that people really did because it seemed so impossible. I actually knew Jon Glaser at University of Michigan, tangentially. I probably even did a show that he did, but I wasn't like in the sketch players group that he was in, although I went to see them.
Leo, what were you doing with all of your traveling? How were you supporting yourself financially? Did you work odd jobs and such?
Leo: Well, I saved money, but not a lot. That's why I went to Israel. I worked on a Kibbutz and that was like instead of just going to Europe for a week, I figured I'd rather go somewhere longer. Partly, so I could procrastinate having to figure out what I was going to do, but also because I thought it would be more of an experience.
How would you describe your time spent in Israel?
Leo: It was just interesting. Nothing bad happened when I was there. There was no bombings, there was no terrorist attacks, and it was sort of the tail end of the Russian immigration so my group of forty people who were working there, volunteers, were mostly Russian. Maybe there were fifty of us and ten spoke English. Like three Americans, three South Africans, a couple people from England, couple Australians, then the rest were all Russians. It was just sort of, I don't know, it was just a time to sort of travel. I got to travel around the country a lot. I went to Egypt. It was just a time to sort of see what was what and I just sort of knew I wouldn't do it if I didn't do it then.
Once leaving college, Eric, did you move back to New York?
Eric: Yeah. I thought I wanted to act and I was going to acting classes. I realized that I just liked comedy a lot more than acting and started to do open mics after a couple years of being kind of lost and confused. Yeah, I never questioned moving back to New York. I knew I could stay in New York.
Where did you go to college?
Eric: I went Wesleyan University.
Where did the two of you first meet?
Eric: At New York Comedy Club. Old New York Comedy Club used to be on what? 49th Street and 2nd Avenue. But yeah, Hamburger. It was all the same thing. There were five, six, seven open mics that were the only open mics to do in those days. It was the same group of people going to those open mics.
Leo: And there would be sixty people waiting for a spot and then after about a year, only ten people would still be doing it and there would be a whole bunch of new people.
Eric: There was a core probably twelve of us or something who were the real hardcore regular open micers who were at every single one of those and we all became friends. So early on in that early period, Leo and I became friends.
Leo: And then in '96, I lived in this railroad apartment and I had rotating cats and roommates, but then in '96 we got to know the UCB and Matt Walsh moved into my apartment so he was my roommate for three years or something.
Eric: Well, we started to do Luna Lounge, we did Aspen and Luna Lounge all around the same time and that sort of got us out of that original open mic.
Leo: That was when the whole thing sort of evolved out of- there started to be more booked shows in New York in the late 90s. In the very beginning, it was really depressing.
Eric: There was nothing that existed outside of clubs except for Gladys's and Hamburger Harry's.
Leo: Or open mics that comics would start and it was usually in the basement of a pizza place.
Eric: You'd show up there five o'clock, six o'clock on a Wednesday and perform in a fluorescent lit pizza place basement in front of maybe eight other comics.
Leo: Oh, yeah, and Ray James. Ray James would go to those too. Do you know Ray James?
No, him I'm not familiar with.
Leo: He's a writer, he wrote for us. He was funny because he came from San Francisco, which I guess had a better sort of open mic scene. Everybody is just sort of surly and sitting there looking at their notes and he's like trying to do his set and he's like, "Fuck you, guys. You guys are dicks." Oh, Judah Freelander. He was definitely in the mix.
Eric: The only sort of real gig you could ever get in those days was late night at the comedy cellar and Mike Royce, do you know Mike Royce, Ben?
Is he the guy that was on Lucky Louie or am I thinking of someone else?
Leo: He was the head writer of Lucky Louie.
Eric: He wrote for many years for Everybody Loves Raymond and he was an established comic, he was like a real New York club comic. He was the MC and in charge of late night at the Comedy Cellar where they would let people like us-
Leo: If you got a pass, you had to call in and you would get to go on for five minutes between twelve thirty and two in the morning.
Eric: But there would still be a real person and if you went early in the night you would go after Ray Romano or Dave Attell.
Leo: Yeah, you could go on right after someone destroyed and then you would go on and the audience would hate you for five minutes, really hate you.
Eric: In those days, your time would be whatever- one fifty three and it would be Mike Royce giving it to you and you'd go do your cellar spot and that was as close to feeling like you're really a club comic.
Leo: Sometimes Sweeney would MC that, Mike Sweeney.
Eric: Judah did that. There were people who had been doing it a little longer than us at the time who were doing it.
Leo: That was fun because you'd have no idea what you're doing. You're doing standup and you don't quit for three months and you go to watch shows and you see Dave Attell and you say, "Oh my God, that guy- he's going to be on Letterman next week." All of a sudden you're like, "I know someone who's on TV." Which is shocking at first when you don't know any better.
Eric: And you feel like you're living a Broadway Danny Rose fantasy.
Leo: Yeah, because you have to watch someone's bad comedy, like women who only speak German and have one arm doing seven minutes of material.
Eric: Also, you'd sit up at night and hang out with the other comics and feel like you were a comic even though you had definitely never made on penny doing standup.
Leo: And had only performed for the people you were having a beer with.
Eric: And you were paying money to perform, but you still felt like you were living a fantasy.
How long were both of you doing solo standup before you decided to work as a duo?
Eric: We started writing material together after only like a year and a half of doing standup in the same places.
Leo: You have all this waiting around time before shows so we started to sort of talk about, "Hey, yeah, what if we try this kind of thing?"
Eric: We spent a year, literally a year, writing material before we ever performed together.
Leo: Well, we did a couple things.
Eric: What did we really do?
Leo: We didn't really formally do any performing together. We spent a year where I would have temp jobs and we would meet at nine in the morning, which seems insane, and we would write until three or four in the afternoon.
Eric: I don't think we did that much.
Leo: We did like sixty or seventy sketches and then we picked our favorite twelve.
Eric: I had done improv in New York with Gotham City improv. There was Chicago City and Gotham City, which is games, you know, short form.
Leo: I took improv too. There was this thing called the National Improvisational Theater, which was kind of more long form.
Eric: In those days, it was literally standup. There were a couple places to do improv, but it wasn't taken as seriously as improv is now. The UCB started with long form in New York so it was literally just standup. It was all about, "I've got to pass clubs." When we started writing, we didn't even know where we would do it. It wasn't like you could go to the UCB Theatre and get a spot and do your sketch show. We ended up renting a theater and doing a three-week run. We just didn't know what our options were. In those days, like Surf Reality and Collective Unconscious, nothing existed. It was just standup, comedy clubs, and theater, which was just not our world. Two guys doing a sketch show seemed like an impossible dream.
How would you describe your writing schedule at the time?
Eric: I think we were working nine to twelve in those days.
Leo: No, we were working nine to two or nine to three. We'd try to write one or two a day.
Eric: We wrote a ton of sketches and most of them were really terrible. We didn't know what we were doing.
How long did it take you to find your comedic voice then as a duo?
Eric: We did one show, which we're both really glad we did. Our first sketch show was an hour and twenty minutes of sketches and I'm saying that, that's insanely long to me. If we had cut twenty minutes off of that show of sketches that never really worked, but for some reason we did over and over again.
Leo: Yeah, that was always funny. We did twelve sketches and three of them would never work, but we still did them every single show. We just never thought to cut them out.
Eric: It never occurred to us that we don't have to do these sketches and the show could be an hour or fifty-five minutes even. And we would just do stuff that didn't work over and over again and we didn't really change it. We just didn't know. Then we did another show that we only did twice that was kind of goofy.
Leo: But I think the voice is there in the first show. It's just muddled. There's other stuff that doesn't belong. I mean, in the first show there was a sketch that was in our special.
Eric: Sure, time machine. Yeah, that was from our first show. There are sketches that are just kind of classic- two person sketches that could have been from any era of sketch comedy.
Leo: Also, I had never performed before. I had never taken any acting classes or voice lessons. I didn't even learn how to memorize stuff. It was really "figure it out as you go, just jump in the pool." We had a director who was a friend of ours who was great and we had people helping us, but it was really like, "just figure it out," which is similar to the way you have to learn how to do standup. You just have to do it.
Eric: But I feel like there's a template now. If you were us starting out today there would be plenty of examples of how to do a show or of what your first show could be. We really just had no idea. Now, you go to the UCB, you see any number of people doing their shows, and you say, "I get the scale and the scope of this. I see what a show could be. I see a venue." We just did't know.
Leo: Also, we had the idea of doing videos. Our first show, we had the idea of it and we even started to try and make some, but it was such a hassle. You had to find someone who had a camera and you had to find someone who had access to an editing facility. It was so much of a nightmare it was like, "Fuck that, it's not even worth it." There wasn't a technology to have a good way to view it.
Eric: Project it. It wasn't like theaters had video projectors.
What was the name of the first shows that you did and also how did you transition in between the different sketches?
Eric: The first show was called Knee Deep and I swear to God we rented a theater, which is a real theater where people do real plays and it costs money.
Leo: It was absurd. Every time we've done a show, we've lost several thousand dollars.
Eric: Nothing compares to that first show and that show, we had, it's embarrassing, but we had changers backstage help us because-
Leo: We had a costume person.
Eric: We thought we needed to have costumes, that to do sketches we need costumes.
Leo: It was so stupid.
Eric: We would do one sketch where I was a Nostradamus style prognosticator and Leo was the hunchback assistant and then the next sketch we'd be reporters and we would dress appropriately, which meant we'd have to leave the audience listening to music in a blackout. There would be a blackout and a change and then we'd come back on and we would be in new costumes. That's so stupid. I don't know why we thought that.
Leo: Yeah, that was a good lesson. We did the second show, which was sort of a transition. Our third hour long show, which was at Aspen, when we were trying to put it together we decided very consciously no blackouts.
Eric: Well, we did have blackouts.
Leo: We did have some, but our goal was definitely to make it continuous.
Eric: Our last full length show, we really came the closest to-
Leo: There's almost no blackouts.
Eric: And what blackouts there are are sort of covered by audio that links two things that make sense. We knew we wanted to start making seamless stuff.
Leo: Obviously there's problems when there's only two people.
What year was this that this was going on?
Eric: Our first show was 1995.
Leo: I went to Aspen in '97 and then we did a show in, what, '99? We did a show in 2000. We made a pilot for FX in '99, which had Eva Longoria in it. We discovered Eva Longoria. That's the whole reason she has a career.
Eric: Leo makes out with Eva Longoria.
Leo: I make out with Eva Longoria in our pilot.
Eric: Don't tell Tony Parker or whoever her husband is.
What sort of pilot was this, can you tell me about that?
Eric: We did a pilot for FX that-
Leo: Was kind of consciously modeled after the Abbott and Costello.
Eric: I don't know if it was really consciously modeled after it.
Leo: The idea was just that we were roommates and we would never explain really why we were.
Eric: We wanted every episode to be a totally different story.
Leo: Like one episode we could be cops and the next episode we could work in a bakery. In the pilot episode, which we shot, Eric-
Eric: I kind of die at the end.
Leo: Eric starts doing the Tony Robbins sort of tapes and he wants me to do the program and I'm very against it because I think it's really stupid, but he convinces me to and then when we start doing the tapes, Eric's life becomes completely horrible, which culminates in his dying and my life becomes absurdly great.
Eric: Which includes making out with Eva Longoria. If I were to teach a class at the Learning Annex about how to get a television show on the air, I probably would suggest that in the pilot episode one of the main characters doesn't die.
Leo: It just didn't really work. It was a funny script if you read it, but it just didn't work.
It was too ambitious.
Were you able to make the pilot that you wanted with that one?
Leo: Hindsight is twenty twenty and you realize you would do so many things differently. We didn't know what we were doing and we didn't have enough control and we didn't know how to assert ourselves and that doesn't mean it would've worked anyway, but I think now we would know better. I think simpler is a better way to put it.
Eric: You're just always guessing what you think is funny and hindsight, it's so easy to look back at that pilot and be like, "Why didn't we do this? Why didn't we do that?" But at the time, it definitely seemed like- on paper, I really believe that was such a funny script.
Leo: I think it's still a funny script on paper.
Eric: There were unjokes in it that-
Leo: Unjokes are a hard sell.
Eric: I think that we've learned that over and over again. I still love an unjoke, we both still love unjokes, but to execute an unjoke, especially on television, it's very hard. You still have to tell the audience where they're supposed to laugh at an unjoke as opposed to let them later look at it and go, "Oh my God, you see what they're doing? That's hilarious." But if they don't know when to laugh then what fun is it? Sometimes it is fun, sometimes it is fun to have an unjoke, but when you're trying to sell a comedy to television you want to make it clear where they're supposed to laugh.
What is an unjoke?
Eric: I think an unjoke- God, I don't want to sound obnoxious. Talking about comedy, I always worry about sounding pompous. I think an unjoke would be a joke where there's a setup that's obvious, where there's an anticipation that there's going to be a classic joke, but then we just don't give it to you.
Leo: Oh my God, that is so pompous.
What was the name of the pilot and how did it come about?
Eric: It was called the Slovin and Alan Television Program. Jeremiah Bosgang was an executive who had been at NBC for a while and was at FX at the time, really nice guy.
Leo: Actually a very funny person.
Eric: Maybe the funniest executive I've ever met.
Leo: Like, he really championed Seinfeld. That's like his thing. And he was really a champion of ours and then the pilot got made and he got fired.
Eric: We don't know what happened to Jeremiah.
Leo: I really think he got fired.
Eric: I don't think we helped him any. You know, he believed in us and that's mistake number one.
What were you doing in the mid '90s when you were doing your first show to support yourself financially?
Leo: I would temp, I temped at an investment bank across from the World Trade Center for six months. I would have a job and then I'd quit. I'd save money, I'd quit, and then I'd just work on comedy until I ran out of money. I worked at a law firm for a year because they let me work three days a week. I was a tour guide on a double decker bus. That was terrible.
Eric: I was being very appreciative of generous family.
How is it that you got involved with writing for Saturday Night Live?
Eric: There was going to be a Colin Quinn show, not Tough Crowd. It was going to be another Colin Quinn show.
Leo: He was going to have a sketch show. I think they even made a couple episodes.
Eric: They put together a night of people at the UCB. It was a late night UCB showcase that we just did ten minutes on. Iala Cohen at Saturday Night Live knew who we were.
Leo: She'd come to see our shows. We knew Tina, we knew Horatio, and people because I lived with Matt Walsh and I lived with Armando Diaz. The first job we got hired to do was this Internet thing called This Is Not a Test, which was helmed by Jim Beaterman and Nick McKinne and Vido. Vido and Nick both were in The Vacant Lot, which was a sketch show on Comedy Central a long time ago and the people they hired were me and Slovin and Todd Barry and the Upright Citizens Brigade, all four of those guys.
Eric: The real reason we got hired to SNL was Iala Cohen asked us to perform at a night that she was bringing Lorne down and Steve Higgins. You know, Steve Higgins, the producer of SNL, and Iala, put the show together and Steve and Lorne were there. It was really ultimately because of that. I think they did know who we were, but I don't really know what attention they had been paying to us.
Leo: Well, I think it's just a cumulative effect of just constantly doing a myriad of things over what was then not quite a decade, but it was becoming close to one.
What was the sketch that you did in that ten-minute spot that you have?
Eric: We did Who's on First. Then we did this mask dance thing.
Leo: We sort of mashed three sketches together.
Eric: We do a kind of cirque du soleil style dance where I guess I come out first with a ridiculous mask and these are just ridiculous masks we bought at a costume store. Then Leo comes out and it just becomes this weird-
Leo: It becomes more and more stupid and absurd. We're trying to top each other, but it's utterly stupid.
Eric: It's kind of in the style of a really really stupid cirque du soleil thing and it was that and then we do dueling banjos on our boomboxes. We sort of mashed them all together.
Leo: There was no break. It was whatever ten minutes or twelve minutes in a row without stopping.
Eric: We knew we were auditioning for a show as talent where we didn't say a word for the last seventy five percent of our time on stage. We were just like, "Let's do whatever is funniest for this show" as opposed to, "Let's create characters to show how hilarious we are." That always seemed like a bad idea.
While you were working with Saturday Night Live, were you able to pitch to them the sort of sketches that you would put in a show od your own or did you think you should pitch it more as something that would be on Saturday Night Live?
Eric: We always tried to write what we thought was funny, but we knew the reality of the show called for something different. I think we stayed true to our voice and to writing what we wanted to write, but we definitely tried to write stuff that we thought would do well on Saturday Night Live. There were definitely ideas we would have where we would say, "There's just no way this will work on this show." We definitely tried to write stuff that would work, but we also tried to stay true to ourselves. We tried very hard at that.
Leo: We didn't sort of think, "What would be a good recurring character?"
Eric: We actively thought like if I were m watching Saturday Night Live when I was a kid, what would excite me to see on Saturday Night Live?
Leo: There's also a very real feeling of, "I can't hand in something that I'd be embarrassed to hear read at the table."
Eric: At Saturday Night Live, the group reads on Wednesday are very much a chance for the writers to sort of have their moment.
Leo: You can score a victory even if your sketch doesn't get picked.
Eric: Often times we would have a sketch do really well on Wednesday at read through and be very proud of it and it wouldn't get picked. That was very common.
Leo: Or it would die a horrible death in dress rehearsal.
Eric: Yeah, or it would get picked because it did so well at read through, but then the audience at dress rehearsal just wouldn't understand it. Or it wasn't executed well.
Leo: Or they would understand it and they would hate it.
Eric: Yeah, it was often our fault, definitely. But speaking for myself, I took more pleasure out of Wednesday. That's the day, you'd work really hard Monday night and especially Tuesday night, all night Tuesday night you work really hard, and Wednesday was the day where you'd feel proud of what you had written. It was just about how do we maintain our integrity on Wednesday?
During this time were you writing sketches for just the show to do on your own at say the UCB or was there not enough time?
Eric: Our last year at SNL we wrote a movie too. That was kind of a crazy experience.
Leo: Yeah, we didn't have time to write a paid show. The last thing you kind of want to do is write another sketch.
Eric: Every idea you have, there's a certain amount of nerves at Saturday Night Live, anxiety thinking, "What am I going to write this week?" All your energy, just all your survival instinct is saying, "Any idea I have that is making me laugh, I'm pouring into what I'm writing this week for Saturday Night Live." I mean, there definitely would be times when we'd have ideas to do stuff. We'd be talking about something at Saturday Night Live as an idea and go, "Well, this won't work for SNL, but we could do it somewhere else." The one thing about SNL was that our mindset was so much on ensemble sketches as opposed to two guy sketches. It's an all-encompassing job. You're not really in the mood to run out of there and write another sketch.
Leo: Although, I did like the year when we wrote the movie. It was nice to do something that was so different, but also creative. It's a totally different sort of muscle to write a long form movie, narrative. That was sort of a nice cleansing the palate kind of a thing.
Tell me about this movie that you wrote.
Leo: Well, that is a movie that you will never see unless you are an eccentric millionaire who wants to make it yourself.
Eric: Unless you get into one of our computers and read it on final draft.
Leo: It's basically about a guy who, you don't know what he is for the fifteen minutes or so. He's sort of a weird drifter and he's an oddball and he looks like a bum and he sort of gets a job at this crappy motel.
Eric: Then it turns into an exploration into the world of easy music.
Leo: You realize basically that he's a Yanni type who's had a nervous breakdown and disappeared for seven years and has been rediscovered by an ardent fan and so it's his dealing with reentering the world.
How many different feature length screenplays have you written as a duo?
Eric: We're moving along on our third one now.
Leo: Yeah, we just finished a draft of our third movie.
Eric: We're getting close to finishing that up.
With each movie that you write, what do you learn about the process that you're able to implement for the forth coming one and so forth?
Eric: I think we learn lessons about trying to keep things simple. I think we learn lessons about trying to understand what the main character is, that they actually go through something. Even though the comedy can be big and broad at times, trying to have there be something grounded and human.
Leo: It has to be authentic as opposed to arched even though jokes can be arched, to have the baseline of the movie authentic or else it's just sort of a jokefest. If you are a comedy writer, putting jokes in isn't the hard part. The hard part is making the story not boring, clichéd, and annoying.
Eric: We hope to write, I mean I really stress we hope to write, movies that are going to be funny and actually good movies where you care about the character and not just jokefests so we're struggling with that.
Leo: Another good thing about writing more and more is every time you write a first draft you realize that the first draft is of course terrible so it's less soul crushing. We wrote two hundred pages of stuff that we sort of aborted, but then the third thing we really sat down and we finished it. When we finished our first draft, which took six months or something- it took a long time and we both left it alone for a month and we went back and read it, it was just so depressing. It was so terrible. It was like, "I can't believe we spent six months this." It's really awful. So I think that feeling becomes less powerful because you realize of course it's bad, it's a first draft. What makes sense about this?
Eric: I don't know if we're becoming better and better. I think the thing we're learning is we're quicker at identifying when a choice is only complicating things and not simplifying things. I think we're quicker at that and I think we're also better at realizing when we really just have no idea what we're writing about and that we have to take a step back and throw that out and write about something we're more aware of rather than bullshitting ourselves.
This is about both the pilot and Saturday Night Live: do you have any stories about when a network executive gave you an incredibly frustrating note or a note that was just so absurd that you can never forget it?
Eric: Oh God. Yeah, I'm sure.
Leo: Sometimes you have meetings with people and it's laughable what they say. I mean, it's insane. It actually is funny. But at SNL, the good thing, one of the truly good things about SNL, is that you are autonomous to a degree- I mean, I've never had another network TV job, but I think you're autonomous to a degree, which is unheard of. Loren, sometimes he'll say like, "I really think this is a bad choice and you should do this" but if you say I really like it that way, he would for the most part just be like, "Okay, if you really think so, you can do it." I don't really think that happens a lot.
Eric: I remember we were once given a choice on SNL by Dennis McNicholas, who was the head writer at the time said, "Loren wants it this way. If you want to do it the other way, do it that way, but just know if it does well, you're not going to hear from anybody. If it doesn't do well, you're going to hear it." But the fact that on network television we were able to make that choice on our own, that's probably somewhat unheard of, I mean, in today's world. We have a lot of meetings with executives and almost always starts with, "What do you like? What movies do you like? Whose movies do you like?" And then it becomes this sort of obnoxious conversation between film nerds talking about how much we admire Billy Wilde or Buster Keaton or something like that, just obnoxious. Then it becomes this conversation with the executive where they're saying all those things you want to hear about how bad movies are today and how things can be different and giving all the examples of great movies. And then they quickly go to the pitches for you and they're just the worst. That's kind of a typical dynamic. I think people know what to tell writers to make writers feel good.
Leo: I think trying to do something that's big, that's why you kind of got to take a step back and take your hat off to anybody who gets anything made because it's so hard. So if you want to make something that you think is good, whether you're right or wrong what it is good is a matter of opinion. You have to just be like, "I'm going to get this made somehow" and figure out a way to get it done. It's almost a war of attrition. I don't think Charlie Kaufman could have wrote Being John Malkovich being like, "This is definitely going to get made." But most people make the mistake of never actually doing the first part, which is to write something. That's a problem I think I struggle with also.
Eric: I think also we've learned enough over the years that you don't know what's going to work in comedy, but you want to just at least make the mistake by picking the thing you think is funny and live or die by that as opposed to giving in to an executive or giving in to an audience what you think they might find funny.
Leo: Trying to guess what other people are going to think is funny is insulting to them.
Eric: Sometimes I think there can be interactions with others, with executives and stuff, there can be a self-righteous quality on our part like, "No, we're right. This is better. This works." And of course we're probably wrong, but you have to bet on the thing you think is the right idea. Otherwise, you're really-
Leo: You might as well just be a lawyer. Also, we're really high and drunk right now.
What are you working on now?
Eric: Right now we're trying to write the screenplay that we're working on now that we think we can have some success with.
Leo: We want to finish this movie that we already have a draft of and we have a short film, which we just made that we need to just finish a few little edits on and hopefully make a bunch of shorts and have sort of a DVD of our shorts.
Eric: We've just finished two and we're trying to make a cycle of ten shorts that all might have a loose link to each other.
Leo: Just like little jobs here and there. I just did a tour with Demetri Martin. He did a national tour and I opened for him. There's a lot of stuff that we're doing at the same time, which is maybe part of the problem. We have ideas for shows we want to do, like TV shows, and I think we would like to do a sketch show because what was fun about our sketch show is it was really mostly for the fun of it. It was a hassle and we always lost thousands of dollars, but It's not a way to make money. It's sort of pure in the sense that it's for the fun of it. That would be nice to do.
Eric: You always want to have an audience laughing because that's what's fun about comedy. I think writing stuff in a vacuum and looking at it on a piece of paper and thinking, "Oh, that's really funny" is not as satisfying as doing it in front of an audience and having people laugh. That's always been the goal.
Got to slovinandallen.com to keep up to date about their various endeavors. Leo will be opening for Reggie Watts at Comix Sunday, January 14th and the duo will be screening a short at the one year anniversary of Rififi's Sunday night show Here's The Thing .