Like many comedy nerds, my first exposure to the work of David Wain was a member of the troupe known as The State, which made a short-lived but very funny show for MTV back when the network was just starting to dabble in original programming (remember those days?). But I will always hold a special place in my heart for his directing debut, WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER, which now seems on its way to finally getting sequel-ized with most of the original cast.
Over the years Wain has made us laugh with his participation in such projects as "Stella" and his current creation "Children's Hospital," which he's currently finalizing new episodes of right now. He also directed the films THE TEN, the very funny ROLE MODELS, and the upcoming WANDERLUST, all starring Paul Rudd (as did WET HOT). Wain also co-wrote WANDERLUST (which co-stars Jennifer Aniston) with his long-time State mate Ken Marino.
What you're about to read is the first of a two-part (maybe three, when all is said and done) interview I did with Wain over the course of couple months. The later parts occurred a couple months ago over a breakfast I shared with Wain and his wife Zandy Hartig in Chicago, the morning after a sold-out screening of WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER on the occasion of its 10th anniversary. During that interview, we covered everything in Wain's career except his long-running web series WAINY DAYS (check out My Damn Channel to see all of the episodes), which just wrapped it's fifth season with seven episodes following a single storyline, something Wain has never done before. As an added incentive to check out the latest season, Wain directed every episode, all of which were written by Marino and him (in all other seasons, Wain brings in other directors and writers to round out the episodes he doesn't make himself).
Wain stars in WAINY DAYS as a version of himself as man who is horrible at dating; he doesn't seem to have trouble finding women to date, it's just that once he does find someone, he's an awkward mess and tends to blow it without fail. The show is hilarious, and Wain has somehow convinced some of the most beautiful actresses working today to go on this fictional dates with him. It makes me angry, actually.
The most exciting news for fans of WAINY DAYS is that the first four seasons of the series are hitting DVD this week (Tuesday actually), and the disc is loaded with some fun special features, including outtakes, commentaries, and some early-years, pre-State short films from Wain that must be seen to be believed. Between some of the episodes are newly shot moments from a pajama party put on to celebrate the DVD's release and featuring pretty much every famous face that was on the series in the first four seasons. It's a lot of fun, and Ken Marino in particular is hysterical in a couple of these sequences.
So this first part of my "Discussions with David Wain" will focus primarily on WAINY DAYS, and was actually recorded just last week. Please enjoy…
David Wain: Steve, my man. What is the deal?
Capone: I realized when I got an email about doing this interview that the one thing we really didn’t talk about when you were here in Chicago…
DW: Which was a good time.
Capone: It was indeed great, but we never really talked about the web series, and now we have a chance to plug the holes.
Capone: I still haven’t seen the movie yet, but I know when I’m seeing it.
DW: They did set up a screening for you?
Capone: There’s something in a couple of weeks, yeah.
DW: Okay, cool.
Capone: Let’s focus mainly on WAINY DAYS.
DW: Did they send you a DVD?
Capone: I had seen a lot of them, but it was nice to plow through the whole thing and make sure I had seen them all and go through those extras, and then I caught up with the most recent season, which I did want to talk about as well, because it seems like a very different season than the other ones.
DW: Yes, it totally is.
Capone: I’m always kind of curious. That version of you that you play on the show--that suave persona. In your mind, who are you becoming at that moment?
DW: When I’m being suave, it’s probably some screwed up version of how I visualize myself in my most embarrassing moments or who I used to think I would turn into when I was a grown-up. Every episode of WAINY DAYS in one way or another is some played-out fantasy version of something that actually happened to me or that I hoped would happen to me.
Capone: A lot of people I know who watch the series say in an envious kind of way, “Yeah, he basically hires all of these gorgeous actresses that we would all love to go on dates with and puts them in the show,” but I’m like “Yeah, but his wife is on the show too.” What did Zandy think of that idea when you started this parade of gorgeous actresses that show up every episode?
DW: I have to honestly say that I totally understand that perception, because that’s exactly what it is, but the impetus or the idea behind doing the whole series was when My Damn Channel approached me and said, “You can do anything you want,” and as much as I have done so many things in my career they have always been in partnership with at least one other person in an equal waym and this was the first thing I did where it’s like, “This is just me,” and I’m like, “What do I, just me, want to talk about? What do I know?” Up until that moment, I had spent the major effort and period of time in my long, adult, single life just trying to meet women and trying to go on dates and pursue. So it was a very natural and organic thing to say “Okay, well what if it’s a little web series where each one is a few minutes long, but each one is about another attempt at a relationship on my part that I somehow screw up?” That’s very real to me. [Laughs] So then of course in creating the web series version of it, each week you get to put in another actress, and so that’s how it played out that I got to make out with all of these girls. My wife always says she’d rather me do it on screen than off, so I’ll take that.
Capone: Of course. Although she might not want you necessarily dry humping some of these women in any situation.
DW: [said with a great deal of mock integrity] Look, this is my art. I am an actor. This is an expression of my truths as an artist that cannot be quelled by some sheltered world view that says that a husband should not be making out with lots of beautiful women.
Capone: You’re absolutely right.
DW: As long as there’s a little camera running.
Capone: Then there’s no crime. My original thought when I first discovered the series had always been: why didn’t you try to turn this version of you in these adventures into a film? And now with Season 5 [the DVDs only cover seasons 1-4], the most recent season, you're about as close as you’ve ever come to doing that, because you have a single storyline with two women that you're torn between, and every episode is written by you and Ken [Marino] and directed by you, which is also something that you haven’t done up to this point. So was that as close as we will probably get to having that movie?
DW: I think that the WAINY DAYS thing is definitely an open book that could easily someday be a movie or a regular conventional television series. Who knows? We are always thinking about things like that. But for sure, this last batch, we were trying exactly what you said. We tried to put together a more cohesive set of seven episodes that play as one story as if it was like watching a TV episode with lots of commercials. But we just took a whack at that, and I think it was an interesting experiment. I think if I do it again, I’ll do it maybe slightly differently. I think it has its pros and cons. There’s something appealing in the web series about each one being more self contained. But trying to do something a little different is always worth doing, I think.
Capone: On the DVD, you’ve got these wonderful pajama party inserts that you’ve done. Where did that idea come from?
DW: I just thought it would be fun. Obviously, the episodes are available online, because of it being a web series, and so I wanted to make sure that we put some things on the DVD over and above just having everything collected in one place. So I just thought it would be a fun thing to do and for people to see to gather up as many of the guest stars as we could and have a Playboy After Dark feel.
Capone: That is what it’s like.
DW: Not a very veiled copy of that. We were just walking around with the drinks on our typical WAINY DAYS insanely chintzy, low-budget version of it. And having Ken Marino there to just jump in as often as needed to add something to each little vignette, and of course I’m not an objective voice, but I think that stuff is really fun and it also breaks up the content. If you wanted to sit down and watch a big chunk of the whole DVD or all of it in one sitting, then you’ve got some little things to break it up.
Capone: I was actually pretty impressed with how many of the people from the series you got to sign up for the party, one way or another, whether it was through Skype or just showing up.
DW: I practiced the law of attraction.
Capone: I’ve got to admit, my personal favorite thing on the whole DVD are getting to see those short films that you made when you were much younger.
DW: Oh God!
Capone: The one about basically like "Intro to How to use a Bank” is the most unintentionally funny things ever. I never did it when I was in high school, but friends of mine who went to much better high schools than I did did these elaborate video projects like that, like a teacher said, “I want you to make a video about how to do something,” and your video was the result. Where did that come from?
DW: Oh god. You know frankly I haven’t even watched it. I just kind of found it and gave it to them. It was done as a project at a children’s television production class at NYU, and I sort of thought of myself as a children’s television major, because I took those few courses while I was at NYU. I was most focused, honestly, on the theme song to that, because I wrote that theme song and played the drums on it.
Capone: I noticed that, yeah. The punk rock song.
DW: Yeah, I had a friend who played guitar and we played it. I probably spent much more time on the theme song than the rest of it put together.
Capone: You’re just a tool for the banking industry really. That’s what I see when I watch that.
DW: I think the Occupy movement would really use my video as something they would rally against.
Capone: Oh my god, they would string you up. I love your face when you discover the wonder of credit cards and how excited you are about how they work.
DW: I really did think I was doing something great, because my theory was you go to school and you learn all of this stuff as a kid, but no one ever teaches you just like basic stuff that adults take for granted like “How do you write a check?”
Capone: It’s really great. I also love the short about the guy who is secretly an electrician in a world of plumbers, but that’s meant to be funny comedy. Something about that banking film is so wide-eyed and innocent.
DW: I love that you watched everything on the DVD. I can only hope more people will do that.
Capone: In the first episode of WAINY DAYS, you have Elizabeth Banks. Did she in a way set the standard for both the beauty of the women you were going to have on from then on as well as sort of the funny/damaged things that these women were going to have in terms of their personality?
DW: Absolutely. The truth is, the first three episodes we shot, I didn’t know it was the first three episodes of anything. I was actually shooting what I thought was one web short just to try it out, and it was not really necessarily meant like, “This is the beginning of an ongoing year long web series.” So I just wrote that first storyline and ended up turning it into three episodes. I thought it would just be one, but it came out so much longer, and then Elizabeth Banks happened to be in New York, because she was doing that Eddie Murphy movie [MEET DAVE] that she was in, and she came by for a very quick shoot.
It was just a little random project. I didn’t think much of it, and then as I was cutting it together, it was just really funny to me. So we did it and put it online, and then My Damn Channel was happy and we kept going. The thing about the beautiful women, the truth is for better or for worse, what happens is when you are a funny nerdy guy, in my experience, I would be able to at least go on dates often with women who are far out of my aesthetic range, and so it is to some degree my reality that I always found myself with these beautiful women, which is probably part of why it never worked out. But then I found the most beautiful woman, and I married her.
Capone: Yay. With a web series, the impression is--and you could tell me if I’m wrong--that the stakes are a little bit lower, compared to a feature film. Does that take pressure off of you?
DW: Absolutely. By definition, that’s the whole wonderful thing about it. A lot of the first season of WAINY DAYS, I had shot actually during the making of ROLE MODELS whether it was during prep or even during the shoot on a weekend. We were just shoving them in there, but it was so important for me to do and so fun, because it is that thing where I think of it like an artist’s sketchbook where this is the part where no one is telling me what to do and where I can just try anything.
I have a lot of amazing collaborators, but ultimately it’s my call and I do the final edit of it, and I don’t get any notes from the financier or anybody. I mean, I get some notes when I ask whoever from my team, but it’s just a really great way to do something personal and then also to know that I can try something really weird or out there or that I’m not sure will work and it is okay. I’m not going to get in trouble, and if it doesn’t get enough views on this one particular episode, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to get fired, whereas it’s really not that way when you make a movie for Universal, which has all its obvious benefits, but if it doesn’t work and it doesn’t succeed at the box office, there are real ramifications to that, and so it’s a whole different thing.
Capone: Does it open you up creatively as well to try something really out there one time, and you’re not wasting millions of dollars doing it?
DW: Exactly. You have an idea or an inkling of something, and that may work and you’re like “Why not? Let's see what happens.” Then it does become sort of a testing ground for types of ideas or even something I want to try directing-wise, and it’s also an amazing way to just work with people that I like or have met or have come across that I may not have had a part for in WANDERLUST, but “Hey let’s do something on WAINY DAYS,” and then it’s so much fun. Actors are so great. I love actors and get to work with them and have them be funny. Often it's the case that it’s also a chance for them to try to do something maybe sillier or goofier than they normally get to do, so I think it’s fun for them.
Capone: Let me ask you about two specific things that reoccur in the show, and I think they both happen in the first episode, but then they’ve continued. Where did the idea of shoving random people on the street come from?
DW: That was really actually a thing that I thought about a lot over my life. I just think about all of the time, like the things that you don’t do because you’re not supposed to, but that you easily could. I think even as a little kid I was like “What if I just pushed that person down? What would happen exactly?” and then the fantasy is “What if nothing happened? Just do it. Do whatever comes to mind.” I think it certainly related in many ways to the whole theme of "Stella" as well, which is “What if you had unrestrained impulse?” “The things that flash through normal people’s minds, what if we acted them out?”
So that was just one of them specifically that I personally always had and thought about. I went to my temple when I was a kid and would sneak in when there was nobody there and got up on the bimah yelling and screaming and guessing what it would be like if I did that. There are social contracts, things you’re not supposed to do. They're not necessarily illegal. I think I might have as a teenager used to tackle people too just like that.
Capone: Does the idea of "not illegal, but still not socially accepted" also include dancing in the office?
DW: Exactly. All of those sorts of things.
Capone: So you changed up your office workers for the most recent season--Jorma [Taccone] is in there.
DW: Yeah, well we are always shooting different places and times and it’s always a matter of who's around, and I also frankly just wanted to make it feel a little different like it’s another chapter. [A.D.] Miles is now the head writer for Jimmy Fallon, so he’s a lot less around, and Matt Ballard lives in New York. We shot this one in LA, so we did this one with Jorma and Zandy.
Capone: I did notice the palm trees in this one, so I figured it wasn't New York.
DW: Right, we did our best within our non-budget. What you might notice if you are watching this current season is I did a couple of Photoshop jobs myself. For example when I pull up to the book-on-tape store, you'll see that the street sign says Bleecker St. and the background is New York City, and it says “Greenwich Village” on the wall, but it’s clearly on Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley.
Capone: With WANDERLUST coming out in a couple weeks. Are you excited to finally get it out there and have people to see it?
DW: I’m really excited. It’s been a long road, and I’ve just been putting together a blog post. We actually started writing it five years ago this month, and yeah I’m thrilled to finally bring it to fruition. It’s been a journey, and I’m really proud of it. I’m excited for it to get out there. It is like having a baby. It’s been gestating and gestating, and now let’s let the world take over and if they love it I’m thrilled and if they hate it then so be it, but either way, it’s got to get out of my tummy.
Capone: And then you and Ken rewrote the film that Adam Sandler and Andy Sandberg are in.
DW: We did. I think they are changing the title. I think it’s called like MY BOY or something like that.
Capone: I saw it as THAT’S MY BOY.
DW: Yeah. It was called I HATE YOU, DAD when we worked on it. Yes we did a lot of stuff for that script, which I’m really proud of, and a lot of it is in the final film although we did not get actual screen credit as it turns out. With the Writer’s Guild you have to prove that you’ve written more than 50 percent of the underlying story I think in order to get screen credit, so we did not successfully do that.
Capone: I’m away that the Writer’s Guild qualifications for screen credit are bizarre and indecipherable, to me at least.
DW: They are somewhat strange, I will say, yeah. I remain very proud of the work we did and I think you'll see in this movie a lot of material that fans will recognize as in our voice, but you will not see our names on it.
Capone: The people that need to know know that you did it, so that’s all that matters.
DW: Yeah, there you go.
Capone: So then what is up next for you then?
DW: Well we are definitely in active development on the next WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER installment. And I’ve got two or three other feature things that are also in development, so I don’t know which one is going to go first. I’ve also been doing some little things. I directed an episode of "The New Girl," which will be on this spring I believe.
Capone: Cool. I watch that show, and what a great coincidence the Lizzy Caplan just did a run on that show and in the most recent WAINY DAYS season.
DW: You’re a fan.
Capone: I’ve been a fan of hers for a while, yeah.
DW: Yeah, she’s awesome.
Capone: I loved her on "Party Down."
DW: She’s one of the best. And then I just did a guest star role on the show "Bob's Burgers" on Fox.
Capone: Cool. I watch that too.
DW: It’s pretty funny. I just did that yesterday. And then we are heavily at work on the next season of "Children's Hospital," which we wrapped shooting and are now editing, and we're about to start work on our new series called NEWS READERS on Adult Swim, which we're going to shoot in the spring. So it’s still pretty busy.
Capone: So that will be live action as well?
DW: That is live action. Every season of "Children's Hospital" has an episode that is kind of a news documentary version of it, and that is exactly what this new show is about, but instead of being about the behind the scenes of a children's hopsital, it’s all new topics. So we are very excited about that.
Capone: I think we might have talked about it when you were here, but with regards to the WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER sequel, has there been some amount of interest in it since the idea has been out there now for a while?
DW: Well in fact, Michael Showalter mentioned last night on TV that we were going forward with it, and the internet went nuts over it. I think people are really excited and yeah I think really we're putting the script together right now, and we have already been in talks with various entities to get it made. It could happen fairly fast.
Capone: Well good luck with that.
DW: Thank you.
Capone: You’re not done with WAINY DAYS though, are you?
DW: Oh no. Until further notice, I think this could go on forever. There’s no reason to stop. For example, this group of seven that we just talked about, this new season, I mean I really squeezed it in. We were heavy in prep on "Children's Hospital," and I was still finishing WANDERLUST and I just squeezed in like a four-day shoot to shoot seven episodes and I was editing it on the set of "Children's Hospital" on a laptop while I was watching the shoot. I’m committed to keeping WAINY DAYS going when and if I can.
Capone: Cool and when the next DVD comes out, find some more videos from your childhood.
DW: There’s really no end to those. There’s a whole closet full of them, but yeah I’m glad to talk about the DVD, because I’m pretty proud of it and I hope people give it a chance.
Capone: It’s great. David, always a pleasure talking to you, and I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.
DW: Alright, very good.
Capone: Take it easy. Thanks.
More to come in Part 2 of "Discussions with David Wain." Stay tuned…