Chris D’Elia and Bill Lawrence Talk About ‘Undateable’

Chris D'Elia and Bill Lawrence Undateable Interview
Chris D'Elia as Danny Burton and Bianca Kajlich as Leslie Burton in 'Undateable' (Photo by: Justin Lubin/NBC)

NBC’s set to debut the new half-hour comedy Undateable on May 29, 2014 at 9pm starring Chris D’Elia and packed with comedic talent. The series centers around a group of friends who seem to be stuck in ‘undateable’ mode. D’Elia plays Danny Burton, a self-assured single guy who thinks he can help the gang with their dating issues. Undateable was created by Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Spin City) and Adam Sztykiel, and in support of the show’s premiere, Lawrence joined D’Elia for a conference call to talk about what viewers can expect from this new series.

Chris D’Elia and Bill Lawrence Undateable Interview

Bill, can you talk about the premise and tone of the show?

Bill Lawrence: “We did 13 episodes and maybe one or two are about getting somebody a date. What the show’s really about – and it will probably sound way too deep for a multi-camera sitcom – is everybody on Earth, men and women, go through an undateable phase in their life due to bad jobs or insecurities or money or the way they dress, and most of us get out of it. It’s about a group of friends and people that are stuck there a little bit, whether it’s because they’re divorced or searching for something. Even Chris’ character is somebody that can’t hold onto things. So when we pitched the show, we brought pictures of ourselves at our most undateable. For me, I had peroxide blonde hair and earrings and I just looked desperately like a kid from Connecticut who so badly wanted to be cool with that peroxide hair and earrings. It was really bad.

To me, what the show is about is a group of people that would probably be very sad and lonely were it not for each other. And, you know, ultimately my favorite multi-camera sitcoms – Cheers and Seinfeld and Friends – they’re all shows that you would say, ‘Hey, these characters are kind of sad if they didn’t have each other to lean on.'”

Bill, could you talk a little bit about making one of the guys a gay character and what that adds to the show?

Bill Lawrence: “You know what I think is always nerve-wracking when you do a show is that you don’t want to ever be somebody that is like you have this cliché, you have this gay character, or something that people have seen before. One of the other producers of this show is a guy named Randall Winston. He’s my longest adult relationship [and] he’s a gay man himself – I’m not outing him as he’s married and has kids – but one of the things that we really like the idea of talking to him about that I don’t think we have seen on the show or in a comedy is we all hit him up for stories about when he was first coming out and how awkward it was to deal with his buddies and kind of how awkward and weird it felt for him to be part of a gang of friends when in his head everything had changed and in their heads, things hadn’t changed. It was just kind of a funny story generator for us. And we have a couple of people working on the show that can kind of funnel in their own personal stuff and we put them all right on the show.”

Chris, is there a difference in the advice your character ‘Danny’ gives to Brett [played by David Fynn] because he’s gay? Or is it the same since they’re all basically in the same undateable boat?

Chris D’Elia: “Danny said it doesn’t matter what sex you prefer, just you’ve got to be you and you’ve got to find your strengths and ignore your weaknesses and try and attract who you want to attract. Doesn’t matter if they have appendages or not, you know what I mean?”

Bill Lawrence: “Randall and I really used to argue. The one fight we always had was I always felt that it would be much easier for a single gay guy to go out and hook up than it was for a single straight guy, and he told me that was not the case. And I maintain to this day that he was lying.”

The bar where they hang out is filled with Michigan sports memorabilia. Why did you pick Michigan?

Bill Lawrence: “Detroit is the setting of the show because the other creator, Adam Sztykiel, and Jeff Ingold, one of the executive producers, and Randall Winston – who I already spoke about – they’re all from Detroit and the Detroit area. Because the tagline of the show is ‘Every underdog has his day’, we really kind of wanted to connect this to an underdog city. You know, a place where people have tremendous pride. All those guys, their families are still there and all kind of feel like a comeback is in the future for Detroit. So, the show’s very specifically ID’d with Detroit.”

Is that ‘underdog’ tone tough to hit?

Bill Lawrence: “I think if people are wallowing in sadness, yes, I think that there’s a burden for these people to have some victories and to hopefully be funny. But if I went and pitched Cheers tomorrow and said, ‘Hey, what’s it about? It’s about an alcoholic bartender who can’t stop having empty relationships and the people that habitate his bar that hate their lives so much they just want to sit on chairs all day.’ You know what I mean? I think it would be a hard sell. And for me, there’s something very identifiable about this point in time in their life. I think one of the reasons that it’s not that big of a tightrope act is A) these guys and girls are all funny, and B) they’re all very young, you know? I hope that everybody kind of remembers the struggle of their youth to kind of get a toehold.”

Chris, what do you know now about making a sitcom that you didn’t know when working on your first series? What lessons in terms of your own performance or how to prepare do you now have under your belt that help you with Undateable?

Chris D’Elia: “I mean when I was younger, like my teens, I did a lot of theatre and it’s a lot like theatre because there’s a live audience. It’s actually a lot more like standup than it is like acting, kind of. So I realized I had to use more of my standup mind than my acting mind. Obviously it’s acting too, but it felt like the waiting for laughs and the holding and then, ‘Are the jokes working? Are they not working?'”

Bill Lawrence: “One of the things Chris is being careful about too, because I’m sure he doesn’t want to sound disrespectful to Adam and me, the thing that really helps us on this show more than any multi-camera sitcom I’ve ever done [is] we do one take of the script and then we let all these comics say whatever the heck they want on this show. And you can sometimes see in the episodes people actually laughing, which you don’t actually see a lot on shows. We’ll cut away to people laughing. They’re laughing because they’re hearing things for the first time.

One of the burdens we put on Chris and Brent and Ron [Funches] and Bianca [Kajlich] – all these people – is to riff. Some of the best jokes on the show are stuff that they came up with on their feet. If you were at the taping or in the audience, occasionally I’d just say, ‘All right, that’s really funny. How do we get back to what the scene’s about?’ I certainly didn’t make up the visual of Chris pretending to give advice by vomiting like a mother bird into his hand. That just kind of happened and then that became a staple of the show. That type of stuff is a gift when you have performers that can do that for you.”

How much of the off-the-cuff comments by the cast actually made it into the final cut of the episodes?

Bill Lawrence: “I’d say the pilot is only about 20% and then it quickly switches to 50/50.”

By Rebecca Murray

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