Mather Zickel of Newsreaders
The star of Adult Swim's newest show discusses the challenges of parodying the news
Newsreaders, the new show from David Wain and Rob Corddry, recently debuted on Cartoon Network's late-night Adult Swim block. A spin-off of their equally batty Childrens Hospital, the fake news program would pop in to do puff pieces on the cast and crew of its show-within-a-show. This new series has the same twisted, incredibly wrong-feeling sense of humor as their previous series, which appeared on Under the Radar's Top 50 TV Shows of 2012 list.
Newsreaders stars Mather Zickel (Reno 911!, Rachel Getting Married) as Louis La Fonda, a TV journalist with impeccable hair and questionable motives. As host of the fictional news magazine, he has a habit of getting far too involved in the increasingly bizarre issues under investigation.
Zickel spoke with us about the series and the challenges of parodying TV news programs when the real things are nearly as ridiculous.
Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): You first played this news anchor character, Louis La Fonda, in David Wain's movie The Ten. Was it a role that you ever imagined you'd be returning to this many times, and all of these years later?
Mather Zickel: No, absolutely not. [Laughs] David Wain, who wrote and directed The Ten, and is also a producer on Childrens Hospital and Newsreaders, likes to revive characters in the universe of his work—whether it makes sense or not. He doesn't have much interest in the logic of a character's timeline.
Newsreaders started as a show about a show-within-a-show, on Childrens Hospital.
Yes, yes. It's very convoluted, but that's correct.
I'm wondering about the kind of madmen it must take to keep all of that straight. What's it like working with Rob Corddry and David Wain?
It's very fun. They're very funny guys. I've known David for a very long time, and I also knew Rob from when we both went to New York some time ago.
Like I said, the logic of bringing the character back really wasn't high priority for those guys. They just think it's fun to keep folding the story in on itself, and damn the consequences. It was very fun for me when they brought Newsreaders into Childrens Hospital. There were episodes where the show gets cancelled, and of course it's not cancelled, and Rob Corddry's character gets killed and comes back that season. So, the timeline is very flexible with them. It's as if these characters are very familiar with each other, and yet everything that's happened in the past is completely forgotten every time they meet again. [Laughs]
Jon Stern from Abominable Pictures was a producer on both shows. For Newsreaders, the spin-off, they brought in Jim Margolis, who is our show-runner. He worked on The Daily Show, but he also worked on 60 Minutes. So he had some real experience with the news magazine format. He was instrumental in making the show work.
You mentioned Jim Margolis. Between him, Rob Corddry, and writer Wyatt Cenac, there's a lot of cross-pollination with The Daily Show. What's the biggest thing separating the way The Daily Show makes fun of the news, and the way Newsreaders does it?
For one thing, The Daily Show follows actual stories. They interview real people with real stories, and of course pundits. Our stories are completely made up, they're absurd, and they're not necessarily stories that any real audience would care about. I think that's what's fun, for me. I think that regular news, real news shows, are always cooking up stories that really don't matter at all, and pursuing them ad nauseam.
Newsreaders does a good job of capturing the absurdity that can sometimes be found at times on real news shows. I think particularly of some of the odd stories you'll see on local morning programs. Is it a challenge to parody something when the real thing it's parodying can be almost as goofy?
Doing a parody of something that's already ridiculous is a bit of a challenge. That's why we always have to push it a little bit more. Our stories are a little more nonsensical, a little more offensive. We have our correspondents be a little more invasive and vain.
Can you describe your character a bit, for readers who haven't seen the show? What makes La Fonda so good—or awful—as a newsman?
I think what makes him a good newsman is that he's very self-aware of his body language. He works very hard at his posing, and his hair. He loves the sound of his own voice. He loves serving up hard-hitting headlines with his own sense of gravitas. He likes getting in deep and personal with people he's investigating. By the same token, these are all the things that make him terrible as a newsman.
There are a ton of great guest stars making appearances on the show. Can you talk about a few of the ones who have been particularly fun to work with?
We've had a lot of really good people come in. I've been so thrilled with the guest stars that we've had on the show. A lot of them were very recognizable. We've had people like Dave Foley, and Rachael Harris, and Tom Lennon. And Kerri Kenney, and Lizzy Caplan. A lot of people could come in for half a day and just do a little bit, which was very nice. A lot of the roles were very small but we had great people come in. And then there were some actors I wasn't as familiar with before. I think everybody did a great job of playing it very real, which I think added to the comedy of the show.
If Louis La Fonda could get an exclusive, sit-down interview with one real-life celebrity or political figure, who would you want that to be?
Mario Lopez. It would have to be Mario Lopez. [Laughs]
Newsreaders airs on Thursdays at midnight as part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim block.
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