Wet Hot American Summer: Michael Showalter

Wet Hot’s Co-Creator and Star Heads Back to Summer Camp

Jul 31, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Following their early years together as members of the legendary sketch comedy group The State, Michael Showalter and David Wain co-developed a screenplay inspired by the Jewish summer camps they each attended as youths. That script became Wet Hot American Summer, the 2001 cult comedy that introduced now-common phrases such as “You taste like a burger” and “Fondle my sweaters” into the American lexicon, and served as many movie fans’ introduction to actors like Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Elizabeth Banks.

One and a half decades—and numerous film, TV, and podcast projects—later, Showalter and Wain have returned to the fictional Camp Firewood for Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, an eight-part Netflix series set during the same summer of 1981, but several weeks earlier than the original film. This prequel not only brings back the movie’s full cast, but introduces a long roster of new (and famous) guest stars. In both the movie and the new show, Michael Showalter also stars as teenage camp counselor Gerald “Coop” Cooperberg, a lovesick young man with significant girl problems.

In the following Q&A, Showalter shares some behind-the-scenes information about Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp, and his latest directorial effort, Hello, My Name Is Doris. (All this week we are posting interviews with diifferent members of the Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp cast. All the interviews will be linked to here. Also pick up our next print issue for a separate in-depth article on the show.)

Austin Trunick (Under the Radar): David Wain had been mentioning a potential sequel in interviews going back as far as the 10th anniversary. How long have the two of you been talking about doing more Wet Hot?

Michael Showalter: I think that we started getting really serious about it around the time of the 10 year reunion for the movie. So, that was about five years ago.

Joe Lo Truglio recalled that years ago you had told him about a Wet Hot American prequel idea that took place the winter break before the movie.

Oh, yeah!

Have there been many different Wet Hot continuation ideas have you come up with in the last decade and a half?

We have lots of different stories to tell about this group of people. There isn’t one version that’s the right version. For this, the show, we decided that ultimately we wanted to stay at the summer camp. One of the things about camp is that you do tend to hang out during the year, as well. And so those stories still exist, for sure.

Were there any jokes or ideas or characters that have survived every draft or alternate take? Things you just knew had to be in there when you finally got around to doing more Wet Hot?

Oh yeah, definitely. A lot of the stories that we came up with in our various different sessions of doing another project…

The idea to do it as a prequel is really cool, as the way fans watch the original film will be re-shaped by the things they learn in this series.

Ohhave you seen it? [Sounds surprised.]

Yeah, I was sent screeners to view.

What did you think?

I enjoyed it! I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous going in—I’m such a fan of the original movie, and I wasn’t sure it would ever be able to live up to my expectations. But you guys didn’t let me down.

That’s great. I’m very proud of the fact that the TV show maintains the spirit of the film.

Was that part of the fun, for you, in doing a prequel finding ways to shake up fans’ already-established notions of these characters?

No. Not me, at least. I honestly just wanted to tell more stories about this group of characters. For me, I didn’t bring into it any ideas about what the fans did or didn’t want, because truthfully I don’t know. I just knew that I really was excited to write more stories about these characters.

You and David have written many, many scripts together over the years, but can you tell me what your collaborative process with him was like for this one?

On this one we spent some time way back, a couple years ago, brainstorming storylines for prequel/sequel, whatever you want to call it. So that was like a two week period where he and I just brainstormed and thought up silly ideas, things like that. I then went off and generated a lot of material. We then took that material to a writing staff, and had a couple of weeks with the writing staff to break that material out into even more material. And then the writing staff went away, and David and I and a couple of the other producers on the TV show took that material and honed it down into the episodes that are now the TV show.

Is there a particular character, new or old, that you had the most fun writing in this series?

Mainly I just really love the world. I liked building out the whole world of the camp and these people, and their crazy dreams and hopes and stuff.

Are there any characters or plotlines or jokes you wanted to do that couldn’t be worked in, or didn’t make the cut?

Yeah, there are always going to be those things. But there aren’t any huge storylines or anything. Mainly just little things here and there.

You premiered a new film you directed—Hello, My Name Is Doris—at SXSW this year. I’m eager to see Sally Field starring in a Michael Showalter comedy, but from what I gather it’s a bit tonally different from what people might expect from you. Can you tell us about the movie?

It’s definitely a comedy, so on that level I think what’s different about it is it’s more of an evolution toward having a real dramatic side to it, too. It’s certainly a funny movie and there’s a lot to laugh at in it, but the character Sally Field plays in the movie is a really compelling, unique character who is experiencing a lot of pain in her life, and we get to see that. I’m really proud of it. It’s just a step in a new direction for me, also. It’s not necessarily a departure, but it’s an evolution from the more purely comedic stuff I’ve done toward something that’s got an actual, dramatic side, too. I’m really excited about it.

Has it been picked up? When will be able to see it?

It’s coming out next year. Roadside Attractions is distributing it.

That’s great. Congratulations.

Thanks!

My second off-topic question is actually about Topics, appropriately enough. I know you’ve been busy with this, but do you have any plans to bring back your Topics podcast with Michael Ian Black anytime in the near future?

It’s a little bit on me. I have two children now, and with everything that’s been going on, it’s been hard for me. I’m not good with time management. But I’d love to.

The original film built up a huge cult following in the years since its release. I’m wondering what your feelings are about why it took a while to find its audience? The answer I’ve heard from many of the people who were involved is that they think it was perhaps a little ahead of its time.

I really don’t know, you know? I feel like that’s a question better answered by other people. But as to why people didn’t get it, or why it took people a little while to come to it, I really don’t know. When we made the movie, we certainly didn’t expect that we’d have trouble reaching an audience. It was more of a realization that it wasn’t going to be something that people picked up on right away. But I really don’t know why people didn’t get it at first, and why they do get it now.

Schedule, logistics, and all of those issues aside, if this series does as well on Netflix as it looks like it’s going to, would you consider doing more Wet Hot?

I would love to do that.

What sort of ideas do you have? Would it go even earlier? Would it take place after camp?

There are many possibilities and they’re all being discussed, whether it’s a reunion taking place 10 years later, or maybe it’s winter, and everyone’s getting together over New Year’s Eve. There are so many different possibilities.

***
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp premieres on Netflix on July 31st, 2015.

To read our other Wet Hot American Summer cast Q&As, click here



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