The Heart, She Holler – Patton Oswalt & Producers Interview

During the same magical time where I got a chance to talk to the majority of the cast of The Heart, She Holler I got a chance to talk to Patton Oswalt and producers John Lee and Alyson Levy. It was actually directly after I talked to the cast. Read that encounter below. Cue the Twilight Zone music.

Never Not a Nerd: (to Patton Oswalt) First question: How are those pretzel sticks?

Patton Oswalt: Very tasty. I haven’t eaten since this morning and I needed a snack. The hospitality suite is a table with chips on it.

John Lee: Yeah, it is. We went in there, and it was mostly unavailable food that was previously eaten.

Oswalt: Yeah

Alyson Levy: And nothing to drink.

Lee: And nothing to drink. And it seemed like, you know, a threat. We once got a present when we were doing Wonder Showzen from Brian Graden. It was a juicer and rotting fruit. And we were like “We’re not getting picked up!”

Oswalt: HA! HA! HAAAA! I love it! That’s like a Sicilian message.

Lee: Exactly. ‘ Drink this’

Oswalt: (Doing an Italian accent) You got no juice. Show’s got no juice. Let ‘em know. They’ll know. They’ll understand.

NNAN: So after seeing your sizzle reel I would say it seems like Dallas (the show) done by David Lynch.

Lee: Yeah, certainly. We said to Adult Swim if Twin Peaks was weird.


Oswalt: I call it Falcon Crest with rickets.

 Lee: I think it all makes sense. Lynch is really funny.

NNAN: Yeah

Lee: Lynch, Kubrick, all those guys.

Oswalt: Oh, Kubrick was a stitch. Think of all the moments you’ve laughed at Kubrick’s films.

Lee: A lot. Come on, in The Shining that guy comes up from servicing the other guy. It’s really great surrealism, because it’s so mundane. It’s not goofy, it’s really funny.

Oswalt: The last 10 minutes of Paths of Glory clearly inspired Airplane!. If you watch it, it’s nuts.

Lee: Well, Mel Brooks and David Lynch are connected right. He’s responsible for getting him Elephant Man.

Oswalt: My friend Stuart Cornfeld took Mel to go see Eraserhead and that’s how they hired him.

Lee: And David Lynch thanks Stuart Cornfeld every once in a while for his life and his career.

Oswalt: And Mel Brooks also produced The Fly. That’s Brook’s films, because he also loves Cronenberg

Lee: There you go. See, so we’re not that far away.

NNAN: So you’re finding humor in the horror aspect.

Lee: Yeah, well, we always think that jokes are nightmares If you just take them very seriously. The punchline very serious.

Oswalt: Oh Yeah

Lee: They’re basically torture in their surprised, and they’re dark. And so, if you just add a heavy tone underneath it.

Oswalt: And something goes horribly wrong for someone at the end.

Lee: Yeah, and you can just change it a little bit.

Oswalt: Getting back to Mel Brooks, tragedy is I cut my finger, comedy is you fall into a sewer and die. (laughter) That’s the difference between comedy and tragedy, as long as it ain’t me it’s great.

Lee: Exactly right

Q: So, is there a very serious tone to The Heart, She Holler then?

Oswalt: (Laughs) Umm, there’s a lot of poignancy.

Lee: I think there’s a serious tone.

Oswalt: Well, everyone in the show takes themselves deadly serious. Nobody’s going like ‘heeeeey’. It’s like the tone of Repo Man, where everyone in that movie is so deadly serious it takes you a minute to start laughing at them.

Lee: I think certainly with Hambrosia, Heather’s character, she’s probably the most serious character…

Oswalt: Definitely!

Lee: …tone-wise. I don’t even know if she says a joke.

Levy: That one thing…the hands are dead.

Lee: Oh right, that’s probably the most goofy thing .

Oswalt: It’s so serious it’s hilarious.

Lee: Who wants to actually show that you’re being funny? It’s embarrassing to actually try to be funny.

Oswalt: It’s needy. It’s very needy.

Lee: Baby needy.

Levy: It’s not like a parody at all.

Q: Have any of you ever been in a holler? What is this world based on?

Lee: It’s sort of a fictional holler. Wait, no, I’ve never spent time in a holler. (To Patton) Have you? I mean emotionally I have.

Oswalt: When I would do stand-up through Virginia and West Virginia, I’ve been to places like Norton, VA and Nitro, WV and some of the more out of the way places. Some of the places outside of Roanoke and Blacksburg definitely where you kind of get to see that. But never in the really deep holler areas. But, I’ve seen, not that this is the same thing, documentaries like Harlan County and there’s one about Hasil Atkins who definitely lived in a holler in West Virginia, and you see that world.

Lee: If you leave the city. 20 minutes out of a city, you’re in a holler.

Oswalt: Basically, and the ways things are going economically in this country, the holler’s getting bigger. And the owners would be very happy to have the majority of people living in the way that a mining town works. You just buy everything. Everything’s on credit and you’re screwed.

Lee: That’s why in the show everything’s all Heartshe.All the products in the show are Heartshe products.

Oswalt: How is that any different from a Walmart opening outside of town, and everything else gets eaten up? You’re going to the company store, it’s just called Walmart. Getting heavy. Something to think about. Read a book people!

Q: ( To Patton) Being from Virginia, did that make you more of a definite choice to be in this?

Oswalt: ( To John Lee) I don’t think you were thinking ‘ Oh, he’s from Virginia, we’ll use him.’ ‘Oh my god, he’s so fucking brilliant’

Lee: What we liked about, what we thought for you, was this weird idea that I think related to the character was knowing your comedy over the years and seeing you go into these intellectualized rants. We’re like, that seems like such a great basis for this simpleton. Because that’s what you want, you want the simpleton who all of a sudden just becomes too much and he cracks and becomes smart. ( To Patton) And that seems like a great basis, that’s what we liked when we talked to you.

Q: Is that a spoiler for toward the end of the show?

Oswalt: No comment!

Lee: I don’t think that’s a spoiler, it’s just a foundation for the idea behind it. You can’t have a simpleton who’s just a simpleton the whole time. They always get smart, and are conflicted with smartness.

Oswalt: Being smart is horrible. That’s the main message.

Lee: That’s the lesson.

Oswalt: God, please don’t read books. Don’t play their game.

Q: Watching the trailer I was reminded of Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace. Were you inspired by that at all? Have you seen that?

Lee: Yeah, that show is great. It wasn’t really a clear influence.

Levy: When we saw it we thought it was so funny. And it’s simple sets and very funny actors. And we thought it’d be funny to do a show like this.

Oswalt: It’s so clear, the link between what John and Vernon do, and someone like Matt Berry does. Not so much content, but it’s the way, they are so confident in these esoteric worlds. That they make people that normally wouldn’t be in them feel comfortable in this world, and Matt Berry especially is such a genius, and same with the guys that did The Mighty Boosh. So good. They just make these esoteric worlds and make it seem like it’s the most normal thing.

Lee: Well, there’s sort of British comedy and that that world has so much more accessibility. And there’s really only Adult Swim that does weird stuff like that as opposed to the BBC that will produce six episodes of something strange, and that’s it. And then see ya later, Brass Eye.

Oswalt: Oh God, that guy had to leave the f**king country.

Lee: Exactly, but all those shows. It’s really interesting that there’s a network, and it’s a national network in that case, but there’s a place that’s just ‘yeah, make something interesting. I trust you.’

Oswalt: ( To John) Did you see Four Lions?

Lee: No, I didn’t

NNAN: They air shows like yours over there around 2AM though.

Oswalt: I thought Young Ones was prime time when that was on, and that’s one of the most bizarrae, non-linear shows. Even by today’s standards, it’s just f**king weird. But what’s hilarious about Young Ones is it is a very standard sitcom where Mike’s the dad, Neal’s the mom, Rick the bratty teenage girl, and Vivian is the son. It’s almost like a Father Knows Best, but done with four idiots. Four guys in their 20’s

Q: How would you describe this show with one sentence?

Lee: One sentence…umm, a nightmare?

Oswalt: Deep fried.(Laughter) Am I allowed a hyphen?

Lee: Double dip! (To NNAN) I think you had it right with the soap opera by David Lynch or Cronenberg, something like that.

Oswalt: There are, especially in the god damn music. There are literal soap opera touches in the soundtrack. Little emotional stings, straight out of All My Children. It’s amazing.

Levy: Our goal was to make 150. Every night for a year on Adult Swim.

Lee: We would love to do a daily show of this show where we have a big giant studio where every set is available.

Levy: Yeah, the way they shot One Life to Live.

Oswalt: Didn’t Mark Frost, from Twin Peaks, didn’t he come out of soap operas? He was a big soap opera guy, I think. I could be wrong, but I think he came out of soap operas.

Levy: And they have that whole show within a show on that, Love is Tomorrow

Oswalt: Yeah, which I love.

NNAN: Is that a possibility? It continuing? Or is is this it?

Levy: No, we’re in talks.

Lee: We’re in talks for making more. It depends on peoples schedule (points to Oswalt)

Oswalt: Not…not now…not missing the jai alai finals again. Biggest mistake I’ve ever made!

Lee: Yeah, making more is the goal. I think Lazzo, the head of the network wants us to do 14 more, so there’s 20, so he can show it for a month! A show a night for a month. I think the next logical step…he’s basically saying ‘yes’. I’m going to go on record right now saying he’s picked it up. The next step would be for an entire year. Right? The next season would be three hundred and thirty something, minus the 20.

Oswalt: I don’t really need to watch my daughter grow up…

Lee: Bring her on the show!

Oswalt: (laughs) Write her in the show?

Lee: Remember we said you could have our daughter, that’s about the same age.

Oswalt: Need a little bit? Give us a little hit of that kid.

Q: The rest of the cast was mentioning how there was really no ad-libbing and that everything was so specific. What was the process like writing and creating this world?

Lee: I think there’s no ad-libbing though just because of efficiency. We don’t have time to screw around.

Oswalt: Also, the scripts are really f**king good. And I think that there’s too much of a fad of improv. A couple of good movies, like 40-Year Old Virgin, had improv in it that did great.

Lee: The British Office

Oswalt: The British Office, actually, but a lot of those were scripted out. And now a lot of these comedic actors are like ‘Well, I gotta ad lib too!’ And people don’t know how to read scripts. Why don’t you read the script first ? See if it’s funny, because it might make you look better if you read what’s written, rather then rambling for 10 minutes and adding all your bullshit, So, getting a script that was this good, and this bizarre. If I just read these lines, I’m going to look really funny. Rather than me going ‘I have ideas!’ Why don’t you calm down and read what’s f**king written. Sorry I went on that rant there. Nothing wrong with improv, but doing improv just, no matter what, is just as bad as following the script no matter what.

Lee: I think the writing-wise it’s just Vernon and I sitting in our office, and being yelled at to finish the scripts,m and then we just write jokes. Lucky for us, when we wrote “horse apples” for Wonder Showzen. This Hee Haw parody on Wonder Showzen. We literally were just sitting down one day writing hillbilly jokes. And after 45 minutes had five sheets of jokes, and we’re like, ‘that was really fun, but what can we do with this?’ And thens lowly you’re like ‘ I guess we can have a show within a show’. Then you know, it becomes that. It’s easy to write those jokes, but then you have to make it into a narrative, and then it’s really sitting down and working on character and plots, and plot points and all that. It’s just work. It’s not that exciting to know about the process. Everyone always asks ‘what’s the process like?’, But it’s just two guys sitting in a room going ‘this? no. this? no. this? yeah.” It’s like any other job.

Q: Patton are you working on any more comics?

Oswalt: No, I had a couple of idea for DC, and they didn’t go for them. But, now I’m thinking instead of working with established characters I’d like to create some from the ground up, and I have very vague ideas for what that’d be. I don’t know what they would be yet. So, that’s the best I can tell you. I would definitely love to keep doing comic books.

NNAN: Did you see the “52 Sucks” shirts?

Oswalt: No, I knew there would be something like that here. Some asshole is making money off of that.

Q: Going back to what you said before about the improv, can you site anything that you think was hurt by too much of it?

Oswalt: When I did the show Reno 911, it succeeded because of improv, because they created an atmosphere where that would kill. I don’t really know, I just know that there have been some comedies, especially some films where ‘oh, they fell in love with EVERY F**king thing that came out of their mouths!’

Lee: They forgot to edit.

Levy: When a comedy is 2 hours and 45 minutes long.

Lee: When a comedy is over 90 minutes.

Oswalt: When you see a comedy that’s over 90 minutes long, it means they did too much improv.

(They get pulled to the next table)

NNAN: Thanks for your time!


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