I’m very unapologetic about my comedy in general, and I never apologize for who I am comedically.
You know Andrea Savage. If you’ve been watching comedies on TV (Veep, The Hotwives of Orlando and Las Vegas, Funny or Die Presents…) or in film (Step Brothers, Dinner for Schmucks, The House) in the last decade or so, she was there. A former member of the Groundlings improv comedy troupe, she has also been busy writing, developing a number of pilots which sadly never made it to air. Or maybe not sadly, after all, because all those experiences in development hell have led her to this moment, with her own series as creator and lead performer, I’m Sorry. The half-hour comedy’s first season wraps on September 6 and the show was recently renewed for a second on truTV.
I’m Sorry is a personal, semi-autobiographical portrait of “Andrea,” managing her life as a comedy writer, wife, daughter, mother, sister, friend, and person. In creating this series, Savage has unapologetically taken the reins of her career and put forth her unique, yet universal, vision of what it means to be a mom right now; an honest, authentic depiction of modern life and parenting. This everywoman story explores the challenges of balancing motherhood, marriage, career, family, and just generally trying to be a decent human being.
With jokes. Lots and lots of very funny jokes.
Savage spoke with the Writers Guild of America West website about the initiative she took to put this show together on her own terms, her hope to create relatable subject matter and storylines, and the challenges of balancing a life in comedy with life in general.
How do you balance being personal and autobiographical with managing people’s feelings and dealing with personal relationships in real life? You seem to touch on this in the show.
So far, so good. I like to think my humor doesn’t come from a mean place. I tend to come from a place where I try to do the right thing. For the most part, I have very good relationships with my friends and family. Everyone’s just sort of enjoyed it. They also know what parts are the kernels of truth and what parts have been exaggerated to make a slightly more interesting story. So they know what’s real and what’s not. Even in the pilot, the woman who was the ex-porn star, truly she’s the most lovely, down-to-earth person in the show. I’m never taking the piss out of anybody. I don’t like to do that in my comedy in general, and I don’t do that in life, so that’s been a big focus, just making sure it’s never mean-spirited.
And you have a daughter in real life?
She’s slightly older. The stories with her are things that happened when she was much younger, like four or five, that my daughter thinks are funny now, things we’ve discussed, like the color of your skin, and all that stuff. Those have been huge conversations in our house. She’s like, “It’s so weird that I would have ever thought that or said that.” You know, that kind of thing. Other than that, I don’t really pull stuff, other than little conversations, but it would never be anything that would be embarrassing for her—or awkward for me.
What made you choose that age for the daughter character?
That’s the age when parenting starts to get harder, in many, many ways. You think about how hard the first two years are, when you get past that, you’re like, “Oh, that was just hard in that you’re trying to keep a being alive, and you’re really not sleeping much.” Now you’re actually helping form a human being’s respect for the world and understanding of the world and how they will be part of a community and their self-confidence. Dealing with their upsets and their feelings being hurt and confusion—so much more complicated the older they get. That was sort of the age when I started to get questions like, “How does a baby come out of your body?” They start saying things like noticing color of skin and differences with people and all of that.
They’re also starting to take in external information, from outside of you and your family.
Oh yeah, they’ve got friends, music, TV shows, movies. They’ve got lots of different things that start coming into their world and introducing them to stuff you can’t control.
Did you write the show on spec, or did it come from a development deal?
In the past, all the things I’ve done have been development deals—written scripts, pitched it, sold it, then wrote it. This one, I was like, “I want to shoot something.” So I shot a 14-minute presentation, then shopped that around and sold the show based on a presentation. I knew I wanted to do this kind of show, and it’s not the kind of show that’s easy to explain with a sexy logline. You have to see the tone and what I’m talking about. It’s not big jokes on a page, it’s all sort of timing, and breath, and reaction shots, and that kind of stuff. I will forever be indebted to the people who—first of all, Jason Mantzoukas, Judy Greer, they did the presentation. I also wrote blind letters to June Squibb and Judith Light. I did not know either of them and this was a presentation for no money, nothing, and I just wrote them, “I’m trying to put a new woman character on TV who happens to be a mom, but actually can be funny and nuanced and different and real as opposed to what’s on there and I would kick myself if I didn’t ask you because I imagined you in the part.” And they both agreed to do it. Having that cast, in this presentation, that I got to shop around, was invaluable. Then, truTV was rebranding and trying to find their first scripted comedies and what their voice of a network was. They just went aggressively after it. They were like, “We’re looking for writer-performers, we want the show to be exactly what you have shown us, and we will give you as much freedom as we can.” They really did it. It’s been an incredible working relationship with them, which is not always the case.
You’ve written a number of pilots for a variety of networks in the past. Did you ever get to shoot any previous pilots you’d created?
Nope. The development process is really hard.
Was that a motivation for going ahead on your own with this?
Yes. It 100 percent was. It was really frustrating to write shows that the networks and studios were like, “We love this show. We’re not doing it, but it’s a great script. Thanks.” They develop it with you, and then it just disappears into nowheres-land. You can’t ever really get it back, and there’s not much you can do with it. I was like, “I can’t do that process again.” It’s a little too soul-crushing. I’ve got to do something different. I need to just show what I’m talking about instead of letting people imagine—especially with the way I write, which isn’t necessarily broad and jumps off the page. A lot of times the jokes, you wouldn’t even know are a joke, necessarily, until you saw it performed.
Was your approach to writing the pilot any different this time?
Not really. I still wrote it the way I would want to write it. I always wrote in my own voice. This one was no different, but I didn’t have to listen to anybody else. I was able to do the show I really wanted to do, the show I envisioned in my head, without 17 other cooks in the kitchen.
Were there things you took from your career as a performer, working on other TV shows, that you applied to working on this show?
It’s 20 years of learning stuff and taking that onto the show. From what is just the general vibe you want on a show in terms of the set, and it comes from the top down. Putting the time and energy into acknowledging how hard everyone on that set is working and appreciating them and listening to them. Also, I had a “No Stinkbombs” rule. I don’t care how talented anyone is, in any department, if I have heard that they’re difficult to work with in any way, it’s just not worth it. The tone on a set really affects so much down the line, and what’s the work environment that I enjoy working in? I try to provide that environment. In terms of working with guest actors, how would I have wanted to be treated, what were the shows where I felt very welcome, and really important to the project, no matter how big or small my role was, and that was really important to me. Also, I made a mandate when we were in the writers’ room, no exterior night scenes. I can’t do night shoots. It’s too hard, I have a child, and it kills you.
What about your writing staff? How did you put your room together?
I first was looking for a showrunner, to co-run the show with me. I interviewed so many people. A writer friend of mine recommended this woman Joey Slamon, who had also been pitched to me. She and I met and we just clicked right away. There was something about her where I felt we had a similar work ethic and a similar tone and similar desire to just create something of quality and new and nuanced. I chose Joey, and it could’ve gone in any direction. It’s like an arranged marriage. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. This show would not be the show without Joey. She and I have partnered in such an incredible way and she is the other me.
Obviously, I can’t do everything. All the passion that I have put in, she has similarly put in. Then we had a very small writers’ room. We did not have money for a big writers’ room. I interviewed a lot of writers. Danielle Schneider and Dannah Phirman are friends of mine. I wanted them from the beginning and kind of chased them and chased them and luckily they had this little window where they were available. And then Lon Zimmet, I know a bunch of people who have worked with him. I just thought his writing was so good, and that was our main writer’s room. Then another friend of mine, Tony Gama-Lobo, did some producing for three weeks. That was it.
Did they bring their own personal experiences to it? Are many of them parents also?
We wrote in the room basically. I came in with about 30 to 40 stories in the beginning of the season and pitched them all out and then had 10 different categories or topics that I wanted to explore that were important to me, and to 30- and 40-year-olds. Just things that were pretty across-the-board relatable in life, everything from your parents aren’t taking care of you anymore, you’re not taking care of them, but they’re starting to do strange stuff; to friends who are getting divorced; to friends who have never been married yet; to fertility; to keeping a relationship alive; to parenting. Most of the “A” storylines are based on my stories, but little stories in between, there are lots of details from everybody in the room. It’s a very open room. We all know everything about each other, all our marriages and everything. It was a very intimate room so everybody shared what their story was that touched on my story and the area we were trying to explore. And then we really wrote the outlines completely in the room, almost completely dialogue filled. By the time people went off to write, it really was almost putting it in a final draft form, because we had all already written them all together.
As a parent of young children, I can say these situations, at school, with other parents, etc., are very relatable.
It’s a world where you’re forced to be with adults that you wouldn’t necessarily choose but you make the most of it and do you slowly end up meeting people you like. They’re different from your old friends. A lot is relatable even if you don’t have kids. Being a daughter, being a son, having co-workers, having a relationship of any sort. One very important thing for me with this show was to have a relationship with people who have been married for a while, who have a child, who still love each other, and flirt, and are funny together, and get a kick out of each other. I don’t think that is something you ever see on TV.
Also, there’s an interesting relationship with her male writing partner, Kyle. Male-female friendships like that are also not commonly represented on TV.
No. Or they are friends, but they really want to sleep together behind the scenes. That was another thing. I have a lot of male friends because I do comedy and there’s a lot of men in comedy so I have a lot of platonic male friends that I love and hang out with and when we’re together we’re dirtier and stupider—just whatever we are. Those are super-important relationships to me. On the show, one thing I think we try and explore is the slightly different ways you are with different people in your life. I’m different with Jason Mantzoukas’ character [Kyle], than I am with Allison Tolman’s character, my old college friend, she’s more straitlaced, than the way I act with my husband, or with my dad, or with the people at school. It’s just the slightly different ways that everybody in their world engages in different areas of their life.
Why did you make the show’s Andrea a comedy writer?
I knew I was never going to focus on her career. It would be more, she works, and that is her career, but it’s about her friendships and family more. I wanted to keep the element of comedy in there, because you’ve seen a lot of men in comedy on TV, and I believe you haven’t really seen a female comedian who now has a child because there aren’t a lot of very famous female stand-up comedians who have families, in general, in life. And there’s a reason for it. It becomes very, very difficult to keep that lifestyle up. So I wanted to keep the element of comedy to show the juxtaposition of having that sort of edgy—you need to be somewhat immature—side, butting up against being an adult and having a child and taking that seriously, and being a wife and daughter and all these other things, and how those things can fight against you and inside you, how they don’t match up so easily. It didn’t have to be a performer to do that.
There’s a great running bit about comedy intruding on her real life and tripping her up.
And that’s real from my life. I would go from working on a set at a strip club, with balls in our faces, which I think was Hotwives of Orlando, to running to a kindergarten interview for my daughter and going, “My life is so weird.” My line of what is appropriate is so far out there and other people’s lines are much closer. Trying to work out whose line is where, and things just pop out and [I think] “Oh, this was the wrong crowd . . .” It is a hard juxtaposition to juggle sometimes.
At what point in the process did you have the title?
Before I even wrote the presentation, when I was just formulating the concept of the show. It was pretty early on.
Had you been saying it a lot in life?
It was sort of “sorry, not sorry.” I’m very unapologetic about my comedy in general, and I never apologize for who I am comedically, but it’s also in the zeitgeist of I’ve been saying sorry too much. I feel like everybody, a lot of the time, like when somebody bumps into a woman at the market, she says, “I’m sorry, excuse me.” I’ve watched men say the same thing. What’s most interesting is how often I say “I’m sorry” but in contexts that are not apologetic actually. “I’m sorry, what did you just say?” Or “I’m sorry, that is ridiculous.” So my use of “I’m sorry” tends to be in more colloquial ways like that. I just thought it was a good title. It kind of encapsulated a lot, and I’m not sorry, really. I thought it was a good “sorry, not sorry.”
Like I said, these situations are very relatable. My wife and I have been enjoying the show together and definitely recognize these experiences.
That makes me happy. That’s one of the things, is how many people say, “My husband and I watch, my wife and I watch, it’s one show that we both love and watch together.” I know that my husband and I, there are shows we watch together, but a lot of shows we don’t, and it’s nice. When I hear that, it just makes me happy, that there’s a couple, I imagine like my husband and I, watching and laughing. It’s exactly what I hoped for.
© 2017 Writers Guild of America West