Summer Comedy Panel – HRTS Luncheon Recap

Summer Comedy Panel stage shot

On June 12th 2014, a group of our industry’s hottest humorists gathered for the HRTS Summer Comedy Panel at the Beverly Hilton for an uninhibited, free-flowing discussion. THR’s Matthew Belloni served as moderator and joining him on stage were Mindy Kaling of THE MINDY PROJECT, Mike Judge of SILICON VALLEY, Rob McElhenney of IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA, and Michael Schur of PARKS AND RECREATION and BROOKLYN NINE-NINE.

Matthew Belloni moderating the HRTS Summer Comedy Panel

Matthew Belloni

Belloni jumped right in by saying “Mike Judge, you ended your first season with a fifteen minute penis joke”, going on to ask about the origin of the idea. Judge said “when we got greenlit to series I wanted to do something like the moment in A BEAUTIFUL MIND, where he has this epiphany in the bar, but something funnier and maybe stupider”. They consulted a Stanford PhD about the optimal physics and engineering involved and an equation-filled 12 page thesis resulted, one which has now been published online. McElhenney drew a huge laugh when he quipped “Mike did a dick joke that lasted 10 minutes, I feel like we’ve done a dick joke that’s lasted 10 years”.

Mindy Kaling on the HRTS Summer Comedy Panel

Mindy Kaling

The tone appropriately set, Belloni noted that Schur and Kaling had previously worked together and so he asked them if there’s any advice they’d ever given each other. Schur grinned and said “tons of it but she never listens, not once – lots of very smart, very reasonable advice that I’ve presented respectfully and she just ignores all of it”. Kaling drew a knowing laugh when she replied “Mike and I have had a lively friendship for many years”.

With PARKS AND RECREATION heading into its final season, Belloni asked Schur if he’s thought about the finale. Schur said “we have some ideas that have accumulated over the years” but he’s not obsessing over the specifics since “I feel like there’s a weird cultural obsession right now with finales, where there’s an expectation that the last episode is going to be the best episode, which feels very silly to me”.

Mike Judge on the HRTS Summer Comedy Panel

Mike Judge

Belloni noted the multifaceted talents of the panelists, from writing to producing to acting, and asked “when you’re in the writers’ room, when you’re putting together scripts, do you find that those other experiences really inform your writing?” Kaling said “I like writerly actors and actorly writers” and Judge agreed, saying “people who have done a little bit of acting tend to write dialogue better, they know that somebody has to say this stuff”. McElhenney related that “it certainly gives you a lot more respect and compassion for the other positions, you recognize as a writer how difficult this is going to be for an actor to perform and as an actor you know how difficult it is to be locked in that room coming up with these stories”.

Rob McElhenney on the HRTS Summer Comedy Panel

Rob McElhenney

Addressing the fragmentation of the audience and the declining number of broad-based hits, Belloni asked the panelists “has comedy settled into a niche world?” McElhenney said “I’m grateful for the niche world since it’s kept us on for 10 years”. Schur noted that in terms of ‘broad’ comedies, “all it means is that they want more people to watch your show, I think if anyone knew how to just magically get more people to watch then everybody would be doing it”. Kaling said that “I don’t think that anyone means to be a niche show” and “I think about the business side of it but I’m an artist, I have stories I want to tell”. Judge concurred, adding “people seem to forget how many times someone has had the perfect, market-driven comedy and then it fails. They remember the one that succeeds and forget the 25 that failed”.

Michael Schur on the HRTS Summer Comedy Panel

Michael Schur

Noting that Kevin Reilly has recently departed the executive suites of Fox, Belloni asked the panel what’s important to showrunners in terms of network leadership. Schur said “I think that job is so hard and complicated, and it’s gotten a lot more complicated in the last decade because there’s a lot of managing up that you have to do” and so “the only thing you can really hope for is that they’re actively excited about the possibility of making good television”. Kaling said “I agree, and that was something that Kevin really had a lot of, an excitement about television”.

So what are the panelists’ favorite TV shows, what do they watch? Schur said “I watch all of these shows avidly” then quipped “Mindy likes to say that I’m obsessed with her show but I wouldn’t say obsessed”. Kaling told McElhenney that “I was a staff writer on THE OFFICE and we would watch your show and we would love it”. McElhenney confirmed the panelists’ mutual respect by noting that “this is the first time I’ve done one of these panels where I actively watch and love everybody’s show”.

Photos by Chyna Photography

HRTS and JHRTS members can watch the video of this luncheon in addition to the large archive of past HRTS Newsmaker Luncheons. Log in here with your HRTS username and password.