There are few entertainment genres that blend with one another as perfectly as comedy and horror. They are like the peanut butter and chocolate of the entertainment industry! This fall IFC is bringing is what looks to be the perfect combination of the two with their new original series ‘Stan Against Evil’ starring John C. McGinley from famed comedian and ‘The Simpsons’ writer Dana Gould! We were recently able to sit down with Dana Gould to talk about just where this new original comedy-horror ‘Stan Against Evil’ came from, and to find out just what kinds of horrors we can expect to see in the first season of the show!
Can you tell us a little something about how ‘Stan Against Evil’ came about?
Dana Gould: Well, you know I’m a comedian and a comedy writer, but I’m a giant horror movie freak. I have been all my life! Like if I wasn’t here doing this, I’d be downstairs on the con floor! I grew up reading ‘Famous Monsters’ and all of that, and I’ve had this career and wanted to come up with something that was in the horror genre… but also funny! I had experimented with a couple of different ideas. I had a podcast called ‘The Dana Gould Hour’ and I had a thing on there called “Politcal Talk With Two Guys From Boston’ with this guy John Ennis, who was an old buddy of mine and was on ‘Mr. Show’. In this idea we were exterminators, and we would go to people’s houses, but instead of rats and mice they have demons. And as I started writing it, I could sort of feel the air go out of it. So I said “well where does this go?” and realized they have to have a life outside of this. So I said “well what if he had a daughter?” and I changed it and it became about a guy and his daughter, and his wife was dead but she was a ghost and she helped them… and then it just ran out and died on the 10 yard line, then it died again on the 20, and the thirty. Then I came up with this final idea, where I basically said to take my dad, and what if my mom fought monsters all of her life and never told him? Then what if she died, and he had to take over for her and she had to help him from beyond the grave? But she would only appear in the bedroom, it was the only place she could appear. Sort of like Mork and Orson, or Obi Wan Kenobi. I was just going to do that as like a digital short! Greg Nicotero from ‘The Walking Dead’, who is a really good friend of mine, I asked him “hey could you guys make me up as like a sixty-five year old guy? I want to try something”, and they said to come on up! I drove out, they made me up, and it worked great! So I was going to do it as this sort of five minute digital, just to do something with monsters and do something fun.
Then I was having lunch with Pete Aronson from IFC, who is an old friend of mine, and he says “you should write a funny ‘X-files’, you’d be good at that!”, and I tell him “I just did!”. I explained it to him and he said “eh… I don’t know, but if you can change A-to-B and B-to-C and C-to-D, and make it a real show and not just a sketch, bring it in and we might be interested in that”. So I took a month and ripped it apart again. I realized the wife doesn’t work, and a few other things. In a certain sense there is never writing, there is only re-writing.Then I got it into the shape that it’s in, brought it in to IFC and they said “great” and bought it. They bought it right there in the room! It had a very charmed development.
One of the things that happened when it stopped being a sketch and started being a show, I had to get a real actor! So I had to cast the lead with a real actor, but not me! I’m in it, but in a small part. And it worked out great! John McGinley is perfect! He brought… well this is the first time that I ever created a character and just handed him over to an actor to make their own. Like on ‘The Simpsons’, Homer is Homer by the time I get there, but with this it was more like “okay this is what I wrote, but make him a person!” and he did! It’s much better than I envisioned! Certainly better than what I could have done. I was really impressed! He was a real trooper, Janet was a trooper. I wrote it for Janet, so I kind of cheated in that regard because I knew what I was getting. I was really happy with it, and for better or worse it is exactly what I wanted it to be! It’s a slightly better version of what I envisioned, and the other people did better than I thought they would. It’s a sitcom hiding in a horror movie, that’s how it came out.
There are ways to do horror-comedy. There’s the ‘Abbot and Costello’ and ‘Young Frankenstein’ way, there’s the ‘Evil Dead 2’ and ‘Dead Alive’ way, and then there’s the ‘American Werewolf In London’ and ‘Stan Against Evil’ way, which is that the horror movie is a horror movie, straight as a heart attack. But the people in it are funny because they don’t behave in a stylized horror movie way! They behave like people. They don’t just scream and run, they go “what the F— was that?” and that’s what ‘Stan Against Evil’ is. Stan is my dad, and he talks the way my dad does, and he is about as impressed by everything as my dad is, which is to say not at all. he’s much more annoyed that he has been replaced by a woman than he is that there is a curse on him. So it kind of write itself!
Having seen the first two episodes, one of the things we’d like to note about the show is that many of the effects are practical! When did that come into the equation?
DG: From the get go! I’m a big fan of the old Universal movies and Hammer films. One thing, just from a creative standpoint, but to do comedy-horror from that standpoint the effects pretty much have to be practical. Roger Ebert, it’s attributed to Roger Ebert, said this about stop-motion- “it looks fake but it feels real”, as opposed to CGI, which looks real but feels fake. For comedy to work, you have to believe it’s really there! It doesn’t work if it’s a CGI creation. I don’t know why! I can’t explain it. It just doesn’t work. So I knew for the comedy to work, these things had to be tactile, and real feeling. As a horror movie fan, if I’m going to make a horror movie, I want a guy in a suit! I want a guy with a 5AM make up call! I want to be around all of that stuff. I want to go to the make up shop and design monsters and have molds made. The character that I play was sort of an homage to Dwight Frye in the original ‘Frankenstein’, but I found the hump really uncomfortable, so he didn’t end up having a hump even though they made one! I decided “I don’t want to wear a hump!”. There is one scene where I’m wearing the hump, and if you can spot it, fine! His hump goes away miraculously! But I wanted it to feel like an old … take like John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’! The only thing that dates that movie is the computer chess game! Otherwise that movie could be today, because the effects are practical! Whereas ‘The Thing’ that came out a few years back with Mart Elizabeth Winstead? Sorry, fake! Fake, fake, fake! You can just tell! And that’s not a knock at Mary Elizabeth Winstead! you can always tell, there’s a weird mayonnaisey quality to it. There are exceptions, like Peter Jackson can pretty much hammer it home. The most convincing character in ‘Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes’ is Andy Serkis, it does transcend it! But nine times out of ten, it really has to feel real for it to work. Jokes are wet tissue paper, they live and die on the slightest things. It’s frames and timing, and it’s really specific. That’s the joy of it, but it’s really work!
Are there differences in running a show on an online network like Hulu versus a traditional network show?
DG: Well certainly there are differences between a traditional network and say cable, like we get a lot more leeway with IFC, in terms of language and what we can show. But to that end, I limit it! Because I don’t think you should do everything just because you can. As a stand up comedian if I do Conan I can’t swear, but if I do a special I can swear every two word,s b ut then it looses all of it’s meaning. Jerry Seinfeld says those are like punches. You want to hold him and use them you you need em. If you say “f—‘ every three words you just become pungent. So I was careful with what I use! Most of the Stan-isms are things I actually heard my dad say. Like “barrel of assholes” is something I heard my dad say about a pitcher for the Red Sox, he was watching the game and says “Jesus that guy is a barrel of assholes”! I’m not so much a writer as much as I am a reporter.
In the first episode, they make mention that 172 witches were burned, so does that mean there are plans for 172 episodes?
DG: Yes! And then if they want us to come up with more, it’s like “oh we found some other ones! Matt Groening said the greatest thing about ‘The Simpsons’, and I’ll apply it to this show! He said “we’ll keep doing this show until we run out of ideas, and then we will do three more seasons!”.
Be sure to tune in to see the premiere of ‘Stan Against Evil’ on Wednesday November 2, 2016 only on IFC! The series is currently set to run for eight episodes throughout the fall season!