Wain’s World!

Posted by Jon Wiener on November 30, 2010

Since the 90s, Director/Producer/Actor, David Wain has been churning out some of the freshest, most absurd comedy since it was invented by the Greeks (and then perfected by the late Leslie Nielsen).  I managed to get Wain on the phone for a few minutes during one of his last days filming Wanderlust in Atlanta.

Who is David Wain and why should we care about him?

I would hope that you getting in touch with me to do this would mean that you have the answer to that…right? Let me put it this way: I don’t feel like people do need to care about me. If you or anyone else was curious about me, I’d be glad to garner the attention, but I am certainly not one to go out there and say “You should care about me and what I do!”

Well, your work is very unique and it stands out from everything else that’s out there. It’s popular for a reason. It’s hard to pinpoint how something so different can become so popular.

It’s certainly not mainstream, at all. I think that people in the world don’t have a clue as to who i am, but among the certain group of the coolest people, yes!

Well, the popularity is growing and the more content you put out there; Children’s Hospital, Wainy Days, etc, the more popular you become. It is surprising that more and more people are paying close attention to this weird comedy that you’re putting out there?

I don’t think it’s me, alone. I think there’s a growing eclectic taste for comedy. There’s a lot of people doing a lot of types of comedy that were not part of the diet 10 years ago, 20 years ago. Just like with food, over time the palate becomes more adventurous. The kinds of things I’m interested in seem to be having a growing audience, and I genuinely don’t think it’s because of me. I think that’s where things are moving, a little bit. Hopefully, for my well-being. I’ve always and only been faithful to my own sensibility and what i find funny and interesting, because that’s what makes me able to get up in the morning and do this work. I will continue to do that, whether or not it’s in fashion.

I’m not sure if you’re fully aware, but often times, if people are talking about comedy movies, they’ll say “oh, its like a David Wain type of movie”- it’s the “David Wain style of comedy”. Are you even aware that this has been going on?

I have not heard that, and it’s odd because i have only made 3 movies. The first one was 10 years ago. The second one was 3 years ago. The third one was 2 years ago, and they’re relatively different in some ways, though clearly, they have a lot of overlap. But I’m happy to hear that. That’s an awesome way to be thought about.

So right now, you’re nearing completion filming Wanderlust. How much do you have left to do?

We have one more day shooting in Atlanta and three days in New York next week, and then we’re finished. It’s exciting. I feel like I’m really ramping up to the starting line, which is the editing- really the work of the movie. I’m excited to be done with the shoot, which is it’s own brand of exhausting, but it’s been really fun and I’ve loved every day of it. It’s a mixed feeling, but I’m excited to go back home and not wake up at 5 in the morning every day.
[Editor's note: this interview was done several weeks ago, filming is now complete]

Now that you’re about to start the next phase of the film, can you think back to the start of phase 1? How did this project get its start? Did you and Ken Marino just call each other and say “hey! Let’s do another one”?

Pretty much! We actually got together and locked ourselves in a room and said “Let’s come up with an idea and outline it in a week and spend 12 hours each day for a week just trying to figure it out” and that’s exactly what we did. This script is what we came up with. We worked on it for countless weeks and months over the course of 3 years. We put it on the shelf for a while when we did Role Models, and then we wrote a bunch of other screenplays for other companies. We did Children’s Hospital. We did a lot of projects in-between. Ken did 2 seasons of Party Down. A lot went down during that period of time, but we kept coming back to this script, because it’s the thing we knew we wanted to do the most. Eventually, the elements came together and we got Paul Rudd involved and then Jennifer Aniston and then Judd Apatow and we we able to get it made.

I actually had no idea that Judd Apatow was involved. When it comes to modern comedy, there are really 2 camps; there’s him and you with some Paul Rudd in the middle. People that i talk to always wonder if there would ever be some sort of collaboration, so it’s a comedy-nerd fantasy. Does working with him bring something new to the table?

There is so much overlap always. The comedy community is very supportive. Judd Apatow has always been involved with the sub-camps. He has a long history with Sandler and Will Ferrell and Ben Stiller. The list goes on and on and on. After we wrote the script, we were looking for a producer who wasn’t just going to rubber-stamp what we did. We wanted someone who would push back and make us work to support every story point, every line in the movie, so that we could make it as strong as it could be, so we knew that a producer who was a writer, like Judd, was a good choice. Obviously, the guy knows what he’s doing. Growing up, I was obsessed with the Larry Sanders Show and the Ben Stiller Show, so it was a great stroke of luck that we were able to make that work with him as our producer. He’s very much had an influence on it, but it’s been an on-going process of taking in Judd’s help and sensibility, while trying to stay true to the so-called Wain/Marino voice. We’re always thinking about staying true to our voice. I know that when I try to speak in someone else’s language, it seems to fall flat.

I think that one of the things that got Wanderlust a bit of attention on the entertainment newswire was that Jennifer Aniston was involved. She has been known as a bit of a wild card, and one wouldn’t typically think that she fits in with your comedy style. How did you know that she would be right for your female lead?

I have always been a fan of Jennifer’s and Paul has worked with her twice, on Friends and The Object of My Affection. The part in the film is a woman who has not 22 years-old and who makes some crazy choices in life. She has to go through a lot and isn’t just “the girl”. We wanted someone who kind of embodies certain qualities and can play along with this ensemble. I sort of had a gut-feeling and Paul knew that Jennifer would be the dream-choice to do it. And it turns out that she has exceeded or highest expectations of how cool she was and how much she bought into our weird games.

She knew what she was getting into before she started?

I don’t think she had any idea, actually.

Another casting move that I noticed on the roster was Ray Liotta. How did that guy come about?

There’s a certain part in the movie, which explaining what it is gives it away too much, but we always knew that we wanted to have Ray Liotta do it.

I noticed that he was listed with no character name on imdb, so my first thought was that maybe you were surprising your fans by having him appear as Jim Stansel.

That comes up in another way.

Is there some sort of origin behind that name?

It’s a name that I heard in a home movie of my family’s when I was 8 years old. He was a guy who used to work with my father in the 70s and 80s. I remember hearing “There’s Jim Stansel! It’s Jim Stansel!” something about that name always stuck with me. I always liked it. I’m a big fetishist about names, so I put the name in a random way in Wet Hot American Summer I’ve inserted it in everything I’ve done ever since. A big part of comedy writing is just releasing those stupid things that are in your head that you dismiss before even voicing them,  but if you can get them out of your head they can come out funny and unique.

Along similar lines, can we expect a “fuck my cock!” in Wanderlust?

We shoot so much stuff, so who knows if it will. It definitely has been spoken on set.

Why does that line pop up frequently in your work?

Paul likes that phrase, so it just comes out. Mike Showalter and I just wrote it into Wet Hot American Summer, which was almost 100% from the script. Very little improv. It has something of that improv veneer, but we didn’t have the time or the money to fool around. Basically, we did one or two takes of most scenes and basically had to get what was on paper and go.

What do you do when you’re not making movies, TV shows and the web series? Do you watch a lot of movies?

I like to watch a lot of dramatic movies. I haven’t had a of time to do any reading for pleasure or consuming anything like a web series in the last few years, really. I’m going to take some serious time off after Wanderlust is done to fill my brain with some things that aren’t directly related to my work. I’m kind of curating a 3 month sabbatical of enrichment, where I’m going to watch movies and go to art museums and read books…do things that a lot of curious people would do, but i just haven’t had time. I don’t know exactly what’s on the list, but I’ll have it by the time we get there.

Any idea what projects are coming up after the sabbatical?

I have a lot of projects, actually, in various stages. I’m going to start shooting the next season of Children’s Hospital in a few weeks. I’m also in the process of doing a season of Superjail! on Adult Swim. I have this series that I’m developing at IFC called Cartoon Show. There are a lot of feature projects that are in various stages of development, but I’m going to try to put a hold on all of that for a few months because I haven’t stopped working for a second since the Stella series in 2005. I’m also about to have a baby. So I have been working a lot and things will continue to come out…and then I’ll start again.

When you were in college and forming The State, did you have any idea that any of this would happen?

It’s a total dream. I can’t believe it. We always thought, ‘we’re just going to keep doing this together for our whole careers’ and in retrospect, that was the most naive, ridiculous thing to think, but we lucked into having that work. It’s great.

Be sure to check out Wainy Days on the internet and Children’s Hospital on Adult Swim.

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