Talking to the Grawlix Guys About Making ‘Those Who Can’t’, Their Pilot for Amazon
After meeting at an open mic several years ago, Denver-based comedy trio, Adam Cayton-Holland, Benjamin Roy, and Andrew Orvedahl have become national fixtures on the comedy scene thanks to their popular Grawlix standup show and web series. The guys are generating even more buzz now that Amazon has picked up their pilot, Those Who Can’t. The show is about three thirty-something high school teachers — Loren (Spanish), Ben (History), and Coach Andy (P.E.) — who are fed up with facing the wrath of a jerky high-schooler named Bryce. They decide to seek revenge on their student nemesis and experience some hilarious obstacles along the way. I caught up with the Grawlix guys to hear about Those Who Can’t, how it all started, and why they love Denver.
When did you three meet and how did you start working together?
Adam: We met each other about nine years ago when we all started stand-up at the same open mic, the Lion’s Lair, in Denver. We became good friends and after awhile we started putting on a show called Los Comicos Super Hilariosos. The cast of characters came and went, but the three of us were all integral parts of Los Comicos. Initially the show was very small, us performing for drunks at dive bars, but then it developed a following and we moved into an art gallery that my friend ran. Soon after, we started welcoming all sorts of great comics – Tig Notaro, Moshe Kasher, Maria Bamford, Kyle Kinane, etc., etc. But after awhile, we hung up that show and started the Grawlix, which is a monthly live show that takes place at this cool old theater in Denver called the Bug Theater. We started the web-series about a year and a half ago with the amazingly talented brother filmmaker team, The Nix Brothers, and that’s where a wider audience started learning about us. But as far as me, Ben and Andrew, we’ve known each other from the time we all started and we’ve always been fans of each others stuff. That’s how comics are, you start at a mic and are drawn towards the people you find funny.
I can’t stop watching your web series, it’s so much fun. You guys fight a lot on it – do you fight like that in real life?
Adam: (laughs) We don’t fight as much as we do in the web series. We kind of exaggerate our worst qualities for the sake of humor in the web series so inherently one of those qualities will be our competitive natures, so that’s why we bicker in the web series. Surprisingly we don’t fight that much in real life. We’ll have minor squabbles but it’s very rare for us to be genuinely mad at the other. It’s very democratic with us, 2/3 majority rules on any issue. So if you’re really passionate about something it’s pretty easy to convince one of the other guys to come on board with you, and then you have the majority. That’s how I got increased funding for stem-cell research passed at last year’s congressional Grawlix hearing.
With your different stand-up careers, families, etc., how do you all continue to write together and coordinate schedules? Do you have a set writing time each week or how does it work?
Ben: It’s tough, but we make it work. Our Grawlix live show is the last Friday of every month. That’s a set date. So we just plan on all being here on that date. There’s been a couple months over the past two or three years where one of us will be on the road, but for the most part we make our best effort to all be present on that day. For our web series, we coordinate a month ahead with the Nix brothers to ensure that we have a few days planned to film a new episode. Once again, not the easiest task, but we’ve all remained dedicated and steadfast to the task. WE MUST PROTECT THIS HOUSE!
How did you guys come up with Those Who Can’t? Is Bryce based on a real person (like one of you for instance)?
Adam: There was some interest in us off the web-series and people were asking us to submit scripts. So we wrote a Grawlix half-hour script and met with some networks to pitch it and the one note we kept getting was that they liked us, liked our characters and our humor but didn’t like the setting of three comics trying to make it. So they wanted us to change the setting. I had written a shitty script awhile back called, “Those Who Can’t,” about awful teachers in an awful school and so we decided to take the three characters and dynamic that we had created with the Grawlix into that world and it worked immediately. We banged the script out in about two weeks and it was a blast doing it.
I went to this awful, WASP-y, private school lacrosse factory from fourth grade through ninth grade that was overflowing with Bryce’s. So I’ve known dudes like that my whole life and sincerely loathed them. I think Bryce sprung from that for sure. Fuck Bryce.
How did the shoot go?
Adam: We did the whole shoot over one week right before Thanksgiving (2012) in Denver. We shot at Manual High School and East High School, where I went to school. We did it during school hours and used tons of Denver Public School students as extras. We were literally pulling kids out of study hall and throwing them into shots. Everyone was so accommodating and excited for us, it was unreal. Even with all those hurdles, shooting went really smoothly. Then day five, when we were all pretty exhausted, Rory Scovel came in and knocked his character out of the park. It was fun having things like that, our friends coming in and bringing so much to their roles. Kyle and Nikki too. The whole thing was a blast. I still can’t believe our little web series that could led to this opportunity for us.
Did you write the guest spots with specific comedians in mind or did you cast them afterwards?
Andrew: We didn’t write any of the roles for anyone specific (other than ourselves, of course). Luckily we have droves of super talented friends, so everyone we asked was amazing. Right after I watched the first cut of the pilot, I texted Rory Scovel (Principal Quinn) and told him that bringing him on board was a fucking mistake. He makes us look terrible! The one role that changed quite a bit from the script was Kyle Kinane’s character (Rod Knorr). In the original version he was quite a bit older than us, and a veteran of the Persian Gulf War, but now he’s just a bit older and a vet of some unspecified conflict in the Middle East. Luckily there’s always one (conflict) going on.
How did you team up with the Nix brothers?
Adam: We saw a web series that the Nix Brothers made called “Rainbow Chasers” starring a few local Denver comics who chase down rainbows like the guys who chase down tornadoes. It was so funny and well done that we were immediately fans. We reached out to them and it turns out they were already fans of ours. Denver is a small enough city where if you are doing creative, interesting things it’s not all that hard to reach out to other people doing the same. They were already coming to our Grawlix shows and we told them about the web series and they were totally down. We did a few sketches with them first – including the Eradicaster, which I love – and it was clear these guys had great senses of humor and an innate ability to get that across on-screen. From the get-go, we just got each other and they made everything we did that much funnier and higher quality. It sounds cliche, but it was this immediate, healthy, ego-free, fun working relationship.
What has the response to Those Who Can’t been like?
Andrew: The response has been really great overall. Adam and I don’t read the reviews because we want to keep our sanity, but Ben has read EVERY SINGLE ONE. He just walks around muttering statistics and checking his teeth constantly in a pocket mirror. But we’re really happy that the response has been love it or hate it. I think we’d rather have 500 “5 star” reviews and 500 “1 star” reviews than 1,000 “3 star” reviews, where people are sort of “meh” about it. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned in a lot of reviews is that our pilot came in from the submission process. It was created entirely by people with no pilot production experience and on a pretty small budget. So to be holding our own in a crop of shows with comedy icons such as John Goodman, Ed Begley Jr, and Jeffrey Tambor feels really awesome.
When will you find out about the pilot? How many will Amazon be picking of the 8?
Andrew: Amazon has been tight-lipped about the process. As far as we know, they will make their decision at some point in May. Amazon hasn’t said how many shows they will be choosing. Personally, I hope they choose all 8 and we all get to have a celebratory picnic together. Everybody wins. I’m twelve.
You guys are at the heart of the Denver comedy scene, will you move to LA if you need to?
Andrew: We’d prefer to continue making this show in Denver, based on the creative crew we have here, and the city itself, which lends a unique look to the show. That said, we’ll certainly make the show wherever we’re told to. What are we, idiots?
Why do you guys love Denver so much?
Ben: It’s a great city. Because it’s so isolated, the arts community is very close and connected. It’s the type of city where people become proud and super supportive of people “doing it”. If there’s a popular band, or artist, or (clears throat) comedy troupe, you can build a very die-hard and rabid group of fans. Plus, it’s sunny a lot. The mountains. There’s a great food scene. Both Adam and Andrew are natives. I moved here from Maine. There’s still that open west feeling. Laid back. Kind of free-spirited. Cool place. Adam likes to refer to it as “the little city that could.”
What do the Grawlix guys get into for recreation and leisure together?
Ben: You know, we’re on the road together, telling jokes at shows together, writing together, always together. So when we’re not, we’re usually with our girlfriends or families or children. But every so often we take some Grawlix time to get mad cray, just so totes cray, we go out to eat. We’re all into good food – as most of the world is – and Denver has an awesome food scene, so we go out to restaurants and whatever. Get some world street food, maybe a bowl of Pho, some of that amazing Mexican food, whatever the fuck.
Blair Socci is a writer and comedian living in New York City. She hopes that no attractive male will ever see the way she eats Chipotle.