Talking to Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse About Their Comedy Central Web Series ‘Idiotsitter’
Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse’s Comedy Central web series Idiotsitter wraps up this week, with the series possibly seeing its odd couple of Gene, a super rich, under-house-arrest woman-child, and Billie, her uptight GED tutor, becoming friends, celebrating Gene getting her ankle monitor off, or burning down Gene’s mansion. The web series showcases Bell and Newhouse’s talents as writers and performers, adding to the two Groundlings’ growing credits. Bell and Newhouse sold a pitch of an arranged marriage comedy last year to MGM, and Bell has popped up in several high-profile comedies like Curb Your Enthusiasm and Bridesmaids, as well as in Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master (apparently he’s a fan of her role on Workaholics).
I recently talked with Bell and Newhouse via phone about their backgrounds in comedy, their writing partnership, and Idiotsitter.
How did you two meet and develop as writing partners?
Jillian Bell: We met at The Groundlings. Charlotte was in The Main Company and then I got in. We wrote a sketch together, and we basically decided to be writing partners immediately.
Charlotte Newhouse: I pitched an idea, and she made it 800 times better and got it right away. We were just immediately like, ‘Oh yeah, this is it.’
Jillian, is it true you started learning improv at age eight? Were you always interested in performing and writing?
Bell: Yeah, I think my mom got me into that because she was like, “You’re very weird, and I want to put you some place for part of the day and leave you.” And then I loved it. I was just like, ‘Ooh, make it up? I want to do this forever.’
Newhouse: What if it was a loony bin? And she just told you it was improv. And she just left you.
Bell: Uh oh, we’ve got a new movie we can write.
Newhouse: Oh no!
Bell: Yeah, I just loved doing it. I was that geeky girl who started the improv club in high school. But boys also kissed me, so don’t worry about it.
Newhouse: Don’t, come on…
Bell: Yeah, that’s true.
Charlotte, what was your route to performing and writing? Where did that interest spark for you?
Newhouse: I didn’t get into comedy or improv or any of that until I moved to LA. I actually went and saw a Groundlings show and was like, “Oh my God, wait, I want to do this.” But before that, I did Meisner, I went to Columbia, I did avant garde theater. I don’t know what I was thinking. A lot of Beckett, you know? I thought I was going to be a dramatic actor. When I was 23, I got into comedy, but immediately I was like, “Oh, this is it.” But it wasn’t ever from a young age like I was the class clown.
Bell: Joel, can I ask her a question while we’re on?
Bell: Charlotte, are you sad that your career in puppetry didn’t take off?
Newhouse: Jillian, you know what? There’s always tomorrow. I don’t think that it never took off; I think it just will in the future. But thank you so much for asking.
Bell: Sorry, Joel.
No problem. What do you really like about working with each other?
Newhouse: I actually feel like I would have a hard time going back to writing without Jillian. I feel like, for some reason, the collaborative process for us really works. We just sort of cover each others’ weaknesses and we enrich each others’ strengths. I feel like it just works.
Bell: And I think it doesn’t hurt that we’re best friends and can stand being with each other for a long time.
Newhouse: A long time.
Newhouse: At this point, it doesn’t feel like a collaboration. It feels like this is just how I write. This is how Jillian writes. I just would feel very lost.
Jillian, you wrote for SNL from 2009 to 2010. Had you two met at that point?
Newhouse: We had met at that point. When Jillian got into The Main Company, we wrote together right away. So we had met, but we had not started writing together yet.
Bell: No. That was my first writing job ever.
How was that experience for you as your first job?
Bell: It was something I had always wanted. When I was little, I never went to New York because I wanted the first time to be when I auditioned, and that’s how it happened, which is incredible. I think that it was a wonderful experience and somewhat terrible at the same time. I think most people would say that. I’m so happy I got to be a part of it though.
Could you tell me about where the idea for this web series this came from?
Newhouse: We wanted to write a pilot. We just wanted to write something for TV. We were tossing around a bunch of ideas, and I think I tossed out “house arrest” because it was a simple set, something that could be contained in one location. From there we just sold it out, found these characters, and we actually wrote it as a pilot.
Bell: And Comedy Central asked us to do it as a web series, so we did six episodes in six days. So that was pretty impressive.
How did you manage to do it in six days?
Newhouse: I do think it’s because of Groundlings, because we’ve done so much live stuff together where you’re kind of the producer, you’re getting everything together, that it didn’t feel as crazy for us. It’s still pretty intense. And we had so much prep time, I think we got it all together.
Bell: And we were on cocaine.
Newhouse: Yeah, also it was all that cocaine that really got us through it.
Bell: Well that’s the easy answer.
Newhouse: So, just cocaine, if you want the short version.
Bell: There’s the impressive answer and then the reality.
I’m sure setting the series in one location helped with the budget, but you’re also shooting in a mansion, and in one episode, you’re spraying champagne and wearing fur and all kinds of bling. Was there any sort of wish fulfillment aspect to the series?
Newhouse: The bling, that stuff was actually our Jay Z video we never got to shoot. But no, because it wasn’t really wish fulfillment. I gotta tell you, when you’re in a fur coat in a pool at six in the morning having someone spray alcohol on your face, it’s not as exciting as it looks.
Bell: I will tell you that a fur coat wet is a very heavy thing.
Newhouse: An old fur coat wet.
Jillian, what percentage of you would like to kick back and live this consequence-free lifestyle like Gene does?
Bell: I think everybody would want to live that lifestyle.
Bell: But unfortunately we’re all adults and we have to grow up so we can’t. I think it would be pretty sweet to live like Gene. I think it would be pretty sad to live like Billie does.
Bell: Mmm hmm.
Newhouse: And pretty sweet to live like Billie — I’ve got to defend my character, become real and self-actualized.
As a character Gene also plays on the trope of the privileged man-child that we’ve seen a lot in recent years. Was it important to you not to have to soften Gene’s edges in any way? I really liked that she’s a woman and as fully as gross and immature as any man-child character we’ve seen in other movies and TV.
Newhouse: It wasn’t a conscious decision. I think that a lot of our humor, that’s just the way it is, whether it’s a boy or a girl. That wasn’t as important to us. I don’t know, maybe we’re just 11-year-old boys inside, but that’s just our humor.
The first episode establishes the premise that Billie is being paid just enough to endure Gene’s behavior, and the rest of the episodes let you explore their character dynamic. What drew you to playing those characters?
Bell: I think for me I was excited to play someone who is kind of terrible.
Newhouse: And I think when we actually came up with it, we weren’t even sure who would be who. We started to write it and get into the voices of these characters, and it just started ending up that she would be doing that voice and I would be doing the Billie voice. It just sort of developed like that, organically. I think Jillian, like she said, really wanted a chance to play something different.
Bell: I tend to play a lot of women who love cats.
What was it like to work with Stephen Root who plays Gene’s dad?
Bell: Stephen Root is incredible. I did a pilot with him, and I had always been a fan of him. So is Charlotte. He’s just incredible, and I can’t believe he did it. I don’t know if we even paid him. Did we pay him?
Newhouse: I have no idea.
Bell: He’s one of those guys that it doesn’t matter what channel you’re watching, if you watch it long enough you’ll see him. And he’s just so cool. He brought his wife in one day to have lunch with us. He’s just down to tell stories, and he’s a really, really lovable guy.
What can you tell me about Let’s Get Married or any other projects you’re working on?
Newhouse: Let’s Get Married is a script we’re writing for MGM and we can’t talk about it too much, but it’s basically two thirty-year-olds get themselves embroiled in an arranged marriage. We’re also working on another script idea that we like. We’ve just got a bunch of ideas going.
Can you tell us anything about the last episode?
Newhouse: The last one’s our favorite. So we’re really looking forward to releasing that one. And we have a bunch more ideas for Idiotsitter.
The sixth and final episode of Idiotsitter debuts Wednesday on Comedy Central’s website.