Voicing the lead character on a returning animated series, preparing for the theatrical release of a new romantic comedy spoof, announcing the reunion of a groundbreaking comedy group, and keeping very hush-hush about a long-awaited project. These are just a few of the things that writer, director, actor, and comedian David Wain has been up to. I chatted with Wain about Superjail! (Season 4 premieres June 15th at 11:45 p.m.), his next movie They Came Together, The State reuniting for Tenacious D's comedy festival, and how to talk to your children about your dirty sense of humor.
Superjail! returns this Sunday. What do you like most about voicing the character of the Warden?
I think the Warden is one of the weirdest, coolest characters I’ve ever seen on TV, and the fact that I give voice to it is kind of insane to me. I think it is very funny how they in some ways tailored the look of the character to some aspects of my personality. I’m willing to admit it. But just the degree to which he is unfeeling to the carnage around him and yet, somewhere deep down, he has some kind of humanity, is a lot of what I like about it.
A lot of people compare that character to Willy Wonka. Are those elements also part of your personality? Do you have any Wonka-esque characteristics?
I can’t say that I really do. I guess so much in that I’m enterprising perhaps and just a little cuckoo. But I think also, the Warden and I share a certain whimsical instinct.
Can you tell us any exciting developments on the show for Season Four?
I really don’t want to give any spoilers away but I will say that I was particularly tickled by so many of the things that we did this season. They just came up with some truly out there but really deeply funny storylines where, if you’re a fan of the show, it’s all the elements that you know are still there. They extended the language a bit, but they dug deep into some really exciting premises.
As a father – and I know that Adult Swim is clearly for adults – but how do you feel about violence in animation?
I feel like it’s not okay for there to be a completely different standard for animation or that animation needs to be automatically okay for kids. There needs to be a time and place. I think animation should be able to do anything as long as it’s clearly designated as not for kids. Like this show I would certainly never show them, although I don’t show them a lot of what I do.
So is there an age where you think you would be comfortable exposing your children to your work?
I’ve actually thought about that, but I think it’s going to be a while. Some of my work is as gross and dirty as you can get and others of it are banal or more innocent. So I think I’m gonna air on the side of waiting as much as I can. But I know that there’s a point in time when my kids can, on their own, track down or Google about me, so I’m really not sure how to handle that.
I think that as a parent it would be scary to have a somewhat public life, at least creatively. I feel like I would want to have them see it through me rather than finding it on their own.
Of course. You can give the context, and I think that’s exactly what I’ll have to do. I’ll have to say, "Look, there’s some really weird dirty videos of me delivering fellatio to Santa Claus's wife, but you’re gonna have to understand that your dad’s a weirdo."
The State is getting back together for Festival Supreme, Tenacious D's big live comedy event, in October. How did that come about?
Yeah. I wish I had a better story. They got in touch with us and said, “Hey, does The State want to do this thing?” and we all said, “Yeah, why not?”
Is it the whole crew?
The whole crew. The State is 11 of us and even though we haven’t worked together actively full time since our show went off the air in the '90s, we’ve continued to stay fully in touch. We’ve developed new material, which we’ve done at smaller venues and live shows over the years. We’re all still good friends, and we all work together in various configurations. We’re always looking to do things more as a full group if the schedules and the opportunities work out. And this was a good one because it was a one-time show, we're in Lost Angeles, so we said, “Let's do it!”
When was the last time you were all together for a single project, whether it be live or recorded?
Well, we did a full live show of all new material a few years ago, in 2009, at the San Francisco SketchFest. We did that, and I think that was probably the last thing. Most of us were just on @midnight a couple months ago on Comedy Central. We all were in the Reno 911!: Miami movie together.
Do you think it will lead to anything else, more substantial, with The State?
Possibly. Again, I don’t think there’s any reluctance on The State’s part to be doing stuff. We’re actually always slightly discussing new projects. It’s just a question of 11 of the busiest people we know trying to come together at one time and place to do something well. It’s not an easy feat.
Your new movie, They Came Together, a spoof on romantic comedies, comes out this summer. You’re a big fan of romantic comedies, right?
I’m a huge fan of romantic comedies. I love the genre and I love the tropes and the formula. This is our love letter-slash-takedown of that.
I think that doing a parody of something is a great way to show your appreciation of it because you have to study it so well to understand what parts would be funny.
And I do think that when you see the movie, our love for the genre will be clear.
Did you have Amy Poehler and Paul Rudd in mind for the lead roles when you were writing it?
No, we didn’t, partly because we wrote it initially many, many years ago, right after Wet Hot American Summer. We thought about trying to make it in various ways over the years, but it was not until January 2012 when we did a staged reading of it just for fun at the San Francisco SketchFest that we had the idea. Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler were in that and they came to us and they said, "Hey, lets do this with the two of us and try and make it on a low budget." Which is what we did.
What are some of your absolute favorite romantic comedies?
The Graduate, Annie Hall, Crossing Delancey, Flirting With Disaster. Those are a few. Oh, Tootsie.
They Came Together seems like its modeled pretty true to the You’ve Got Mail formula. Is that correct?
Yeah, the storyline, in a big part, is lifted from You’ve Got Mail, yes. The storyline is so unbelievably secondary to what we’re doing.
I keep hearing that Netflix is working on a series that would be a prequel to Wet Hot American Summer. Can you shed any light on that?
I can't at this time, sorry.
Understood. Childrens Hospital is coming back for its sixth season next year. How's the new season going, and how far would you like to see that series go?
You know, as long as it stays fun to do and that we are full of ideas, I’d keep going and going. And the fact is, for season 6 – we’re about to start shooting it in a week – we’re very excited about every episode. Every episode of Childrens Hospital in some ways is like a new reinvention. So as long as we feel inspired to keep doing it, I see no reason to stop. It’s a really fun project.
Isaac Kozell is a writer and standup comic.