The Long, Strange Road of Getting ‘Those Who Can’t’ to Air
TruTV’s first scripted series, Those Who Can’t, premieres tonight at 10:30pm after a Lazarus-like resurrection from the pilot graveyard. The show is the creative product of the Denver comedy trio of Andrew Orvedhal, Adam Cayton-Holland, and Ben Roy, also known by comedy fans as The Grawlix. As stalwarts of the growing Denver comedy scene, The Grawlix became known for their self-proclaimed “world’s best” monthly comedy show, which consistently played to sold out crowds and eventually spawned a comedic behind-the-scenes web series. The web series garnered enough interest to lead to the group being asked to submit Grawlix pilot scripts. From that emerged an early version of Those Who Can’t. The pilot was picked up by Amazon, received well, but later dropped. In a rare second chance scenario, truTV later ordered a reshoot of the pilot and picked up the series for a 10-episode season. The network believed in the show enough to order a second season months ahead of its premiere. I talked to the Grawlix boys about the series’ journey to TV, the Denver comedy scene, and powering through rejection to bring a dream back to life.
Are you guys still performing and putting on shows as a trio under The Grawlix name?
Andrew: We do, but we retired the regular live show in Denver because we couldn’t do it. But we do it at festivals, wherever we can, wherever the offer comes up. It just no longer has a monthly home at The Bug Theater like it did. Now it just kind of pops up from time to time.
Denver has become such a hot spot for comedy. It’s a contender for a lot of comics when they’re thinking of moving out of a smaller market to get into a stronger scene and get better at standup. It seems like a good spot to be before moving on to New York or LA. What do you guys find to be so special about Denver?
Adam: As in any city that doesn’t have industry, it’s funny for funny’s sake. Denver’s got this “just trying to make comics laugh” kind of vibe, which I think makes for better comedians. It’s grown a lot. There are showcases every night of the week in addition to the Comedy Works, which is a killer club. I feel like it’s a very fertile place. Also the city of Denver is growing really fast. It’s a dynamic, interesting place to be these days.
Ben: I agree with that. I think a big component you see in a lot of the bigger theater cities — Minneapolis, Austin, Chicago — is that they all tend to have in common the strong home base club, like Minneapolis with Acme or Austin with Cap City. Those rooms also have a strong interest in fostering local talent. I think Denver is similar to that. Comedy Works uses a lot of locals for their openers. They’re also okay with all of the independent mics and one-off shows. Wendy, who owns the Comedy Works, was from the beginning very upfront about not caring that we did independent shows. She didn’t see it as a threat. She saw it as being good for the scene in general.
Andrew: Having an A club downtown means that every month the local comics are getting to see people coming through town who are just amazing comedians. It’s inspiring when they get to see great comedians come through week after week. That sort of injects inspiration into the local scene as well.
You talked to Splitsider a few years ago when Amazon had picked up the original pilot for Those Who Can’t. The interviewer asked if you would move to LA if the opportunity presented itself and you said you would like stay and shoot in Denver, but that you would go shoot wherever anybody wanted to do it because you’re not idiots. Did all of you guys move to LA.?
Andrew: No. Ben lives in LA. I have a place in LA, but I have a daughter in Denver so I go back and forth. Adam has a permanent place in Denver and temporary housing in LA. We each have kind of different situations. Luckily, the coolest thing about making this TV show is that it gives you the flexibility and lifestyle that I’m fortunate enough to be able to go back and forth as often as I can.
Ben: I moved because I wanted to be here for as much of the process as possible. That process was going to bleed into my son’s school year and I didn’t want to be away from him during the evenings, so I made the jump. Filming it here became a reality for the network. The infrastructure was here. It was their first scripted thing. I think they felt it was the best thing for them to be able to get the best guidance. It worked out well because we got a lot of amazing guest stars. They live here and can just show up for a day at Van Nuys High School where we film. If in later seasons we get to do more of the process in Denver that would be something I’d love to do.
Adam: That’s definitely a goal. I’m temporarily in Los Angeles when I have to be, but I still live in Denver. I think of all us would like to transition into doing the writing in Denver and just shooting in LA. It’s a hybrid existence that we all live these days.
Andrew: The cool thing about doing it in LA is that it’s still set in Denver and it successfully fools… I have plenty of Denver friends who are like, “Oh, cool. Where is this in Denver?” It’s not in Denver at all. We got one Denver shot in the season. We really wanted to do it and we pulled it off. There’s a shot of an iconic Denver dive bar where we all started doing standup at an open mic there. It’s one of the roughest open mics. We managed to get that in there as sort of an Easter egg for all of our Denver friends and fans.
In 2013 Amazon released the pilot. It was reviewed and received very well. I think at the time it was one of the best received pilots that they had put out. Are you guys able to comment on why it didn’t get picked up?
Ben: From what I understand and what we’ve been told, when they started it their initial goal was that they wanted to be — not in their words but in my words — more like an FX. They were bringing up new content with people they had discovered. I think that then, in a shift of thinking, they went more to the Netflix/HBO route where they’re using a lot of big names, attaching big names to projects. It’s obviously worked out extremely well for them. Our experience with Amazon Studios was terrific. They loved the project. They were on our side. Personally, there are no hard feelings. They gave us a rare opportunity. They aired our pilot. If it had been on a network that didn’t pick it up nobody would know who we are. But thankfully they actually showed it to a lot of people and that gave us the opportunity to move on.
Andrew: It was like a paid education in writing scripts and the whole process. Amazon bought six more scripts. We got to write scripts and take feedback on them and sort of refine them. It was fun to do and a lot of those ideas got molded into stories that we got to tell on this new season. All in all it worked out. It was disappointing at the time. We were all pretty bummed because we saw those reviews and the way it was rated. We definitely had high hopes and there was a wave of disappointment. But it’s cool all of the weird turns a project can take to get us to where we are now.
Ben, you mentioned rare opportunity. It’s rare to have a pilot not get picked up and then go on to later get picked up for a full season on another network. And even before the premiere of the first season you guys already got signed up for a second season.
Ben: I think it’s a testament to truTV. From everything from the premiere party to the promotion they’re doing it really seems like a win-win. Like Andrew said, it’s disappointing at the time because you build your dreams around what’s in front of you at the time. We didn’t know this opportunity would come. This has been amazing. TruTV has put their full weight and belief behind it. We really lucked out in that we are able to work with people who have the passion that we do about it.
Variety named you — as a trio — one of the Top 10 Comics to Watch. Do any of you ever have any issues with being lumped together as a group? Do you feel that it makes it hard to establish personal identities, or do you welcome the grouping?
Adam: I have to take someone to the airport.
Ben: I have no resentment about being listed with them. What I do resent is that they don’t list percentages of weight pulled. If on it they said that Ben pulls 90% of the weight…
Andrew: Okay, I gotta go too.
Ben: [Laughing] I have absolutely no resentment at all. I personally think that Andrew is one of my favorite comedians. Adam is as well. I watch them whenever we do shows together. We’re all so totally different. They’re my best friends. I have no issue being lumped with them.
Andrew: I really can’t think of two comics I’d rather be in there with. Like Ben says, there’s a difference in personalities and comedy styles that I think compliment each other. That has given us a lot of this longevity. If we were a lot more similar I think we would have imploded a long time ago. I think the differences are really key.
Ben: We have to stand out because we all look kind of similar…
Andrew: Yeah, every white guy with varying degrees of facial hair. We’re like a Doodle Dan. You just move the facial hair around with a magnet and make a new face.
Adam: When you’re kind of younger in your career and haven’t really gotten anything, resentment is really easy to have. But there’s a kind of nice phase when you turn the corner and realize that none of it actually matters. The three of us are literally living our dream right now doing this TV show. I don’t think any of us resents the others. We’ve all kind of won the prize.