Ben Falcone on Being Partners in Comedy and Life with Melissa McCarthy
Before Ben Falcone became the writer/director/producer/actor/father/husband to Melissa McCarthy that he is today, he worked as a waiter at California Pizza Kitchen for seven years and performed with a comedy troupe at The Groundlings. Whether it was his abrupt firing from CPK or an inborn strength of character, Falcone seems to have maintained his humility and warmth amidst his family’s growing fame. Which is a great quality to have when your comedic success shows no signs of stopping. McCarthy and Falcone’s pilot Nobodies was just ordered to series, a new movie, Life of the Party starts shooting next month, and The Boss, a movie they co-wrote with Steve Mallory recently released on DVD with special features. I talked with Falcone about the couple’s favorite place to write, playing with dolls in volcanoes, and the joy of comedy in an uncertain world.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today.
Are you kidding? I love talking!
There were so many great moments in The Boss, but my favorite would have to be the scene when Michelle talks shit about her former colleague’s dead wife at the country club. I laughed out loud through that whole scene. Which was your favorite scene to watch and what was your favorite to direct?
I never thought we could get away with the stuff she did at the golf club. I was laughing so hard at that, but I didn’t know we could get away with it and I was delighted to see that we could. I mean she was literally bashing a guy’s dead wife. I just didn’t know if the audience would laugh or if we’d get that “ohhh”. You never want that “ohhh” even when the audience is being pushed to the edge of what they think is okay, you still want that good hardy laugh. So when we got those, I was so delighted. There were so many scenes I loved — I love the apology scene with Claire, I thought it was really good acting by everyone. Kristen Bell had a hard time getting through the scene where Melissa has the weird teeth whitening device in her mouth. So that was kind of a favorite because I just laughed all day. That’s a pretty big treat when you just get to laugh all day. I loved the girl scout fight scene. The kids were working so hard, it got pretty technical at times and the kids were so good about it. Meanwhile Melissa is like, “Does everyone have enough sunscreen?” (laughs) Just parenting everybody. I’d say my favorite scenes were the apology scene, the teeth whitening scene, and then the girl scout fight.
Can you describe your writing process? Do you write at home? In an office? At a specific time of day? Do you and Melissa pass a laptop back and forth, how does it usually go?
Well, you know Melissa and I, we do a lot of writing in the car. Because it’s one of the only times we’re sort of just with each other and driving around. Literally we’ve written stuff on napkins and stuff like that, I don’t know why. I really should just get a notebook in my car, but it’s almost like if I got a notebook in my car then it wouldn’t be a special place where we’re not supposed to write. You know what I mean? By saying, this is just a place for us to hang out it’s like we feel free to come up with good ideas. But for this movie, we wrote it with our friend Steve Mallory. So we actually broke down and got an office and we mostly wrote all together in the office. The three of us would put the image on the laptop on the TV so everyone can see it, kinda like a normal writers room would be. It was fun!
Speaking of fun — you were a member of the Groundlings.
Yes! I was.
I actually wrote my college admissions essay about the Groundlings after I saw Jim Rash perform. The Groundlings made me think about how people who make you laugh are altruistic in a way. It’s a gift when someone makes you laugh.
Very true, very true. And Rash is just one of the funniest people ever.
He is! He’s so funny. Do you think making people laugh serves a greater purpose in our society? Do you find meaning in your work?
I actually do. I’m not fooling myself in thinking that what we do is as important as what teachers do or doctors do or firefighters or fill in the blank of these important professions — but I do think that particularly in an uncertain world — there’s something fun about going to a theater and just laughing hard or watching your favorite TV show and just laughing. The thing that I think is great about comedy is that it reminds you how much you have in common. You know? Sitting in a theater laughing because you all found something funny is a great way to remember that we’re all kind of in it together. Not to get all philosophical about it, but I do find meaning in the work. Again, I don’t think it’s the most important thing on the Earth, but I do think it’s a pretty good thing when people can forget about their stuff for two hours.
In that vein, what are your thoughts on our current election season?
It’s a lot, you know — it’s a lot. You know, the news in general — there’s so much bad news seemingly all the time. It’s tempting to put your head in the sand and try not to pay attention at all. Which I think is a mistake because you do need to be aware of what’s going on. Yeah, it seems like things are pretty divisive and I don’t personally get it. I don’t understand why when somebody doesn’t like a candidate they have to be so hateful about it or get so angry. You know Twitter doesn’t seem like a good place to discuss politics at all (laughs) and then you have candidates that have become more and more divisive and insulting. I get concerned about the whole level of political discourse because when you start getting rewarded for saying things that are hurtful and that seems like it’s a tactic that will win, it seems like more of it will happen.
I personally worry about the discourse in our country right now and I hope that it takes a much more positive spin. Like how cool would it at a debate, now we know that it’s Hillary vs. Trump — but how neat would it be if one of them said to the other, “You know that’s a really good point, what you just said, I agree with. However, I disagree with this and this is why.” Like, if I saw that my eyes would turn to hearts. But it seems like if you admit any areas of commonality you’re somehow admitting weakness. Frankly I’m hoping that Hillary can kind of elevate the discussion and now that the primaries are over, the whole election can take on something where we hear more about what people actually care about and less about catchphrases and buzzwords and all that.
Speaking of Twitter, you recently tweeted, “As I prepared to play dolls with my younger daughter, she sighed and said, “Daddy, I just know you’re gonna act crazy.” What are some of your crazy scenarios that come out when you play pretend?
My younger daughter, she’s got lots of dolls and she really likes to dress them up. And she’ll be like, well do you want me to put these pair shoes on? And I’m holding a doll and I as the doll now have to say, sure! Because what she wants is just to keep putting on different pairs of shoes on the doll. But what she perceives as crazy is that after three pairs of shoes, I’m like okay, now it’s time to jump inside this volcano and save the people! Like I really want to get an adventure thing happening. And she’s like, “Daddy that is just crazy. There’s a dance tonight. Do you want to go the dance with her or her or should they all go to the dance together?” And I’m like – are you sure you don’t want to go on a volcano adventure? But she wins and we go to the dinner, but I still bring dragons and stuff to the dinner.
Congratulations on your upcoming new comedy, Life of the Party. What is it about?
Yeah, we’re really excited about it. It’s about a lady who after some things go wrong in her life, she decides she’s going to go back to college with her daughter. We think it’s a really fun, positive, hopefully really funny comedy. Melissa is actually doing a scene for it right now. While we were talking she actually came to the window of my office and was creepily lurking outside of my door. (laughs) She’s amazing as this character she’s creating. I couldn’t be more excited about it. We’re going to start shooting in like a month.
What else is coming up for you?
Our TV show Nobodies on TV Land is gonna start shooting in October and that got picked up for a season, which Melissa and I are super excited about. Such good friends of ours are in it — Larry Dorf, Rachel Ramras, Hugh Davidson, Mike Mcdonald as the showrunner. The scripts are coming in and they’re so funny, I just can’t wait. I’m going to be actually acting in several of them. It will be nice to just do some acting. What’s great about acting for me now, is that I’ll do absolutely everything I can do to do my best, and then it’s just absolutely someone else’s problem. (laughs)
You don’t have to be part of the editing process.
Right. My limitations are someone else’s problem. (laughs) What would you like me to do? I’ll try anything because when I go home, it’s all over. (laughs)
What are your favorite kinds of characters to play?
I like to play people who have a flaw. I’m not able to play anybody perfect because I don’t even understand perfection. But I think somebody who has a really peculiar flaw that they might even be aware of and are trying to address kind of helps you create a more complicated fun character. I haven’t been able to do that much acting lately because I’ve been directing stuff but those are the kinds of characters I’m attracted to for sure.