Such is how the Workaholics boys characterize the day of my scheduled visit to their show’s set. Certainly, as my publicist guide and I walk towards the house that acts as the day’s location, my thoughts are not horribly dissimilar.
It’s currently mid-November in the Van Nuys area of the San Fernando Valley, which is to say the closest it gets to winter weather occurs at night when the temperature occasionally dips into the 50s. Many of the cast and crew look to be feeling the heat, with several choosing to hang out near the bottled waters out front.
Looking to the house itself, it’s hard, as a frequent Workaholics viewer, not to get a sort of kick out of the view. After episode after episode of seeing sun-soaked, California homes of this ilk being used in the show’s numerous establishing shots, it feels almost surreal to be viewing it firsthand.
Then, just as I near the entrance, Anders Holm, one of the show’s main stars and creative voices, emerges from the front door. My guide introduces us. Holm is currently decked out in what looks to be moderately padded black SWAT gear. A flushed face suggests some level of discomfort.
“Aren’t you hot?” I ask.
“Oh yeah,” he says. “But I do it ‘cause I’m dedicated to my craft.”
He heads off before I remember to ask about his costuming, and we then make our way to the house’s back. I catch a glance of several men in police uniforms who I initially assume to be security. Surely, with the program gaining a bigger and bigger following each season, harsher security measures are now a necessity? Of course, if that’s the situation, these individuals seem fairly ineffectual. Most of them are either loitering near the backyard pool or heading off to the crafts services table.
We enter the house using the glass sliding door that separates the backyard pool area from the living room. Compared to other major shows, Workaholics has a conservative crew size, but right now most of them are packed into the living room area, where they’ve set up a de facto video village. Looking towards the front door, Holm has stepped back inside where he is joined by co-star/co-creator Adam DeVine, who is dressed in similar black SWAT attire. Blake Anderson, who serves as the third co-creator and portrays the show’s curly-haired, mustached Third Musketeer, is not currently on set.
Soon after arriving, the assistant director calls for places and the men that I previously assumed to be security squeeze past me and take their positions on camera. As this is happening, one of the show’s producers gives me a broad outline of the episode’s scenario. In an ill-conceived attempt at payback, the boys are invading a home in the guise of SWAT/black-ops agents, only to discover that they have inadvertently interrupted the solemnest of occasions: the wake of a fallen policeman.
Still a bit ashamed about not realizing the policemen were actors, I ultimately decide to chalk up my lapse in judgment to the intense heat.
In any case, the fun is about to begin.
Workaholics was nothing if not a slow-burning phenomenon. Created by its three main stars as well as director Kyle Newacheck, the show started life as a low-key, youth-oriented sitcom on Comedy Central with the simplest of premises—a group of immature college grads played by DeVine, Holm and Anderson (who all use their actual first names in the show) get into crazy, troublesome hijinks. Some are due to extreme circumstances while others, more commonly, result from the boys’ blatant stupidity.
Hitting airwaves in 2011, the show would soon attain a cult following, launching dozens of Internet memes and GIFs in the process (“it’s kind of weird—people are using our faces to express themselves online,” Anderson comments later on). From its humble beginnings, the show has slowly, over the course of 40-plus episodes, built and expanded its crazy universe of degenerates and oddballs as well as introduced its own distinct brand of playful verbiage into the cultural lexicon (in one episode, a character yells, “Oh, I’ll be a pacifist—I’ll pass my fist through your face!”). On Jan. 22, the show is set to return for its much-anticipated fourth season.
“I’m actually very excited to see people’s reaction to this season, I think it’s one of our best,” says Newacheck, who also plays the recurring role of Karl, the boys’ sleazy yet resourceful drug dealer. “People should know it’s the dudes being the dudes still. Maybe they’re clowns in one episode, and maybe one of the characters wants to cut off his wiener…maybe not? I don’t like teasing things that much…I just like people to watch.”
The show’s youth-based voice and specific brand of humor, which tends to incorporate a litany of ‘90s-based pop culture references, position it as defining program for the Millennial generation alongside—some might argue—Lena Dunham’s much publicized (and award-winning) HBO program, Girls. Though certainly an apples/oranges situation, both shows work to capture the meandering haze that is the post-college life, a time filled with horrible decisions, crippling insecurity and, more often than not, a series of menial internships or entry-level jobs (then again, maybe I’m projecting).
Whereas Dunham’s show displays a more realistic portrayal of twentysomethings desperately seeking a purpose in life, however, the characters at the center of Workaholics seem mostly content with their mediocre existences. Their lives are spent chasing whatever random desire manifests itself in that week’s episode. They party, smoke marijuana on their rooftop, try—and usually fail—to attract the opposite sex and partake in funny, reference-filled banter. It’s this lightness that makes Workaholics such an obsessively watchable show.
Part of its appeal lies in just the sheer specificity of the references. In one episode, a character likens himself to Tommy Pickles from Rugrats, a reference most likely lost on anyone older than 30 or younger than 13. Likewise, another story finds the boys debating the merits of two major Nickelodeon game shows: Global Guts and Double Dare. Other episodes feature references to everything from Fight Club to Die Hard to The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s the absurdist, boisterous spirit of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia meets the playful, pop culture-savvy elements of Community.
The Workaholics saga, it can be argued, begins in the town of Concord, Calif., where eight-year-old Kyle Newacheck and Blake Anderson meet each other for the first time. The two elementary school kids bond almost instantly and, when Newacheck gets ahold of his first video camera later down the road, the two begin filming little short sketches. Soon, Newacheck not only becomes interested in the content of their sketches but also in the art and technicality of filmmaking.
“I was infatuated with cameras and how to put things together,” Newacheck explains. “Then I became more interested in editing and I realized, ‘Oh my God, look at everything that you can do with it—we can make jokes, we can do anything.’”
Meanwhile, nearly 1,700 miles away, in Omaha, Neb., Adam DeVine found himself following a similar path, churning out silly short movies with his school chums. Following high school, DeVine decided to move out to California and pursue an acting career (he’d originally been accepted to UCLA but his family could not afford the tuition). Unfortunately, he chose to pitch his tent in Orange County—not exactly a bustling hub for high-profile acting gigs.
“I didn’t know that Orange County was a world away from L.A.,” DeVine now admits. “The movie Orange County had just come out, and I was like, ‘That place is pretty and has lots of girls and boobs!’”
Making the most of his situation, DeVine began taking improv classes at the local Orange Coast Community College. As it so happened, Anderson and Newacheck had also moved to the area around that time and were enrolled in the same class. The three soon found a kinship with each other, especially after screening their amateur films for one another. Later, when Newacheck made the move to Hollywood to attend the Los Angeles Film School, DeVine would frequently book stand-up gigs in the area and use his friend’s place to crash. Eventually, DeVine made the permanent move, and he and Newacheck became roommates. Anderson moved in soon after.
Once settled, DeVine began taking classes at the Second City. Here he struck up a friendship with fellow student/Midwesterner Anders Holm. An Evanston, Ill.-native who had moved to California after graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Holm would become the final piece in the Workaholics origin story. Newacheck’s first meeting with Holm, however, came under less than ideal circumstances.
“We tried to fight each other,” Newacheck recalls, with a laugh. “I remember being super drunk on the couch, almost passed out, and he was really drunk too—there was party going on at our house and he was causing a stink upstairs with my neighbors. My neighbors came down and [were] like, ‘This guy needs to go.’ And then the rage clicked inside of me. Anders comes down and I’m like, ‘Dude you need to get out of here! Get out of here!‘ Keep in mind, I had no idea who he was. So, he kind of stepped up and was like, ‘Fine, well if I’m going to leave, let me get my Jamie Foxx DVDs!’ He had loaned Adam some DVDs I guess, and I was like, ‘You can’t take those! Those are Adam’s friend’s DVDs!’ and he was like, ‘I am Adam’s friend!’ and I keep screaming for him to get out.”
Despite their repeated threats, the two never actually came to blows. What’s more, after sobering up in the morning, they actually found much to bond over; in particular, the martial arts comedy of filmmaker/actor Stephen Chow.
“The next day we went and saw Kung Fu Hustle together, and it was friendship ever since,” Newacheck says. “It was perfect.”
Back on the set, the actors are now all in place. The director calls action. Holm and DeVine dramatically enter the scene only to find themselves facing a houseful of mourning cops. What follows is the kind of awkwardly painful yet hilarious exchange that fans have come to expect from the show. The subsequent takes all get a good chuckle from the crew. As one set-up wraps and the camera crew begins adjusting the equipment for a new angle, Holm wanders about the living area. Stopping by video village, he turns to me.
“How’s it look? Is it funny?” he asks.
I respond in the affirmative.
“This is the great part of being an actor,” he says, signaling the living room, the walls of which are currently covered with an assortment of antique firearms. “You get to break into people’s homes and play pretend.”
If one were to produce a feature film about the making of Workaholics, the boys’ lives during the mid-2000s would no doubt look suspiciously close to the fictional world of their breakthrough TV show.
While DeVine performed stand-up and Holm worked on spec scripts for the likes of Arrested Development, The Office and How I Met Your Mother as well as working as a writer’s assistant on Bones, Newacheck found a potential new source of cash flow. In what ostensibly added up to a “why not?” decision, he attempted to become a low-level pot dealer.
“A buddy of mine had access to such cheap weed. I thought, ‘Oh this is it—game over.’ That was when me, Adam and Blake were living together. So we messed around with it for a little bit. I remember me and Adam trying to convince Blake to get his pilot’s license so we could take this thing to the next level. Then we thought, ‘What are we doing? We’re never going to do this, we’re so bad at math!’...Ounces, quarter ounces, grams—what is that? I don’t understand weight distribution.”
Although the boys’ careers as drug dealers were short-lived, their lives took a major turn with the advent of a new video site called YouTube.
“It fucking blew our minds,” DeVine says.
Branding themselves with the moniker Mail Order Comedy, the foursome began cranking out videos left and right. Mostly, they trafficked in high-concept, gimmick-driven videos that frequently delved into absurdist territory. Examples included an action-comedy parody of cheesy cop shows called Crossbows and Mustaches as well as a series of videos which saw the gang spewing gangsta rap while dressed as wizards.
In the trial-and-error process of putting out videos, the boys quickly learned how to avoid the typical pratfalls of the Internet web series—mainly, that doing a sketch concerning current events was the quickest way to obsolescence.
“The reason I think our stuff ended up sticking and we were able to make a TV show is we didn’t want to do a lot of real topical stuff because that was gone in a week,” DeVine explains. “The few topical episodes we did do, we looked back on them and were just like, ‘ew.’ We liked writing stories—even if the story was five minutes long— which had a beginning, middle and an end. That’s why we started doing web series.”
The guys certainly seemed to have stumbled upon the web-based sketch comedy game at an opportune time. For a brief period in the mid-2000s, you couldn’t pick up the entertainment trades without reading about another web-based comedy troupe that had scored a development deal. Yet, as much material as Mail Order Comedy was putting out, the call never came.
“There was a year or 16 months where you’d hear about deals that were just crazy,” Holm recalls. “Someone was giving $200,000 for 10 videos that were a minute long each. You were like, ‘what?!’ But, we worked harder.”
Eventually, having tried all manner of high-concept material, the four decided to shake it up and try something a bit more low-key. In a proposition that seems almost Charlie Kaufman-esque in its self-reflectiveness, the group began writing a web series about a group of aspiring comedic performers in Los Angeles who goof around and struggle to write funny sketches. Entitled The Dude’s House, the series featured DeVine and Anderson as roommates, with Holm acting as a friend who constantly comes over to hang.
“It was pulled from our life,” Newacheck explains. ”[The characters] were actually trying to write sketches. They were a group doing stuff that we were doing.”
What’s more, through connections they’d recently made, the boys gained access to shoot footage at a nearby office building.
“We were like, ‘Okay, let’s split it between the dudes’ house and the office and we’ll create some turmoil between the dudes and see what happens,’” Newacheck continues.
It was this video that caught the attention of Walter Newman, a then-executive at Comedy Central. It was a classic “opportunity knocks” situation. Of course, in a twist that feels like a Workaholics plotline in the making, the boys did not actually hear the proverbial knock until much later.
“We were so bad at marketing ourselves and getting our name out there that they didn’t know how to contact us,” DeVine recalls. “They contacted us through our YouTube account, and we never ever checked the mail there. Literally a month or two months went by that we didn’t get back to him. Then, one day, Kyle was on there uploading our new video and was like, ‘Oh shit!’ We finally got ahold of [Walter] and he was like, ‘The fuck are you guys doing? I’m trying to give you a TV show!’”
Though the guys’ response may have been late, it was luckily not too late. Newman brought the boys in for a meeting and gave them the chance to pitch some ideas. While the network’s primary interest lied in expanding the premise of The Dude’s House into a TV show, however, the guys were much more interested in selling their other ideas; the priority was an entire series built around their rapping wizard characters.
“We thought that was our show. We didn’t want to do anything else,” DeVine says. “We came in and they were like, ‘We really like the idea of these fresh-out-of-college guys working in an office and just sort of fucking around.’ We were like, ‘Yeah totally, but we had this gangsta rapping wizard idea…’ We really were pushing that. They were like, ‘Yeah, don’t pitch that at the next meeting.’ So, we went to the vice presidents and pitched our ideas there and they were like, ‘Great, we like the Workaholics idea…definitely not the gangsta wizards though.’ Then we met the president and pitched the Workaholics idea, which was, by that point, a fully fleshed-out pitch. Obviously we did a good job because we got a show. At the end, we said, ‘But what we really want to do is rapping wizards’ and he just said, ‘We’re not going to do that.’”
So, by the end of the process, the guys didn’t have their wizard show. What they did have, however, was $50,000 to shoot a “proof of concept” mini-pilot for what would become Workaholics.
With the first few camera set-ups done, the actors begin switching positions for a new scene. Holm and DeVine climb on top of a table and warm up their voices. What follows is a highly ill-conceived attempt on the part of their two characters to pay respects to the fallen cop (named Ramirez) with a traditional Irish hymn (“Ramirez wasn’t Irish,” one cop offers to deaf ears). As the more sensible Anders character attempts to sing a respectful, albeit generic ode, the overzealous Adam begins braying about Ramirez killing bad guys and getting his “cock sucked by angels.”
The two perform their song-and-dance several times, each time experimenting with different lines and tempos. On the last take, several behind-the-scenes members are unable to withhold their laughter and it bleeds into the take. As the final shot wraps, the crew promptly bursts into laughter, applauds the two and the director calls for lunch.
It’s been a good day.
The initial pilot presentation for Workaholics was supposed to be a 10-minute short that would give Comedy Central a sense of what the show would be. Having been essentially left to their own devices with $50,000, however, the resourceful foursome sought to do something much more ambitious with their unprecedented budget.
“We were like, ‘We’re going shoot an entire episode,’” Newacheck explains. “We called in a bunch of favors and wrote a script. Comedy Central didn’t even know we had a script. It wasn’t until the third day of shooting that one of the executives was like, ‘What’s this?’ and he picked up a script and started reading it because we told him we were just going to improv the whole thing.”
Moreover, since the pre-pilot would not be seen by anyone other than the Comedy Central suits, Newacheck indulged himself by filling the presentation to the brim with expensive copyrighted music, including several songs by The Rolling Stones.
“They were like, ‘Okay, you used 11 Rolling Stones songs, so this will be a $25 million pilot. You have to reshoot it all with better cameras and shit,’” DeVine says, laughing.
Despite the music licensing issues, the network liked what they saw and ordered a 10-episode first season. Then came the time for figuring out what the show would be.
“We had our initial meetings where it was like, ‘What are the characters in this world, who’s who, what’s that.’ But when we were doing all that it kind of felt false,” Anderson recalls. “We knew right out the gate to do what we thought was funny or whatever ideas came out of our brains and just to put them on the screen and live in this world of booze-filled haze. It just kind of formed naturally.”
The boys re-filmed their pilot presentation (without the questionable music) and aired it as the first episode, entitled “Piss & Shit.” The plot of the second episode they shot (“The Promotion”), meanwhile, was taken almost wholesale from material the gang had done in their web videos. It wasn’t until the boys completed the third episode (“We Be Ballin’”) in production—wherein the guys attempt to secure season tickets for the Los Angeles Clippers in order to impress a couple of girls—that they truly felt like they had a real TV show on their hands.
“That episode was the first one we wrote that was just from the ground up,” DeVine says. “That’s the first time I was like, ‘Oh wow, that all made sense.’ It was really a magical moment the first time we saw it in the editing bay all cut and we were like, ‘Oh, it’s real!’”
Though getting through their first season was a challenge, it was nothing the guys weren’t somewhat prepared for after years of making quickie, no-budget videos on the fly. To this day, Newacheck keeps production on a tight schedule, with each episode being filmed in about four days.
“[The fast filming schedule] comes from a lot of us doing guerrilla Internet sketches where we were at places illegally and we were like, ‘Okay, we’re going to get kicked out of here in two minutes, we have to shoot this really quickly,’” DeVine explains. “So it was cool to be like, ‘Wait, we can shoot in the office and no one will yell at us?’”
Likewise, Anderson credits Newacheck’s experiences as an editor with helping to keep an efficient schedule.
“Kyle has an editor’s mind. Sometimes directors get so obsessed with one shot or some little thing. And it may just end up getting cut. Knowing what’s worth focusing on and what’s not helps a lot.”
The first episode of Workaholics aired on April 6, 2011. The premiere episode bowed with solid ratings (for cable) and several positive write-ups. Around Los Angeles, Holm, DeVine, Anderson and Newacheck started to get recognized. It wasn’t until they hit the Bonnaroo Music Festival that summer, however, that the crew truly realized how far their little TV show had traveled.
“Were we just asked how much the show is like our real lives?” Holm asks upon entering the trailer where our group interview is to take place. Though he’s joking, it’s a fair assumption. Along with “how drunk and/or stoned are you guys when you write the show?” and the inevitable follow-up question “are you guys drunk and/or stoned right now?” it’s a line of inquiry that has become standard (as well as a bit tiresome).
Hearing the three main stars interact together, however, (the Newacheck interview would come at a later date) it readily becomes clear that the trio certainly doesn’t need drugs to generate great ideas. In between answering questions, the three riff about any topic under the sun, whether it’s TV shows, sports or how underrated Alien 3 is. When it actually comes down to the question of how closely the actors resemble their fictional counterparts (and why they chose to use their real names as their character names), the answer is fairly straightforward.
“The characters are pretty similar to ourselves but are heightened and dumbed down versions of us,” DeVine outlines. “Also, we just thought [using our real first names] would be easier to remember and that we could then improv better. Because we’re dummies.”
In addition to parodying aspects of their own personalities, the boys claim they’ve also received offers from several high-profile fans who wish to come onto the show and play with the public’s perception of them. Such a roster includes the likes of pop stars Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus. In fact, when DeVine eventually met Cyrus, she was the starstruck one.
“I saw Miley at the Teen Choice Awards. I was there for Pitch Perfect,” DeVine recalls. “I walk in and I see her. She turns and sees me and she’s like”— he affects a hardcore Southern accent—“‘Holy fucking shiiiiiiit!’ I’m like, ‘Oh my God…’”
Ultimately, scheduling conflicts made both appearances impossible. Had Cyrus been able to make it onto the show, the boys say the pitch was for her to play a transvestite. As of the time of the interview, Jaden Smith has also attempted to contact the boys about appearing in a future episode.
“All the bad stuff those kids are doing, we’re actually writing,” Anderson jokes. “We’re writers for their lives. We’re kind of ghostwriting their lives.”
“We are basically the downside of civilization,” DeVine intones.
Bonnaroo was, according to DeVine, the first occasion the guys had to experience the reception of Workaholics outside of the media-savvy Los Angeles.
“It was the first time we were out of California and at this huge festival with a lot of young people,” he says. “We were doing a show at the Comedy Tent. I would do 15 minutes of stand-up, and the guys would come up and we would do a show together. I was doing a mic test for the stand-up portion, [Blake and Anders] come running in and are like, ‘Dude, you have to come outside and check this shit out!’ We went outside and suddenly we were swarmed with people. We were like, ‘Holy shit, people actually watch the show.’”
The show’s exposure only grew after the first seasons were added to Netflix Insant. The show has, in recent months, been taken off the list, much to the boys’ annoyance. That being said, they are quick to point out that free streams of all the aired episodes are currently available on Amazon Prime (“make sure that gets in the article because no one knows what Amazon Prime is,” Holm says).
Among Workaholics fans, one of the major appeals of the show involves the offbeat use of language, which gives the show its unique flavor. For the creators, finding a specific, peculiar way of speaking has always been a key to setting themselves apart from other, more standard shows.
“I’ve always liked characters in movies—Bill & Ted, Beavis & Butthead, Pauly Shore in Encino Man—who say the coolest things you’ve ever heard before,” Holm explains. “I mean a phrase like ‘Wheezing the juice?’ [from Encino Man] Fuck…that’s amazing! I want to use that! I think slang and all that is fun, and if you meet somebody who talks a certain way you remember them a bit more as opposed to someone who talks the way everybody else does.”
So great is Workaholics’ current popularity, in fact, that Comedy Central has already renewed it for a fifth season. Likewise, the show has afforded each of its four creators a number of exciting career opportunities. Between the three of them, the boys have booked roles on Community, Modern Family, House and the resurrected Arrested Development. Just recently, Holm completed a stint on The Mindy Project playing the main character’s hip priest boyfriend.
Besides portraying the egotistical a capella group leader in 2012’s surprise hit Pitch Perfect, DeVine recently launched his own TV show, Adam DeVine’s House Party, which takes place in DeVine’s own home and combines scripted storylines with stand-up bits from his comedian friends. Anderson, likewise, secured a voice role in the animated film Epic, while Newacheck, meanwhile, has scored guest directing gigs on Community, Parks and Recreation and Happy Endings.
On the feature side, Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg’s production company Point Grey announced in November they will be teaming with mega-producer Scott Rudin (No Country for Old Men, There Will Be Blood) to develop a film directed by Newacheck, written by Holm and starring the three main Workaholics cast members. Although Newacheck declines to comment on what the movie will be—he wants the “trailer to speak for itself”—he does say it will be “very heightened.”
If that wasn’t enough, the boys also went in to audition for J.J. Abrams’ upcoming Star Wars film (though they insist that nothing will likely come of it).
“I heard that one of the last things Walt Disney ever said was ‘Kurt Russell’...it was his dying words,” DeVine remarks near the end of the interview.
Needless to say, the interview has gotten a bit off-topic in the final stretch. Then again, when talking to the boys for an extended period, it’s hard not to find yourself in an interesting, unexpected tangent. Such is a reflection of the more relaxed, unorthodox approach they take to crafting stories. Rather than the episodes feeling messy and strung together, however, the result is something that feels completely fresh and unlike anything you’ve likely seen before while still feeling organic in its own strange way. Often the show will eschew traditional, hard-hitting punchlines in favor of hilarious facial reactions or nonsensical exclamations. This more spontaneous approach especially applies to the script, which can be drastically altered over the course of production.
“Sticking to the script is fucking stupid unless the joke has a very specific mechanism to it,” Holm says.
DeVine shares a similar perspective.
“I can’t imagine being on an Aaron Sorkin show where you really have to hit the pace and the dialogue word-for-word and you’re walking everywhere and if you fuck one thing up, the whole thing falls apart,” he explains. “I love when people mess up a word. It makes them human. It makes them seem real. When people always have the best quip prepared you’re like, ‘That’s not how it works, people are dumb sometimes.’ Even the smartest people in the world can be really fucking stupid at times.”
The Workaholics team’s appetite for the alternative and unexpected has taken them far. It also, of course, almost deterred them. While they will always stand by the hilarity of that “rapping wizards” TV show, they now acknowledge that such a far-out experiment in absurdity would have done little for their TV careers.
“I don’t think the wizards show would be on the air anymore,” Holm dryly comments.
“No,” DeVine adds, firmly. “It would have lasted for like six episodes at most.”
More importantly, though the foursome greatly appreciate their fans and the reception they’ve gotten over the years, they also acknowledge that the best way to deal with the increased pressure and higher expectations inherent to a growing fanbase is not to let it affect the work.
“It’s like with any artist, you’re putting out something you like and enjoy yourself. It’s really not doing anything to appease other people,” Anderson says.
“[Also] we’re only writing what we know,” DeVine adds. “If we were writing so far out of the realm of what we know, it would be a much more daunting task. But we’re writing the show we lived, and it’s something we know so well. So we think, ‘If we like it, the audience will like it.’ I mean, they have so far—so why would they stop?”
Holm breaks in—“And as you say that, they then stop watching.”
“Let’s hope not,” DeVine responds with a chuckle.