You’ve probably seen Andy Daly on Eastbound and Down and heard him as a guest on a multitude of podcasts including his own The Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project. But now he’s moving on up and starring in his own show, Review, which premiered on Comedy Central last night. As the title suggests, it’s a show about reviewing things, just not movies or food. The show’s host and life critic, Forrest MacNeil (Daly) reviews life experiences based on audience suggestions. Based on an Australian show by the same name, the experiences in this atypical review show have MacNeil trying everything from stealing to cocaine addiction. We had the opportunity to chat with Daly about his early years of improv and sketch and how it was like handling a creepy sex doll and being in an orgy.
How did you get involved in comedy? Did you even want to get involved in comedy?
Yeah. I mean, I think I’m one of those guys who was sort of always in comedy. I thought of myself—and other people seemed to think of me—as funny from a very young age. I was a very young comedy nerd and even I did sketch comedy in high school and college. I wrote and shot sketches on video and acted in them. It’s something I kind of always knew that I wanted to do.
Did you go through any formal sketch comedy training?
When I graduated from college, I moved to New York, and started doing improv because I read all about the early Saturday Night Live guys having come through Second City and learning how to improvise so I wanted to get immediately into that. I started doing all the comedy improv and sketch that I could in New York, and that was before the Upright Citizens Brigade was in New York. I was there three years before they got there, and they just completely and totally changed the landscape when they arrived in 1996. I was one of their first students. I was one of the first guys doing shows through their organization. They didn’t have a theater then, but from there I started getting bits on Conan, and I dabbled a little bit in stand-up.
How is it like doing stand-up compared to sketch comedy?
My stand-up experience when I first was in New York doing short-form improv. An agent told me the quickest route to getting seen by people in the industry is to do standup because at that time it was true. People were in the standup club looking for the next Jerry Seinfeld or whatever to give a big development deal. My goal was to do comedy acting and I think a standup comic was considered cynical [laughs].
You do standup to reach that goal, but that’s what I was designed to do—and I did that. I don’t know if my heart wasn’t fully in it or if I just did not have a great ability for standing onstage speaking as myself. I had early successes in that I had a stage presence, but I did not have material that was really worth saying out loud to rich people [laughs]. I had offers of management, and stuff like that, but I could tell that this wasn’t how I was really going to make my mark.
Do you remember your first “professional” comedy performance?
It might be hard to define that, but I think I have a very clear memory of the first time I ever improvised in front of an audience. I was in a college improv group and there was a festival. I think It was called the Grass Roots Festival. It was a music and dance festival and they asked us to go up and improvise in between bands. We started at 10 in the morning and kept going until midnight.
So it was basically a marathon of improv?
Yeah. It was crazy. It’s not something that I would agree to do today [laughs].
So let’s talk about Review. I guess I’ve watched the first two episodes of it and I thought it was quite hilarious.
These two hilarious guys, Phil Lloyd and Trent O’Donnell created it in Australia. It ran for two seasons and the DVDs of that were sent to me a couple of years ago because Comedy Central had seen it and was interested in adapting it—and thought of me to do it. I immediately loved it.
On the show you have people suggesting things for you to review—like cocaine. I know you have a great team of writers coming up with all that stuff, but the people calling in and emailing you these crazy suggestions seem like real people.
I’m glad to hear that! I don’t mind giving away that they’re all actors and all of that was written ahead of time. We started with a list of [the suggestions] they did in Australia. I sort of thought we would do most or all of those, but we did put together an incredible writing cast. We had a couple of guys from Conan, Saturday Night Live and the head writer from The Onion was on our staff, and myself, and Jeffrey Blitz, who is a comedy genius.
Once we started throwing around ideas and things that we’d like to do, our version took its own direction. It was true that we didn’t do anything too bizarre in terms of the request because we wanted those jumping off points. What would people ask about? They’d ask about things that they themselves are either afraid to try or for whatever reason can’t try. We tried to make as many as possible sort of wish-fulfillment questions. Things that sound positive. You would like someone who is qualified to evaluate life experiences you have wondered about, do it, and tell you how it is.
In future shows, would you be open taking suggestions from real-life viewers of the show?
Yeah, definitely, yeah, absolutely. There didn’t seem to be any practical way of doing it in season one, but I think that would definitely be a component of season two.
Is the host of the show, Forrest MacNeil, based on anyone?
The only thing that I sort of kept in my mind was just trying to figure out his voice was a cartoon dog that they’re now making a movie, Mister Peabody from the old Sherman and Peabody cartoons. I always thought that looping, intellectual sound of the original voice in the 60s cartoons was sort of what I was keeping in mind. It’s definitely not an impression of Mr. Peabody. I think it’s that intonation—some of that calm superiority.
The Australian character, who is a guy named Miles Barlow, is very much meant to be like a stuffy academic, and we were kind of going that way in our early writing days, and then thought, “No. It would be better to make this guy, instead of a literature critic more of a movie reviewer”—make it a little more accessible. That was sort the kind of thinking that went into the construction of that character. We also think of him as a smart dumb guy.
Is there anything that stands out to you in the first season? A favorite bit or something that you were apprehensive of trying? Like the sex doll episode?
Yeah, the sex doll thing…That piece was super crazy, but the one that I was most apprehensive about is in episode six. It’s when Forrest goes to an orgy and we just knew that was going to be hell on earth to shoot. It was like a bunch of actors in flesh-colored shorts and bras [laughs]. I thought, “This is going to be a nightmare,” and, sure enough, it really was. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it was a night shoot in a mansion that had no heat. It was just a hard slog and super embarrassing.
Any favorite segments in the first season?
I’ve been trying to think of what my favorite segment is, and I think my favorite episode is episode eight where Forrest falls in love. He’s asked, “What is it like to meet somebody, to marry someone on the day that you meet them?” He does it and the results are disastrous from start to finish, and it’s very enjoyable to me. Maria Thayer is in that one and she’s hilarious.
You have some really great comedic actors featured on the show like Jessica St. Clair. How did some of these collaborations come about?
Well, Jessica Saint-Claire I’ve known for a long time. We both came up through UCB together in New York, and as soon as it was clear that she was available to do this I was so excited. She’s amazing in this because she’s one of the very few people who I think can find a way to be really funny without ever sacrificing any level of reality, which is what is super-important in this show because it’s such a real-world show; taking bites of the real world with real people, documentary style. It can be hard to find your way to be funny that doesn’t sell out your character and she is just incredibly adept at doing that.
Any other guest stars we can expect in the first season?
You’ve seen we’ve used Fred Willis. He comes back. James Urbaniak pops in episode three, and then a few other times as my producer who gets roped into the proceedings. Jason Mantzoukas — I run into in the road rage segment. Andy Richter…Ashley Tisdale is in the “Sleeping With a Celebrity” thing. She is a celebrity that I target for sex.
Well, that’s something to look forward to.
It’s zany. It’s incredible.
You can watch Review on Comedy Central Thursdays at 10 p.m.