Not Your Father's Sitcom
With one phone call, Nick Rutherford went from being an SNL writer to being a writer and performer on Adult Swim's Dream Corp. LLC.
Inside a dingy, abandoned looking building, Dr. Roberts (Jon Gries) and his staff of social outcasts (Mark Proksch, Ahmed Bharoocha, Stephanie Allynne) comprise Adult Swim's Dream Corp. LCC, solving your worst problems by entering your rotoscoped dreams via some not very sanitary chicanery.
Comedian/actor Nick Rutherford has been among the staff since the show premiered in 2016. Known only as Patient #88, within Dr. Roberts’ motley crew, Rutherford has also contributed scripts to the extremely avant-garde style program.
Rutherford has been working at comedy since his days as a USC theater major with fellow funnymen Beck Bennett and Kyle Mooney, posting Good Neighbor comedy sketches on YouTube.
From stand-up and now Adult Swim’s comedy network, Rutherford is a modern comedy stylist, covering every contemporary outlet imaginable. In the midst of his busy schedule he agreed to talk with TelevisionAcademy.com about the new season of Dream Corp.
Q: So how’s it going?
A: Great! It’s a very exciting time right now. I’m on this show called Dream Corp. LLC. We’re ramping up for our premiere of season two on October 21st. I’m currently in our production house writing season three. It’s all about to be seen by everybody and we’re continuing to get to do it. I couldn’t be happier.
There’s an element of the show that’s rotoscope animation and it takes way too much time, unfortunately. We’re doing some final editing touches on it. One of our executive producers, Stephen Merchant, stopped by the office yesterday to look at the finale episode and had some thoughts. We're tweaking that but we’ve got to deliver that very soon.
Q: How did you get involved in the series?
A: So much of the things you do in this industry are based on someone you know, or your friend does something and calls you. This is truly one of the very few times I got an audition, went in expecting nothing and then got cast in it.
So, I was initially cast in the pilot, which must have been five years ago, now. I was just going to be one of the patients. I was going to be someone who just comes in with erectile dysfunction and then leaves, on fire, or something horrible happens to me.
We shot the pilot and the creator of the show, Daniel Stessen, we kind of hit it off as we have a similar sense of humor. When they got their series picked up from Adult Swim for the first season, which is just six episodes, he called me. It was truly one of the most life changing and exciting call I’ve ever gotten.
I was just fired from Saturday Night Live. So, I was like, “Ah, that’s a bummer.” Then he [Stessen] calls to say, “Look, we got six episodes. I want to change your character so you’re in all of them." Very exciting phone call, life changing, in a lot of ways.
Q: Especially after being fired SNL.
A: Yeah [laughs]. It was a good phone call. When God gives you one bad phone call, he calls you a week later with a much better phone call. Something like that. That’s in the Bible somewhere [laughs].
Q: Being involved in some of the episode’s creation, how do you come up with ideas?
A: We’ve written 14 more episodes for season two and we’re outlining another 10 currently for season three. One of the challenges is finding problems that people could have that Dr. Roberts could fix within the confines of the show.
An easy one is you smoke when you come in and when you leave, you don’t smoke, like we did with the second episode, “The Smoking Nun,” guest starring actress June Squibb. That’s a real obvious thing.
I think what separates it from a lot of shows is well, the animation and the core cast. There’s just nothing like it out there. There’s definitely a heart to it and there are definitely some real things to tackle but never with heavy handedness. We don’t want it to feel like we’re lecturing anybody.
It has this nice thing about it. Like Mark Proksch as Randy and goofing off with a talking robot. Also, Bea [Meghan Ferguson], in season two, having these amazing revelations about people’s consciousness and what drives them. It’s like, “This is what the issue is, but it’s truly this.” I think people relate to that a lot, at least when it’s shown to people.
Q: How many more episodes are you going to be writing?
A: I think I wrote five or six in season two. Then, I think I’ll be writing three or maybe four in season three out of the next 10.
I think they’re trying to see if they can expand into a full half-hour show, which would be great. We constantly find that we write these ‘A’ stories and ‘B’ Stories and have some runner in there. Of course, none of that can make it into an 11-and-a-half minute show.
First of all, I feel like they should be longer because they’re so dense. They really work well on second and third viewing because you miss so much of it the first time. Everything has to happen so quick because of the amount of story we’re trying to put in there.
That’s just Adult Swim. They’ve always been doing that. A lot of their shows are just super short form. They do a lot half hours, as well.
Also, I think the comedy, too, is just get in and get out. Get in, be wacky and leave. Don’t give them a chance to think: “What just happened?”
We’ve gone through all these characters. Now, we have a new character in season two, played by Megan Ferguson, and she’s just amazing. We see what her life is and we go more into Ahmed [Bharoocha] and how lives underneath the facility. There’s also a crazy, insane pharmacy. We learn Randy also lives in the facility with T.ER.R.Y. the robot, played by Stephen Merchant.
Q: What do you feel are some of the strengths you see in the show?
A: I think we realized that it’s fun for us to find what these patients' problem are and solve them in interesting ways within their dream world.
Also, what I think is more exciting for the audience is find out how these people interact. How are these people not tearing each other apart while trying to solve somebody else’s problems? All of us, the staff, we are the ones who really need therapy, except rather than dealing with our own problems, we’re just trying to solve other people’s problems.
My character is, in a lot of ways, the audience’s way into the world. Everybody is playing these amazing characters and nobody is there saying, “Wait a second. Is this safe to do?” My character is new to the company. He just started working there and he’s also pretty positive that he doesn’t want to work there any more.
Q: So why does he continue on?
A: He’s just so broken down and yet, there is a family there. He does belong. They give him just enough of the carrot — he gets plenty of stick — but he gets just enough of the carrot to keep him coming. I think he truly does care about this bizarre family. I think it’s the lesser of two evils.
I’m having to go through the most horrible, actual physical trauma as we’re shooting this. I think it’s easy to write, “Oh, and then #88 is waterboarded by peanut butter,” which happens in season two. On set, it’s probably four in the morning at this point, too, because we’re doing some long days. I’m just passed out while they’re shooting peanut butter directly onto my face.
There’s a guy, whose job it is to stand right next to me. When they call “cut,” he scoops the peanut butter out of my mouth. It’s real.
We had Craig Robinson coming in this year and he’s going to be in petroleum jelly for three hours. As a writer, I just have demons that I’m trying to excise, I guess.
Q: In the first season, Liam Neeson and others had bit roles. Any other future guest stars?
A: We’ll have lots of great guest stars, like Craig Robinson, Darrell Hammond, Natalie Morales, and Toby Kebbell. Every week we get an actor that I’m just in awe of working with, guest stars that just blow me away. The are just wildly talented and they are so excited to get into it.
So much of the show is the staff buzzing around the patients in the real world. Then, the patient is put under and then they get to act in this fantasy rotoscope animation world.
To watch it being shot is just amazing. We shoot in this empty blank stage with tracking marks everywhere. You’re wearing a weird cardboard costume because it doesn’t really matter. It’s all going to be painted over later.
I think it appeals to all the actors’ sense of play. Just like being a kid again. It’s like throwing on a cape and now you’re a superhero. You’ll be lying on a dolly and the second A.D. is pushing you by your feet across as you’re flying through the sky. It’s really cool.
They pull it off so beautifully that I think we have a really fun show that people want to be on, once they understand what it is. We got really lucky just to have this amazing roster of talent come through.
Q: It’s such an original concept, do you think that it will go to a half-hour format?
A: I would love that. I don’t know what the chances are, though. I’m not a betting man. We’re doing two half-hour episodes for the next season. So, I’m hoping.
Q: Any thoughts on the show’s regular cast?
A: Yeah, I want to stress that I’m so in awe of the people I get to work with. Jon Gries is one of the funniest guys I’ve worked with on this show.
Megan Ferguson is like Lucille Ball. She took this character that, granted, I don’t think we wrote the best character, and she just made it her own. She’s kind of an Igor-like assistant to Dr. Roberts but she’s just so physical and captivating.
What we really got into, what the show is about is this really dysfunctional family. They’re trying their hardest to help each other, but are so wrapped up in their own neurosis and addiction, that it’s always a challenge. People come in with a problem, and they usually leave with a different problem.
Q: That can almost be a slogan for the company. Do you have anything else in the works?
A: Yeah, I made a movie. Robert Schwartzman directed it. I wrote it with a couple of buddies, my friend Kirk Johnson and Will Elliot, just a couple of really fantastic writers out of Austin that just came out to L.A. We shot it right after I was waterboarded with peanut butter.
It’s called The Unicorn. It’s about me and my fiancée, Lauren Lapkus, who’s very funny. Essentially, we go on a trip to Palm Springs with her parents who renew their vows in a ceremony. It’s decided that if we want to be as happy as her parents in marriage, then we have to do what we think they do, which is have threesomes.
One night in Palm Springs we have multiple attempts at threesomes, with again, a great cast. We have Lucy Hale, my old comedy buddy Beck Bennett, and Kyle Mooney has a little cameo.
Q: Sounds like you’re working with your friends from both college and SNL.
A: People always ask about Good Neighbor. “Oh, are you guys gonna get make stuff together anymore?” We clearly are. I put them in Unicorn. We are not doing collegiate sketch comedy, any more. Luckily, we got into a position where we make bigger projects but we can still say, “C’mon, be in this one with me.”
One more thing, too. Dream Corp LLC comes on October 21st. Also, most important as it seems so far out, The Unicorn is supposed to come out in February. The Orchard [Media Distribution] wound up purchasing it and they want a kind of a February “lover’s month” release.
By the way, this has been great. I was a little nervous, as this has been one of my first interviews. There might be more of these in my future. This is the best one so far.