“I’m obsessed with your show. It’s one of my favorite things on TV right now,” I said mere seconds into my phone call with I’m Sorry star and creator Andrea Savage. I knew I’d have to dial down my excitement for this interview to have some semblance of professionalism, but so far, it just wasn’t happening. “I promise I’m not kissing your ass either,” I assured her. “Oh no,” she said, “I’m not someone who gets their ass kissed.” That dry, self-deprecating humor Savage does so well is just one of the reasons I’m Sorry has become a hit (and recently renewed for a second season). I’m Sorry‘s the show we’ve always known we needed, a show we always wanted, but never knew was possible. The humor is absurd, subversive, and original. It’s unapologetically feminist, as well. With a supportive network, uncompromised vision, and rockhard work ethic, Savage’s talent is able to fly free on her truTV comedy. In this interview, you’ll see how I’m Sorry is just as smart, authentic, and grounded as Savage is.
When did you catch the comedy bug?
It’s a little bit of a two-part answer. I had always done musical theater—comedy musical theater—in junior high and high school. But it wasn’t until I was out of college and had decided to put my pre-law degree on hold that I tried to be an actor, much to my parents’ dismay and horror. I was in an acting class and I met Chris Parnell who was in this comedy group called The Groundlings in LA. He was like, “You should really audition to get into the program there.” And I went and saw a show there and I was like, “Oh my god, this is amazing!” And I think Groundlings is really where I caught my comedy bug and from then on it was really all about comedy.
How did The Groundlings and the specificities of the program help set you up for success?
I don’t know how I was so sheltered. I don’t know why at my college [Cornell University] at the time there were no improv groups. I didn’t know that improv was a thing. I guess, on some level I did, but it really wasn’t part of my world. Groundlings really taught me how to do improv. Doing improv is a tribute to my career. A lot of my first jobs and a lot of my jobs now I’ve gotten because I am able to improvise. I’m able to add a joke to the beginning or the end and sort of put my own stamp on things while still staying in character. That has been the thing that has gotten me more jobs than anything else.
Also the writing because you have to write so much when you get into the last levels in [The Groundlings] company: you have to write sketch comedy non-stop. You have to write a new show each week. You’re writing, writing, and writing. So that began to teach me how to write comedy in a general narrative way. It also started me on the journey of figuring out what about me personally was funny. I went from Groundlings to stand-up and made a big shift. Sketch characters were not necessarily my forte. It wasn’t until I was able to take my improv and writing background to stand-up and other stuff where I was like, “Oh, there’s a comedic persona version of me that’s more grounded, that’s more what I can do well.” That’s what really started me on the path of getting more work. I was able to stay within a grounded space and be more creative within it: make up stuff and flesh out characters without a wig and an accent and that kind of stuff.
Was there anyone or any work in particular that was inspiring to you while trying to pursue comedy as a career?
Yeah, I mean, I would say definitely in the stand-up world. When I started doing stand-up, I was watching people like Louis [C.K.] whose comedic persona was very similar to who they were as people, though not exact. They were able to create a very funny but very grounded character for the stage. And that was my thing. At Groundlings, when I had to wear a wig or a costume, or when I had to sing, those were never my best sketches. The ones where I was sort of playing a version of myself were the ones that really popped. I would say Larry David, Sarah Silverman, so many people when I was doing stand-up who were around who were amazing, the people in the alternative comedy scene who were trying to find a grounded place in comedy.
It seems like it’d take a lot of introspection in order to create a stage persona who’s somewhat deviant from who you are in real life but at the same time a self-deprecating reflection of yourself. How did you do that and figure out what’s worth sharing on stage? It’s sort of what you’re doing on I’m Sorry, too.
I guess not being afraid to fail. Not everything’s going to work. You can’t be afraid of not getting laughs on stage. It’s interesting. It just clicks in at a certain point and you are confident in knowing how you’re going to say something, knowing it’s going to work in a certain way or an aspect of it may work. It’s really just relaying stories that happened to you but putting better a spin on it than it is if you just told it straight: adding details, adding comments, adding colorful pauses and reactions. A lot like the way I shoot the shit with my comedy friends.
For I’m Sorry you’re doing that on a bigger level where everything gets fleshed out for full episode of TV. How do you use the personal source material for each episode and then design how the story unfolds?
In the writers’ room, I came in with like thirty stories that I thought had something noteworthy about them. I grouped stuff into topics that I thought were relatable to people in their 30s and 40s—or at least relatable to me in my life and my friends lives: this is stuff we talk about so other people must be talking about it. I pitched my stories to the room and then we figured out what would work for an A story or just a joke here or a cold open or a tag. Really as we went along, I would say the lines out loud and I would say it in my way. Then, I would basically transcribe that onto the page the way I would be saying it. Those rewrites I would continue until on the day [we filmed the scene]. After we had done the more scripted version, depending on whom, I was working with, we would do a loose fun take where we could improvise and loosen up the dialogue…Because this project was all in my own voice, I had to say all of the writing out loud and transcribe it so it really felt authentic.
I love the way you are purposely subverting the typical husband-wife sitcom characters. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the show and it feels like I’m watching my parents. I wonder when you have this subversion that lends itself to satire, how do you keep it grounded and avoid getting tropey with it?
Every scene, my showrunner and I, Joey Slamon, would go through it and say, “Is this staid? Is this tropey? Is this sitcomy?” If there was something that I felt wouldn’t come out of my mouth, I’d say, “I know you’re sick of me saying this, and that’s a hilarious joke, but no one would really say that in real life.” It always had to be put through the test of, “Is that something that logically someone would say in real life”…Some of the situations were kind of big and outlandish, so I then needed to ground the characters’ reactions into reality. It was always keeping that filter on and really being diligent about it.
Andrea Savage and Tom Everett Scott in episode 7 of I’m Sorry, “Butt Bumpers”
A large part of the husband and wife relationship was a very conscious choice. I’m so sick of seeing these husbands and wives on TV that hate each other, couples who are sick of each other. I’m sick of the harried mom. My whole show is a manifesto against that role. And, why can’t we have banter? Why can’t we get a kick out of each other? We can still be flirting with each other. We can show that you can have a long relationship and have it still be fun and funny. I feel that that’s what a lot of people relate to. It’s never shown on TV. A lot of people are in very happy relationships.
That relationship is so refreshing and honest, as is your individual performance on the show. It’s one of the loosest, most fun performances I’ve watched. You have so many other jobs on set as an EP, a writer, a director. How do you stay relaxed for when you’re on screen?
I think because I have had my hand in writing all the episodes and it’s so based on a lot of stories that are real and a slightly exaggerated version of myself, there’s so many other jobs I had to do on set that the performance side was sort of, sadly, the thing I was thinking about the least a lot of days. I just had to hold true that it was in my body and that I was going to keep it honest. As long as it felt honest and real, that’s all I wanted. Once it started to feel gimmicky and jokey, we had to stop and redo it. I guess I improvised within this sort of self character. At this point know when it’s working and not working. Oddly, the performance part was the least I was thinking about during the day.
The show covers a lot of very personal territory that we haven’t been able to see. Like, I loved the scene where you peed on your hands. In striving towards honesty on screen, how has it been working with the network and intention is there?
I would say this is the first time I’ve worked with a network where I feel like they get it. There was nothing big I tried to do that they said no to. There’d be days we’d something in and be like, “Oh boy. We’re gonna hear something tomorrow.” And they’d be like, “That’s hilarious—great!” There’s some edgy stuff that I haven’t seen that people don’t talk about, like having a racist child. Like everyone I know has had a situation with a child that’s said something terrible and it doesn’t matter what race they are any you’re like, “What is coming out of my baby’s mouth?” and you’re horrified. This happened to [my family] and I started talking to my friends about it. Everyone was like, “This has happened to us, too!” And the teacher was like, “This happens all the time.” I was like, “Why isn’t anyone talking about all these racist kids?!” But also it’s not racism. It’s the same thing when you’re in the market and your child may see an old man and say, “That man’s old, isn’t he mommy? He’s probably really old and probably going to die, right mommy? He’s going to die soon, right?” The network was incredibly supportive [in letting us explore the humor in that]. This is what they wanted when they hired me.
That’s so refreshing to hear!
It’s definitely refreshing for me. I think this was maybe my eighth show that I developed. It’s funny because I think there are so many people you might know from something and you may not know, like I have so many friends that have had so many projects in the works that don’t go. Nobody knows they’ve been working their asses off for eight years that from the outset nobody even knows about. I’ve had some other good experiences with other shows, but this has truly been the best experience I have had with the network. It restored my faith in networks…
Also, [our set has] a no stink bomb rule, so from every cast and crew to every position, I’d ask people in comedy if I had worked with someone we were hiring, “Are they a pleasant person? Are they good to work with?” I need it to be a nice group of people. I would go to work [on I’m Sorry] and I couldn’t believe how many talented and amazing people were working so hard toward this thing of mine. I truly to this day have an appreciation for that.
What’s your advice for aspiring comedians, actors, people who want to work in television?
Honestly, I feel like if you are in the comedy space, you could not be emerging at a better—not easier, but better—time for you to actually have a faster path than a lot of the people my age. As long as you’re creating content, you now can always post it. You can put it on any social media platform and you will get people to see it. If it is funny you can put it on a reel and you can create your own beginning. This was not a thing that you could do when I was starting. Just keep creating. Keep writing. In comedy you can’t just be a comedic actor. You have to be a writer, a producer, also maybe a director, potentially editor. Any skills you can learn on that front are invaluable. Just keep creating and putting your work out there because that’s what will get you your first set of eyes…You can do it on your phone. There’s no excuse to not be doing it because other people will be doing it. You should have ten sketches you’ve filmed and edited with your friends available for people to see.♦