I stumbled on the hilarious series Quickdraw on Hulu last year and binged watched Season One. When it was over, I emailed Quickdraw star/creator John Lehr and ask him for an interview, to which, with a tip of his hat, he kindly obliged. I held the interview until Season Two was available, and now it is! So…
A. Read my interview with the very funny John Lehr below
B. Go watch Quickdraw on Hulu!
Your hilarious series on Hulu, Quickdraw, is now on its second season. How happy are you?
We are thrilled. Our hope is to have a run as long as Gunsmoke which I think was 20 years or so. That kind of run would successfully put my 7 year-old through grad school and I would be VERY good with that. If the run is shorter, my daughter will have to settle for community college which is also fine by me.
How did you hookup with Hulu?
They approached us. Apparently our TBS show “10 Items or Less” garnered a bit of a following on Hulu and they wondered if we had anything new to pitch. We had been developing a comedy western and they loved it.
Quickdraw is the story of Sherrif and Harvard Alumnist John Henry Hoyle bringing forensic techniques to the wild west. How did you come up with the core idea?
We knew we wanted to do a period comedy and the western really appealed to us. As we began breaking it down we were trying to figure out a way to have the sheriff be a fish out of water. My partner Nancy Hower came up with the Harvard thing. The procedural element of the show was a slam dunk.
Quickdraw is unique in that the show is largely improvised. How much of the show is improv and how much is scripted?
All the dialogue in Quickdraw is improvised. There are very detailed scripts written by Nancy and I but the cast never sees the scripts. Nancy and I both know the scripts and can guide the narrative if need be but cast is free to do what they do best: generate that spontaneous comedy that gives you an entirely different flavor from written sitcoms.
Your first show with director Nancy Hower, 10 Items or Less on TBS, was improvised as well. What draws you to using the improvised format?
There is something so great about the kind of humor that comes up. You know when you are hanging with your friends and somebody says something so funny that cracks you all up, but when you try to tell someone about it later it falls flat? That’s the stuff we are looking for.
10 Items or Less had mixed reviews. Was there anything about Quickdraw you vowed to do differently? Is there more or less improvisation?
I don’t read reviews. I don’t have the balls.
On MetaCritic, user JackieE called 10 Items or Less “hilareous.” Were you disappointed by her spelling?
I think it was intentional. Jackie was trying to say we ARE hilarious.
I can’t think of any other shows that are/were largely improvised, other than Whose Line is it Anyway?, which isn’t a sitcom…Can you name any others? Are you a pioneer? (No western pun intended.)
Curb Your Enthusiasm legitimized this format but I think Reno 911 was the clear pioneer.
Why the large gap in time between 10 Items or Less (2006) and Quickdraw? I saw you have a Wikipedia page. Did you feel like you’d pretty much “made it” after the Wiki went up and retire?
Have you seen JailBait on Crackle?
No, but I will check that out! I don’t have a Wikipedia page. Would you put one up for me?
Was there a real John Henry Hoyle? How historically acurate is the show?
No John Henry is completely fictitious but there is a LOT of factual stuff. Belle Starr and Cole Younger were real people. Harvard existed as did a lot of the forensic stuff Hoyle employs. The steam powered vibrator was also real. check out this interview with our historian:
I’ve noticed some running gags in Quickdraw. Obviously, there’s Hoyle constantly reminding everyone he’s from Harvard, and I love the “cocktails” saloon owner Honey, played by Allison Dunbar, markets on her chalkboard, all of which are basically whiskey with stuff in it. Can you give any examples of running jokes that were part of the original concept and which came from improv?
I would say all of the running jokes come from the improv. I think when you are generating material on the fly you tend to grab onto runners or callbacks a bit more often. The cocktails Honey promotes though are historically correct:
Is there a moment when it just hits you that a joke will becoming a running gag? Or is that something that happens organically during improv?
There isn’t a lot of conscious thinking when you are improvising. Stuff just kind of gets vomited out.
Nice touch making Hoyle good with a gun. Making him unmanly in every way would have been too obvious. Is taking the less obvious path one of the keys to good improv?
Agreed. We were smart with this. He needed something to make the town want him to hang around. And yes to your question – in fact, I think the less obvious path is unavoidable with improv which is the main reason we love it.
Did you have a clear ide of Hoyle’s personality before filming started, or did it grow through improv?
Honestly I don’t do a lot of actorly stuff. Hoyle doesn’t have a favorite color and is not based on an animal. I consider myself a writer who dresses up for the pitch room. My brother says all my characters are versions of our father.
How much like Hoyle are you in real life? I read you support a non-profit cat advocacy group. Cats are kind of girly.
I am girly. But you should know I built a kick ass treehouse in my backyard for my kids (which required successful fornication to create, btw)
How many takes do you do for a scene on average?
We shoot each episode in 2 ½ days. Each scene takes approx. 2 hours. We’re fast. Nancy is an amazing director.
Where do you film?
Paramount Ranch in LA. Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman shot there. I think our shows are remarkably similar.
Do you think an improvised show is harder or easier to produce than scripted?
I thought it would be easier but boy was I wrong. A TON happens in post.
You were in the movie, The Sweetest Thing and the TV show Jesse, both with Christina Applegate. Are you stalking Christina Applegate?
Yes. I’m outside her house right now.
You were also one of the cavemen in the Geico commercials. I’m not going to ask you about that.
Ok. But can I say: “Thank you Geico! I love my house!”
Say, hypothetically, someone sent you a brilliant Quickdraw script. Might you use it? What if they cried and begged? Do you have anything philosophically against bribery?
Anything can be bought. Anything.
Can you give us any hints about the storylines in Season Two?
We learn why Cole Younger wears a mask. We will flashback to the Civil War and Hoyle’s days at Harvard. Hoyle will impregnate Honey but the child will burst from her belly like the creature from Alien. The last one is not “officially” in the show but I am pitching it hard.