What’s the writing process for a show like this? With so much history as fodder for comedy, how do you determine where to focus?
Stassen: Well, we started in the summer of 2021, Nick, Wanda, and I, just talking about the big picture stuff and how we wanted to have a few tentpoles for the season. We landed on the four tentpoles: Jesus and Mary, the Civil War, the Russian Revolution, and Shirley Chisholm. We kind of ran that big picture idea by Mel, and he signed off on it and gave us some ideas. Then we got into the writers’ room and explained to them, “We think it’s going to go like this. We’ll have these bigger, longer sketches that will be broken up, and then we’re going to write just a lot of one-off sketches,” like the Kama Sutra, Shakespeare, whatever else we had. Then it became a real puzzle in editing, figuring out where to put everything.
How much guidance do you get from Mel Brooks on a project like this? What’s it like working with him? Whenever he talks about comedy, it just feels like he’s inexplicably tapped into what makes people laugh and executes it effortlessly.
Mathias: Yeah, Mel, obviously he’s fundamental to this entire undertaking, and from the very beginning has been super supportive. Taking on the role of one of the directors on a show where that’s Mel Brooks’s name is in the headlines –
Stassen: We should clarify. As the main director, Alice really carried the weight of the directing.
Mathias: But of course, that was wildly exciting but also really intimidating, and he made himself available to guide me and guide us along the way. He really offered to chime in if there were dilemmas that we were facing. That really meant a lot, to have his support. All the way through the end of the show, I know he’s been present and paying attention, and he cares a lot about the project. That’s really evident in his collaboration.
Stassen: When we were coming up with the ideas in the writing process, and we told him the Civil War idea, he had a joke in his back pocket he’d been holding onto for 40 years.
Stassen: It was where they signed the Appomattox surrender, Jack McBrayer bends over and turns, and his sword hits his three lieutenants in the groin. That was one of the first things Mel told us about the show and about “Part II.” Mel’s so sharp and good, he’s holding onto a joke, and we’re going to get to do it. To me, that kind of set the tone of like, “Oh, that’s the show we’re doing.” We’re doing the true Mel Brooks homage, so we have to try and build our comedy in that genre that Mel mastered.