About two decades ago, a group of six friends found one another while honing their comedy skills at the legendary improvisational troupe The Goundlings in Los Angeles. All of them found their creative niches in Hollywood, but one of them became a comedy superstar. And now she's trying to help elevate her pals from "Nobodies" into somebodies.
That's the story both behind the scenes and in front of the camera with TV Land's new series "Nobodies," produced by comedienne Melissa McCarthy and her writer/director/actor husband Ben Falcone, directed by their pal Michael McDonald ("MADtv") and starring their friends, Larry Dorf, Rachel Ramras, and Hugh Davidson, who, in a meta-turn play longtime friends of the power couple who hilariously struggle with just how to harness McCarthy's success to help enable their own showbiz ambitions.
In real life, Dorf, Ramras, and Davidson have enjoyed solid on-camera work and a lucrative career writing, producing and voice acting in TV animation (all three have worked on "The Looney Tunes Show" and "Mike Tyson Mysteries," among others) as their friends scaled to even more dizzying heights in film and television. But career strata aside, at the core they're all devoted friends who've been by each others' sides at every level of the Hollywood game who've finally found a clever way in to working together, as the group revealed to Moviefone in a freewheeling conversation.
Moviefone: I was curious: Is this is a little "Waiting for Godot" kind of thing? Is Melissa going to be a presence that's talked about but we don't see until some key moment?
Larry Dorf: She appears quicker than you think.
Melissa McCarthy: They didn't want me to, but I just kept showing up on set.
Hugh Davidson: Maybe a high school version of "Waiting for Godot," then she makes an appearance.
How much of an actual documentary is "Nobodies"? How much did you twist Melissa's arm to get you three on television?
McCarthy: It's a dream. We've all known each other for about 18 years. Wouldn't you say that's right? I bet it is 20 -- God almighty! Probably 20 years we have all been a part of The Groundlings and each other's lives. When three of your dear friends come with a really funny, great idea, and they can execute it, that's a crazy gift.
Tell me what it means to be able to execute it, to have friends come with you on something creative and say, "Hey, I think we can make that happen."
Ben Falcone: They brought it to me at a lunch, and I said, "I think it's a great idea." I believe what I told them is, "I'm happy to give it a try." Also, what was going to make the show was them playing themselves.
We didn't want to go and have a situation where they're going to be like, "OK, we're the writers, and then we'll go get so-and-so to play Hugh, and so-and-so to play Larry ..." Sometimes networks, or even if, for whatever the reasons might be, they're comfortable with somebody on their lists, and that wasn't something that I was interested in doing. I know they weren't as well, and Melissa wasn't.
We said, "Let's go some place that was going to let us do the show how it's supposed to be." So we went to TV Land, and they said yes. I'd never guaranteed. The short answer is, I wasn't like, "Hey guys, come on over, it's going to happen!" It was sort of like, "I'll try."
McCarthy: I think it's a challenging thing when you see how good something can be, and you know the people that can execute it, and then trying to link up with a partner that will let you actually execute the show that we all envision. The great thing is, we all saw the same thing in terms of tone.
It's very autobiographical. They're dipping into their own lives, and histories, and everything. To really get somebody to let us play it out that way is really exciting. We've all been doing this a lot time, and we all write. So to get to execute something in the humorous tone it was intended is like a dream.
For the leads, where do you end and your characters start? Where does the comedy version of you kick in?
Dorf: They're heightened versions of ourselves.
McCarthy: Are they? [Laughs]
Rachel Ramras: They're slightly heightened. What's a fun thing to do is, like, Hugh and I can describe everything that's funny about Larry as a source of comedy, and I bet Larry could do it about Hugh, and they could do it about me. You can sort of take your ego out of it and just mine yourself for as much comedy.
Davidson: I didn't know at all what was funny about me. I still kind of don't when I watch it.
McCarthy: That's why you're great.
Davidson: It looks like every day of our lives.
Falcone: What's funny about you is that you're an 85-year-old Texan in a 43-year-old body.
McCarthy: And you have been since you were in your twenties.
Davidson: It is weird. The whole thing's weird. To answer your question, it's all true.
I think if you live in L.A. long enough, you do have that experience where someone you know gets a rocket ride into some kind of success. To see it happen to your friends, what was that like for you? Did you sort of say, "Oh, maybe we can work together one day if the timing is right"?
Dorf: We've all worked together so much, from Groundlings. Ben and I have had a few pilots together, and the three of us have written, I don't know how many episodes of television --
Dorf: But at first, we were writing ...
Falcone: Qualify it!
Dorf: ... an animated show. I oversell and under-do. The part that's true is we were writing on a kids' animated show that no one watched, no one really cared about.
Davidson: I think children did. But no one that we knew.
Dorf: And that was right about the time "Bridesmaids" had come out. It seemed like all of our friends were nominated for an Oscar. We're all from the same place, and it's like, "But we're all the same. We're all from the Groundlings. We're the same as them!" So that was sort of the germ of the whole thing.
Ramras: I have to say, because I've been a TV fan, and a fan of things for so long. So I remember when Melissa got on "Gilmore Girls," my mom came to visit, and we got to go to the set. I have a picture of me and my mom in Rory's bedroom and it just felt like the neatest thing in the world. Then Kristen Wiig got on "Saturday Night Live," and I love Hugh Laurie. He hosted, and she sent me a picture of him from "Saturday Night Live." So I think I was also just a fan of my friends.
McCarthy: Rachel, you sort of are still a fan.
Ramras: Oh yeah. "That's Melissa McCarthy, right there!"
Davidson: We've known all these people for 20 years, whatever it is. And Rachel, every once in a while, she's starstruck by Melissa. And I'm like, "Jesus Christ, we've known her for 100 years. What are you talking about?" I can see Rachel, like, somewhere in her mind --
Ramras: "Our friends are so talented."
Dorf: That was a big thing. Melissa, she is in an episode. Watching Melissa, acting with Melissa, because we've known Melissa for so long, it was a moment of like, "Oh my God. This is Melissa McCarthy!"
Dorf: But it's a thinking of like, "Well, this is why she is a movie star."
Ramras: While we were shooting that scene, Larry was just checking his phone.
Any of that's better than, "You've changed, man ..."
McCarthy: I'm waiting. One of these days I'm going to change.
Dorf: I'm going to be the first one to change.
Falcone: I was just going to say that.
Ramras: I can feel him morphing right now on this couch.
You have "friends" in Hollywood, and you have real friendships. So what's kept this group together? What specifically do you think has kept you bonded at everybody's various stages of success?
Davidson: Political viewpoints.
Dorf: We vote as a block.
Davidson: I think because we were at Groundlings together. Groundlings is like the forge. You're there, and you're there on a Wednesday night, late, for no money, because there's no money in it, unless you're having to teach. You're just all there, and you're bringing your own costumes in, and you borrow wigs from each other. So it's like we were all in a car wreck together a number of years ago. We survived that. Yeah, we were in some kind of traumatic situation.
Falcone: We've seen each other at our best and at our worst. I bombed ...
Ramras: Many times.
Falcone: I haven't bombed with Michael yet, but I bombed for Michael.
McCarthy: Michael was our director, and one of the first things he said is, "Get off the stage!" Something so foul, I can't say. And he goes, "Why do you want people to hate you?" And I said, "It's such a funny idea. He goes, "It's not. Go sit down." I thought it was a really original "office scene" -- which I've since seen every new student write the exact same scene that I thought I was being very original -- and he just told me to sit my unoriginal self down. That became our love affair.
McDonald: That was a very nice cleanup of what I really said.
Falcone: But if you bond together, as comedians, it's different than standup, where your friends watch you bomb. I had bombed with all these people, on stage, sweaty, very weird, you start to feel cold, but then you start to sweat. When you've done that, and then of course, we've had our share of successes as well.
McCarthy: It's the bombing. I think you're right. Bombing together.
Falcone: Also, it's unlike standup -- that's competitive. That's always competitive.
McDonald: I will say this: They're also all very talented and very funny.
McCarthy: Oh, Michael. Don't make it weird.
McDonald: When you know somebody's funny, that breeds respect.
Dorf: And if you had to rank us ... ?
McDonald: You're not going to come out well in this.
McCarthy: And your work ethic. I think there's something ... That's always back to Groundlings, but to me, I barely attended the year and a quarter I was technically paying for college. But Groundlings, I felt like you get in there, and you had to work really hard to get in there. You had to work your butt off just to keep your head above water with this type of caliber of people.
You knew everybody there was working really hard, and had everybody else's back. There's a camaraderie there that I had ever had before. It's like summer camp that lasted 18 years. It's like after that, you are really, truly, bonded for life.
For all of you, have you ever had an experience where you've name-checked a famous friend for career reasons, and maybe you regretted it, maybe you didn't, but you felt weird after you did it?
Ramras: We probably have.
Davidson: I think we've been tempted.
Ramras: Maybe we were tempted.
Davidson: I doubt we did it.
Falcone: I bet you schemed it and wanted to do it, and talked it through, and chickened out.
Davidson: If there's three people, then at least ...
Dorf: There's a conscience?
Davidson: Right. Someone out of the three is holding the conscience, and then that person is saying, "I think we shouldn't ... "
Dorf: And that's usually Hugh, in our triad.
McCarthy: I feel like, years ago, I had [an idea], and I just found it recently, a pile of papers. I came up with some show I did that I was going to pitch. By the way, I had no one to pitch it to because no one would see me, and I didn't have any way to get into an office. But I realized, it all kind of was in the balance based on Noah Wyle, who I did not know in any capacity. He told a story on, like, "The Tonight Show" that gave me an idea, and literally, I just found a huge pitch based on a gentleman that I don't know at all. I couldn't get into a room to even talk about the guy I didn't know, but boy, did I type it up, guys!
Davidson: And saved it.
Have you met him since?
McCarthy: No, I haven't. I just found it like two weeks ago.
If this show hits, he'll call and want a meeting.
McCarthy: "Woo, do I have an idea for you, Noah!"
What's the realest thing we see in the show? The realest situation where you're like, "Yeah, that actually is pretty much how it happened."
McDonald: Probably Larry being cheap.
Falcone: He's changing though.
Dorf: I am changing.
Falcone: He made strides. Melissa forcibly took the tip calculator out of his wallet. She cleans out his wallet.
McCarthy: I cleaned out Larry's wallet, because it literally was about six inches thick.
Dorf: It was a card, like credit card size, and it said, "tip computer" on it. And it told you how much to tip.
McCarthy: And I took it -- and then you took it back out of the garbage, didn't you?
Dorf: I had it for many years, yeah, but now I don't have it. I don't have it anymore.
McCarthy: I think there's a tremendous amount that is ripped right from real life. A tremendous amount. You just feel something when you're watching the show that you're like, there's a quality to it. First of all, I think the dynamic between these three, they have really been writing partners, and we've all been friends for so long. But so much of it dips into reality, and it's like, how much do you amp it or not? But there's a lot based in truth, and I think that's where they get the quality.
Falcone: They all love each other. They love each other in real life, and two of them love each other super special style.
McCarthy: Two of them are married.
Falcone: But I think that comes through in the episodes, that kind of chemistry. Mike can speak more to that, because he deals with the dynamic, and that's what they explored when they were all kind of writing it and coming up with the stories together. That to me is the main thing that's real.
McDonald: It's also, I think, some of the funnest stuff is ... Melissa and Ben are very prominent characters in the show, and they're very, very funny, and shiny bright objects, along with Kristen Wiig, and many, many other fun guest stars. But one of the things that I like just being is an observer, I've seen the show really all the way through, in my mind -- I've watched it unfold on camera, and one of my favorite things is seeing their real, true relationship get mined for what it is, which is a really messed-up, loving triad.
When the show succeeds, which one of these three people will be destroyed by its success?
McDonald: I think Larry. It's just the closest to the quick.
Tell me now that you got to have this experience, and hopefully will have it for seasons to come, what was the greatest thing looking back and making the show, about being able to work together as friends at this stage in your lives?
McCarthy: Oh my God, getting to do it together!
McDonald: We were just walking arm in arm away from a photoshoot. These three were behind us, and Hugh's here. We were just going, "Can you believe it? Can you believe it?" That's the thing I keep thinking of.
McCarthy: It's a surreal feeling. Even the times I was shooting, or the times I was just there watching, it's like, this is what we did anyway. So to get to do it, and get to have the support, and to get to do it on such a great level, it still makes my head spin.
"Nobodies" premieres tonight (March 29) on TV Land.