The cast of ‘Chicago Party Aunt’ talks about their new animated series on Netflix
The cast shares the inspiration behind the show, and what’s different about performing in an animated series.
The new Netflix series ‘Chicago Party Aunt’ was inspired by a Twitter account. This isn’t the first time a Twitter handle has inspired a series, but in this case the creators of this new Netflix series decided to use animation to tell the stories. The cast includes Jon & Ike Barinholtz, Lauren Ash, Rory O'Malley, Katie Rich, and Chris Witsake (the creator of the original Twitter handle). They recently sat down with Moviefone to talk about the new series.
Ike and Jon Barinholtz talk about the inspiration for the show.
Moviefone: Tell me about the Twitter account, @ChiPartyAunt.
Jon Barinholtz: Okay. “Chicago Party Aunt” was created by Chris Witaske, one of our friends, and he created this character, this very wild, fun persona, who we all know, right? We all have a party aunt, a party uncle, or party neighbor, or cousin in our life. And if you don't, then you are that person to other people. And we, Ike and myself and some other friends, would interact with this person on Twitter, knowing it was Chris, would interact with this character. And very quickly all the pieces came together, where Richie Schwartz and Will Gluck at Olive Bridge, and Ike and Dave at 2334 saw how this could exist as an animated show. And Katie Rich and I came aboard, and we all broke open what this world could be and figured out what the pilot could be, and we got to write it. And here we are, just a short three years later, and we get to put it out to the whole world.
MF: Short three years later! I guess it always takes that long, right? The development for anything. So Ike, this is an adult animated comedy, and I'm wondering, is it harder to do an animated comedy rather than a live action? Because in an animated I'm guessing you probably were by yourself in a recording studio and not on a set with other people to play off of.
Ike Barinholtz: Yeah, it's interesting. In some ways, production-wise animated is a lot easier, in the sense that you know the character pretty well, and you are just in a booth, it's just kind of you and an engineer. So you can kind of knock it out kind of pretty quickly. It's very economical acting, as opposed to doing a big scene with a group where you're all in person, and it takes a lot of time.
On the flip side, there is something about a live action where, as a creator, you're going to see the finished product a lot sooner than you will with an animated project, which can take a long time and lots of different phases, but they're both really fun. You know what I mean? There's nothing like being on set with a great cast and doing good work, but when you get into the zone, when you're in the booth by yourself, and you're just watching this character, you start to making the connection between your face and his face. It really is kind of freeing and very kind of pure in a way, because it's really just you at that moment.
MF: You both also voice characters in this. So Jon, Mikey has just the biggest heart of everybody in this show.
Jon Barinholtz: Literally. Size-wise, it's a large heart, it's a large, it's a very big heart. Yes. Mikey is Diane's lovable, gentle giant with a heart of gold. And I imagine he grew up in a little bit of chaos with Kurt and Diane being his parents, and he's no worse for the wear. He's a sweet, lovable goofball, who's gotten hit in the head at every Chicago sporting event that there is, whether it's a puck or a football or a baseball, maybe a bat, but he's Diane's little baby boy.
MF: I'm really curious about how Mark and Bonnie met.
Jon Barinholtz: That is a great question that we've actually talked about before many times. They're a very kind of normie couple, and we talked, I think, about them. They were both singing the same Dave Matthews song in a bar and turned to each other and saw each other, that that was kind of when. They met at a bar because all of their friends went out to go smoke, and they didn't, they were the only two left. It was just, he was a lot of fun for me to play because normally I play characters who are just completely insane and off the wall and not necessarily tethered to reality. So to play as just a normal suburban dad, who's just kind of a dork, I had a lot of fun with that character.
Chris Witsake talks about creating the original Twitter account, and Katie Rich shares how much she loved the feed.
Moviefone: Chris. This is all because of you. Tell me about this Twitter account. Why did you start that?
Chris Witsake: Well, I'll correct you. It's not all because of me. The inspiration started with me, but now all of these amazing creators have joined in, and it has now become a labor of love for all of us. It takes a village. But I started the Twitter account in 2016 because I was very bored in Los Angeles and I wanted a creative outlet. And I was very homesick from missing Chicago. So it's based on a couple of my actual aunts. And I would tweet as if I were this woman, and then it started with very few followers, but then it grew and grew and grew until now it's going to be streaming all over the world.
MF: Katie, were you aware of this Twitter feed? This Twitter account?
Katie Rich: Very much so. And you know, myself and some of the other folks who are involved in this, we used to interact with Diane. And in a way, it was kind of like, why are we yelling at this woman? But it was sort of an outlet for us too, right? Cause this was a person that we all knew. This is an archetype we all knew. So it was fun to get to interact with her.
MF: You know, it's funny that you say, Chris, that you were homesick for Chicago. 'Cause I was going to talk to you about this, how I really feel like it's a love letter to Chicago.
Witsake: When we sat down, when we first met on the first day, we said, what are our goals? And that was the first thing was we want this to be a love letter to Chicago, to the city that we all love so much, and miss. Katie still lives there, actually, that's how much she loves it. But we wanted it to be really funny, and we wanted it to be a love letter to Chicago. And I think we did a good job of that.
MF: You absolutely did because I've never lived in Chicago, I've only visited, but there were still things in there that I recognize. Like Portillo's, and the Malort and some of the street names mentioned. I was like, how do I, why am I connecting when I've never even lived in Chicago?
Witsake: That is so good to hear because that's what we want. Yeah.
Rich: See, there's more Chicago in the world than you even know.
MF: Absolutely, absolutely. Katie, let's make sure that parents know this is not a cartoon for children.
Rich: This is not Paw Patrol!
MF: No, very much an adult comedy. Is it harder to do a comedic animated comedy role than it is to do live action? Because you don't have a set, and you have nobody to bounce off of, nobody for that comedic timing.
Rich: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn't say it's harder. It's just different. It's a completely different muscle. So everything that you could do with your face and your body and sets and things like that, you're doing with your voice. So it's sort of like, I don't know if you've ever played tennis and then played badminton? And if you play tennis, and then you play badminton, you're like bwam. Like you can't hit it as hard, even though it's the same thing. It's kind of like that when you go into animation, is it's like... Your voice has to be at a completely different level than when you're on camera.
Witsake: The other cool thing, though, is we can do whatever... We can send Diane to the moon if we want with animation.
Rich: Yeah, exactly. And it's not going to cost a million dollars for the set.
Witsake: We're not going to have to deal with Jeff Bezos, right?
MF: No, but maybe he would have let Diane for free, 'cause she is so much fun.
Witsake: She is very, very fun.
Rich: She would like to take a penis into space, I think.
MF: Really quickly, let's talk about your characters because besides being the co-creators of the series, you also voice characters. So who is Zuzana?
Rich: Zuzana is every Polish woman that you have seen who works so hard and never complains and has the weight of the world on her shoulders, but no matter what will always be there for you and will always, I say she will always show up even if she had to take 14 buses to get there. And Chicago has a huge Polish population. So we definitely wanted to honor that part of the city.
MF: And Chris, who's Kurt?
Witsake: Kurt is Diane's on again, off again, on again, off again, husband, ex-husband. And Diane and Kurt, they're probably soulmates, but Kurt just can't put up with her partying lifestyle anymore because he's getting older. And so that's why there's a handful of divorces between the two of them.
MF: It sounds like such a mess, but really you, there's some very nice themes that you've interwoven into the series.
Rich: Yeah. That was really important to us, that it wasn't just, it wasn't crass, or it wasn't just a one dimensional thing. We wanted there to be a lot of heart. We wanted this at the core to be about relationships between friends and family and how they can often get messy. But they, in the end, that's who you fight for and that's who you live for. So that was very, very important to us that it be a show that had a lot of heart to it.
Lauren Ash and Rory O’Malley describe their characters.
Moviefone: This series is so much fun. Rory, were you familiar with the Twitter account before you got this role?
Rory O'Malley: I wasn't familiar with the Twitter account, but as soon as I told all my family in Chicago that I was going to play Chicago Party Aunt's nephew, they lost their minds. They were so excited, more than anything else I have ever been a part of, so I'm really proud to be a part of the Chicago Party Aunt story.
MF: Lauren, you are the Chicago Party Aunt. What is Diane's motto for life?
Lauren Ash: I mean, well her motto on the show is, "When life hands you lemons, make Mike's Hard Lemonade," which I could not agree with more, personally. I think it is a mantra to live by. I think that her way of living is just, you got to have fun while you can, and we're only young once. And I think, for her, youth has a much longer bracket than it does for others, and I think that's awesome. I think that, in life, we get caught up in growing up and being adults and having responsibilities, which of course we need to do, but I think connecting to a youthfulness like Diane does, she pushes it, certainly, but I think that there is something that is really beautiful about that and embracing staying young and having fun for as long as you can.
MF: Although she is all of those things you just said, she just really, though, is a nice person. She has a love for her family and everybody around her and her city.
Ash: Yeah, and I think that that's what's really cool about the character is she's hard partying, she likes a drink, she likes her men, but she has a really great heart, and she really is driven by wanting to do good and wanting people to have the most fun. She wants to spread joy, and I think that those are really positive kind of characteristics. She's loyal to the point that she'd step in front of a bus for her nephew, Daniel. She really is a good, good person with really good intentions. She just sometimes misses the mark in her execution.
MF: True. Rory, where do we find Daniel when this series starts?
O'Malley: Well, Daniel is a sweet, bright, maybe a little nervous, sheltered 18-year-old gay kid who's always done what his parents tell him to do, and he's about to go to Stanford to start his freshman year, but he decides that he's going to take a gap year and really find out who he is and move in with his Aunt Diane into an apartment in Chicago and break out of his shell, and there's no better person than Aunt Diane to break him out of his shell and learn how to do a keg stand and all the important things in life.
MF: Yeah, we don't want to mistake this for a children's animated series.
MF: This is definitely an adult comedy. I'm wondering, Lauren, is it harder to do comedy when it's animated rather than live action? Because, I mean, animated, you're not on a set. You don't have somebody right in front of you to play off of. There's no comedic timing, per se.
Ash: Yeah. I think that it is a challenge in some ways, but I love that challenge. I think it's kind of a different part of your actor brain, if that makes sense. When you can't rely on your facial expression or your body and how it moves, you really have to learn how to convey comedy and jokes and timing and all of those things, only using your voice, which is a really awesome, interesting opportunity as a performer. For me, personally, when I'm in the booth playing Diane, I'm extremely physical. I'm moving around a lot, my face is moving a lot, I sometimes ruin takes, because I'll be so in the moment and talking that I'll hit something and then the sound... I've ruined that go. But I think it's always a really cool kind of challenge, I think is a good word for it, which is not a negative, it's just something different.
And I love it. I've loved getting to find the nuance with her about what the balance of the accent is, where are the times it's going to come out more if she's been drinking, if she's angry, if she's happy, those kinds of things. But then, also finding how to convey all those different emotions just using your voice, it's been really creatively fulfilling.
MF: And for you, Rory, how does Daniel balance his Aunt Diane with his parents, who are very different?
O'Malley: Very, very different. Yeah. They're very straight-laced and strict, and Aunt Diane is definitely not. I think that it's something that makes him such a well-rounded person, that he's always had that influence of both. We need to have some rules, but we also need to have somebody show us how to break the rules, and an aunt is a perfect person to do that, because an aunt doesn't have to tell their niece or nephew, "No." They get to just give them the candy as much as they want. And I think that Aunt Diane is just so joyful and just so fun. And I think that Daniel must've been very attracted to that from the get-go, because he knew there were no rules with her and that she is just so happy to be herself and doesn't care what anyone else thinks about her and kind of becomes Daniel's hero, in that way.
MF: Absolutely. Aunt Diane giving the candy is the best thing, the crux of this whole series.
‘Chicago Party Aunt’ is now streaming on Netflix.