How ‘Baskets’ Was Woven

2016 Winter TCA Tour - Day 12The origins of “Baskets” (FX, 10 p.m.), Zach Galifianakis’ deepy funny new deadpan comedy began as an offshoot of his internet talk show — one so notorious it even snared President Obama as a guest.

“God, I forgot I interviewed him,” Galifianakis said at the TV Critics Association summer press tour, on a panel that included his collaborators, Louis C.K. and director Jonathan Krisel.

“When Louis and I first started talking about” doing a show, Galifianakis said, “it’s that it was going to be behind the scenes of ‘Between Two Ferns.’ That’s what we first talked about. And Krisel, I feel like, was trying to talk me out of that a bit.”

Eventually, Galifianakis says,  “we could never make sense of it. But the character of ‘Between Two Ferns’ was a guy who was kind of rude and bitter, which is funny to me. I think rude and bitterness is funny because it’s not self aware and I laugh at people like that in real life.”

His character, Chip Baskets, is rude and bitter because he went to Paris to learn clowning only to return home to Bakersfield, Calif., to become a rodeo clown.

“So rodeo clown just seemed to make sense to also be bitter,” Galifianakis said when I asked about exploring aspects of a clown (a Juggalo appears too). “And also the fact that he trained in clown theory in Paris. I just like self conflict like that, and I think that it was as simple as that. Rodeo clown popped in my head, and the three of us started talking about what that meant.”

“Yeah,” said Louis C.K. “Once somebody said ‘Parisian-trained rodeo clown,’ it was like: all right, we got it.”

C.K. of course was pummeled with questions whether his own acclaimed FX comedy, “Louie,” currently on extended hiatus, will ever return. (“I just don’t know”).

But he said of “Baskets,” “I think it’s very different and it operates on a different frequency. And I think Zach’s show succeeds in a lot of ways that mine doesn’t.”

For example, he said, “On my show, all I do is just look unhappy and just droll jazz plays while great things happen.”

As for Galifianakis, he says, “he just falls down and it’s stupid. It’s ridiculous, and he’s the most Jerry Lewis-like funny guy. Nobody makes me laugh like him.”

Doing so, “he’s much more generous as a performer than I am. I’m not willing to do any of things that Zach does. So I think in a lot of ways that I’d prefer Zach’s show as far as just the comedy of it.”

C.K. also credits Krisel, “and the DNA of ‘Portlandia,’ which is such a great show. To me it’s passed ‘Louis’ in terms being very innovative and playing with storylines so beautifully. So I think that these two guys came together to turn to just make something completely else.”

For Krisel, who has worked on such innovative comedies as “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!,” “Kroll Show” and “Man Seeking Woman,” “Baskets” is “a dream project, because these are all the best people there are. And when you get to work with the best people, you find that there’s a simplicity to it. They’re really open to, like, the casting Louie Anderson.”

Anderson, surprisingly, plays Chip Baskets’ mother in the series. Another revelation is the super deadpan humor of Galifianakis’ friend Martha Kelly.

But when it comes to things like casting, Krisel says, “ There’s no e mail chains. There’s no, like, ‘Hey, what do you think of about this?’ Or, “Let’s run this by that person…; It’s just like: good ideas — boom, they happen instantly. And my goal was just to work really hard and just go so far.”

But his direction is less conventional comedy than quirky films he studied in school, “where it’s just like you want to make ’70s movies, Robert Altman movies. This to me was like: let’s make a really intense movie about real characters that we love and the jokes cannot feel like they were written jokes. They have to be authentic, and that’s why you have to cast people like Louie and Martha and Zach who can make really funny things not seem, ugh, cringey and hammy.”

 

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