To borrow a line from NBC’s Detroit-based comedy Undateable, “[Detroit’s] a beautiful lady with an ample bosom and I love her.”
That’s a far cry from Detroit’s on-screen portrayal in movies like RoboCop and 8 Mile. But just as the Motor City’s real-life reputation has begun to change, so too has its role in the entertainment world.
Enter Detroiters — a pilot starring Tim Robinson, a Clarkston native and former featured player on SNL, and Sam Richardson, who grew up in Detroit and is best known as Richard Spleet on HBO’s Veep.
The two comedians — who honed their comedic skills at places like Second City Detroit and Planet Ant Theater in Hamtramck — play a pair of local ad men eager to make it in the advertising world. Their fondness for the local improv scene inspired them — along with their production team, which includes executive producer and SNL alum Jason Sudeikis —to create a show based on their hometown.
Detroiters wrapped up filming in Detroit, and at press time, the team was waiting to hear if it got the “green light” from Comedy Central.
Hour Detroit caught up with the two comedians to talk about the show’s development — and some classic local ads.
HD: How did the Detroiters idea get started?
TR: It started when Jason Sudeikis wanted to do a project with us [and] with Joe Kelly and Zach Kanin, who are the other creators. … We just kind of sat in a room until we came up with the idea, and we wanted to do it in Detroit because that’s where we started doing comedy.
HD: How did you land on local ads as the comedic springboard?
TR: We’ve always loved local commercials like ABC Warehouse and Call Sam, and so we thought, let’s do a show about guys who make commercials like that.
SR: I think there’s just such a wealth of bits and jokes that exist in that world. You watch some of these commercials and it’s not a comedy about comedy, it’s people genuinely trying to sell their product. There’s something funnier about somebody being earnest and not having the skills or the tools to do something with a lot of glitter and glitz.
HD: Is there some sort of agreement among creators of local ads that they have to be bad?
TR: Yeah! I don’t know what’s going on.
SR: I think they probably have a pretty good storyboard, and then someone comes in and they’re like, “Let’s take out the solid camera work and just do this thing by hand. We’ll have the guy look at the camera directly so he can see the words, and if he memorizes them, that’s great.” He doesn’t have to have any charisma or anything. Just make sure he says the phone number and location.
HD: What are your current favorite metro Detroit ads?
TR: That Mike Morse one — that’s my new favorite.
SR: I haven’t seen that one.
TR: It has this rock and roll song— I can’t remember the number, but it’s like, [singing] “Mike Morse, go for the win!”
SR: [Laughs] I need to see that.
HD: Commercial jingles always seem to be hit or miss.
TR: I think songwriting is a super-honed skill, and if you just try and write a song for the first time, it’s going to suck. I was just thinking of that one the other day, “Your 31 metro Detroit Ford dealers …”
SR: “Think Ford First!” [Laughs] I feel like there’s just one guy at a piano, cranking them out, like, “I’ve got another hit!”
HD: What was the Detroit improv scene like when you were starting out?
TR: It was already coming into a really good scene [with] Keegan-Michael Key [of Key & Peele] and Margaret Edwartowski, and Nancy Hayden.
SR: It was small, but very strong. The people doing it could hold their own in any other comedy scene. Detroit was maybe 50 or 100 deep, but those 50 to 100 were all pretty amazing people.
HD: What else made you want to set the show here in Detroit?
SR: People from Detroit have this innate, hardcore hometown pride. Anybody who leaves Detroit reps Detroit so hard.
TR: I think because we have that love for [Detroit], we wanted to do Detroit in a way it’s not traditionally done in television or movies. We didn’t want it to be all RoboCop.
SR: Or Low Winter Sun.
TR: [We said] let’s just do a show as a place where people are living, and we don’t have to constantly be commenting on blight and showing the train station every five minutes with an Eminem song.
SR: We wanted to show Detroit as someone from Detroit sees it. … It’s not going to be dolled up to be Disney World, but it’s also not all burnt-out buildings. We know it. It’s our home.