How John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, and Tim Heidecker Created the Perfect 2020 Distraction Comedy
John C. Reilly, Fred Armisen, and Tim Heidecker join “The Last Laugh” podcast to talk about their hilarious new Showtime series. Plus, watch an exclusive clip from Episode Two.
John C. Reilly and Tim Heidecker are sitting in a garage in Glendale on Zoom when a gray-bearded Fred Armisen pops up on screen from his hotel room in Vancouver where he’s currently under strict quarantine.
“How are you holding up, Fred?” Heidecker asks. When Armisen explains that he literally can’t leave his hotel for two weeks before shooting starts on a new musical comedy project for Apple TV+, Reilly asks, “Is that how the beard grew?”
“Yeah, that’s how my beard grew! I forgot to bring a razor,” Armisen deadpans.
The three comedians, who are on The Last Laugh podcast to talk about their excellent new Showtime series Moonbase 8, instantly fall back into a familiar and hilarious rhythm, riffing extended bits about auditioning for Saturday Night Live as a baby and performing for audience members who don’t always understand why something is funny.
The new show is a space comedy set very much on the ground in the Arizona desert, lending it a kind of low stakes casualness that makes it the perfect comedic distraction for America’s high stakes, anxiety-fueled moment.
In this exclusive clip from episode two of Moonbase 8, which will air next Sunday on Showtime, the aspiring astronauts are awakened in the middle of the night by some unexplained noises and Reilly’s Robert “Cap” Caputo must put on his space suit and investigate.
At first glance, each man seems to exist in his own separate comedic universe—Reilly mostly known for his broad Adam McKay-directed team-ups with Will Ferrell, Armisen for quirky sketches on SNL and Portlandia, and Heidecker for the outrageous anti-comedy of Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!
Moonbase 8 is the first time all three are together on screen, but they have each collaborated in various ways, most notably in the Adult Swim series Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule, which first spun off from Tim and Eric 10 years ago.
Reilly maintains he is only an executive producer—and not the titular star—of that cult favorite show, teasing that the beloved character could return after a more than three-year absence. “We’ve been trying to get in touch with him,” he says. “It’s very hard. You have to send a fax to Denny, his best friend.”
“Then he scans the fax and puts it on a CD-R,” Heidecker adds. “But there is a thing simmering at the moment. There’s always an open seat at the table for the doctor to offer more entertainment and information.”
Before that can happen, however, Reilly is set to play Jerry Buss in an Adam McKay-directed series for HBO about the L.A. Lakers tentatively titled Showtime. “I know we caused some huge beef between the two companies,” he jokes. “I think they’re trying to work it out, but that is what the Lakers were called, Showtime.”
“It’s one of the best characters I’ve ever played,” he adds. “An incredible American success story. Incredible.”
Below is an excerpt from our conversation and you can listen to the whole thing right now by subscribing to The Last Laugh on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.
Moonbase 8 is a really great escape from the news and the world, which is interesting given that it premieres just a few days after Election Day. So I was wondering if that was part of the hope, that it’s going to be a respite for people who are going to be even more consumed than we are at this moment?
John C. Reilly: Well, depending on who you want to win the election, it’s either going to be a great way to celebrate the new era that you’re in or it’s going to be a way to have a little humor in your life when you're horribly depressed.
Tim Heidecker: The original date was going to be the week before the election and I threw up a red flag. I was like, nobody is going to be thinking about anything else that week. And maybe it’s not the best time to launch a new comedy show the week before the election. So yeah, I mean we hope it can be like at least a little distraction even after the election. I feel like it's going to be a very stressful period of time for a while. So we hope, because the show isn’t super connected to current events and it’s funny, that it’ll be some kind of relief, a release, a tonic.
Well I have to tell you guys when I saw the announcement for this show come out, I was like, this seems too good to be true. The three of you working together and the premise— it really does deliver, it's just so funny. So how did this happen? How did the three of you end up working together on the show?
Reilly: Well, we knew each other. Tim and I worked together a bunch. Fred and I have worked together a bunch. And then Tim and Fred did an episode of Portlandia together. And while Tim was up there in Portland, he wrote me, like, ‘Fred is so fun! The three of us should do something together.’ I mean that text chain is still going on to this day. We still goof around every day on that text chain. So that text chain was the development process for the writing of the show. We started exchanging images of these simulated space programs. Once we decided on the actual scenario that we wanted to try to do for the show, then we just started sharing it, sharing ideas, making each other laugh, coming up with jokes, coming up with character ideas and it built like that. And then we got [director] Jonathan Krisel involved and that brought us to an even more fleshed out place.
Fred Armisen: I think we just really wanted to work together. It’s almost like we were waiting to work together. We wanted some kind of official excuse to make something.
Heidecker: And we wanted to work together in the right way where we could basically go off in our little corner and do exactly what we wanted to do, do it our way. And that was what we ended up being able to do.
Where did the concept come from to set it all on this simulated moonbase?
Reilly: Each of us have these different moments of inspiration where we were like, yes, this and we all kept adding to the soup. But I did have in the back of my mind for years, this idea of doing—I actually wanted to do a horror film set on an Antarctic base, based on this new National Geographic story that I read about these bases and how weird it gets when they spend all these days in darkness together. And they kind of obliquely referenced it in the article, like interesting relationships develop in the 80 days of darkness. And you see a picture of them like unloading cases of beer. And I was like, that would be a really interesting thing. So that was one of the few things I had in the back of my mind. I threw it to these guys and it became, with their additions, this simulated space mission.
Heidecker: I think there’s also like a slapstick classic comedy connection. You know, the Three Stooges go to the moon. It felt sort of classic to us and just sort of really easy to understand those motivations and playing with the idea of space and what the classic idea of what being an astronaut was all about in our minds and playing with that.
There’s also something really resonant about it in this weird quarantine time when everyone’s inside and cooped up with people. That’s sort of replicated in the show, I guess inadvertently because this was in the works before, right?
Reilly: It was before the pandemic, that’s for sure. Also when we made the show, you know, all anyone was talking about was going to Mars. That was like what all the sexy people were into. So we deliberately picked the moon because it seemed like kind of low stakes and kind of mundane in a way. And then that’s another thing that our current situation caught up to, because now there are four countries trying to do lunar missions again. So it’s funny how reality caught up with this nonsense that we made.
And then on top of that you also have a quarantine episode where there’s a sickness going around the base.
Armisen: I don’t even know how it came up. It was just something that fell into the story and it worked. We had no idea that it would resonate in that way.
Reilly: Yeah, that kind of idea just pops up. When you say like, well, these three people are trapped together in this place. They share the air, they share everything. And then one of the first things you think about is, well, what if somebody gets sick? Then they’re all sick. So it was kind of a natural thing to think about, but you’re right, it resonates in this crazy way now.
So you mentioned that you guys have all worked together in various ways in the past. John, I’m really curious about your career trajectory from doing maybe more drama at the beginning and getting more and more into comedy. I know you’ve talked about how you don’t really approach them any differently, but when’s the first time that you feel like you were given the opportunity to be really funny on screen?
Reilly: This is an angle that really drives Paul Thomas Anderson crazy, because he’s like, did anyone see Boogie Nights?
You are very funny in that.
Reilly: There is a lot of comedy in that. It’s all based in reality. He’s an idiotic kind of character in that movie. But yeah, that’s why I say I don’t really see them as different, because I feel like I’ve been doing this same kind of work all along. The projects change and if the circumstances are absurd, then you’re in a comedy. If they’re more serious, you’re in a drama, but in terms of what I do, it is pretty much the same. Although of course, Talladega Nights was when it really—that one was just pure comedy and that introduced me to that kind of exaggerated, over the top, pratfall kind of comedy. That's when people were like, Whoa! And a much larger audience appreciated my work as a comedian.
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian and ‘Arrested Development’ star David Cross.