If we lived in a just world, Kate Berlant and John Early would be the most famous, successful comedy duo on the planet. So that’s the reality they created for themselves in their new Peacock special, Would It Kill You to Laugh?
In this episode of The Last Laugh podcast, the pair reveal how they got Meredith Vieira to host their emotional reunion after an imagined falling-out, and reflect on their years as “chief collaborators” on their early YouTube videos, which led to their breakthrough performances in Netflix’s The Characters. Later, Early shares how “surprising” it was to dive deep into his character Elliott over five seasons of Search Party, Berlant explains why she had to reel in her comedic instincts on the set of Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and so much more.
Would It Kill You to Laugh?, which premieres on Peacock this Friday, June 24, opens with a Truman Show-esque montage of fans tuning in from across the world to see the fictional co-stars of the hit sitcom He’s Gay, She’s Half-Jewish together again at last.
“In a world divided more and more every day, there’s one thing we can all agree on,” the very real Vieira tells viewers. “Kate Berlant and John Early are funny.” She goes on to call them “arguably the most iconic and influential comedy duo in the history of entertainment.”
Early explains that they had a short list of ideal hosts for their special-within-a-special, but Vieira was “top-tier.” They were “stunned” when she said yes because it was always “the dream to have someone as iconic” as the former moderator of The View in the role.
“She just elevates the entire thing,” Berlant adds, noting that their scenes with Vieira were the very first thing they shot for the special. “And just hearing her say the words ‘He’s Gay, She’s Half-Jewish,’ we were dying and couldn’t believe it. We are eternally grateful to her.”
The scene in which the three of them tour the original set of their fake sitcom inadvertently evokes the recent Friends reunion, where the cast got visibly emotional as they reunited on their former soundstage for the first time in decades. Early and Berlant make sure to point out that they wrote their version before that special aired on HBO Max, but can’t help but see the “surreal” parallels.
Berlant says they loved the idea of imagining themselves as “two people who had this show that was so persistent in the culture,” adding that “people all over the world enjoying us is a bloated fantasy that John and I would dream of, that we could tap into some kind of universality that maybe now feels completely impossible to imagine.
“We feel like these big hams who hopefully would be able to make anyone laugh,” she continues. “But of course we did comedy in New York off the L train and now live in Silver Lake, so you can’t help but feel like maybe you’re in this very hermetically sealed environment, which at times feels devastating to us.”
“People do describe our stuff as rarefied or niche or weird,” Early adds warily.
“Which we’ve never understood!” Berlant half-jokes in response.
“And we certainly can, with some perspective, be like, ‘Oh, I see how that’s weird.’ But we would love to tap into something universal,” Early adds, before delivering the punchline: “And for the nation to laugh once again.”
The two friends, who started making perfectly observed and awkwardly hysterical videos together about a decade ago, are quick to launch into improvised bits in response to questions, before ultimately breaking character to share the more straightforward reality.
For instance, when I ask how they first met, Early deadpans, “Kate appeared in a basket on my front steps and I picked her up and said, ‘That’s my girl.’”
“And I was so hungry,” Berlant yes-ands without missing a beat. “I was bottle-fed for a month!”
At another point, Early tells me with a straight face that he and Berlant were brought in to be the “comic relief” in James Cameron’s Avatar but didn’t make the final cut. He has me going for a minute before I realize this is yet another bit—or perhaps another outsized fantasy about an embrace from the mainstream.
They actually met when they ended up on the same bill at a small comedy show in New York about a decade ago. Early says he was “absolutely stunned” by Berlant’s stream-of-consciousness approach to stand-up. Once they started talking, he says it was “very, very immediately clear that we were going to be friends and also ‘chief collaborators,’ as Kate likes to say.”
“We were just automatically drawn to each other, and there was this uncanny resemblance, both physically and comedically,” Berlant adds, explaining that they have been told by several people, including her own mother, that they could be siblings.
“Our bone structure is actually quite similar,” Early agrees.
They are hesitant to describe the particulars of their comedic dynamic, but agree it was there from their very first video, an eight-minute opus about a Southern family sitting down for a family dinner.
“If I had to put words to it—which is crass, but if I had to—I think I slipped into just total, hawkeyed desperation and mania,” Early recalls. “And Kate’s doing some sort of play on authoritative speech with panic underneath. And I’m just flailing and screaming in the background.”
They haven’t looked back since.
When I ask if they would like to expand the special into a sketch series—in the same way Tim Robinson’s episode of The Characters essentially became I Think You Should Leave on Netflix—Berlant interrupts the question to say, “Yes please.”
They are also hoping to write and star in another narrative series after Hulu decided not to pick up their first major attempt at a pilot a few years ago out of fear that it was—what else?—too weird.
Early says he would “absolutely love” to return to the type of show where he can settle into one character over many episodes and seasons, joking, “preferably with Kate, but if not, honey I’ll take Brie Larson.”
Listen to the episode now and subscribe to ‘The Last Laugh’ on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Amazon Music, or wherever you get your podcasts, and be the first to hear new episodes when they are released every Tuesday.