Michael Schur is in transition. With his critically acclaimed sitcom The Good Place about to wrap up its final season at the end of this month and a new show starring The Office alum Ed Helms in the works, he’s in the middle of moving to a brand new office on the sprawling Universal Studios lot.
As he tells me on this week’s episode of The Last Laugh podcast, the previous tenant of his old office was accused sexual predator Brett Ratner, whose mail he continued to receive for years. “I once got an application for a home equity loan and I was like, I could apply for a home equity loan for Brett Ratner and then give all the money to RAINN or something like that,” he says. “But I’ll probably go to jail for fraud, so I shouldn’t do that.”
It was only recently that he found out who occupied that office before Ratner: Bill Cosby. “So needless to say when the opportunity came to move, I jumped at it,” he says.
Schur, who readily acknowledges the role of luck in his own career, is easily one of the most accomplished comedy minds of the past two decades. He landed a job as a writer on Saturday Night Live pretty much right out of college, helping to guide “Weekend Update” through the post-9/11 era. From there, he moved out to Los Angeles to become a writer on The Office—where he also took on the role of Dwight Schrute’s chin-bearded Amish cousin Mose—before creating Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
But nothing else in his career can quite match the ambitious scope of The Good Place, a high-concept, serialized sitcom about the afterlife starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. At the very beginning of the process, he sought the advice of Lost showrunner Damon Lindelof, who knows a thing or two about navigating ambitious series. “When you’re doing a show like this, if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re in trouble,” Lindelof told him, apparently from personal experience.
Because the stakes of The Good Place are so high, it is a much harder show to end than something like Parks and Rec, which is really just about a group of co-workers who become friends. “The themes of this show are very intense,” Schur says. “It’s not like, ‘I wonder whether Leslie Knope becomes the governor.’ It’s after a bigger fish. So I think we got it right, I hope we did. We’ll find out!”
How he’s feeling with ‘The Good Place’ about to end
“Endings are hard, emotionally, but I feel good. We made the decision after the third season to bring the show to a close. And there have been many days since then that I’ve felt sad about that, but I’ve never felt regret. It was the right decision, I’m happy that we did it that way. We were, in a very rare way, able to execute the show from beginning to end exactly the way we wanted to. So any complaints are entirely my fault.”
On the role luck has played in his life
“People drastically underrate the role that luck plays in their lives. Nobody wants to think of himself or herself as lucky. They want to think of themselves as hardworking, smart, capable people who earned what they have. They don’t want to admit that a lot of it was just luck. I was born white, male and not that rich in America, my family was pretty modest. I’m still in the top three-tenths of 1 percent of luck of all humans on Earth. So that’s the infuriating thing that you see so often, predominantly among white men in America, but some white women too—there’s no admission that no matter what they’ve done or accomplished in their lives, the underlying bedrock of their existence is luck and good fortune and they’re not grateful for it. And that blows my mind.”
How the ‘Good Place Committee’ parodies ineffectual liberals
“It’s not a mistake that they’re all dressed like hikers from Oregon. That’s the most overtly political that we’ve gotten and it’s just a straight-up frustration over what I see from Democrats in Congress and other local governments where it’s like, ‘We’re not just going to be reasonable, we’re going to overcompensate and just concede a bunch of stuff.’ That’s not being reasonable. Conceding all the things that you care about and that you want fight for unilaterally is not being reasonable, it’s being stupid. It’s betraying your own value system and it drives me nuts. There’s this weird impulse that progressives have sometimes of ‘let’s be not just reasonable but overly solicitous of the other side. And even when they’re very obviously acting in bad faith, let’s go along with it because that puts us on some sort of moral high ground.’ And it doesn’t work that way. It’s a one-way street. So the Good Place Committee is just my personal frustration with that aspect of progressivism.”
Could there by a reboot of ‘The Office’ on NBC’s Peacock streaming service?
“I don’t think anyone would ever do that without [creator] Greg Daniels’ at least blessing, if not outright participation. Unless he was just like, yeah, go do whatever you want. I mean Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant had a really wonderful attitude. Because as I’m sure you remember, the announcement that there was going to be an American version of this was met with a loud thud from the critical community. But Ricky and Stephen had this lovely attitude that was like, ‘Yeah, go nuts. We made our thing, there’s DVDs of it on our shelves, we can watch them whenever we want. This won’t retroactively hurt our version.’ So I suppose Greg and Steve [Carell] and everyone else involved could potentially have that attitude and just say, ‘Go crazy.’ But it’s hard to imagine. I mean, Greg put so much thought and care into that show. The reason it turned out not to be a terrible idea was Greg Daniels. It’s way harder than it seems to do that premise well. So it would take a heroic effort. If it’s not him, it would take an incredibly thoughtful and careful person to execute it properly. But I don’t know, we’ll see.”
Next week on The Last Laugh podcast: Stand-up comedian Fortune Feimster, whose new Netflix special Sweet & Salty premieres Tuesday, Jan. 21.