When Comedy Central announced a 10-episode order of Workaholics in March 2010, the biggest name on the press release, relatively speaking, was Kevin Etten, a writer and producer for Scrubs, Ed, and Desperate Housewives. Series creators, writers, and leads Blake Anderson, Adam DeVine, and Anders Holm—along with director Kyle Newacheck—were unknowns, having built a modest fan base in the crowded world of web video as Mail Order Comedy. In the show, Anderson, Devine, and Holm star as Blake, Adam, and Anders/“Ders,” three friends who live together and work at a telemarketing firm. (Newacheck has a recurring role as Karl, the trio’s pot dealer.) Television history is littered with workplace sitcoms, but Workaholics is more about the extended adolescence of post-college life, where an unchallenging first job and the proximity of close friends ease the transition into the real world. That’s a cerebral way to describe a show that loves dick jokes and gave the world the catchphrase “tight butthole” (meaning good/cool), but Anderson, DeVine, and Holm aim to mix some smarts with the silliness. Just before the 20-episode third season—which debuts Tuesday, May 29, at 10:30 EDT—Anderson, DeVine, and Holm talked to The A.V. Club about the long wait to the first season, the double-sized third season, and the “tight butthole” curse.
The A.V. Club: Did the network have the idea of setting the series in an office, based on the video series you’d been doing?
Adam DeVine: No, we were doing a web series, and we’d never really shot in an office, so the people we were doing the web series with had office space for us to shoot in. And we were like, “Why don’t we just put on ties and pretend like we have real jobs for a minute?” Comedy Central liked that because [sarcastic tone] I guess it’s relatable with people out of college wearing ties?
Blake Anderson: Yeah, men at work.
AVC: So how did you end up settling on the concept for the show after that?
Anders Holm: We had a couple of ideas for a show after we got brought in. One of them was rapping wizards, which you may or may not be familiar with now—it’s kind of been on the show, and we had an album on iTunes that anyone can buy for $9.99.
AD: Purple Magic.
AH: They kept trying to tell us to shut the fuck up about the rapping wizards and just pitch this relatable office comedy.
AD: One of the last pitches we went in on, Seth Cohen—one of the executives, along with Walter Newman, that kind of spearheaded us through the whole process—took us aside and said not to pitch that fucking wizard show in front of the president.
AVC: What about the wizard show did you love so much?
AD: We just thought it was weird and different, and nothing like that was on TV, and we were in that mode because we had just finished recording the record and shooting some of the videos, so we were in a real magical realm. Unfortunately, they had just got done doing Kröd Mändoon, so I think they were done with fantasy for a minute.
AVC: With all the workplace shows around, how did you want to differentiate what Workaholics was going to be?
AH: I think the main thing was… especially with, like The Office, it’s called The Office, and it takes place in an office. Everyone there kind of hates their jobs. We don’t love our job, but it’s also kind of a place where we can hang out with each other and break the rules and have fun—like, we don’t dread it. It’s not like we clock in, and then we just zone out. You’re hanging out with your friends and you kind of have some responsibility here and there, but that’s not… It’s more fun and relatable to me to watch people make a good time out of what they’ve got.
AVC: It’s almost a good transition from post-college into the “real world.” You’re spending time with friends and it’s not too strenuous.
AD: Yeah, exactly.
AH: Yeah, you get beer money.
AD: Yeah, we’re kind of making enough money that we can go buy drugs and booze and have the best time of our lives post-work.
AVC: Was there anything you definitely didn’t want to do on the show?
AH: I didn’t want to reference Star Wars. Whenever I watch a show and twentysomethings have a lot of Star Wars references, I know it’s written by a 40-year-old dude. Like, a shitload of kids at his house. I don’t know, it seems fake.
BA: It’s Avatar, biatch!
AD: Yep, Avatar all day.
AH: We’re Avatar, it’s going to be a lot of Avatar-heavy references. No, we have a lot of Lord Of The Rings references. I don’t know, it just seems like Star Wars always seems dated when I see, like, twentysomethings talking about it like it was the best thing that ever happened to them.
AD: We didn’t really want it to be an office show. We wanted it to be about these three guys who live together and work together, and they just happen to work together in the same office and everything. We didn’t want it to be, like, every story has to revolve around the office. You know, it’s about these guys fresh out of college and in their life and the adventures they go on.
AH: Like Curb Your Enthusiasm isn’t about showbiz; it’s about Larry David and Jeff Garlin. It’s about the relationship between those two guys and the trouble they get into, and they just happen to work in Hollywood.
AVC: You shoot the office scenes in the same building where you write, and a couple of you lived in the house where you ended up shooting. How much of that was cost-consciousness vs. convenience?
AD: Blake, Kyle, and myself lived in the house together, and Ders has a girl that loves him. [Laughs.] We actually scouted a bunch of houses, thinking we were going to find something we loved, but we just at the end of the day thought our house was the perfect fit, and we were used to it, and you know, could really write toward it. There’s a hundred different places to shoot within the house, and we really knew it. Also, they were going to pay our rent, and knowing Comedy Central’s track record of canceling something after a year or two, we were a little worried, like “This is going to be our shot—let’s do the best we can. If we only get a season out of it, at least they paid our rent for a year.”
AVC: How much of a learning curve was there? You were coming from a web-video background to doing a TV show—that’s a pretty big step.
AH: Yeah, we had like a crew of three people when we were shooting our web videos. It was Kyle, our director; Grant [Smith], our camera guy; and another friend who, like, painted something. And Grant’s our director of photography now, and Kyle directs most of our episodes. We hired a showrunner, Kevin Etten, who’s been quite valuable, then we have Scott Sites, our production manager, who does all the business end of stuff, like budgeting, and helps us organize hiring and stuff like that. So they helped a lot as far as being in over our heads.
AD: It was cool, Kevin has written on a bunch of our shows, and he knows how to write television. But he didn’t get in our way as far as us wanting to bring our weird energy. Like what we did on the Internet, we wanted to bring to TV, and he really helped us find our voice on TV. And Ders has written a bunch of specs and stuff as well, so he kind of knew what he was doing. I know I had to read some books for season one on how to write for TV, and finding that format, as opposed to writing just a 30-second to five-minute-long sketch.
AVC: It seems like it’s a pretty significant change in mindset to go from short bursts to a TV episode, but then again, the segments on each episode are four or five minutes a pop. Did that help at all?
AD: Yeah, it helps us as well coming from a sketch background, especially like an Internet sketch background, where things have to move so quick, and everything has to be kind of poppy and funny. It really helps our scenes, our standalone scenes, move quickly, and have a funny punch to them at the end, because we’re so used to writing that way, because of the Internet.
AVC: You spent about three months shooting the first season. How long after it wrapped did it finally debut?
AH: So long. I don’t even fucking know, to be honest.
AD: Yeah. Because we got done in like, June, and it didn’t come on until February.
AH: Yeah, it was like eight months or something.
AD: Or no, it didn’t come on until like April. That’s right.
AH: People thought we didn’t have a show, and we were lying to them.
AD: I had a lot of especially stand-up friends who would call me a liar.
AVC: What kind of expectations did you have for season one?
AD: I’m very confused as to the numbers. Like, we get a 1.2 or a .8, and I have no idea what the hell any of that shit means. But I just wanted to make a season of television that we were really happy with, and hopefully it would catch on. I’m really, really proud of what we’ve done so far, so I’m really happy with what we’ve done.
AH: Like Adam said earlier, Comedy Central, for better or for worse, has a track record of—you know, as any network does—cutting off a show rather quickly if it’s not doing the numbers. The worst-case scenario, we just wanted to have 10 episodes of television produced that we were really proud of and that we could all look out and go, “That’s exactly what we set out to do, and we did it.”
AD: Not that we were thinking we were going to get canceled or anything, but we were all thinking if this doesn’t work out, if we do one season and it becomes kind of a cult thing, that if you saw it, you liked it, and it was exactly what we wanted to do, it could become our calling card as well. So we wanted to throw everything we had into it, and I still feel that way.
AH: Mitch Hurwitz has just been down and out since Arrested Development, so we gave him a shot on our show. [Laughs.]
AD: It was really great having Mitch on set. I think it’s safe to say the guy is a genius. I don’t like saying that.
AH: I never say that, but I will fully endorse that.
AVC: When was he on set?
AH: He was in an episode, as our drug counselor or whatever?
AVC: Right, right. Cool Eric, of course.
BA: He’s shockingly handsome.
AVC: How did you end up working with him in that episode?
AH: He came to us. His people, or whatever, contacted our casting directors and were like, “Hey, he’s starting to do some acting here and there, and he likes your guys’ show. Is there anything for him?” And we were like, “Fuck yeah! We’ve got this role.” He came in and read for it, because we didn’t want to just hire him based on Arrested Development’s writing and stuff, but we had seen him in Clark And Michael, that web series, the Michael Cera thing. He did a little thing on that that I remember seeing a while back, and it was hilarious. Then we brought him in, he auditioned for us against his agent’s… or whatever. It was just hilarious, and we were like, “Yep. See you Tuesday!” It was a very cool validation thing, in my mind at least.
AD: It’s cool to have people who are smart and talented like the show. Like Mitch Hurwitz.
AVC: Speaking of people liking the show, when did you have an idea that it was catching on?
AH: Well, season one, obviously, none of us were known at the time, so when the show came out, we did pretty low numbers. But every week, we climbed about 150,000 people throughout the entire season, so that was kind of awesome. Shows usually première high, then they’ll slip, and then they’ll kind of hold. That was exciting to see happen.
AD: For me, it was when we went—it was this past summer—we went to Bonnaroo, and it was the first time I had really been outside L.A. since the show’d been out. It came out in April, and then I think Bonnaroo was in June or July. We were at the comedy tent, we performed there, and then we went outside to watch some bands. Kids were running up to us and taking our photo. We had to have the security guard drive us to go see the band we wanted to see, or else we wouldn’t have made it there on time. It was pretty crazy. That was the first time I was like, “Holy shit, people are watching us.”
AVC: What about you, Blake?
BA: Just like when you’d go out to have a nice dinner with a girl, and then a random dude comes up and says, “Tight butthole.” That’s kind of when I’m like, “This is gonna be weird.”
AVC: Yeah, that’s one of those catchphrases that’s awesome/unnerving to have people just randomly saying it.
BA: We definitely created that monster.
AD: Yeah, we did. One of the first times I was ever recognized, I was at a stoplight. I’m like the first car at the intersection at the stoplight, and this guy walks past and points to me and goes [Mock shout.] “Adam!” I’m like, “Uh… what’s up?” Not used to being recognized. And he goes, “You got a tight butthole, man,” as he’s walking across the intersection. Other people are walking, and they don’t know the show, so they’re just thinking that this guy knows I have a tight butthole. It was a very weird experience.
AVC: Maybe they wanted to get in on it. That’s really a compliment.
AD: Yeah. Climb on in, it’s warm in here.
AVC: You touched on this a little bit, about how Comedy Central is known to cancel things after a season, or in some cases ease back on the promotion. Did you have a sense early on that the network was really going to get behind it?
AH: Out of the gate, they seemed pretty happy. I mean, personally, I got a little scared when they kept pushing our date, but everyone was saying it’s a really good thing, because they wanted to pair us with South Park. But out of the gate, everybody over there seemed pretty excited and happy with the final product.
AD: There weren’t a whole lot of notes, season one. Since we were just this little show with no names, they kind of let us do what we do when we do what we do. They let us kind of run free.
AH: The fact that right out of the gate they gave us 10 seemed like a good sign, and then after we finished filming 10, they seemed really happy. Then they weren’t going to pick us up to film, but they picked us up to write season two to keep us occupied while we were waiting to air that first season. That was kind of a good show of faith. And then I started dating Seth Cohen, so I knew we were a shoo-in.
AD: Thanks for that, Ders.
AH: I really took one for the team. More than one, I took a few.
AVC: For season three, you have twice as many episodes. How does that change the process?
AH: It’s going to be a longer haul. It’s actually been pretty similar so far. We run episode seven this week, we’ve got three more to go on these first 10, then we go back to writing, then we go back to film 10. But I guess knowing that we have 10 more, I’ve been less likely to go exhaust myself, like partying or whatever.
BA: I think we always have, even when we were doing the other seasons, you do the 10 episodes, but even while you’re filming, you still have your brain cooking up ideas. So there’s always stories cooking around in your mind all the time. That’s what’s kind of cool about acting and creating it, because while you’re doing a scene, you might see something that works there and be like, “Well, we could almost build an episode around that,” or something. So there’s always ideas floating around.
AD: And it’s cool, since we hang out with each other so much, we’re always talking to each other about the show. It’s not like we go home and never see each other. I’m roommates with Blake, we see Ders all the time, it’s like this is our lives, basically.
AVC: As far as having more time, are you thinking in terms of trying to do any sort of thematic arc?
AH: [Laughs.] If it ain’t broke, don’t make it better. Not really.
AD: No, not really. I mean, we have 20 episodes in the can, we’re going to do 20 more. Our audience really… we want you to be able to miss an episode and then be able to come back and not feel like you had to see the episode before in order for it to make sense.
BA: A lot of our audience is such big stoners that they forget what they saw the week before.
AH: Yeah, it wouldn’t work.
BA: This helps.
AH: We’ve only got 20 episodes under our belt. People are still discovering the show now. So like, maybe next season, we do a little arc. When it feels right, we’ll do it, but it doesn’t feel right yet.
AVC: Comedy Central lets you get away with more as far as what you can say and show—like having Adam naked, buzzed, and tucked. What kind of limits have you encountered with the show?
BA: Not much. Comedy Central lets us cut loose pretty much.
AVC: They originally turned down that scene, right?
AD: They were going to have it blurred and stuff, and our argument was that the joke wouldn’t work, because it would just look like my dick is blurred out, like I’m just showing the guys my dick. They were like, “No, no, it’ll make sense, blah blah.” We just kind of sent it over to them unedited, unblurred, just as a joke, and then they saw it and thought it was funny. Kent Alterman [Comedy Central’s Head Of Original Programming And Production] kind of went to bat for us with Standards & Practices. When we won, I didn’t know how I felt about that.
AH: The wonderful thing about Comedy Central is, it’s obsessed with the male pubic bones. So he just needed to get it out there.
AVC: Have you bumped up against any other stuff?
AH: Yeah, we had one thing. We were going to do an episode about creating a flame-retardant American flag, so during the R&D process of making that product to sell at the company TelAmeriCorp, we had to burn a lot of flags, and they’d just gotten off with South Park doing Muhammad drawings or something. So they were like, “Eh, let’s take it easy on the political stuff.” So we were like, “Fine. Let Adam tuck his dick between his legs, then.”
AD: And we got it.
AH: It’s chess, not checkers.
AVC: You’re also working on a movie, but it’s not in the Workaholics universe, right?
AH: No, it’s the three of us, and we’re friends, but it’s not the same characters, and it’s not Workaholics at all. We’re pulling a Gene Wilder-Richard Pryor and just have 50 projects together.
AVC: Where is it in the process?
AH: We’re in the final rewrites of it right now, and then we’ve got to get out there and sell that mother.
AVC: Have you encountered people having a visceral reaction to Blake’s hair, like “That’s the show with the guy with the dumb hair”?
BA: Yeah, I think people just assume we’re a stoner comedy, where we don’t think about anything. But we actually work really hard on the show, and try to be smart in the dumbest way possible that we can.
AD: We want to be the smartest dumb show on television.
BA: So stop judging people by their looks and fucking get over it. [Laughs.]
AH: Look at it this way. Now that we’re in season three… Season one, I was more pissed that people would judge the show or not watch it based on what they heard, but now I’m kind of like, “Fuck them, we have our audience, and if you don’t want to watch the show, or you don’t like the show, you don’t have to.”
BA: I think it hurt more when people were like, “Oh, this is a stoner comedy, let’s just sweep it under the rug, and it’s just like everything else.” But if you watch it and you don’t like it, that’s cool. I’m all good with that, if you watch it and don’t like it, but just to say, “That dude’s got long hair, it’s just Dude, Where’s My Car? the television series…” Well, kind of.
AD: That’s just a great compliment.
BA: Which is exactly what it is.
AH: It’s just pretty cool to make a TV show and have people watch it. All the rest of it can just fall into place.