Interview: Rob Schrab
The former Milwaukeean is one of the main creative voices behind The Sarah Silverman Program
After years of developing projects that never got made or shown, writer-producer-director (and former Milwaukeean) Rob Schrab has suddenly become another “overnight” Hollywood success story. Monster House, written by Schrab and Milwaukee native Dan Harmon nearly a decade ago, finally got made last year, grossed more than $70 million, and was just nominated for a best animated film Oscar. Another scuttled Schrab project—Heat Vision And Jack, a brilliant Fox TV pilot from 1999 starring Jack Black and Owen Wilson that never aired but developed an online cult following—is headed for the big screen. Schrab also has two TV shows on the way: VH1’s The Department Of Acceptable Media, a sketch comedy show based on Channel 101, an online TV network founded by Schrab and Harmon; and Comedy Central’s The Sarah Silverman Program, a suitably offensive and funny sitcom that premieres Thursday. Schrab even got the chance to write the final installment of his cult comic book Scud: The Disposable Assassin, which he started in Milwaukee in the early ’90s. Schrab recently spoke with Decider about The Sarah Silverman Program, Harmon’s departure from the show during production, and how Milwaukeeans can hit the big time without leaving town.
Decider: The initial run of The Sarah Silverman Program is set for six episodes. Do you plan to do more?
Rob Schrab: We’d like to. I know when Stella came out they did eight episodes and I’m not exactly sure how many of them they showed. But they didn’t show all of them and they cut it because no one was watching—I think it was because of how they were advertised—and they did more episodes than we did. We’re in a good time slot, we’re getting great buzz, and hopefully by episode three we’ll know if we’re going to do more.
D: After your experience with Heat Vision And Jack, did you have any misgivings about doing another TV show?
RS: Not really. I love TV, I really do. In some ways it’s better than movies. This being the first series that I’ve ever done from the ground up, it was great. It just sort of fell in our lap, just like Heat Vision And Jack did. We got a call from Sarah saying, “Hey, I want to meet with you and talk about making a show.” We went in and pitched it, and we weren’t even halfway through the pitch and it seemed they were signing the contracts already.
D: As with Silverman’s stand-up act, The Sarah Silverman Program has plenty of politically incorrect humor. Does potential audience reaction influence you during the creative process?
RS: It starts with Sarah’s character, and this is where you get into complex issues because you start talking about Sarah Silverman the person vs. Sarah Silverman the character. To me, Sarah Silverman the person would never say anything to hurt somebody’s feelings. Even Sarah Silverman the character would never do anything to hurt anybody—she’s just oblivious. She’s like a little kid walking into your parents’ dinner party and saying the word “shit” for the first time. Or a little kid saying, “You’re really fat.” That kid doesn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings; the kid’s just saying the obvious. Nobody wants to hurt anybody’s feelings, but everyone loves to be naughty. With comedy, you like watching somebody go through things and saying, “I’m so glad that’s not me.” Why is America’s Funniest Home Videos still on the air after all these years? Because they’re showing babies fall down the stairs.
D: What caused Dan Harmon’s departure from The Sarah Silverman Program?
RS: It’s a weird situation because I’m not happy about it. When we were offered the show, Dan was the most enthusiastic about it. Dan worked very, very hard to get us the job. We did the pilot together, and Dan worked very hard to convince Sarah that I should direct it. In many respects Dan was the soul of that show. But in this business there are a lot of personalities out there that don’t always work well together. That’s as much as I can say without getting into trouble. It sucks. I’m sure they would both agree that it was big, shitty thing that happened. They didn’t get along, and Sarah is in charge. I was caught in the middle, and at this stage in my career I couldn’t turn down directing the episodes. I would have much rather had it with Harmon sticking around, but luckily it happened after most of the scripts were written. I think that’s how the show turned out good. He’s the best writer in town, I swear to God. And he went off and got the Channel 101 show picked up by VH1. That’s going to be an amazing show.
D: You’re the executive producer of The Department Of Acceptable Media, right?
RS: I’m just a producer and creator in name only. That was the deal. It was a very traumatic experience when Dan left Sarah’s show. We were both very bummed out. I was like, “I’m going to stay with this show and you go ahead make that show your own, and build it up.” And he did, and he did this great pilot, and he got picked up for eight episodes from VH1.
D: Any advice for Milwaukeeans who want to be the next Rob Schrab?
RS: Just do something. That’s the thing about entertainment now—the Internet is going to become a TV network. More than a TV network, it’s going to become a drive-in theater, a multiplex. Make your thing and get it online. You don’t have to necessarily move out here. That’s why Channel 101 was created in the first place. Dan and I just got shit-canned from Heat Vision And Jack. No one would hire us. I wanted to develop something that would force me to shoot and edit once a month because I wanted to get better at it. I wasn’t going to go to film school any time soon, and I just wanted to learn by doing. It was the best experience I ever had. If someone in Milwaukee is reading this and is like, “I’ve got a really good idea, I just wish I could get it to the right people,” shoot it, edit it, mail it to us, we’ll show it. Jack Black comes to every show. Drew Carey comes. Agents come to the Channel 101 live screening looking for talent, looking for ideas. Now that Channel 101 is going to be on the air, it’s going to be like our Groundlings, our Second City. We’re going to be looking to the live show for new talent. That’s really it. Get out there and do it.