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How I Think You Should Leave flopped its coffins and created “Detective Crashmore”’s “cosmic gumbo”

Zachary Johnson and Jeffrey Max went from making small horse penises to directing “Spectrum” and “Detective Crashmore”

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Still from “Spectrum”; Biff Wiff in “Detective Crashmore”
Still from “Spectrum”; Biff Wiff in “Detective Crashmore”
Image: Screenshot/Netflix

“They’re saying Coffin Flop is not a show,” Tim Robinson pointedly says in “Spectrum,” one of the sketches from season two of I Think You Should Leave. Well, “they’re” right. Coffin Flop is definitely not a real TV show, as much as everyone wishes it was. Who wouldn’t want to see a program about dead bodies, a lot of them naked, simply drop out of the coffin in the middle of the funeral? “Spectrum” quickly gained traction for its bizarre concept, hilarious execution, and meme-worthy capabilities, making it a perfect fit for the series.

ITYSL is co-created by Robinson and Zach Kanin, and the producers include sketch comedy group The Lonely Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone). The sketch series premiered in 2019 and developed a cult following with only six episodes. Robinson leads most of the sketches, usually playing a loud and verifiably annoying man obsessed with lying to maintain his social status, whether it’s at an office or at a party. Season two, which premiered on July 6, consists of six more episodes that deliver on this premise. A few of the sketches, however, are outside the realm of Robinson’s heightened personas. “Spectrum” and “Detective Crashmore,” the latter a parody of an action movie trailer starring Biff Wiff, are two of the most talked-about.


Director duo and longtime friends Zachary Johnson and Jeffrey Max teamed up to helm both the skits after working on VFX for ITYSL season one. The A.V. Club spoke to Johnson and Max about coming aboard as directors this time around, how they helmed two of the most physically demanding sketches, and the gratifying response to them.

The A.V. Club: You came on board after both sketches they were written. What was it like to bring them to life from page to screen? Were you able to include any of your input?


Zachary Johnson: We storyboarded a ton. For “Detective Crashmore,” there was a lot more we filmed than made it to screen. Stuff got cut as it does in all sketches. They tend to overshoot everything. When I read the script and then see the final edit, there’s always funny lines that don’t make it because sketches end on disorienting moments. It’s usually unexpected to see what becomes of it when you discover it in the edit room. For the coffins for “Spectrum,” it was just, “How many can coffins can we get in?” There was much more planning, like with the path at the cemetery, who is going where. It was our goal to drop as many coffins as we can on the day of the shoot, we wanted to just maximize those numbers. We had so many cameras running. The sheer number of coffins we had, it was difficult to set them all up and drop them all.

Jeffrey Max: These two particular sketches had a lot of logistical challenges. I do think that’s where our strengths lie; just managing to be creative while figuring out technical details. A lot of “Spectrum” was figuring out the best order of operations and maximize it on shoot day, as Zach said. We brought in lots of additional cameras. We knew for a lot of the coffin flops, if we could get another angle on it and it could look different enough, then we could double, triple, quadruple the amount of footage we had. We got additional crew members as well to help out. It was a lot of piecing it together.

AVC: So how many coffins did you end up filming with?

ZJ: There were four coffins and each had four to five false bottoms. I think we ended up dropping, I want to say 14 or 15 total, but triple or quadruple that amount when you cover it in different ways. The supercut of the coffin drops was between 36 to 40 drops, but a lot of those camera angles looked super redundant in the end. Also, every time you do the drop, you have to shoot backups, so it was a lot of resets.

AVC: Both the sketches are heavy with physical comedy, but “Detective Crashmore” has a lot more action. Were you trying to emulate any specific action movie trailers? What were your inspirations?


ZJ: I think the trailer we structured it around the most was the 2018 Bruce Willis’ film Death Wish trailer. It even follows the same trajectory of, wife is killed, going after bad guys, there’s a police station scene. Things got shuffled in the edit room, but that was the template for our parody trailer. We looked at Steven Seagal trailers as well. We were interested in the direct-to-video level of contemporary action. The comedy just came from Biff Wiff giving us really clumsy, underwhelming one-liners that are F-word heavy.

AVC: How did you want to make “Spectrum” and “Detective Crashmore” stand out in this season’s myriad funny sketches?


ZJ: We just tried to realize our sketches as well as we could, whether it’s adding as many coffin drops or making the trailer as bombastic as possible. We knew going in we weren’t competing with gunplay in the rest of the season, so we wanted the pyrotechnic pops of the drug and money to stand out amongst the cringe comedy of Tim Robinson. We wanted to amp up that stuff and make it look wide-screen. In terms of getting seated into the season and knowing how it fit with everything else, occasionally we would get a tap on the shoulder from Tim or Zach saying “Oh, you should do it this way or that way.” We didn’t know exactly why then, but when we saw the season, it makes sense. It was good they were always an arm’s length away.

AVC: How does it feel to see both sketches gain viral traction?

JM: I monitor Twitter and it does seem both sketches are being received well on that platform. I don’t think that crossed our minds as much while we were filming it. We just wanted to impress Tim and Zach and were trying to make them laugh and prove our worth on set. It’s a very humbling to learn they have been singled out.


ZJ: In retrospect, we should’ve probably thought about what could be the viral hot dog still with the subtitle at the bottom from season one’s “Brooks Brothers” from our sketches and make sure we nail that. I can’t claim the foresight to know it. As Jeffrey said, we were just trying to show off.

AVC: What were some of your other favorite sketches this season?

ZJ: Oh, I can answer that immediately. “Prank Show” was above everything else for me, and also “Qualstarr Trial.” Those are my favorites by quite a margin.


JM: What’s notable about the show is it’s so dense, every sketch has something very, very funny in it. I’ve watched the season through a couple of times in one sitting now. The two Zach mentioned are some of my favorites too. I think “Grambles Lorelai Lounge,” with Tim’s burger-stealing professor is also a very strong sketch.

AVC: How did you get involved with the show originally?

ZJ: Years and years ago, we were making videos on YouTube and Akiva Schaffer emailed us and asked if we could do some interstitials for when Andy Samberg was hosting the MTV Movie Awards in 2009. We kept up with Akiva and Jorma Taccone over the years. And then last year we did VFX for ITYSL, the small horse penises in “Fentons Stable And Horse Ranch.” This year they reached out to us about directing.


AVC: What was it like to come on board as directors and work with Tim Robinson?

JM: It was flattering they asked us to come back on the show. In just 12 episodes, it’s amassed a loyal and rabid fanbase, so it was exciting to be part of it. The sketches they asked us to do were funny on the page itself when we read them, so it was an honor.


ZJ: Everyone on ITYSL was incredibly welcoming. They picked those sketches for us because they were distinctively voiced. They were also light on Tim, especially “Detective Crashmore.” The other one still has Tim’s talking heads, but you just point the camera at him and he does all the great work. In that sense, our sketches felt a bit like outliers, just how the Mike Diva-directed “Capital Room” felt too. Those were the right sketches for guest directors, so we can bring in our voices.

AVC: How did you start working together as a duo?

JM: We knew each other from high school and kept in touch through college, because not everyone was going to film school back then like we did. I was on the East Coast and Zach on the West Coast, and then he came out to New York City. YouTube was picking up by then and saw that as an opportunity to make strange things for no reason and post them.


ZJ: We were looking for work after film school, as all film school students do, and we were screwing around on YouTube with visual effects and demos before that was done to death. We just lucked out and were early on the market, which is probably why Akiva emailed us and said, “You’re doing cool work, come out and help us.” Now millions of people are doing just that. We were lucky to start it in 2005-2006. It started our career. I’m glad I don’t have to compete with YouTubers now; it’s a different ballgame altogether.

AVC: What did you learn about the craft of directing after working on a show like this one? 


JM: The things we’ve made in our career tend to focus in the short-form realm and commercial work, so it’s about delivering impact in a small amount of time. The show was in our wheelhouse in that sense. Working on it, I recognized the value of performers and Tim is such a strong one. It makes our jobs easier and allowed us to focus on and spend time with the camera department, wardrobe, production design and give those a lot more love to perfect our sketches. You’re not going to obsess over getting Tim’s performance right, that’s for sure.

ZJ: The one thing I took away was to try things that aren’t planned or go off-script. Everything is usually planned with the stunt performers, so I would lose sight of, “Oh, let’s have Biff’s Santa say this or that, it might be funnier.” For Zach, Tim, Alice Mathias, it’s always laughs first. They always ask “Does this make you laugh?” It takes precedence over logical narrative in this case, and it works.