Daemons Media

You are here: Home » Interviews » Exclusive: John Lehr Interview on JAILBAIT

Exclusive: John Lehr Interview on JAILBAIT

0 Comments | 21st Mar 2011 | Leave a Comment

crackle jailbait web series - John Lehr

John Lehr not only played the lovably daffy Greens and Grains manager Leslie Poole on TBS’ fun improv comedy ’10 Items or Less,’ he was also the creator, writer, and executive producer, so he knows a thing or two about making people laugh. He’s now bringing that talent to the new Crackle improv comedy web series JAILBAIT, where he once again serves as creator, executive producer, and writer while also starring as lead character Ozzie.

Ozzie is a sweetly and eternally optimistic new inmate who’s trying to get the hang of this whole prison thing with very mixed results. Incarcerated for accidentally buying drugs during a sting, we see him deal with everything from the inevitable strip search to a less than desirable cellmate. Now, those are problems Leslie Poole could never have even imagined, and you’ll be able to see all Ozzie’s misadventures when all ten episodes of Jailbait premiere on April 1.

Web Series Channel talked to John about what inspired Jailbait and Ozzie, the process of writing improv comedy, and what else he’s working on.

My husband and I were huge fans of ’10 Items or Less.’

John Lehr: Oh, that was a great show. We had three good seasons. I wish that we’d had more.

Congratulations on your new web-series ‘Jailbait.’

John Lehr: Thank you. Have you seen any of it?

I’ve seen the first five episodes and they’re hilarious.

John Lehr: A little different from ’10 Items,’ a little racier.

Definitely racier. Did it start as a web-series?

John Lehr: No. My partner Nancy [Hower] who executive produced and wrote along with me on ’10 Items or Less’, she also directed all the episodes; she and I have been working together for years. ’10 Items’ is probably the thing that we’re most known for, but we’ve had a writing deal at Sony and have done multiple pilots that haven’t gone, sadly, and we have a couple that are in the till right now that look really good, and all are done in that same kind of style like ’10 Items’ which is entirely improvised, shot with handheld. It’s kind of that improv ‘Best in Show’, ‘Spinal Tap’ type feel.

‘Jailbait’ was something that we thought would be kind of a cool series to do somewhere. We didn’t know where because we knew that we wanted to really go for it and have a lot of fun. When we were developing it, we were coming off of ’10 Items,’ so we were really looking for something where we weren’t quite as constrained. We kind of wanted to go for it. So we shot a piece and Sony kind of around the same time approached us and said, ‘We’re trying to do web-series on Crackle.com,’ and Nancy had always wanted to do something on the internet.

The problem is that when it comes down to the actual deal, it’s like, wow. The numbers are really tough to shoot something of quality because they kind of want everything for nothing and for us it was just hard for us to make that make sense. But Sony was really great about it. The budgets were enough where we could really shoot something that we were proud of and it was all union and everything. It was all on the up and up. And it was just like, ‘Wow, this is really cool.’ And they loved ‘Jailbait’ and basically bought it in the room and said, ‘Please make these,’ and we were like, ‘Right on.’

I’m just happy how they turned out. We shot them nine months ago. I was looking at them again to be like, ‘Okay, if people ask me about this, what did we do again?’ I thought that they were so funny. There’s nothing precious about it and it’s really just hilarious. I hope it’s good for the net. It feels like it is. It feels like the kind of thing that people would watch on the internet. So we’ll see what happens with it, but we love doing it. It was a blast.

Which came first, the idea of setting something in prison or the Ozzie character?

John Lehr: Prison came first and then we were talking about, like, ‘Well, the idea of doing a comedy in prison is not going to be an easy sell,’ but we were big fans of ‘Oz’ and we were like, ‘What if we do the funny version of ‘Oz,’ that HBO show.

Then it was like, ‘What kind of character should be the lead character?’ It’s like everyone’s worst nightmare, being arrested and so to have somebody who’s kind of affable and oblivious, obviously so that we could get to the comedy, but just kind of a normal Joe sort of who gets thrust into this environment and thinks he can sort of navigate it the way that he would navigate the regular world. It just doesn’t work that way at all.

How does it work when you do an improvised show like this? Do you work from an outline?

John Lehr: Yeah. Nancy and I do a lot of writing and you’d be surprised how detailed our scripts are. We did the same thing for ’10 Items,’ but we don’t write any dialogue. We do it just to suggest what might be said. And the actors, all of the actors in ‘Jailbait’ and the same was true for ’10 Items,’ never saw the script. So the only people who see the script are Nancy and I and the crew. The reason that we show the crew is that they have to know where this is and what props we need and so on, but the reason we don’t show it to the actors is because Nancy is amazing at just guiding the scene in a way without telling them what to do. Then of course I know what the script is because I wrote it with Nancy. So the two of us kind of guide it a little bit from the inside and Nancy basically does it from the outside.

The whole point is to make it so that the actors don’t feel the pressure to tell the story because that kind of negates the whole thing about improv which is just a sort of spontaneous comedy that you can’t get any other way. ‘So don’t worry about telling the story. Don’t worry about coming up with any bits. Just show up and let us take care of that. You can just play and be hilarious.’ It just works really well.

My favorite moment so far is in ‘Chain Gang’ when Ozzie’s environmentalism gets him into trouble. How many versions of that did you shoot?

John Lehr: Well, because of the budget we shot the entire series in three days which is a decent time to do that, or was it two days. It was three days of shooting.

Nancy would do maybe like three or four takes, but she’s kind of editing in her head as she shoots. She also edits everything. So she’s kind of editing the episode in her head. She kind of knows, like, ‘We got this. Lets get this,’ and moves on and remembers. Then I sit with her in the editing room and the two of us try to remember which take we like, but every take is entirely different. Entirely. So we have tons of added extras, and I wouldn’t really call them outtakes because people aren’t cracking up, but they didn’t make it to the cut, that are just hilarious and it’s painful to kind of let that stuff go. But it’s amazing the amount of material that we’re able to actually shoot. So then we just go back and take the stuff that we like the best.

That one was a little different because Nancy wanted to shoot that in a really stylized kind of way in an homage to ‘Cool Hand Luke.’ So that was shot a little bit more standard in that, like, ‘Let’s set up for this shot and let’s get that.’ It was sort of posed in a way, but just because we wanted to have that super hot music video kind of feel to it. The actress who played the hot prison guard washing the car was totally game and hilarious and had fun with it.

You and Nancy must have a rhythm down working together this long–

John Lehr: Yeah. We are almost one person. We spend an inordinate amount of time together and we still get along and crack each other up. I’m very grateful to have that and I think she is, too. Yeah, I’m very grateful for that because it’s very rare, very rare.

Can you talk about pilots you have in the pipeline?

John Lehr: I can talk about one that’s called ‘Retreat’ which is set…basically it’s a kid’s camp, summer camp that’s family owned and it goes belly up. I play the oldest son. I come in to kind of turn it into a corporate retreat, but using the same people. Imagine ‘Meatballs’ meets ‘The Office’. We shot a pilot with this company called EUE Screen Gems and it turned out just awesome. It’s just great. I was surprised. I knew it was good, but I was surprised at how good it turned out. So, our big time hot shot agents are right now hopefully making us a million dollars. And then the other one I can’t really talk about because my agents asked me not to. So, whatever, but it’s really funny. ‘

Is there the possibility of more ‘Jailbait’?

John Lehr: We would love to. We want to do more ‘Jailbait’ and I can pretty much guarantee that the cast feels the same way and the more that we shot it the more we felt like, ‘Hey, man, there’s room for either longer episodes on the web,’ or I personally think that it would fly on TV as well. It would have to find the right home, but I think that it could be a really funny, something you haven’t seen before comedy.

It’ll be really interesting to see what the reaction is to it. I appreciate you helping to get the word out because if there is some solid interest in it then who knows what will go. I loved doing it.

The first five episodes are great and I laugh just thinking about them.

John Lehr: There’s just something so free about being able to do whatever you want, within reason. I mean, Sony has their own thing, but within reason. It really turned out good and they crack me up.

I love that Ozzie’s disposition is so sunny in the middle of chaos.

John Lehr: Right–prison is just so dark and somehow his optimism and love of mankind kind of bleeds over to the other guys and by the end they kind of start to buy into him a little bit. They still think he’s a total idiot, but there’s something unflappable about him that they just can’t shake and love.

You can find all our Jailbait coverage here.

Follow me on Twitter @michstjame


Please make sure to read our comment policy before posting a comment.

Privacy Policy | Terms & Conditions |
Website by Pro Blog Design