Because audiences need a comedy about a Bakersfield, California-based rodeo clown in their lives, Zach Galifianakis and Louis C.K. and Jonathan Krisel have teamed up for “Baskets,” the new FX comedy that’s dark, weird and oddly touching. Variety caught up with some of the show’s cast and creatives at the Pacific Design Center for the Los Angeles premiere, where stars like Jon Hamm and Ed Helms were also on hand to celebrate.
Executive producer, co-creator and writer/star Galifianakis, best known for his performances in the wildly successful “Hangover” films and his web series “Between Two Ferns,” shared that making a show about a rodeo clown wasn’t the first idea that occurred to him. “Originally, this show was going to be a behind-the-scenes look at ‘Between Two Ferns,’ and I couldn’t figure that out in my head,” he said. “Then I started thinking of other possibilities, and the city of Bakersfield and a clown with a chip on his shoulder made sense to me.” On working with C.K., Galifianakis said, “There was a lot of back and forth with him, knocking ideas back and forth. There’s been no interference with the network. They’ve let us do our thing. The process has been really nice. That comfort level is why I thought I could do a show.”
When it came to casting the show, it quickly becomes apparent Galifianakis loves to work with his friends — even though some of them don’t have much acting experience. Both Sabina Sciubba (who plays Chip Baskets’ wife Penelope) and Martha Kelly (Chip’s insurance agent/friend Martha) had little to no acting experience, but when Zach called them and asked if they wanted to be part of the show, both agreed to participate because of their friendships with him.
Sciubba explained, “He just called me and asked if I wanted to do it. If acting was always that easy, I’d always focus on acting. It was a very easy experience.” Kelly has a similar story. “Zach called me out of the blue,” she said. “We hadn’t talked in at least a year, and he said he was going to do a TV show and he wanted me to be on it, if I felt I’d want to do it. I was terrified, but I wanted to do it. I met Zach when I first started doing stand-up.” Kelly added, “Everyone was so sweet. They hired a bunch of people in the cast and crew who are so lovely to go and spend every day with.”
Veteran comedian Louie Anderson also got an impromptu call asking him to join the show. He explained, “Louis C.K. called and asked me to play Zach’s mom. I said, ‘I’ll do it,’ because I’d been doing my mom character in my act for so long. Louis said, ‘Zach is thinking of a voice [for the mother] and said it was my voice. It was such a weird, liberating situation,” he said.
“I didn’t know if I could play it at first,” Anderson continued. “I did everything I could to make it real. I said I was just going to become a woman for this. I’m just going to be a mom. Zach was so great to work with. He always came to my rescue when I was stuck.” Anderson also appreciated being part of the new vanguard of comedy with C.K. and Galifianakis. “You know, the biggest thing someone can do for you when you haven’t worked in a while is to call you up out of the blue and invite you into their new world,” he said. “I’ve been in their world [with my own sitcoms] and I know what that’s like. The fact that they invited me in meant the world to me. I had to nail it. It was the hardest job I ever did, but the most rewarding.”
“Baskets” shares more “Louie” DNA given the involvement of executive producer M. Blair Breard, who says she had a bit more money to spend on this show than on “Louie.” Breard talked about the differences between “Baskets” and “Louie”: “We have a star who’s very involved in the writing process and every aspect of the show, and then we have [director] Jonathan Krisel shaping the whole piece of it. We have more creative personalities involved. I think this is one of the hardest shows that everyone involved has ever done. It’s incredibly ambitious for the budget. You’ll see that unfold. Everyone had an incredibly positive experience because of Zach, because of Jonathan, because of Louis, because of FX — they really believed in the show. It’s really soulful and filled with love. I know it sounds corny but it’s really the truth. We’re dying to have a second season. There wasn’t one bad experience on the show.”
Final note for those who are clown-averse: Galifianakis’ Chip Baskets is not a scary clown. In fact, he’s pretty much the polar opposite of Twisty the Clown from “American Horror Story.” With that in mind, tune in Jan. 21 for the “Baskets” premiere on FX.