LIVE – Comedy Panel at Variety Emmy Elite Showrunners Breakfast

Having just finished the drama panel at the Variety Emmy Elite Showrunners Breakfast, we now move on to comedy.

Judd Apatow Freaks and Geeks
Vince Gilligan Breaking Bad
Armando Iannucci Veep
Blair Breard Louie
Julian Fellowes Downton Abbey

Having just finished the drama panel at the Variety Emmy Elite Showrunners Breakfast, we now move on to comedy.

Our panelists: exec producers Judd Apatow of “Girls,” Steve Molaro of “The Big Bang Theory,” Armando Iannucci of “Veep,” Jack Burditt of “30 Rock,” Danny Zuker of “Modern Family” and Blair Breard of “Louie.”

Apatow: “When we did ‘Freaks and Geeks,’ there weren’t too many shows like that happening. We were kind of a reaction to other shows about teenagers where they were all beautiful. … People just looked at us like we were crazy all the time, to the point where we shot the finale three or four episodes before the last episode – think about how paranoid that is. So yes, there’s a part of me that’s very sad that we weren’t around when people supported ambitious storytelling (like today).”

Iannucci: “We’re kind of cursed by the fact that we feel obliged that we’ve got to be funny. The trick, the challenge is just because we’re trying to be funny, we’re not belittling anything, and so we can perhaps take on bigger subjects in our comedy.”

Apatow: “I think what’s happened is the dramas are all funny, but they get to be funny when they want to be.”

Breard: “The form has changed. We’re allowed to do more creative things and go deeper. … In our first season of ‘Louie,’ we were doing very classic Louis sketch comedies. (Later), we were doing arcs and there was more depth and opportunity to explore themes under the banner of comedy.”

Zuker: “There was a visceral thrill (in multicam, when something goes wrong) and then the writers huddle. We did an episode my first season on “Modern Family” and we were out on location and we had an emotional scene where nothing was working. We built a campfire and took a legal pad and found a new scene.”

Molaro: “Those moments when you are huddled up are the closest to sports we get. Rewriting a whole scene while huddled up – it’s terrifying.”

Breard: “Half the time the scripts (Louis)  gives me, this is not funny at all. But now I know the comedy is going to come (from on set). But it’s directed more like a drama, and we never change anything on set. I think he’s lived with it for such a long time that it’s kind of there for him.”

Zuker: “Things are greatly improved by the (time) limitation. This is the haiku we work in. Like what I do Twitter, I never felt keeping a joke under 140 characters hurt it.”

Apatow: “I have a whole different theory. I just think all comedy should be really long. I don’t want to let anything go, trim things, make it crisp.

“Our shows tend to be closer to 30 minutes. … We don’t think of the show too much in terms of comedy and drama, just the (events) of these people.”

Iannucci: “Our first cuts of ‘Veep’ tend to be 58 minutes long. … Once I give them a cut at about 29 minutes, I get suggestions for cuts, and I ask, ‘Why? Why do you want to make less television?’ But it works. … It’s been a lesson I’ve learned – don’t overindulge.”

Burditt: “I think the trick is to spend so much time in editing that you hate everything.”

Iannucci: “There’s a temptation to think if you can say anything (including cursing), then you can write anything. I’ve come to enjoy boundaries, even if they are arbitrarily imposed. Language can get so repetitive that it becomes meaningless; our obliigation is to make it feel (original).”

Burditt: “I always felt that it would be great in network television they would give us one ‘fuck’ per season.’

Zuker: “I tried to make the same deal with my wife. … Professional joke, people.”

Breard, on Melissa Leo episode of “Louie”: “We just shot it and sent it in to FX to watch, and I have no idea what happened. But I’m so happy she won the (guest actress) Emmy for saying the dirtiest words on television.”

Iannucci: “We don’t have anything like the pilot season in the U.K., because we don’t work according to a schedule and all of our seasons are (about) six episodes long.”

Apatow: “The concept of pilot season is insane and ridiculous and outdated. We all know this and no one will change it. What we’ve seen in cable is if we give someone two seasons and say, ‘I believe in you,’ your odds are much better.”