Q&A: YouTube Stars Rhett & Link on Their New Comedy Series ‘Buddy System’

Courtesy of Mythical Entertainment/YouTube

Rhett & Link, co-hosts of top YouTube talk show “Good Mythical Morning,” are flexing their comedic and musical chops in scripted series “Rhett & Link’s Buddy System,” set to debut exclusively on YouTube Red next week.

In the show, Rhett and Link play themselves – and after Link loses his phone, their internet talk show is hijacked by their mutual ex-girlfriend, Aimee Brell, who is now an evil infomercial queen and is using their channel to sell her products. The ex-girlfriend is played by Leslie Bibb (“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” “Iron Man”), and the series co-stars Page Kennedy (“Blue Mountain State,” “Rush Hour” TV series) and “Saturday Night Live” alumni Chris Parnell and Molly Shannon.

Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal (full name: Charles Lincoln Neal III) have been friends since they were in grade school in North Carolina, and their daily “Good Mythical Morning” show now has more than 11.2 million subscribers and just took home the trophy for best comedy channel, series or show at the 2016 Streamy Awards.

“Buddy System” gave them a chance to put some of their wackier ideas into a scripted show, which features a different musical number in each episode. “I hesitate to call it a musical – we don’t just break out in song in the middle of a scene,” said Link. “They’re more embedded music videos that catapult you into a different world for the song performance.” In conjunction with the series, they’ve just released “Rhett & Link’s Buddy System – Music From Season 1,” their first comedy music album with the original songs from the new show available on iTunes, Apple Music, Google Play and Amazon.

Rhett and Link wrote the script for “Buddy System,” directed by John Fortenberry (“Rescue Me,” “A Night at the Roxbury”) and produced by the duo’s Mythical Entertainment banner in association with YouTube. The show comprises eight 12-14 minute episodes, available to subscribers of the $10-per-month YouTube Red service (as well as for purchase in countries where YouTube Red hasn’t launched). The premiere episode bows Oct. 19, with subsequent installments each Wednesday.

Variety connected with Rhett and Link to talk about the making of “Buddy System” – and, among other topics, drinking human urine. An edited transcript:

What was the genesis of “Buddy System”?
Rhett: We’ve always wanted to do something story-based – ever since we’ve been friends, going back to when we were 14 and we wrote a script for a movie called “Gutless Wonders.” We wanted something that put all our ridiculous ideas in one place. The thing that would be most familiar to our fans would be something that revolved around two guys who have an internet show. And it’s not too far from the truth – we dated the same girls.
Link: We shared the same first girlfriend, but in rapid succession. Our second girlfriend was the same too, but at different times.

How was it different from making “Good Mythical Morning”?
Rhett: It was a completely different process for us. “Good Mythical Morning” is much more about us sitting down at a desk, reacting, talking about things.
Link: Eating things.
Rhett: The creativity quotient was much higher (for “Buddy System”). There’s a lot more of us being squeezed creatively. It brings together the absurdist, fantastical ideas we like, and our love of music – there’s a musical number in every episode. Music videos were foundational in our start on YouTube.
Link: I think the success of “Good Mythical Morning” is built off our friendship over the years. We can interact over any conversation and anything we do, but it’s very much off the cuff. We captured the dynamic of the show with “Buddy System,” while adding musical elements – the daily grind of a talk show doesn’t allow us to do that.

Besides YouTube, did you approach traditional TV networks or Netflix about the show?
Link: We didn’t approach anyone else. We have had a well-established relationship with YouTube for years, and as things percolated with YouTube Red it kind of happened conversationally. It made the most sense on YouTube, because when you’ve accumulated more than 11 million people who subscribe to the YouTube channel – this gives them something new, one click away. It’s not porting an audience. And the story references that work and our show. We knew it was a great home.

What was your favorite part about making it?
Rhett: For me a big part of it was being able to get some other people involved other than the two of us. Molly Shannon, Chris Parnell, Leslie Bibb, who plays our ex-girlfriend, and Page Kennedy – getting those people on screen helped us create something bigger and better than we’ve ever done. For the two of us to write jokes we think are funny is one thing. But having Chris Parnell turn those into reality… The first couple of takes I was sitting there and watching as a writer.

What was the biggest challenge?
Link: In one sense, it was maybe stamina. We did wear a number of hats, as executive producers, writers and actors, and we were still doing “Good Mythical Morning.” (The challenge was) to stay engaged and positive and say, “This is working.” It’s a much bigger ship to steer. With our large-scale, ambitious music videos, we were doing way too much, and we were stretching ourselves so thin that it wasn’t enjoyable. At the end of this, I had more fun than doing anything before because of the people who signed on.

What were some of your influences? I see some “Flight of the Conchords,” maybe “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.”
Link: I think those are good comparisons. “Flight of the Conchords” has always been amazing, and I would take that as a compliment if people thought that. I’d say we were more influenced by the BBC’s “The Mighty Boosh” – they’re more surreal and theatrical in their approach to comedy.
Rhett: We’ve always been a little bit on a creative island. There’s enough ridiculous ideas in our heads for us to do on our show. Going back years, doing our sketches and music videos, people would say in the comments, “This so reminds me of the ‘Mighty Boosh.’” About 18 months ago we finally sat down and watched “The Mighty Boosh” – and we loved it. But it’s so surreal and so absurd, it goes to some places that are maybe unrelatable to a broader audience.

How many episodes of “GMM” have you done, and how do you keep the show fresh?
Rhett: Tomorrow (Oct. 13) will be 1,000 episodes.
Link: It’s really evolved from episode to episode and week to week. We have the benefit of seeing what performs well any given week. When we did an episode called “Will It Taco,” that took off like a rocket ship. Now we do a new episode every month of “Will It” – we’re about to do “Will It Candy?”
Rhett: There’s always something new happening on the internet that we can tap into. As long as people keep coming up with new things, there will be something for us to talk about.

“Eating a Scorpion – Bug War Challenge” is your most popular video. What’s one insane challenge on “Good Mythical Morning” that you guys just wouldn’t do?
Link: We thought about drinking each other’s urine, then we decided to not do it. Oh, wait – we did do that. But we ran the urine through a filter. We debated long and hard on that and decided it was better to drink each other’s urine instead of our own. It was for science.
Rhett: We’ve also somehow become the poster children for eating the hottest peppers in the world. The ghost pepper, we did that, and then we did the Carolina Reaper. I’m sure some good old boy out there is constructing a hybrid pepper that will be even hotter, and we’ll try that too.

You’ve got pretty sensitive gag reflexes?
Rhett: Link does.
Link: The Internet loves that. A gag reflex is a good thing.

Have you had offers to take “GMM” to a TV network?
Rhett: People have reached out and hinted at that. But we’ve always been clear that “GMM’s” home is YouTube, and that two-way conversation with our fans is so important to the show. There’s a particular audience on YouTube for us, which is broadening every day.

Any actors or comedian you’d love to work with?
Link: Dunno. Definitely not another tall, bearded guy.
Rhett: Maybe Hannibal Buress — we’d love to work with him.

Watch the trailer for “Buddy System”: