‘I’m Sorry’ Boss and Star Andrea Savage Talks Importance of Using Power to ‘Make Some Changes’

Andrea Savage photograpged by Jenna Greene in New York City on January 7, 2019
Jenna Greene for Variety

Actress Andrea Savage is known in the comedy world for her time with the Groundlings and on single-camera series such as “The Hotwives of Orlando,” “Veep” and “Episodes.” In 2006 she also started writing and producing professionally, starting with Comedy Central’s “Dog Bites Man” and then “Funny or Die Presents” a few years later. But soon enough she wasn’t satisfied with being just a triple threat and added show creator, showrunner and director to her resume. Her semi-autobiographical series “I’m Sorry” is now airing its second season on truTV.

Did your approach for the second season of “I’m Sorry” change due to your experience working on, or watching audience reception of, the first?

I was scared going into the second season, I will say, because my show is based on real stories from my life and I was like, “Well I’m a shell of a person now. Everything I’ve ever wanted to say is done; I’ve got nothing left.” And I like to do stuff that’s based in reality — I think that is what I am most proud of about the show. It’s funny, but it involves aging parents or it involves divorce or it involves friendship, and it really is about something real, and I really wanted to make sure they weren’t going to be fluffy, cliche stories and I’d become a caricature. My thing was just, “I don’t want to mess it up.” I didn’t want to mess up what works, and I wanted to make sure everything was still coming from a real place that was grounded.

How much creative freedom to talk about the topics you want to do you feel truTV gives you?

I went out to make a pure comedy. It is not a dramedy on any level, and it’s not even serialized; it’s episodic. And so it truly is a pure comedy, which are hard to write, to be honest — to follow through and keep funny. But honestly they give us such creative freedom. Maybe there’s been like two jokes where they’ve been, “Maybe that’s a little too far.” But they get it. They support the show, and the show that comes on the air, for better and for worse, is my vision, 100%.

How do you approach selecting which bigger picture issues, such as aging parents, you bring into the story when?

A lot of it is based on what stories I have that I think are funny and interesting. We room-write everything. We have a really small writers’ room: It’s my co-showrunner Joey Slamon and then we have three writers. And, basically, the first couple of weeks we talked about aging parents and friends and this and that and told stories. And I realized I had a lot more stories that I hadn’t told in the first season. So we tell stories and then Joey and I go away and categorize the stories that we think could build together and shape an interesting fictional story. It’s based on the good stuff we have to tell, rather than going, “I’m trying to tell a story about getting in trouble at school.”

What kind of guidelines do you set regarding how you mine your own life for comedy?

If it’s about people in my family, I really try to be respectful and make sure that nothing that would horribly embarrass them is in the show. I don’t enjoy making fun of people, and my comedy doesn’t come from a mean place, so if it is ever me judging someone or being mean, it goes away. But our writers’ room is very open; it’s not just me sharing things. I know everything about every single one of them — I know about their spouses, I know about their spouses’ genitals, I know everything! It is an incredibly open room.

What have you found is most important to creating an environment where people feel comfortable enough to share so openly?

You have to be very careful who you hire, and I hire only people that are people people know very well. And in the interview process we really say, “This is not a traditional writers’ room — you’ll never go off and write a script.” We room-write everything and then Joey and I will be doing a lot of dialogue passes and most of that goes through us. But we do it all together, and it’s all about sharing real stories. So you find the people that really enjoy that and who have stories…and who have stories that sort of fit my character’s point of view. So it was very much finding people who have a similar bent. But you have to be careful, and you trust people, and I think people know me and know that I’m, I like to think, a good person and trustworthy. And everything that’s said in [the room] is [in] a cone of silence. And we really work hard. We have a “no stink bombs” policy tops to bots, as I like to say — from a PA to an executive — and literally when I’m asking, “Have you ever worked with this person?” if I hear “They’re great but they can be a little difficult,” I’m done. There are too many nice people who are good at their jobs, so across the board we just try to hire people who are good at their jobs and happy to be there and good people. And oddly, a lot of that ends up being women.

You’ve been passionate about keeping earlier hours so your staff and crew can spend time with their families. How did that work in the second season?

What I think I really realized, coming into Season 2, was I’ve been given this opportunity to make decisions as a woman in this industry, and often your instinct when you first start is you want to emulate the way it’s always been done [and that’s] the way a man does it. But now I’m like, “You know what? No!” I’m going to embrace doing it as me, as a woman, would do it, and I’m going to really make these hours mean something and stick to it. And it doesn’t have to be run the way it’s always been run, and I’m in a position to make those decisions now, and I’m going to take the opportunity when I am in charge of hiring and all of it, really, to use the power to make some changes and show that it’s possible. … We were out a little later this year, like six o’clock. I work more [and] Joey works more. I go home, put my kid to bed, and I still work. So this was a little bit more work on my end, just the nature of the game, but we work really hard to keep our hours like that — our post hours and our shooting hours. I don’t write any exterior night scenes. So people get out in time to see their kids at the end of the night, and also they’re just not exhausted.

What is the key to making that work?

I think it’s like-minded people. I think it’s also, to be honest, hiring people with families and who like their families. They have an incentive. I have worked with people who don’t like their families, and then you’re really screwed because you’re like, “Um, it’s one in the morning, don’t you have to go home?” And they’re like, “No, we have to get this done.” And you’re like, “Oh you hate your wife, now it’s clear.” But it’s also the law of diminishing returns. At a certain point my brain hits it, and I’m just not working well. And if my brain’s not working well, we’ve got to go because there’s just no point.

Was that attitude of bucking the system ever challenged?

Sometimes what happens is that when we’re in production and on the set, there’s a certain way actors get treated — and especially actresses — where people are not interested in hearing their opinions. So I think sometimes some people would forget that while I was acting in a scene I was actually the creator and their boss, and I think that was hard for some people to understand. I was definitely challenged less [in my show], and I’ve always been sort of like, “I don’t know, I’ve never had an issue being a woman in Hollywood,” [but] even in the second season I had some situations where it was very clear that if I had been a man I would not have been spoken to in certain ways.

How did you handle that?

As a woman it really takes a certain amount of confidence to go, “OK I can do that now.” And there are going to be people who challenge that, but I’m confident enough to go, “OK well you can have an issue with the fact that I’m doing this and we can move along now.” … You have to stay calm and have conversations. I’m big on communication. But then after a certain amount of conversations, if it still continues, it might just not be the right fit and you need to not be scared to make a big decision and make a change. And to be honest, that’s only happened so rarely on our show because we hire great people and we’re good communicators and we listen.