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There he is, and I just can't get over seeing your hair like that, I truly I know I was talking about it the other day, but it's quite something it's getting out of control is the appropriate word, I think.


Yeah, for sure.


But but I also but I also kind of like it. Hey, everybody, welcome to the podcast, literally with Rob Lowe. Today, I have my former boss, Mike Sugar, who created Parks and Recreation, who was the the Ringer writer on the office and who came up on SNL through some of the glory years there. I don't know anybody smarter, funnier and more decent. He's like one of the true nicest guys in Hollywood, and I'm forever indebted to him for giving me Chris Trager.


There is much to discuss. I go back and forth like I I have a almost like, irrepressible urge to shave it all off, and I think I might I think I might give myself a buzz cut when this is all not even when this is all over, like in the next two weeks.


Well, but your your hair's usually short anyway, so I think it's a no brainer as you've got to go for it. Do it.


Yeah, I know. I part part of this for me is just like let's see what will happen. Like I'm kind of like I've never let my hair get this long, so let's see what happens. And what happens is it's long and gray and unwieldy. So I, I guess I've learned the only thing I can learn and now I should just cut it all off is would do it or would you do it yourself.


Who would you allow to do it. I think it's this. I know, I understand this is crazy, but I think I might have my son do it. I was going to say, yeah, like we're in a world right now where no one has to look at me but them and my wife and occasionally you when I do a podcast with you. So, like, I don't there's no vanity involved for this. Right? Like, by the time we're outside again, it'll have grown back into something resembling a human haircut.


So I kind of wanted to see what happens if my 12 year old shaves my head is crazy.


I can't believe you have a twelve year old now. It's amazing how fast I remember them and their trick or treat outfits at Parks and Rec when we used to do amazing Halloween days.


Yeah. The first time they came. So that would have been like two thousand ten or something. What was the first year you were there? It's us and we started to get to 2010 and yes. So William would have been two or maybe three and it would have been a baby and now they're twelve and nine and she's in the other room practicing her cello and he's doing like basic algebra. It's bananas. I mean, you but you've got you've got post college kids now, right?




I remember when when I was on parks with you vividly, like just like having Dan Gore and Yang, who I think helped my boys with their college entrance tests and strategies because everybody on Parks and Rec went to great big, fancy, big fancy schools here.


Everybody was like Harvard or Stanford or, you know. Right. Pretty much.


Yeah. Yeah. I mean, Dan went to Harvard with me. We were the same year. And who else was there? Alan Yang went to Harvard like there were a bunch of Harvard nerds on that staff. Isomura went to Harvard. But wait so wait. Your kids went to wonderful went to Duke.


I remember we went to Duke and then went on to Loyola Law School and just passed the bar. This last always passed the bar. Look at that. Yeah, they passed the bar. And and then my youngest, Johnny, went to Stanford and is now on the writing staff of nine one one Lone Star.


Oh, wow.


I didn't know that he worked as an assistant for Ryan Murphy and Brad Buker on American Horror Story while he was at Stanford in the summers. And then they offered him a job when he got out of out of school. And then in a weird way, how the universe works. Brian and I then teamed up to do Lonestar at the same time on a different track, like, wait, we should have Jonathan on the staff writing fantastic show about a guy who has a son.




So so how often do you see him on the average day that you're at work?


But we're so rarely on the lot. So we're on a different location almost every day. So I don't see him a ton. But the best was when he he wrote Episode six last season and when he had to cover set on his own script was the greatest because he I mean, it was it was surreal to have my son. It's a script he wrote, we're shooting it. And now he's coming up to me and saying, I'm not so sure if this moment's working or whatever.


I like to believe that he just noted you to death. Just just do it again. No, again, you're not getting it. Let's get it's like every kid's dream. They get to micromanage their dad for an afternoon. Oh, for sure.


But it was actually even worse because I thought the attitude was more like, yeah, that's about all we're going to get out of my dad. So, you know, fuck it.


But you on the other hand, we can you know, let's really drill down on this.


That's amazing. So that's but that's so cool. So this is his first staff job, right?


Yeah, it's his first staff job. And he's just he's loving it now. Everybody is doing virtual writers rooms. So that's a whole different thing as we're in coronavirus. So that's a whole different experience than being in a room with people, as you know. Yeah, it's really hard to I don't know what he says about it, but it's like we've been doing it on a couple of shows I'm working on and it's just like there's no substitute for everybody being in a room.


And talking like you can, first of all, like if there's more than six people on the Zoome call, half of them are just looking at their phones or like just goofing off. But but also just the you know, this the whole creative process is like you're trapped in a room and there's a sense of like to get out of this room. By the end of the day, we have to come up with good ideas. And it gives it this kind of momentum and this urgency that when you're sitting in your own home and everybody's sort of like in a little box and your computer screen is just not the same thing, like I amongst other things, that we're all worried about, the big things, the things that actually matter, what I actually think about what we do for a living going forward, I start to get really worried about just the future of entertainment because I don't know what it looks like.


Like it's hard to imagine being in a writer's room. It's hard to imagine being on a set like how do you shoot a scene with, you know, two hundred extras ever? How do you go on location to someone's house? Who in their right mind is going to let any of us into their house to shoot a scene like it just it seems so crazy to imagine going back to the old ways that we did this. I don't mean we'll figure something out because we always do.


Hollywood has a has a knack for ingenuity. But, you know, you know, and there's a long way to go with the other more important issues before we get to that point. But I'm very nervous to figure out how this works after after this is all over. I don't know if you've had the same thoughts I have, but I you've raised specters that I didn't even think about. And it's you know, it's like after 9/11, you know, we never traveled the same again.


Never. Right. Right. And so what will what will this be like? Because it's it's not just the travel element to it. It's every it's every element of of what we do and, you know, and doing all of the Zoome stuff that we do and making shows in our houses and stuff and going on the air and people love it.


Is there a notion where people would just go, hey, you know, let's just start doing more stuff like that and then feel that fear?


Right. The fear is that, yeah. Is that like I mean, you know, one way or another, the media companies that pay us are losing billions of dollars a month. And that's another thing as like, you know, the shows that we make are expensive. You know, they're not they're not little DIY shows. They're like they cost millions of dollars an episode. And it's hard to imagine just at the level of like what do they how do they pay for them on the on the other side of this?


Are they going to cut every staff in half? Are they going to cut every cast in half? Or they could just going to say, sorry, this is the cap on what anyone can get paid. Are they going to try to make like camera crews, not have assistants? Are they going to try to make, you know, sorry, instead of two gaffer's, you get one guy for, like, one way or another, like every aspect of the business itself and also the way that the creative side of it is going to be different somehow.


And we I don't know how that happens. So I think we're a long way away from anything resembling normalcy. But even when we get there, I don't know how you account for all of the things you need to account for.


And it's you know, everybody looks at everything as they should through their own prism. And, you know, we make content and we make entertainment to take people's minds off of life in the best of times and the worst of times.


And you have to adjust to that. I remember when we were doing the West Wing, we were doing a show about the White House and September 11th happened.


And Aaron Sorkin, like you said, I don't know how to write the show now. I literally don't know how to write a show. Overnight, I don't I don't understand the world anymore, I don't know what the rules are anymore, and I'll never forget we were.


I think 15 days away from airing the season opener, and he told the network that he needed to they wanted he wanted to pull the first episode and he wrote the nine episode, which we broke the fourth wall and talked to America and then did a story sort of on it. Then the theory was that inoculated the world. Against, you know, the new realities, and then we went right back to what we were doing, but it was tense, was really intense because we shot that, we shot that episode and we're on the air with it.


And I don't even know how quick it was. This crazy. Yeah.


I mean, I was at SNL and, you know, the world blows up in New York almost literally. And it was like, well, really, what are we doing? Like the West Wing, you guys, we're like, all right, this show's important. We're talking about important stuff and real issues. And like, there's drama and it's about, you know, the biggest issues facing the country as now you're putting on funny wigs and crazy makeup and doing three minute sketches.


It's like it's ridiculous. And so there was a we had we had it at two levels. Right. We had the basic level of like, what do we do now? And then we the second level of like this is what we're doing.


Like we're like, you know, covered with comedy sketches. But, you know, Lorne is, as you know, is such a steady hand at the at the tiller. And he he was sort of like, look, this the whole point of this show is it's a New York thing. This happened largely in New York. It happened in D.C., in Pennsylvania, too. But the center of it was New York. And the way that New York moves forward and the country moves forward is this show goes back on the air.


It's the inherent silliness of it is the thing that matters it, because it's like this is a celebration of we can be stupid and be silly. And also the show deals with politics and it references real life things or whatever.


So, you know, he really steered the show through that through that time. And I was I had just gotten a job that year and if I ever told you the story, but I had just gotten the job that year of producing Weekend Update. So my first is that your first date? Was that your first show?


Was my phone my first show? Yeah. So I took this job thinking and this would be fun. Jimmy Fallon, Tina Fey or my friends. And it'll be fun to just write some dumb jokes about the news and produce this little segment and then, you know, Kabui. So I, I remember like having conversations with a bunch of people about like, well, what do we do? Like do we do a do we do an opening. Right.


Do Jimmy and Tina say like, hey, we're going to try to get through this, you know, we're going to try to do the best we can or whatever. And Lorne was like, we'll do that at the top of the show. Just do jokes. Just do jokes. Like, that's the point. That's what Weekend Update is. People tune in and they add weekend update theme plays and then they see 12 jokes and a couple of features and then they and then there goes the commercial.


Just do that. That's what that's what we need. So we that you know, the way we can update works is we you know, you sit down, the writers are in their own right. They have their own writing staff. It's usually two or three guys and or ladies and then people fax jokes in from places. And then you sit down on Thursday and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, you sit down with these giant packs of jokes and you just read through them and you pick them.


Right. So we were like, well, what's the first joke? Like, what is the first joke that you make after 9/11? Like, how do you do that? And there was a joke. The the the Mariah Carey movie Glitter had just come out like three weeks earlier. Right. Or two weeks earlier. And someone wrote a joke. I do remember who was there was it was like the CIA believes that Osama bin Laden may be hiding in a very dark place with very few people.


And the joke was the way they've started searching theaters showing the movie Glitter. And and it was so dumb.


It was just such a dumb joke, I mean, in the best possible way. Right. It's just like a dumb joke about like Mariah Carey made a movie that bombed. And I was like, right, all right, let's try this. And so Jimmy reads that. Do you know we it's there's the show has this really emotional opening. And Giuliani was there and and the chief of police and all these people in a very somber and Paul Simon saying the boxer was very beautiful.


And then they you know, they did the show and then we get to Weekend Update. And I was like I just my heart was pounding because you could totally imagine a world where you do a joke about 9/11 and then you just are like, you're literally fired, like your judgment was so bad that you're fired and so forth. And so they dissolve through and they go, you know, I'm Tina Fey. I'm doing Fallon here. Today's top stories.


And Jimmy reads that joke and it gets a laugh. Like people just laughed at it like it was any other joke. And the wave of I was just flop sweating. I just remember like sweat pouring off my brow. And then he tells the joke and people laugh an appropriate amount. It's not an amazing joke, but it's perfect for that area. It was a pretty good joke. And then they just moved on. And then we did another couple of jokes about it and we did jokes about some dumb thing that happened in St.


Louis and we did jokes about some dumb product or whatever. And I just remember thinking and I feel like we're going to feel the same way here. I just remember thinking, like Lauren's right, like the way the the the act of doing things like Weekend Update or like SNL or like any TV show or making movies or any of that stuff, the point the point of it is the doing of it. It's like this is a world where these things can happen.


And so one way or another, even though it feels frivolous, when you look at front line health care workers and you look at people volunteering to bring groceries to people who have been laid off and just all there's all this, you know, all these horrifying stories, the truth is, is that like for normalcy to return, everything has to return. Everything we had before, this has to come back. And one of those things is we got to make TV shows and movies again, even if they stink.


So. So, you know, that's sort of what I cling to. I feel like we you know, we do what we can. We try to raise money. We try to help out. We try to volunteer. We try to, like, make our neighborhoods nice and help people who need help. And then when the time comes, we go back to making TV shows so people can watch TV. And that's sort of the you know, that's our little dumb role in this whole thing.


And you're so your first update is 9/11. And if I'm remembering correctly, you once told me that your first day of work period on SNL was the day after Farley passed away and Norm MacDonald had been fired.


That's right. That is correct. Yes.


So you were like you were like you were like the jinx. You were the jinx of SNL. You're the jinx, essentially.


Yes. Yeah. I got hired in part because Norm was fired from update by Don Ohlmeyer, who didn't like the number of jokes that Norm was telling even years after the trial was over. Namath's debating O.J. every week and Ohlmeyer was friends with O.J. And so he fired Norm. And so Norm got fired. And then his writers also sort of got fired. It was unclear, but they just changes were happening. And so I had been interviewed for the job before that year and didn't get it.


And then I just got a call in classic SNL fashion. It was like, you know, hey, we're hiring you. You start Monday kind of thing. Wow. So, yeah. And then in that he was in that Christmas break and finally had just passed away. So I showed up for the first show in January 98. Samuel L. Jackson was the host. Farley had just died and people were reeling from that. Norm had been fired but was from update, but was still there.


So he was like hanging around and like on the show, like, how awkward Jews.


Yeah, I know. And so I the thing that I'm sure I said, do you I say to everybody I tell the story to is like it was a good six months before anyone even noticed I was there. Like you talk about like, you know, SNL, like you don't SNL is very trial by fire. Everything is like they throw you in the deep end of the pool and see if you swim. But like, they literally I don't think anyone knew I had been hired for six months because it was so much other stuff was going on, which was, by the way, fine with me because I sucked at the job for for about six months.


And then by the time anybody found out I was actually there, I was I was much better.


What was the what was the thing that blew you away the most? If you could think of one thing of like we all were fans of SNL, we come up and then, you know, whether you're writing on it or hosting like I've done, once you get behind the scenes of that show, there's always some take away. We're like, holy shit, I had no idea. Did you have any of those thoughts?


Oh, I had thousands of them. I mean, the first thing is, I mean, you can as a former host, you can testify to this like everyone who criticizes that show should go watch it get made for a week, because if you watch it get mad, you'll never criticize it again. It is so impressive the way it goes from, you know, the read through is there on Wednesday night and so on on Wednesday at 8:00 p.m. Nothing exists.


It's an empty studio. And by Saturday at eleven thirty, they have made some of the best set designers in the world have made 12 15 sets, some of which have been more like you used in dress rehearsal and thrown away and never used again. Their costume changing is insane. People change costumes in thirty seconds. And, you know, they actually when I was there, if you watch the show now, they've they do this thing where they have a bumper in the in the commercial breaks, they go to a live shot of a crane sort of pulling through the studio so that you can see like that's being assembled and costumes being thrown on, people in wigs being straight.


And and they started doing that just to like let people in to the fact that, like, this is all happening. This is really happening live. And look how much of it is happening. So just the actual sort of the actual construction of the show was mind blowing to me. The first sketch I ever wrote or actually that time into the first joke I ever got on the show was in a sketch. Was that Samuel Jackson week? My friends Rob Kalakh and Dennis McNicholas wrote this sketch.


Titanic was, you know, in like week thirty two of dominating the box office. And they wrote a sketch for Samuel Jackson and Tracy Morgan, which was they were the only two black guys on the Titanic.


And they so Will Ferrell was walking around going all first class passengers get to the lifeboat. I'll second and third class passengers get to the lifeboats all fourth through tenth class passengers get to the lifeboats and they end. Tracy and Samuel Jackson just kept going, like, when do we get on? He was like, just in a second. And he was like, I'll get all the luggage, let's get first class luggage to the lifeboat, second class, the luggage that.


And so I wrote one joke that actually got into the sketch, which was Ferrellgas. All empty lifeboats should now be placed into other lifeboats and and and which is a pretty good joke.


Pat myself on the back for that. So so that's the first joke I ever got on the air. Right. So we write that sketch. It was really fun. I was like, oh, my God, I'm writing for Saturday Night Live on Friday afternoon. We went down to watch the rehearsal and they had reconstructed the Titanic on in 8H like they had they had built this enormous deck of a ship and it was slanted. So as if it was sinking and the detail on it was incredible.


And like the the the you know, they just matched the like the show has all these all these people who are there, basically Broadway designers. So they're the best designers in the world, the best designers in the world. And every week they make incredible sets for these incredibly stupid sketches that we wrote, you know, at four in the morning on Tuesday night. And I just remember thinking, like, I don't understand how anyone could have done that, like the mechanism to do it.


You know, SNL, someone told me the SNL is basically the New York City subway system. Like if you tried to make it now, you wouldn't be able to. The only reason it exists is because it started a long time ago when things like this were possible. If you said right now, hey, I have an idea, a 90 minute comedy variety show with music, with a different host every week, with a cast of like 16 regulars, we do live sketches and pretaped pieces and we do it from a studio in 30 Rockefeller Center and broadcast it live like forget it, that'll never happen.


They would never, ever, ever happen. And so there are all these things about that show that are just they're connected to the old age, right? To the old, like Sid Caesar, Milton Berle comedy variety era. That is just such a thing of the past. And that's why I like when that show disappears. It will really, really be the end of an era. You know, there's just it's the only bridge between modern TV and and like 1950s TV that still exists and nothing will ever replace it.


No, it's really it's really. And it's and Lorne has been the guy who's, you know, made it happen all all of these years. Yeah. I mean, I can't imagine a version of SNL without Lorne. Not that he's going anywhere. He'll be there forever. But it's such a part of and I've done a lot of the podcast now. And it's really amazing how many people I've spoken to who are either affiliated with the show have a history with the show.


It's been around for so long that almost everybody has some sort of. Yeah. History of it. And even if you haven't, it's shaped your world. I mean, if you if you're a comedian, I mean, there's no way it isn't a big part of you some way always, you know, a hundred percent either you were on it or you wanted to be on it, or at least you watched it every week or you modeled your career after someone's career.


Who is on it? I mean, like that run. You know, what I like to do sometimes is just to feel bad about myself. I'll go to like I'll pick someone, some filmmaker or something, and I'll go and I'll look at his or her IMDB page and just say, like, what's the best five year run, you know, like this person, what was this person's peak? You know, like I went to look at John Hughes's IMDB page.


If you're a writer and you want to feel bad about yourself, go look at John Hughes as IMDB page from the years like eighty two to like 88 or something. It's like he wrote like ten of the greatest screen comedies, screenplays of all time and like seven years. And if you look at Lorne Michaels is like the thing that obviously separates him from everybody else is just his eye for talent. He's got the best eye for talent, I would say, of any TV producer in history.


If you go look at the people that he hired from the time he came back, he left and went to L.A. from 1884 and came back and he put together that famous cast that was, you know, Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, Dennis Miller, Lovitz, Jan Hooks, Victoria Jackson, Kevin Nealon, that whole crew. If you look at who he hired starting then and going to like nineteen ninety one, it's every great comedian of that generation.


Like without fail, like there's no one, there's almost no one who wasn't hired by Lorne Michaels. It's all of those Chris Rock and and David Spade and Adam Sandler and Chris Farley and Mike Myers. And it just like boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, one after another, he hires, you know, twenty five of the greatest comedians in American history over the course of like seven years. It's really amazing. And like, you know, you can say whatever you want about that show, but there is nobody better at spotting talent than Lorne Michaels.


And I don't think there ever will be.


Again, I had the great pleasure of going with Lorne to the Groundlings. He does, he used to do it apparently once a year he would come to L.A. and go to the Groundlings. I went with him once to the Groundlings and watched people. It was unbelievable to get his take on what he'd just seen and who he thought might have it, who he didn't. And walking into the Groundlings with Lorne would be like walking to St. Peter's Basilica with the pope.


I mean, you can only imagine how crazy. Hold that thought. We'll be right back. Were you ever there when the rule was still in effect, that you could not laugh like when I like, it was like you did not break it? And I remember him saying, we're not the fucking Carol Burnett Show.


First of all, great Loren impression. Yeah, I mean, that was always like that. I think the thing that he doesn't like is when it's like you're doing it to make the audience laugh. I think that he has a genuine appreciation for when someone does something that's legitimately so funny that, like, it makes someone else crack, like he doesn't want you to do it. But he wouldn't get angry at people if it were legitimately funny, like Andy Steele, who is a longtime writer there, and then later went on to run Funny or Die for work for Ferrell and McKay, his company, he wrote a sketch that was a writer's favorite that he tried like 10 times and it kept not getting in and eventually got in.


It was called Riding My Donkey. And it was a I was a political talk show called Riding My Donkey. And the premise was that it was like a serious political talk shows like, you know, I don't remember who the host the people were, but it was like, you know, you know, Chris Matthews and Sam Donaldson and whoever. But they were all like on live donkeys and their donkeys were all tethered to a pole in the middle of this set.


And it was called the Riding My Donkey political talk show. And there was there wasn't it wasn't a metaphor for anything. It was really just a piece of absurdist nonsense theater. And so they finally did it. Tim Meadows, Will Ferrell was the host and Tim Meadows was in it and Darrell Hammond was in it. And I can't remember who else, but like on air, the donkeys kind of went crazy. And one of them bit Tim Meadows on the leg, like, nipped at him.


And and everyone was just like giggling and laughing because he was like the donkeys were like wandering out of frame and like nothing like it was chaos. It was just like the live show chaos. And Lauren wouldn't have got angry at something like that because it was like, this is part of the fun of doing a live sketch comedy show. Right. Is like weird things happen. And so, like, that's fine. I think he doesn't like it when it seemed like the performers were like laughing to kind of spur the audience to laugh, you know, like that's the chiefs for the audience.


That's the thing that that's the thing he doesn't like.


You know, I wish I would have said I love the notion of writers having their pet like project sketches that they just keep trying to jam on and jam on and jam on. And finally they where Lorne down and he goes right where put it after update to see if it works. Yeah.


Because when I when I was I remember there was one of those floating around for one of the one of the shows I did. And it was and I guess they had shot it once with Christopher Walken for dress and didn't make it. But it's when it came up in the read through, everybody's like, oh my God. Like here it comes again.


And it was the notion the notion was a benevolent alien. Is landing on earth to bring a message of peace and love and this is this fifty seventh try to make contact, but every time he lands, he ends up landing the spaceship on people and crushing them to death mistakenly.


It's a funny idea. And I just remember being in this alien and it always ended with, you know, this beautiful monologue and then, OK, drop the door and they would drop the door and then one of the other ones would have to come and break the news that they've crushed a child to death.


And then they go, let's get out of here and say and say, that sounds great. I had my my version of that was called Hot Air Balloon Mystery Theater. And it was an old timey like Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie kind of thing where they were. It was a murder had happened in a hot air balloon. And there was like a Sherlock Holmes guy who was like investigating the murder. And the joke was obviously like they were all with they were all packed into this hot air balloon, like there was no possible way.


No one saw what happened. Right. And there were just all the jokes were just like, you know, you would have had ample time to get from that side of the basket to that side of the basket. And he's pointing, you know, one foot away or whatever. And I just it just made me laugh. And I tried it with like 15 different hosts and it never worked. And then one day Ian McKellen hosted and I was like, all right, it's now or never.


Like, if Ian McKellen can't pull, can't can't make a Sherlock Holmes character work. And so I submitted it one more time and everyone gave the same exact reaction that you just gave, which is like, oh, God, here we go again. But he sold it like a maniac. And at that point, I think it had been a while since I had submitted it and a whole new crop of people had come in and Seth Meyers was there and he did like a James Mason impression, which was really good.


And then Poehler was Poehler was in and she would dig shows like a sort of dowager empress, sort of Dame Maggie Smith, kind of a character. And it just like worked really well at the read there. And then I was like, oh, my God, it's going to happen. And it went on when to dress and to do well and dress. And it went on the air. And I remember being down on the stage watching it and it was like, fine.


It was a tepid response, you know, like five like B minus like a B minus, like a solid B minus. But to this day in my office at home, I have there is a still photographer used to take pictures of every sketch. And I was like, can I please have a picture of that? So I have a picture of Ian McKellen in full Sherlock Holmes gear and everything. And it just it really makes me happy. But, yeah, every I mean, every writer who works there for longer than a year has his or her own, like, favourite sketches that like never got on the air.


And they resubmit them once a year and just pray for the best.


When you met Poller, did you know, like, what do you remember the first time you met Amy and and could you've ever seen all the magic to come?


So I met her. I didn't meet her. I first saw her in New York. There used to be comedy show. Comedy show. The guys who did the state did a comedy show at Fez, which was a club on the Lower East Side every Saturday and I think was snow is Thursday or something. I can't remember. But someone was like, hey, let's go to this comedy show. This is before I was on SNL. And I was like, OK, yeah, sure.


So we go to this comedy show. It's like michaeline black and and, you know, all those all those guys, David Wain and they came out and they were like, hey, before we start the show, we have a group here has a quick announcement. We're just going to give the stage to them. And Amy Poehler walked on the stage and I didn't know who she was. I'd never seen her before. And she started doing this thing where she was like, hi, my name is, you know, Carol Johnson from the the New York University Research Department.


And we're just we have a new project we're working on now. Everybody else in the room knew that this was a bit except me. I didn't I thought it was real. I thought she was just a person from NYU or whatever she was pretending to be who was like doing some kind of research thing. And she was so natural and realistic that it was like a good two minutes before I realized that this was actually that the comedy show had started.


And this was a comedy bit in the comedy show. And eventually so I came here with a bit was but she called, she was like she invited someone and she was like, I need a volunteer. And then Matt Besser, who is, you know, co-founded UCB with her, came up in and then they started doing whatever dumb bit it was. I think in my memory, the bit was like he couldn't stop talking like Bill Cosby or something like that.


I just long before the revelations about Bill Cosby came to light, this is nineteen ninety eight or something, 1997. But anyway, the point was, I remember leaving and there were so many funny people perform that I just remember leaving and thinking like that woman who did that thing was so natural and so real. I can't believe, like I didn't know that she was even doing she was doing comedy without me even being able to realize she was doing comedy.


Like, that's an incredible skill. So then I get on SNL and she like everybody. Then a year goes by and I and I tell people this story and they're like, yeah, Amy Poehler, like everybody knows who Amy Poehler is. Dommy like Amy, Amy was legendary in New York long before she got on SNL. Everybody knew that she was the she you know, she had co-founded UCB. And in the comedy world, she was as big as anybody who is on.


SNL at the time, so then she you know, they get her on the show in 2001, the 9/11 show was actually her first show too crazily. Wow. So so she gets on the show and we just became friends. And I had her you know, she did a bunch of stuff on Weekend Update. She would play different characters. She played Avril Levine and in a Weekend Update feature ones just being Avril Levine. And it delighted me so much.


This is not a joke. I sent her flowers after it was over like I the after. On Sunday morning I woke up and I was so delighted by her performance. I just like called a florist and said, please send flowers that say thank you for being everliving an update. So I was just in all of her. And so, you know, I left in 04 and she stayed and I came out to L.A. and worked on the office with Gray Daniels.


And then when he wanted to develop a show with me and we were thinking like, well, who do we build the show around? You know, Steve Carell was such an important the most important part of the reason the office work is they just built it around a generational talent. And I was like, the person to do it around is poller. Like, there's just no one better like. And at the time she was she was probably in her last season, it wasn't sure, but she was also pregnant and Parks and Rec was supposed to debut the pilot.


It was a 13 episode order. The pilot was going to air after the Super Bowl. It was going to be the the Super Bowl, then the office and then Parks and Rec was going to launch that night, you know, to whatever. Twenty eight million viewers. But Paula was pregnant and she was due to give birth literally the week we would have started shooting the pilot. And so it was like, well, oh, well, I guess we can't have her in it.


And then we Graig and I kept developing the show and I was we kept just having this feeling of like, who else, though? Like who else can do this? Like, we just don't know anybody else we can look. But I don't think we're going to beat Amy Poehler. So Greg and I made with the time seemed like an insane decision, which was instead of giving us 13 episodes, guaranteed the pilot airing after the Super Bowl, we will voluntarily cut our order to six and debut three months later.


Yeah. Wow. Oh, my gosh.


So and we just kept feeling like getting like debuting after the Super Bowl is a short term thing. It's like that's a short term fix. Getting Amy Poehler in your show is the long term solution. And we would rather have poller in the show and only get six guaranteed episodes and debut in March or whatever. Then we would debut after the Super Bowl with someone we don't think is as good. So we voluntarily cut our own order from thirteen to six.


We did and debut on on January, whatever. We debuted in March, whatever. And, you know, hung on by a thread because we, you know, the cast was, as Greg is fond of saying, the cast on that show was great before the writing was great. And we eventually figured it out. We got we hung on by the skin of our teeth. We got picked up for season two. And then the show kind of started to take on and take off after that.


But it was really risky thing to do. But I was such a believer in her and I continue to be. But I just I was just like, there's nobody else who can do this character. There's no one else I want to do it with.


And so, yeah, it was a roll of the dice, but it paid off with that cast is so extraordinary. And I and I could be putting words in your mouth.


Bueso, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you're one of your great gifts in putting people on the screen as you kind of hone in to something that's in their essence and then like kind of like. Add water and nutrients to it, Rob.


That is literally what I mean, this that is literally and the reason I know that is because when I wrapped you, you sent me.


I have it framed in my office. It's so lovely.


Is your original notes from our first meeting together and.


Oh, yes, right.


And and you and there it says says literally all the time, like you wrote that in the very first moment that you and I.


Yeah. Well, that is the key to me, at least in to like I look, I think I'm in awe of actors. I don't I don't know how to act. I know I used to act in high school and college and I wasn't very good at it. And and I am really in awe of performers as.


In terms of just being able to, like, summon up whatever they need to summon up while in a costume and makeup, and there's people standing four inches away from them shoving a boom mike in their face, and there's cameras and there's distractions everywhere. And it's so artificial. And I think I think good acting is the most impressive skill that exists in the world. I really do. I don't because I watch it happen. Yes, I honestly do.


And I think, you know, there's a lot of writers are very cynical about acting or they're very eye rolling about acting. In fact, a lot of actors are that way to a lot of actors like to go like it's dumb. I stand here, someone tells me to stand there and stand there and say the words, it's all nonsense, because to be able to summon emotion on cue and to and to deliver comedy literally on cue, I think is just in the most impressive thing in the world.


And my sort of solution for how to bridge writing and acting is to say like, well, I'm going to try to make it as easy for these people as possible. Right. Like, I'm going to say, you know, here's my design of the character. And it's this isn't I'm not chiselling this in stone. This isn't the poem that's going to be, you know, written down on parchment and put in the Smithsonian. This is just an idea for what the character is like.


And then I'll meet the actor and I'll say like, all right, well, how are you? Like this character that I've designed in my head and how are you different? And how might I change my conception of the character to make it easier and more comfortable for the actor to to play it? And so, you know that, you know, Parks and Rec is a perfect example of this because every one of those characters blended some aspect of the real person into the character.


And by the way, I don't think I'm the first person to invent this. Like, this isn't like I'm not trying to take credit for this for this thing.


But but like, you know, you're like when I met Nick Offerman, you know, we had an idea for for Ron Swanson that was very not very different. It was a little different from what did end up being originally. He was he was like corrupt. That character was like on the take from like the private sector and was like steering government contracts to companies and stuff like that. But that was just like that was just our idea, because I was in the news a lot, because the financial crisis had just happened and there were all these tales of corruption and Wall Street stealing money and whatever.


And then we met Nick and I was like, well, that's not this guy at all. This guy is the most like. This guy has more integrity in his pinky finger than the rest of America has in its collective body. And so we just altered the character to be more like him and that some of that was basic stuff like this guy, woodworks like Nick Wood works or this guy plays the saxophone because Nick plays the saxophone. But really, it was more the more important work was in the sort of like how do you how how are you presented to the audience?


Like how you know, how are you like how what's his vibe in terms of how his character comes across? And when I met you, that was I mean, it was one of the easiest writing assignments of my life because I was like, well, I know how to write this guy.


This guy is just the most like, positive, optimistic, like excited, like upbeat, healthy person I've ever met in my life. And and so, yeah, I took those notes and I was just like, yeah, no, I get and you know, at the time we were Adam Scott was also joining the cast. And what was amazing about it was like how easy it was to pair you up, because I was like, well, they have to be they're a comedy team.


Right. And so comedy teams are like Laurel and Hardy, one of them's tall and skinny and one of them short and fat. So what's what do I do here? And it was like, well, I already had an idea for for Adam's character, which which was this guy who had been elected. One of those stories of he had been elected the mayor of his hometown when he was eighteen. And it was a disaster. You always hear about those stories of like, oh, an eighteen year old mayor.


You never hear about how badly the town was managed by the eighteen year old moron. It's one I saw one of my favorite.


It's one of my favorite Parks and Rec stories there's so many of. But that's one of my favorites.


Yeah, it's one it's a it's in fact the reason I had that idea was that was one of the original ideas for Leslie Knope. One of the very, very first ideas Greg and I had for Leslie Knope was she was that person. Yeah. And then we moved away from it. But I always kept that in the back of my head is like, this is a good back story for your character. Right. So weird. He had that for Adam.


And then I was like, well, if we're adding Robin in the mix now, I get exactly what this is, because he's the eighteen year old mayor wunderkind who turned whose life was turned into a disaster. And he's been slowly trying to make up for it every day by just being, like, austere and responsible and kind of like head down and like no nonsense because he was such a goofball disaster as a kid. And then here comes Chris Trager, who's all light and happiness and upbeat and shiny.


And everything's going to be great and positive and clapping and cheering people on. And they're a comedy team because you come in and you make everybody feel great and then you walk out the door. Then Ben takes out a machete and just hacks everything to pieces, so it just it was it was a true miracle because it was the two perfect actors in the two perfect roles at the perfect time. And you guys just fit together so neatly that I mean, it really was like so it took so little time to figure out how to make that work compared to other, you know, examples I could cite in the history of my own writing career.


It was just I was like, OK, I got this. Here's what this is. Boom, boom, boom, boom. And you hit the ground running. Yeah. I mean, like, if you look back at that first episode, it's in that first scene where you come in and you're pointing at everyone and smiling at them and they're all like getting googly eyed. And Leslie has a talking head where she says that looking at you was like staring into the sun and, you know, and then you leave and Ben immediately takes them into the conference room and starts like slashing the budget.


It was all it just all laid out very, very wonderfully and easily. It was it was it was a joy.


I remember for for me, there are two moments where I felt like, OK, I understood what you just where you get your sea legs. Right. And sure, it was the big concert with Freddy Spaghetti. All right. And I'm there's two hundred extras. I'm not I've no dialogue and seen nothing. I'm just there I'm literally an correct. And the camera's on Parks and Rec. You never knew where they were. A lot of times they were just wandering.


And so I didn't ever know. I didn't even know if I was on camera. But Leslie was giving a speech and the speech was meant to bomb. That was that was the point of the speech that she could not win the audience over no matter what she said. So Leslie started in the first big applause line where there was none Chris Traeger, because he loves everybody and everything started whooping and going crazy and think it was the greatest thing he'd ever heard.


And I thought, oh, that's who this guy is. He's positive no matter what.


There's one detail you have wrong in my memory, which is what she was actually doing was singing, if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. And she sang the first line and nobody. Yes. And then nobody clap. That's right. You're right. And solitary person way over in the distance. You did that and that wasn't scripted. That was just like you figuring out what the character was. He was the guy who was like, I know this song.


I know what to do. Well, clap my hands. It doesn't matter if I need nobody else's, because that's what you know. And I remember going into going into the edit bay and Dean Holland was editing the episode, I'm pretty sure. And he goes, hey, come here, come here, come here. And I go, What do you guys look what Rob just did? And he played that take because there were a couple of takes before that where you where you hadn't done that.


All the cameras were on Leslie. And then when it switched and it got wider, he goes, look, look what Rob just did. And the camera, like you clapped and then the camera, like, crashed into you because like you said, the the the operators on Parks and Rec, like on the office, were basically empowered to sort of shoot whatever is happening like that. You know, there's some direction like these people are going to stand here.


These guys are going to stand here, but like be a documentarian, like shoot the action, shoot whatever is interesting. And so you did that and they the camera found you and crashed into you and you have in your way in the distance. But you can see there's a giant smile on your face and you're really in the scene and you clap twice. And I was like, oh my God, that's amazing. Put that. And like that is that's a perfect sort of defining moment for that character is like he's the guy who it doesn't matter if nobody else is going to do that.


You're going to do that. Chris. Greg, you love that.


He loves that song. His favorite song that is literally it's a great song. It's the first song you ever learned. And he's never forgotten.


It's literally his favorite song. And so is every other song he's ever heard.


That's exactly right. And we'll be right back after this. And the other one I remember very vividly was because, you know, as you know, we would do the fun runs after the great writing, we would do them.


We just do whatever came to our minds. And that was such an amazing freedom. I'd never had anything like that, never seen anything like that.


And a lot of the times it was just a great it was valuable for a number of things.


One, to just to blow off steam comaraderie, keep your chops up. You know, I've very few of that ever, I think made it into the show. But every once in a while.


You would get you have connectivity problems from Pratt, I believe, with the fun run, it was because I was there for that.


Yeah, Leslie flew and and Norm Hiscock, who was on the set, said to Pratt, like he was sitting at Ron at APR's desk because they had the flu. And Norm Hiscock said, well, they're walking right past you, so say whatever you want to. So they walk past and and Pratt goes, Hey, Leslie, I typed your symptoms into the thing up here. And it says you might have network connectivity problems. And I've said this many times before, it's a better joke than I've ever written.


I've never written a joke that good in my life. It is. Is that a truly amazing joke by that actor in that character?


I thought it was I remember just laughing out loud. That was the same episode where where somehow it occurred to me to look in the mirror and say, stop pooping.


Yes. Another amazing moment, like an unscripted moment. Right. That wasn't a I don't believe that was in the script. I believe that was just you staring into into the mirror and saying, stop pooping at yourself.


Well, you know, Mike, magical things happen when I look in the mirror.


I mean, I think we all know that we should have made every episode because staring into a mirror would have been amazing.


And, you know, the other thing that's great about the show is, is you have all these stars and it's true. Everybody on that show, it's like the night. Listen, I don't use this reference because I feel very dated, but I use it for you because I know you're in a society. It's the 27 Yankees, right?


Yeah. It's a murderer's row that that row is is a murderer's row.


And you guys were so great about giving everybody the ball. Everybody felt like like that. They were valued and everybody got serviced and everybody got to go off and do all their stuff and there their other lives that they wanted to do, whether it was diseases, tours or nicks towards the books or the movies or what have you. And it was like I've been on shows where that just wasn't people. We're not going to do that. And you guys, yeah, we're really great about that.


I mean, well, that was always my theory was I was like, you know, in the TV shows and networks and studios can get really jealous of people's time. And the you know, the old system was like, you know, you were on Magnum P.I. and CBS wanted you to be like the only place you can see this person is on Magnum P.I., on CBS. Right. It was like that was it? And already. So they wouldn't let you go do anything else.


They wouldn't let you be another guest star. Maybe they would let you be on one episode or whatever. Even when Parks and Rec was on, we were in the early days of this. But like you could feel which way the wind was blowing. People were doing a million things. There were more, you know, limited series and there were shows on, you know, there were eight episodes or ten episodes. Now it's everywhere. But even at the time that was sort of happening, I was just sort of like, well, what who cares?


Like, it'll everyone will be so much happier if they can go do this stuff. Azeez can do stand up tours. And, you know, you were on two shows for a while, right? You were still on brothers and sisters for a while when you were at the beginning of Parks and Rec. I was on three.


I was on three. I was on I was on Californication. I was on Brothers, Sisters and Percs. Right. Yeah. And yeah, I mean, that's crazy. But like, you know, Pratt, I remember in and when season five I guess was ending, Pratt gets this opportunity to be in a movie and we didn't know whether we were coming back like we didn't we hadn't gotten picked up yet. And so his agent manager called us and we're like, look, he has this incredible opportunity.


And I was like, well, what what's the movie in there like? It's a Marvel movie. And I was like, oh, my God, that's incredible. They're called Guardians of the Galaxy and it has a talking raccoon in it. And I remember thinking like, all right, man, good luck. OK, you want to do the talking raccoon movie?


Look, I'm not going to stop you, but the point was we would have had to miss, you know, eight episodes or ten episodes of the show. But also we hadn't been picked up yet for the next season. So I was like, well, what's the what's the right thing to do here? Like, I could say no. We could all say no. And then if the show gets canceled, we've screwed up Pratt's career. Assuming the talking raccoon movie is good, which at the time it was like, there's no way this is going to be good, but whatever.


We've denied him that opportunity. And also and so we've pissed him off. And also our show got canceled anyway. So what difference does it make? So I was like, you know what? Great. Go do the talking raccoon movie, man. Good luck. Do the talking raccoon movie. We'll figure it out. And then I was like, well, wait a second, where is it shooting? And they're like, it's shooting in London.


And I was like, OK, hold on now. Because now we if we play this right, we could go shoot in London and use and say, like, look, pratts there and what we could do something really big and bold and go to London for our premiere, which was founded super fun. And so we worked it out. Morgan Sackett, who is the producer of the show, who is the best TV producer in the world, figured out a way for us to do it and.


They spend less money than we would have if we had shot two episodes in L.A., which is crazy. We flew to London, we did that. We we you know, we got Pratt off and running. We did. So we had our two episode from here in London. While we were there, we snuck across to France and shot a thing for the 100th episode, which was 10 episodes later, where Leslie and Ben went to Paris for the day.


We did that like total guerrilla style, one camera, like local local sound crew, the whole thing. And Pratt got to do the talking raccoon movie, which turned out to be like the seventh most profitable movie in the history of America and launched him into being the biggest movie star in America. And the point of all of this is just to say, like, everybody wins when when people can do things they want to do, like TV doesn't shouldn't be a thing that where people feel like they have to be doing it and you feel like a thing that they want to be doing.


And the way to make people want to do it is if they feel like it doesn't it's not holding them back from doing whatever else they want to do. So any time we could, we let people, you know, we let sometimes it's impossible, sometimes it just doesn't line up. But any time we could, we let people go, do other things and, you know, explore other options and do a movie here and do it or whatever.


And I it's just it's just basic. I think it's just basic consideration or human decency to try to make those things work with you possibly can. And by the way, the last thing I'll say is that when you have a roster, when you have the 27 Yankees, it helps. Right? Like the 27 Yankees. If you know, if Lou Gehrig missed a game with an injury, they were still going to be fine. So it's like they said Ruth and Tony Lazare or whatever.


So so I remember thinking at the time to like, man, I hate to lose Prad for a bunch of episodes, but like, OK, guess what, we have we have a season. We have Rob and we have Adam Scott and we have Aubrey Plaza and we have Red and we have Jim O'Hare. Like that just means like there's a little more there's a there's 18 to 24 more minutes of time that they'll be in over the course of six, eight episodes than there would have been.


And that's not a bad thing like those. So, you know, during that time, we wrote a couple more episodes that were people like Reetta got a chance to have a slightly bigger storyline because we just had more room.


What a cast. Michael, this this was amazing. Thank you. This was everything I thought, and we didn't even cover off my office stuff that I wanted.


So that'll be the next time we talk.


I want to hear great when I'm growing the most beard. I don't know if you can tell I'm growing back the beard.


I want to see I, I wanted to see that show so badly.


The Dwight Schrute farm, mose sured farm approved farms. I like when you was you were your character Mose ran. I just remember vividly you got you running around a lot. He like to run.


Yes. Yes. I mean the writers when they put me in the show would it was like a game of like what can we do. That's the most humiliating for Mike. That was essentially the challenge that they gave themselves. And so they would make me run for like a mile or they would make me ride a motorcycle across the roofs of cars as a stunt, or they would make me bouncing on a trampoline with my shirt on a seesaw with my shirt off.


I mean, there was like it was it was just a ritualistic humiliation. So, yeah, whatever memory you have of me from that show, if you have one, it's me doing something humiliating. That's pretty.


One hundred percent, by the way. That's it. I'm bringing back a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder that I've suppressed you. You did make me sing take me out to the ball game badly. You did make me. Yeah, you make me dance terribly.


That's probably actually me. Just I probably thought I was dancing great, but I think we used to have some fun little trigger in that way, don't you think. Yeah, it was.


But that wasn't that was it for a different reason. Right. That was just show like this guy is never he has no self-consciousness. He's just a happy person, he's a positive person. So he's at a club. He's going to dance and he doesn't really care what he looks like. If he dances, he's just going to dance and have a good time. And so he wasn't it wasn't the point was never to humiliate you, Rob Lowe, whereas on the office, the plane was most certainly to humiliate me, make sure you had it come and kid, you had to come on.


Thank you.


Thanks for coming on board my little spaceship today. I really, really appreciate it. Sure.


That was fun. What I really liked about that was just being reminded a I love make sure he's just. He's so just decent and smart and. Thoughtful, but he's hilarious, and I really like that we get to do a deep dive into comedy nerd history.


That was fantastic. But I love I love the whole thing.


He was a great guest and I'm glad he was here, but I'm glad that you were here. So hopefully you'll come back for the next podcast. And thanks for listening. You have been listening to literally with Rob Lowe, produced by Daventry Bryant and Delina Termine, engineered by me Deviltry Bryant executive produced by Rob Lowe for low profile Adam Sachs and Jeff Ross at Team Coco and Collin Anderson and Chris Banin at STITCHERY. The supervising producer is Aaron Belayer, downwith producer Jennifer Sampas.


Please write and review the show on Apple podcast and remember to subscribe on Apple podcast, Stitcher or wherever you get your buck. This has been 18 cocoa production in association with Sketcher.