As part of their ongoing plan to monopolize the world’s dwindling supply of free time, Hulu is rolling out a whole mess of new original series like Seth Meyer’s The Awesomes, and the offbeat western comedy Quick Draw from comedian John Lehr. For many, the western had its heyday back with shows like Bonanza and The Lone Ranger and films like Shane, The Searchers, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. For John Lehr, who some of you may remember as one of the original Geico cavemen or from shows like 10 Items Or Less, it’s a comedic gold mine waiting to be claimed.
In his new series Quick Draw, Lehr stars as Sheriff John Henry Hoyle, a Harvard educated lawman who, alongside his sidekick Deputy Eli, tries to bring the emerging science of forensics to the Wild West. The result is a loose, improvisational show that feels like Curb Your Enthusiasm-meets-Deadwood and manages to push punchlines to the brink of uncomfortability before reeling the funny back in. To get the inside scoop on the series, I caught up with Lehr to talk about bringing the Ivy League to the Old West, the appeals and challenges of making a modern western and why lettuce in a burrito is total bullshit.
Nerdist: So first question I have to ask is, “Did you go to Harvard?”
John Lehr: No I did not, I went to Northwestern, which is the Harvard of the Midwest. I feel like it gave me some real solid training about how to be a pretentious overly educated person.
N: I definitely know the feeling.
JL: Oh where did you go?
N: I went to Tufts University. If you didn’t get into Harvard, go down the street and go to Tufts.
JL: [laughs] Yeah, it’s so funny that the Harvard thing kind of stuck with the show, because it’s always something that’s cracked me and my partner Nancy [Hower] up. Because there’s a lot of Harvard peeps up in Hollywood and within three sentences they’ll let you know.
N: Yeah they find a way to work it in there right off the bat.
JL: I guess Northwestern is kind of the same thing but it’s a lot harder to get in to Northwestern now. When I went there anybody could get in. Well, not anybody, but I don’t think I could get in now.
N: I got you. I know what you mean. Nowadays it’s crazy, so much so that my alma mater now just had an essay prompt that said “What does YOLO mean to you?” which just made me want to set my diploma on fire.
N: Yeah I think they’re printing them out with rhinestones now.
JL: I have a seven-year-old daughter and I just wonder what the hell is going to happen to her.
N: It’s going to be a brave new world out there, so start teaching her the important hashtags now.
JL: I’m going to get her playing video games right away.
N: Exactly — it builds hand eye coordination. It’s an important skill set. So let’s talk about Quick Draw. You’ve gone from ubiquitous caveman to fumbling Ivy League sheriff. What inspired the show and what can we expect?
JL: Well, my partner Nancy and I have been working for a while. We did a show for TBS called 10 Items Or Less and then did a web series for Crackle called Jailbait and a pilot for NBC and another one for Comedy Central. But we always wanted to do something set in the Western. Nobody knows how those guys behave so as long as you stick to some basic historical stuff there’s a lot to play with in there you know? So we were just kind of looking for the right home and when Hulu came to us and said they’d like to meet with us and try to develop something, we thought it would be a perfect show for them, and they went for it and it was a blast. You know, it was just a bunch of nerdy comedians with guns and horses, and it was fantastic.
N: Yeah, it certainly seemed like you guys were having a good time when I was watching the episode. So are you a student of the genre? What are some of your favorite Westerns?
JL: Well, I don’t know if I’d call myself a student, but I did grow up in Kansas where the show is set and I did watch a ton of Westerns growing up. But I watched like Wild Wild West and Bonanza. It’s amazing, only now do I sort of realize how many westerns I actually watched, because as we were starting to research the show and see what was out there, I realized “Oh, my God, I’ve seen that and that and that”. You know, so I never considered myself a Western buff, but I guess maybe I kind of am.
N: It’s one of those things you don’t realize until you go back to try to evaluate and go “Oh wow, I did watch all of these.”
JL: (laughs) Yeah, but you know that’s not saying much because, basically, I was raised in front of a television set. My mother worked and my brother and I just sat there and television had their way with our brains.
N: Exactly; well, we are grateful for that. So, Quick Draw has a very improvisational feel to it so I was wondering, is there a lot of improv on set or do you guys mostly stick to the script?
JL: We have a script, a really detailed script, but the script has no dialogue at all. So there’s absolutely no dialogue. And furthermore, the actors never even see the script. So everything you’re seeing in the show is improvised. The only actor who knows what’s in the script is me, because I wrote it, and Nancy, my partner, who directs the episodes. So the two of us kind of guide the narrative, I guess. But we really want the actors to just go for it and do whatever they want and then we’ll kind of mold it. We really want to tell a story; a strong narrative is really important to us.
N: Yeah, you guys have the narrative signposts you need to hit along the way.
JL: Exactly, and especially in this show because my character is kind of like a CSI guy. We started researching those 15-20 years that was the cowboy era. That’s when a lot of the criminal investigation stuff started to come out, like the very beginning of ballistics, toxicology, looking at motives and identification, all this stuff. And they were way off on a lot of it, but the idea of having a CSI guy who studied all that at Harvard who comes out to the West and uses his brain instead of just, you know, hanging the guy who seems the most guilty…. In that sort of show you need to hit certain things, you need to solve the mystery. So there’s a real nice structure involved.
N: Do you have a favorite unscripted moment that didn’t make it into the final cut for the first episode?
JL: Let’s see… I mean we work so hard to get the funny. We go jokes first and then build the show around it if it’s the funniest thing. I’m trying to think what didn’t get into the episode. You know, I was at the crime scene, there’s a crime scene at the very top of the show where we’re examining a dead body, and I went off on a riff about how decomposed he was and just how disgusting it was, and it was pretty graphic. So we weren’t able to use a lot of it, but we did use some of it! We were able to shoehorn some of it in. Very little stuff hits the editing room that I’m disappointed about. If it’s good, it’s going in.
N: Yeah, I definitely had that moment of kind of disgusted shock and laughter when you just pick up the piece of apple from his stomach and eat it. So I can only imagine what didn’t make it in.
JL: And thankfully Hulu is really on board, ’cause we’ve done this improv style for a while and there’s all this extra material that never makes it into the show, and we’re always bummed that we can’t get it out there, but Hulu has been really cool about working on a pipeline to release all of the other takes. So if you’re really into the show, there’s gonna be a lot of extra footage that comes out.
N: Awesome. So speaking about Hulu, I think that it’s really cool and exciting given the Wild West nature of these digital first series. What attracted you to the platform, what are you excited about and do you think this is where the TV model is heading, to these online first release structures?
JL: I mean, from my point of view, it seems just like par for the course. Working with Hulu was really no different from working with NBC or working with Fox or working with TBS or Comedy Central. You know, the same sort of process. They’re super pro. Yeah they give you more latitude, I think, in a lot of ways. There’s kind of an independent feature sort of vibe going on where they’re really aware that point of view makes good television and the big guys, I think, sometimes screw it up by just having too much of a collaboration. Making a big show is hard because it’s this huge collaborative thing where you have literally hundreds of people working together. But also, it needs to have this really precise point of view coming from the creators and walking that line is really difficult, and I think the big guns can go too much on the committee side and it gets watered down.
N: You have too many cooks in the kitchen.
JL: Yeah, it just gets too far. And I think Hulu is very aware of that. They’ve just been really cool. Their notes are very similar to a network’s. The same for their marketing and PR. I just don’t see a difference, to be honest with you. And you know people are watching TV through Netflix and Hulu as well as traditional broadcast, so I don’t know, from our point of view it’s just like, “Great, people are watching it, people are producing it, let’s do it.”
N: Nice. I just have one more question for you. It’s a bit of an oddball, so bear with me. What would be inside your ideal burrito?
JL: We gotta have cheese. That’s just like a foundation to a building. And I am a big proponent of shredded beef. I like the consistency; I know some people don’t they like the chopped steak, the carne asada. I go with the shredded beef, I just think it goes better with the burrito, you know. It rolls up better; It stays in there better. Beans for sure, salsa for sure. I’m not a fan of lettuce; If I go to a Taco Bell and I get the Burrito Supreme, I’m telling them to pull the lettuce. I don’t want something cold and fresh inside something hot and… I don’t know. It doesn’t work for me.
N: It has no place in there.
JL: It’s like, what, you’re trying to be healthy? First of all, iceberg lettuce – what’s that going to do for you? And they shred it up so it’s soggy and there’s nothing worse than soggy lettuce inside a burrito. I’m trying to think, I like salsa, too, for sure. Also, I don’t want the rice in the burrito, I want the rice on the plate. If I want rice in my burrito, I’ll do it. Don’t do it, I don’t need that. But you know that’s it nothing fancy. I just want a big ol’ tortilla the size of my head with meat, beans, and cheese, really, that’s all.
N: Exactly, you just want a snack that can double as a travel pillow.
JL: That’s right! That’s exactly right! Lumbar, put it right in my lumbar. A nice, warm lumbar support.
N: That’s all we can really ask for at the end of the day. Well John, thank you so much, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me today, I really enjoyed the first episode and I’m eager to see more.
JL: Well, thank you. I’m a big Nerdist fan, a big gamer, a big nerder, a nerdist and a nerd, and I was thrilled to talk to you guys.
Hulu’s latest original series, Quick Draw, premieres on Monday, August 5th. You can keep up with John Lehr on Twitter. What do you think? Will you be tuning in? Let us know in the comments below.