Emmy-winning comedy writer Rob Kutner and filmmaker Jonathan Kesselman spoke with Solzy at the Movies about their new sketch comedy series, Gander.
Gander is now available on Tubi. The series features a rotating cast that includes Lewis Black, Russell Peters, Oscar Nunez, Rachel Dratch, Adam Goldberg, Maz Jobrani, Jay Mohr, Colton Dunn, Kevin McDonald and Scott Thompson, Bonnie McFarlane, Jordan Carlos, John Fugelsang, Jason Byrne, David McSavage, Erica Rhodes, and more. The six epsiodes tackle subjects such as Food Delivery Services, The Cult of Work, Planned Obsolescence, Symbols, The Exploitation of Death, and Modern Romance.
All 6 episodes of Gander recently premiered on Tubi. What was the genesis behind the show?
Jonathan Kesselman: A Dublin-based tech millionaire named Kieran Lucid had been wanting to do a research-based comedy show in the vein of John Oliver for over a year. He had been meeting with comics and writers out here, but he needed someone like me to help him put it all together for him. Kieran told me, “I’m like a Russian Oligarch buying a soccer team—I know nothing about comedy or film and so you can hire whoever you want.” The first person I called was Rob, my old friend and frequent collaborator, as I knew that this type of fact-based comedy was right in his wheelhouse. I also told Kieran that we should broaden the scope of the show so it wasn’t just Irish. Most of the actors and comedians I knew were in the US and Canada, and what was going to be something local, grew into a global transatlantic production on a budget. With the internet and digital tools, this couldn’t have been done 10 years ago. It was an incredibly intense amount of work, but it was a ton of fun to do.
There’s no shortage of comedy content out on television and streaming. What’s the big selling point in watching this over something else?
Rob Kutner: We deliberately tried to “zag” where other topical shows like John Oliver and Sam Bee “zig”—we use real facts and analysis, but we crank the comedy element up to 11 with outrageous, R-rated humor, full sketches, fake ads, and animation. We’re not seeking out the news junkies, but the average viewer looking to laugh their asses off and maybe just learn a little something.
With taking a while to get distribution and this year going the way it has, did you ever have any fear of the comedy feeling not so topical by the time of release?
Rob Kutner: That’s our other differentiator: We don’t do news-of-the-week politician-bashing. Instead we take aim at big societal, business, and cultural issues that are ruining things for everyone.
How did you decide which subjects to tackle?
Jonathan Kesselman: Kieran had a few topics that were near and dear to his heart — namely, Food Delivery Services. He also had paid for research on a number of other things, one being dating in the digitalise, and Bullshit Jobs. When he decided to do 6, it became a discussion between Rob, Kieran, and myself. Things that pissed all three of us in equal measure would typically win.
Rob, you wrote for late night comedy talk shows for almost 20 years. What thoughts do you have on how the late show hosts adapted this year on doing their shows from home and without an audience?
Rob Kutner: I mean, what else were they to do? I think it was refreshing to break out of the stilted studio format. But I have to confess, I’m still having some PTSD from seeing so many of them in short sleeves.
With five Emmy wins for writing, how do you stay grounded?
Rob Kutner: Thankfully, this business will do that to you on a daily, if not hourly basis! #blessed
Jonathan, it’s been a few years since you started raising funds for a sequel to The Hebrew Hammer. Where do things currently stand?
Jonathan Kesselman: It’s been a tough road. Kew Media, the company that owned the rights went bankrupt and sold their film library. Right before they did, I was able to buy the sequel rights free and clear. I also brought on a producer to actively help me secure financing. At one point we had a financier in Chicago who was in for half, and then triggered second money…then that financier died.
It felt like we were close a few times, then Covid happened. I just did a rewrite of the script to get the budget down to 2.5 million (from 4). We’re still pushing to make it happen, but raising money for independent film is ridiculously hard. If anyone reading this has a lead or is interested in investing, please feel free to reach out. As nobody says, “It takes a Jewish village.”
How has the pandemic affected you in terms of creativity—has it been easier or harder?
Rob Kutner: It’s hard to actually do it – what with dealing with kids and school and all the other sudden new “rules” and protocols wrapping around my life. But the spiritual necessity of creative expression, for me at least, has never been stronger.
Jonathan Kesselman: I bought all the post equipment from Gander and taught myself to edit during quarantine. I also wrote some music, started teaching myself piano and Spanish, and got to bond with my son. In a lot of ways, the lockdown was actually fairly productive for me.
In terms of series and films, what do you hope to see come out of Hollywood going forward?
Jonathan Kesselman: What I don’t want to see are stories that involve Covid. I’m looking to escape, not live the pandemic 24/7. Also, I have three projects I want to see get made. So, definitely my 3 movies 🙂
Is there a series, movie, or special that you find watching the most for comfort viewing?
Rob Kutner: This is going to sound so bandwagon, but for real, I found Schitt’s Creek to be the perfect blend of sharp character writing and familiar comforting tone. True pandemic story: It was my binge of choice while learning to use a sewing machine to sew (terrible terrible) masks!
William Shakespeare wrote some of his greatest work in quarantine. How much pressure have you felt when it comes to writing the next great classic comedy?
Jonathan Kesselman: I’m not familiar with his work? Would I have seen any of his movies or TV shows?
In terms of me, I’ve already written 3 comedy classics. They just currently need financing.