It’s likely that Rob Huebel has made you laugh at some point in your life. The writer/comedian is a constant presence within the alternative comedy scene and a mainstay at UCB and on Adult Swim. While he still makes all sorts of fringe programming (like Crash Test or Drive Share), Huebel also appears in mainstream projects like Transparent and Baywatch.
YouTube has recently jumped into the original programming game and they’ve partnered up with Huebel to champion their YouTube Red service. Based on his series of Funny Or Die shorts, Huebel’s Do You Want To See A Dead Body? Takes an eccentric, warped look at Huebel and his comedian friends as he takes them all on disturbing adventures. We got the opportunity to talk to Rob Huebel about this project’s weird life, the joys of playing an asshole, and which of his friends he’d most like to find a real dead body.
DEN OF GEEK: You’ve got an interesting history with this concept. You’ve done a lot of different projects over the years, but why did this feel like something that you wanted to return to and expand into something larger?
ROB HUEBEL: So we originally did these as some shorts for Funny Or Die. It was one of those things where they just always made us laugh. I had so much fun shooting them and we got people like Ben Stiller and Deepak Chopra in them. It kind of took on this weird life of its own. Sometimes you’ll do stuff in comedy that just fades away, but this would literally just not die. People would always tweet to me about it. At live comedy shows people would ask me if I wanted to see a dead body. We always thought that it was funny, but when we realized how much it was still with people, we kicked around the idea of bringing it back in some way.
We went to talk to YouTube Red about it and it was just perfect timing. They’re starting to do all of these cool, original shows at the moment and it’s sort of the perfect place for this project. It’s not like normal TV where you have to worry about creative restrictions or commercials. They just got the idea from the start and were really into it. They had a bunch of funny takes on it too, so it felt like a good partnership. Honestly, they never gave us any notes creatively and let us just make the show that we wanted to make. So as a result we got to make this very insane, fucked up show.
It’s a very simple premise—I take a famous person to go see a dead body. Sometimes they want to go, sometimes they don’t. Everyone has a different reason for coming along, but in the end it’s not even really about the dead body. It’s about the fucked up adventures that my guest and I get into along the way. Sometimes stuff gets so messed up that we can’t even find the dead body.
Obviously these are longer than the Funny Or Die shorts and you’re allowed to tell more of a story, but did you want this version of the idea to differentiate from the previous one in any ways?
Well originally we had some kind of overarching structure that we did want to put in place. We had some ideas that we ended up throwing away. For example, at one point we were considering the idea that I get arrested at one of these dead body scenes and there would be a huge trial and all of that and I go on the lam. So we did have these big plot ideas, but the more we got into it, it just didn’t seem as funny. So the perfect format that we found in the end was doing 15 minutes that are unconnected from the other episodes. Anything can happen and there are no real rules. So it’s almost this live-action cartoon, which was a great approach for an idea that has such a simple story. It helps optimize the jokes and comedy.
On that note too, there’s never an explanation towards why or how I know where all of these dead bodies. We wrote it that way on purpose because who cares? It’s absurd that no one would ask me that, but it works and it helps keep it as short and funny as possible.
I love that about it; that you’re just sort of this beacon for corpses. I really like that you also ostensibly make yourself the villain of your own show. Is it fun to portray yourself in that exaggerated light?
Yeah, I think so, and I think you’re right. The guest is normally the high status, “cool” person and I’m kind of the loser between the two of us. I think it’s more fun to set it up that way where I have a crappy lifestyle where I can’t get anything going. If you watch enough episodes you can begin to piece together odd details from my life. I always have a different job. Sometimes I’m an actor. Other times I’m a sound guy. My roommate is Morgan Freeman and I live in his pool house. I’m just kind of the asshole here, which is fun to do and other people are forced to put up with me.
On that note, with you and your friends playing these heightened versions of each other, did that lead to a lot of improvising or did you mostly stick to the script?
All of the episodes are scripted and fully written. We wrote all of these episodes with fellow friends who are all comedy superstars in their own rights. So we went into them with these really funny scripts, but of course all of the people on the show are just naturally funny to begin with. So in a perfect world we would shoot one take that’s exactly as scripted and then another where they just go wild with it. That’s what we tried to do, but it gets a little tricky when you have a limited time and budget to shoot.
Obviously this is a comedy, but do you like being able to use the broader idea of death and our limited mortality as an opportunity to have some deeper, higher conversations on this show, too?
Originally that was my thought. I’ll say this, I love scary stuff and getting scared, but this is not that. This is all comedy. There’s no violence. It’s not like I killed these people. It’s just that weird Stand By Me dynamic. I am very curious about death and dead bodies though. It’s sort of a weird obsession of mine, but to your point, I did want those moments where we could have deep conversations about life and death. What happened though is that we would shoot these beautiful moments and then cut them down to the shortest, most absurd version of it. Adam Scott gives this beautiful monologue to a dead body where he goes on and on, but we cut it down to this insane, compacted thing in the end. There’s a lot of that in this. Alexandra Daddario is in another one and goes through a similar breakneck transformation.
I’ve read that you’ve said that some of the people that you asked to be on the show were concerned that they might be encountering an actual dead body. How could they think you’re capable of arranging such a thing!
Yeah, that came up a few times! It was funny because I’d explain the show to someone and they’d be like, “I want to do this, but how should I prepare for this emotionally? This could really scar me for life…” And so I explain that obviously, there’s no legal way that we could have real dead bodies in this. No state will just give someone corpses from the morgue and put them in a van for some dumb comedy shoot. That happened a bunch though, which made me feel like a lot of my comedy friends—God bless them–must not be very smart! They might be dumb people.
Which of your friends in comedy do you think would be the best person to actually discover a dead body with? Who’d be in control there?
Oh wow, hmmm. That’s interesting because from shooting this you do get a sense of how people would really react. We do treat it like it’s a real dead body and we do want people to react to it. So there’s a little bit of insight into reality there. I think of all of these people, Terry Crews has a really great reaction and that I owe him a dead body. In his episode he kind of gets cheated out of seeing a dead body—some liquefaction has gone on—so I guess I feel like I owe Terry a real dead body. So maybe I’ll get around to working that out…
Do You Want To See A Dead Body’s first season premieres on November 17th on YouTube Red.