Editor’s Note: We’re diving into best comedies currently on television this week. To see all of our coverage from Den of Geek’s Comedy Week, click here. This article was originally published in May, but is being repromoted as part of our golden age of comedy series.
Simon Rich’s stock is rising at such a rate that you’d wonder if there was some sort of Monkey’s Paw deal he made with the devil. Or, you know, he’s just vastly talented in a time that seems to be finally rewarding the creative.
Rich has ping-ponged from one creative wonderland to the next, moving from Saturday Night Live, to Pixar, to ultimately creating and showrunning FXX’s deeply unique comedy, Man Seeking Woman. The latter is truly one of the most distinct, ambitious sitcoms to come along, as the series gleefully subverts the usual dating tropes by inserting things like robots, devils, and penis monsters into the mix. It’s like a New Yorker cartoon come to life, as wit is perfectly mixed with surrealism to create a show like no other.
Not too long ago, FXX announced the renewal of Rich’s Man Seeking Woman as well as inking a production deal that would see him developing new content for the network. We chatted with Simon about where this was all heading with him, what to expect in season two of the show, and what exactly is so fascinating about sitcoms.
DEN OF GEEK: So I know that you recently signed a two-year production deal with FX. What are you most interested in exploring with that? Do you have the urge to do more adaptations of previous works of yours? Or would you like to do something completely original.
SIMON RICH: Right. Good question. You know, I’m not really supposed to talk about like the specifics of it, unfortunately, for specific projects.
But I will say that I’m just really, really thrilled. FX has given us such an incredible freedom on Man Seeking Woman. And it’s just such an awesome home and I’m thrilled to keep working with the people over there.
Do you think then that FX is interested in more sort of material like what you’re doing? Do you feel like now more than ever that this sort of crazier stuff is working?
You know, FX has been giving creative people free reign for a while now. One of the reasons why I was so excited to work there was because of the way that Louie worked and the amazingly long leash that they gave him to create stuff that was really brilliant, honest, and personal. I knew from the get-go that if I could just get a show onto FX then I would have a chance to make the kind of show that I really wanted to make.
You’ve assembled eclectic group of talents for your writers’ room. You have people that have backgrounds in animation and theater. Does mashing up these styles and sensibilities help build this new sort of hybrid that you’re building with Man Seeking Woman?
Yes! Yes, big time. I think that very much by design we have–of course Ian Maxtone-Graham from The Simpsons. Who is just unleashed and has just been allowed to take full creative reign and doesn’t even observe the laws of nature. And then we have Robert Padnick from The Office, which is another hilarious–but much more earthen bound show, obviously. And then we have Sofia Alvarez who’s a playwright who is very much like–the sample that I read of hers is incredibly real, and natural, and 100 percent grounded in day-to-day reality. Completely brilliant. There’s Marika Sawyer from SNL, and then we have Dan Mirk, who writes for The Onion and Onion News Network. People who come from a much more premise-driven background. Even though people have these disparate resumes it always feels like we’re all on the same page. It feels like we’re all united; that we’re all right in the same idea.
And it feels that way. For some of these other shows that you hope to develop for FX, would you hope to use a similar setup for those productions?
It depends, you know. Yeah, it’s probably too early for me to say anything about the next couple of years and what the future holds for me. But this show is really important to me and I’ve been trying to combine different people with different experience in types of comedy, for sure.
Right. Were you ever trying to pitch Man Seeking Woman before? Did you go anywhere else prior to FX, or was there like a struggle of you trying to compromise the vision you had? Or did you just come along immediately at the right time and it just worked from the start?
Yeah, it felt really fortuitous. I mean, I always knew that I wanted to do the show as a sitcom because that was sort of the biggest risk–to turn it into an actual narrative sitcom. It just felt like that would be a much more interesting challenge than doing these loosely thematically linked sketches.
In order to do it as a sitcom, you know, it requires a lot of risk taking because it’s rare to have a live-action sitcom that incorporates so many surreal elements. I had this idea that I had to find a network that would take major risks and thankfully FX stepped in and gave me a chance.
Do you think that now sitcoms need to have some new, unconventional twist like your show does on the traditional sitcom format? Or do you think that something a little more classical can still work?
I think sitcoms are pretty cyclical.
Big time. They’re based on repetition.
I grew up watching a lot of very naturalistic sitcoms; or at least sitcoms that were set in the real world. When I was growing up shows like Friends and Roseanne were hugely popular, but I would also watch reruns of shows like Bewitched or ALF. Or shows like 3rd Rock From the Sun or Get Smart. There are shows like Small Wonders that were popular briefly. Or something like Get A Life.
Oh my God, Get A Life. Yes. Exactly.
All of these surreal sitcoms. I would say that my big influences comedically when growing up were animated shows like The Simpsons and South Park, Futurama, The Critic. And sketch shows like The Kids in the Hall, The State, Mr. Show and SNL. I would try to use sitcoms that combine the absurdism of a Monty Python sketch with the narrative drive of a sitcom.
Right, right. Even the piece you did for Amazon’s The New Yorker Presents has a very Man Seeking Woman kind of take to it…
That’s adapted from a piece in my first book, which I wrote years ago. And that’s always been my favorite thing to do. To kind of write about simple situations–in that piece it’s a guy talking to his boss essentially, and try to get at the scene from a new angle. Establish new high stakes with hopefully a new funny angle.
So with how well the first season of Man Seeking Women went, are you interested in trying to push all of this further? Like adding a troll to the main cast. Or maybe Mike starts dating a robot that becomes a part of the group. Would you want to moves things even further or keep this sort of separation between these two worlds that you have intermingling?
Well it’s interesting. It’s our hope to try to–I’ll definitely say that our second season’s more ambitious, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more surreal. You know, it’s like any second season. Our main priorities are in continuing to flesh out the characters and push the relationships forward to advance the narrative of the show. We treat it like a typical sitcom even though our toolbox is a little weirder.
Much weirder. Even your “Woman Seeking Man” episode was a big departure. Would you be interested in doing a different sort of take on that again this season? Planning anything like that?
Possibly! Yeah, possibly! I mean that’s the great thing with this show, that we really have freedom to do whatever we have to in order to keep it interesting. And hopefully captivating, too.
Do you see Josh getting a girlfriend at some point? Or does that sort of kill the engine behind what’s driving the show? Or could that be a whole different angle to explore?
I think he could! I think he could. This is such a bottomless subject. There are so many different shades of it. There’s everything from one-night stands to thirty-year marriages. I think there are moments of tension all along that spectrum that are interesting and dramatic. I love dating shows. Much of Seinfeld is focused on dating. I also love marriage shows. I also grew up loving I Love Lucy and The Honeymooners. I also love family shows. I also was obsessed with Roseanne. I think that every single step of the human experience is interesting. Obviously Josh right now is a young man trying to figure himself out. Trying his best to find someone, and there’s still a lot to milk out of that…
But him in a few years…
Yeah, exactly. He can be married, have kids, and I still think we’d find what we’d need to do. Some things are empirically funny.
Are there any new shows that you’re a fan of and watching? Any shows that you’re excited about and really into at the moment?
Yeah, I’m a really big fan of Big Time in Hollywood, FL. Yeah, I think those guys are great. I was really into “Next Time on Lonny,” that web series.
I think that their show is really well done and super funny. I was a big fan of Kroll Show; sorry it ended. Obviously I like Portlandia, which features the work of the great John Krisel who is one of our executive producers. There’s such good sketch shows, too. I think the stuff that Amy Schumer doing is fantastic and I think South Park is still as funny as ever. It’s still the funniest thing on television. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a ton of incredibly funny stuff out there and I’m really excited that we get to share a medium with all of those great shows.
Great. Well, Simon, that’s everything. Thank you once again.
My pleasure, man.
I can’t wait for season two, and “Every Prophet in their House.”
Haha, wait what’s that?
Just a Carnivale reference…
Oh! Hahah. Awesome. That’s crazy. We’re big fans of Carnivale, as you can tell.
I hope it comes up more.
It might! Thanks, dude.
Man Seeking Woman’s second season is set to premiere in 2016 on FXX.