I have been waiting to interview Jillian Bell since I saw her in 22 Jump Street. Her foil to Jonah Hill was my favorite part of a movie I loved everything about (especially the sequilitis and franchise ending!) I went back and caught up on Workaholics I finally got my chance since she developed and stars in a new show for Comedy Central, with her partner Charlotte Newhouse.
Gene (Bell) is under house arrest so her parents Ken (Stephen Root) and Tanzy (Angela Little) hire Billie (Newhouse) to tutor her, and essentially babysit her. I got to speak with Bell and Newhouse before the holidays about their show and comedy careers. Here is my interview with Bell and look for Newhouse next week. Idiotsitter premieres Thursday, January 14 at 9:30 on Comedy Central.
Nerd Report: What do you begin with when you create a character? They’re all so distinct. On Workaholics you’re so innocent. Mercedes was so cynical and Gene is so outrageous.
Jillian Bell: Oh man, that’s a great question. Geez, right off the bat. I honestly just look to play interesting people, people I haven’t really seen before or characters I haven’t played before or that I haven’t really seen before in general on TV or in movies. I’m just trying to make them different, at least from other characters that I’ve played before. Hopefully I won’t end up playing the same character over and over again because I think that a lot of people get caught up in that and see you as one thing, and then continue to cast you as that one thing. I’m trying to avoid that I guess.
Nerd Report: Did the heat of 22 Jump Street and The Night Before make it possible to create your own show?
Jillian Bell: Actually, we started working on this before all of that. I think because 22 Jump Street was coming out right before the web series, that was really good and that helped. I had already had my own relationship with Comedy Central through doing Workaholics. They had asked me for other projects and this was something my brand new partner and I, the first thing we wrote together was Idiotsitter. So we got really lucky.
Nerd Report: Do you have references like Dishdogz on standby for improvs?
Jillian Bell: That one was Charlotte actually but it made me laugh so hard I was like, “We are keeping this.” We actually found out that one of our crew members who works in props actually worked on Dishdogz which was so amazing to us. We have a lot of weird references in our show for sure.
Nerd Report: That’s nice that she gave you such a funny line.
Jillian Bell: Oh yeah, we give each other funny lines all the time. We hook sisters up.
Nerd Report: Do you have a glossary of vocabulary words for Gene? Some of the things she says like “Brain wheels” are so unique.
Jillian Bell: Brain wheels for sure is in there. Yeah, there’s a few things that we came up with. One day we were punching up stuff in our writers room and there was a part where I say something like, “Well, news report, your girlfriend isn’t cool.” And I go, “Well, should we think of a joke there?” They were like, “Jillian, do you realize that you say ‘news report?’ That’s the joke itself. You say ‘news report’ to say ‘this just in.’” Okay, yeah. I guess I’m so comfortable with her and know who she is that sometimes I don’t even know when there’s a joke in there, which I guess is a good thing.
Nerd Report: Did you and Charlotte ever consider switching roles?
Jillian Bell: I think this was always going to be the way it shook out. Charlotte is great at playing sort of weird maniacs as well but we sort of wanted to play to what our strengths are right now. I really wanted to play this sort of animal. Charlotte is actually very, very intelligent so she knows a lot of the stuff that Billie knows so it worked out well.
Nerd Report: Animal is such an interesting way to describe her. Do you think she can be domesticated or civilized?
Jillian Bell: I think so and you’ll see it as the series goes on. There’s part of her that gets a little bit tamed, but you know, I think she always will have that sort of wild side at heart. It’s just who she is and how she was not raised I guess, because no one really raised her.
Nerd Report: I’ve heard of actors doing animal workshops. Did you ever take the animal thing that far?
Jillian Bell: No, I would never take an animal workshop for Gene, but I guess if she was going to be an animal, she’d probably be a Tazmanian devil, something crazy like that.
Nerd Report: What wacky shenanigans are coming up on Idiotsitter?
Jillian Bell: There’s a lot that happens. There’s a death. There’s escaping. There’s slumber parties. There’s a lot that happens this season and it makes me really happy because I feel like I can’t pick specifically one episode that I would tell everyone to watch, because so much happens in each episode. Hopefully people will tune into the whole dang thing.
Nerd Report: Growing up, who were your comedy role models?
Jillian Bell: Oh gosh, I had so many. I love just character actors. I love Catherine O’Hara and Jennifer Coolidge. Tim Curry. I love a lot of people who do strange and interesting roles.
Nerd Report: For you was it acting first and then improv comedy, or comedy then acting?
Jillian Bell: I guess technically I did improv first because I took an improv class when I was eight, but I always wanted to be an actor.
Nerd Report: So where did The Groundlings fall?
Jillian Bell: I started with Groundlings when I was 18. When I was probably 24 I got my first big job which was doing Curb Your Enthusiasm. That was acting but I was also doing all improv, so I guess improv.
Nerd Report: Did you ever do standup?
Jillian Bell: I did standup one time but I feel like it doesn’t count because I did it with someone and I was terrified. When I was working at SNL, Abbie Elliott convinced me to go do a standup thing in New York. She convinced me to go up and do Drew Barrymore talks to Drew Barrymore, two Drew Barrymores talking to one another.
Nerd Report: Honestly, you and Abbie Elliott sounds like a double act I would want to go see on the road.
Jillian Bell: Oh, really?
Nerd Report: I assume there’s a reason that didn’t continue?
Jillian Bell: No, we just wanted to go up and be silly and do it one night just to have fun. It wasn’t like something that started and we quit the band and now we need to get the band back together. It was just a one night thing.
Nerd Report: Did anyone record it? Is it on YouTube somewhere?
Jillian Bell: Oh gosh, I have no idea. I feel like if it was on YouTube, my mom would’ve told me about it by now. My mom has probably watched everything I have online. So I doubt it but it was a really cool night. Zach Galifianakis hosted it and there were some other big standups. I have no idea how we got squeezed into this show but we just did it one night.
Nerd Report: Are you funny casually or only when you’re on the clock?
Jillian Bell: Oh gosh, I hope I’m funny casually. I’m probably not as funny casually but I like making people laugh. I think everybody that is a comedian probably has that in them. Just depending on whether or not they still use it. I pretty much still like to make people laugh off the clock.
Nerd Report: A lot of comedians use humor to deal with tragedy or pain. I get the impression you’re having a good time and you seem pretty happy. Was humor ever a coping mechanism for you?
Jillian Bell: I’m sure. Every childhood has some difficulties. I didn’t have that many. I had a great childhood but there were times when we struggled and it definitely helped to have a sense of humor in my family. If we ever got into a fight, we would make up pretty quickly. My family is super close. Everybody has their own struggles and I’ve definitely always dealt with panic attacks and anxiety from when I was younger. It’s a way to sort of deal and make life not so serious because it can get very serious if you allow it to.
Nerd Report: Are you saying humor helped keep you calm and steady, or calm down after one?
Jillian Bell: I just mean that it’s important to find humor in anything. At the time of having a panic attack, you can’t really find that humor but I’m just saying that everybody goes through real struggles and hardships. For me, I’ve had throughout my life. If I allowed it to, it could probably eat me alive but I’m not going to allow it to. So instead, I just continue on and I find happiness through making people laugh.
Nerd Report: Did humor help you in high school?
Jillian Bell: I was lucky. I don’t think I dealt with too many bullies, but I think humor allows you to sort of make all types of friends. I was lucky to go to a high school that my class was super close, so we didn’t have all the cliques that I always see in movies that are so cool. I wish I was in a freaking clique in high school. No, I’m just joking. I guess it made it a little easier to make friends with everybody if you were making them laugh.
Nerd Report: Were there any other performers in your family?
Jillian Bell: Not really. I come from very creative people. My mom is so funny and super sarcastic. My dad passed away but he was a riot and so goofy and very creative too. He had his own advertising company so he did a bunch of commercials and always came up with the ideas and contests for that. He always wanted to come out to L.A. and direct or do something involving the industry. In a way I sort of feel like I’m living out a little part of his dream which is really cool to me.
Nerd Report: As the first show you developed yourself, were there any surprises making Idiotsitter?
Jillian Bell: I feel like one that was sort of difficult for Charlotte and I was the writing process because we’re just used to the two of us writing something, whether it’s a movie or TV show or anything, a pilot. So having other writers write for us, while absolutely helpful and wonderful, was difficult giving someone else the reigns of your baby. So that was an interesting experience but all in all, it was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever done in my life. I want to do it all the time so I’m really keeping everything in my body crossed that we do a second season.
Nerd Report: Was there also a big difference going from web series to half hour television?
Jillian Bell: Not too much besides the amount of time we spent on it. A lot of people were nervous about that. I think Comedy Central might’ve been too, like, “How are you going to make this 22 minutes?” For us, we always saw it as a TV show. That was never the hard part. The web series would basically be the first seven minutes and then you’d go to commercial. Then you’d come back and we’d have more for you of the same thing but just continue on as a full story. So that was never a difficult thing for us. We never had a hard time with that.
Nerd Report: What originally made you think of a spoiled brat under house arrest?
Jillian Bell: We wish we had a cooler story, but I think honestly we were trying to think of what’s a show that we could do thats sort of contained into one space, which is the house, so that we can save a lot of money? Then what are the kind of characters we want to play? Charlotte was a girl who spent a long time in academia and I’m sort of a weirdo. So we’re like, “What’s the heightened version of this and why would these two people have to sit together? Maybe there’s a house arrest situation. That’s how we stay contained in the house.” Then we just created the characters from there out. We sort of had in mind that we would keep the show 70-75% in the house and the rest out of the house, like follow Billie out into the world or Tanzy and Kent.
Nerd Report: Were there any difficulties or funny mishaps shooting the opening scene on the horse with the cops?
Jillian Bell: Absolutely there was. Ice Cream, which is the reason we chose that horse because its name was Ice Cream, did not love me being on him. Plus, I’m walking around holding a jug of alcohol and then trying to make this horse just stay straight and walk ahead. There was one time where it bucked a little bit. There is a blooper of that which I think is me basically being like, “Oh, f***, f****, f****.” The horse just kept going off and into camera. To the left and straight into camera. We had some difficulties with Ice Cream but I still stand by our decision to hire ice cream.
Nerd Report: Was the almost kissing at the end of 22 Jump Street an improv or was that already in the script?
Jillian Bell: Yeah, I think we all came up with that idea. Phil, Chris, Jonah and I were just like, “That would be funny.” Then we just kept doing it. It was like what if a fight turns into sort of Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in Mr. and Mrs. Smith but it’s the opposite. It’s not sexy. We just went with it and they let us improvise a ton. I was so shocked that most of it stayed in the film because usually you’ll go on these rants and one line will be kept in the film, but they kept a lot of it. I was really happy about that.
Nerd Report: Well, I hope this is the first of many interviews for us.
Jillian Bell: Thank you so much. That’s so nice of you to say.
Nerd Report: You’re welcome. Hopefully for more Idiotsitter and other films.
Jillian Bell: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day.