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Los Angeles is a car city, and nobody knows that better than Melissa McCarthy and Ben Falcone. Before they opened their offices in Valley Village, they did their best work on the road — literally. “We used to write in our car,” says Falcone. “If we could get someone to watch our kids for an hour, we’d just drive around and write. We wrote Tammy almost entirely in the car.” They upgraded during the pandemic, and the new space plays headquarters for their production company On the Day; they’re now readying for the June 15 premiere of God’s Favorite Idiot on Netflix. The Bruce Almighty-esque comedy series drops at a time when the streaming business, once a Wild West-like free-for-all for creatives, is coming under heightened scrutiny and tightening budgets. Here, the couple discusses their creative partnership and their fight to revive the comedy industry.
What’s your secret to a lasting professional relationship? Have you ever had a creative disagreement?
MELISSA MCCARTHY We’re lucky because we started at The Groundlings and actually gravitated toward each other because we liked working together. I like his weird brain, and he’s the kindest person I know. We rarely disagree, but if we do, we don’t try to argue the point — we look for a better idea.
BEN FALCONE There was a disagreement when I was going to kill Pearl [Susan Sarandon’s character] in Tammy. I wrote that script originally as something that would show the world how talented Melissa is, and ironically somebody finally bought it after she’d already done that in Bridesmaids — so I thought, OK, we’re gonna have Pearl die. Melissa didn’t like that.
Where did the idea for God’s Favorite Idiot come from?
FALCONE I’ve been fascinated with theology for a long time. I actually wrote a novel about it in my 20s, with the same name. Melissa is fascinated by the idea of, if somebody was a messenger of God, how would they be received, and how would the messenger themselves react? Especially if it’s someone who’s not the quickest on the uptake. So that was where the idea was born, and then probably two years ago we sketched out a version of it — Melissa suggested it take place at an IT company —and then we pitched it to Netflix.
MCCARTHY We know an idea is worth pursuing when we can’t stop talking to each other about it. And lately, I’m feeling like comedy’s little slice of the pie keeps getting smaller and smaller. I can’t wrap my head around it because, man, do we need to laugh now more than ever.
FALCONE There are a lot of dramas about the workplace out right now, and something that Melissa and I talk about a lot is that it’s not very critically popular to do comedy these days. Obviously, some of our stuff is better received than others, and we’d love to be a hit with the critics. But regardless, we believe it is so important in these dark times to be able to watch something that will take you to a nice place for 30 minutes or two hours. It’s something Melissa and I are deeply committed to.
MCCARTHY For comedies, budgets keep getting lower, and we’re still expected to compete. If you get to make a big action movie, you have, like, $175 million, you can bring eight amazing castmembers to the table that all have their own audiences. You can shoot anything you want. Your post schedule is amazing. I’ve been using the example that it’s like saying, “I want a Bentley but I have $2,500.” You can’t buy that Bentley. God’s Favorite Idiot was a lean, mean budget.
FALCONE People think comedies are easier to make, but I’ve hung around with some of the funniest people on this planet, the Maya Rudolphs and Kristen Wiigs. All these talented people, and there’s not a one of them who hasn’t bombed. That’s how hard it is.
MCCARTHY You could tell a joke in a room of 100 people, and maybe 25 love it. Fifteen don’t get it. Eight are weirdly offended for reasons you had no intentions of. We don’t want to discount dramas at all, but it seems like there’s less questioning of it.
Netflix came out of the gates as the best place for creators; do you think it’s still seen as the pinnacle from that standpoint?
FALCONE We’ve certainly had good luck with them. We did Thunder Force and the Bob Ross documentary and now GFI. We’ve found some good support — the superhero movie [Thunder Force] is a great example of a time when we had a more workable budget, were able to get all these great people, do fight scenes, put bells and whistles on the movie and cast a wider net. But everything in the industry has become so corporatized, and even if you find an executive you feel a good connection with and who can help you navigate, they’re all trading seats. The person who was at Hulu is now at Peacock.
MCCARTHY There also used to be people who had the ability to say, “I have a good feeling about this, so let’s just do it.” Now that person is looking at it only analytically and saying, “Well, the numbers of this person’s last thing weren’t good, or the budget is too high.” I feel like what’s missing is somebody wanting to just try it and see how great we can make it. It’s a challenge when you’re in a creative and artistic field. We’re very aware of the business side, but I feel like it’s taken over.
Is there still room to take risks?
FALCONE Filmmaking is inherently risky. Sometimes the thing that sounds the weirdest is the thing that will do the best. I’m sure if 20 years ago we were told the leading force in movies would be Marvel, we’d be like, “OK, sure.” And I love Marvel movies, by the way. But I hope we can continue to have people in power who can greenlight interesting stuff from new creators.
MCCARTHY People love to say, “Well, a dog-and-cop show worked last year, so let’s do three more dog-and-cop shows.” But the surprise of original content is hard to replicate. Twenty years ago, when I read God’s Favorite Idiot, I thought, “What goes on in your head, Ben?” It’s such a delight to watch something and wonder what on God’s green earth they were thinking when they came up with it.
How has your actual creative process evolved over time?
FALCONE I think it’s important to be awake to the idea that creativity can come at any time and that I don’t have to be producing output to have value. The time I spend thinking about things has value. We spent so long doing comedy for free.
MCCARTHY Well, we were buying all of our wigs and costumes, so we weren’t doing it for free — we were paying money to do comedy.
FALCONE When I was waiting tables, the transaction was clear: I bring someone an iced tea, that has value because I’m earning money. So, it’s hard for me to get used to the idea that just thinking about things can be “work.”
What’s the craziest place or situation that has spurred an idea?
FALCONE We actually shot a scene for God’s Favorite Idiot, it was a scene of Live Action Role Playing, and our casting person had the great idea of finding real LARPers to come down and do the scene. They were an amazing group of people and we realized, “Holy shit, there’s something really magical happening here.”
MCCARTHY We had Steve [Mallory, their frequent collaborator] grab a camera and just start interviewing them, and it gave us the idea for our next documentary.
FALCONE We also had a running gag with some friends on the set of Life of the Party about a fake show called Bruddies. As in, we’re not brothers, we’re not buddies, we’re bruddies. Steve Mallory was crazy enough to actually write it out, and then the joke continued until we had a full episode. And now we’re recording it.
MCCARTHY This bit is actually going to be an animated show. I’m in it! It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen, but it’s also wonderful.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in the June 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.
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