‘The League’ Co-Creator Aims For Full-Blown Comedy in Fifth Season
There are two places where The League‘s cast will get mobbed, according to series co-creator Jeff Schaffer: NFL games and comic book conventions.
“That intersection is exactly what we want to hit: hardcore football fans and hardcore alt-comedy fans,” said Schaffer, who created the comedy with his wife Jackie Schaffer. “Your discerning comic book fan also probably has very good taste in comedy.”
Cast members Paul Scheer (Andre) and Nick Kroll (Ruxin) have appeared at conventions to promote NTSF:SD:SUV:: and Kroll Show, respectively, but The League as a series is set to make its debut next month at New York Comic Con, with a panel on Sunday, Oct. 13.
But at the moment, The League — it’s about a group of six old friends whose fantasy football league acts as a backdrop to their colorfully absurd and frequently indecent misadventures — is early in its fifth season, which premiered last week as part of the inaugural lineup of FX’s young male-targeted offshoot FXX. Despite being in fewer homes than when it was on FX — 26 million fewer, according to the cable channel – the show retained a strong chunk of its audience from last year, and grew from its long-running lead-in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Ahead of tonight’s episode, which centers on the wedding of perennial punching bag Andre and his “mouth like anus” fiancée Trixie (played by Glee‘s Jayma Mays), Spinoff Online talked with Schaffer (who has also written for Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm) about the new season, pushing boundaries while staying authentic, and sticking with friends that you can barely tolerate.
Spinoff Online: Jeff, first off, how was the first week of football for your fantasy team?
Jeff Schaffer: In The League of The League, which is Jackie and I and the six cast members, I am beating the living tar out of Nick Kroll. My team, “The Pocket Dogs,” is doing very well.
My other four leagues? It’s just a trail of tears. Unfortunately, doing a show about fantasy football means you’re shooting during the football season, and it is a big impediment to actually performing well in fantasy football. But once we stop shooting in November, I’ll dig myself out of this hole.
In happier news, you must be pleased with the first week ratings for The League, given the channel move from FX to FXX.
If you had talked to us before the season premiere, we would have given you a very political answer about how we’re excited but nervous. But we were frankly terrified, and now we’re very relieved. Originally, I thought the only way we were going to get someone to find the show was if they’re watching like, Fox Sports New Hampshire, and they accidentally hit the channel up button instead of the volume.
We were thrilled that we basically had almost the same numbers that we did on FX. That was a big relief, that our audience was able to find the show. But to be completely, 100 percent honest, I can’t tell you how disappointed Jackie and I are that there are so many fans of the show who can’t watch it right now. It’s something FX certainly knows about. We’ve been complaining to high heaven. FXX is in 20 million less homes than FX. Even if it’s in your house, a lot of times, because of what channel it is right now, you have to get some other extreme-sports package to even find it. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be, that’s not the way it will end up being, but unfortunately that’s the way it is for right now. To our fans who can’t watch it right now, we are sorry, we are working on it. I wish we owned the network but we do not. But it will get easier soon, I hope.
The League is now in its fifth season, and has established a consistent identity. Going into each season, is it very natural coming up with new ideas and over-the-top situations for the characters to get into?
A lot of times we dig ourselves into a hole from the end of the previous season. This season, we pick up where we left off: Andre is engaged to Trixie, who is allergic to his semen. [Laughs] So from there, naturally, the wedding and the draft are going to come into conflict with each other. We always set up things at the end of a season to propel us into the next season. On one hand, it was the wedding, on the other hand, it was meeting the final out-of-towner, the current champion, Ted, who is played excellently by Adam Brody.
We knew that the beginning of Season 5 was a natural progression and consequence of what happened in Season 4, and as you’ll see this week, the first episode was basically part one of a two-part season premiere. A lot of story that got set up in the first show are going to continue in show two. You’re going to see a lot more of Ted, you’re going to see a lot more actually of [Houston Texans defensive end] J.J. Watt, you’re going to find out what happened to Ruxin, and you’re going to find out what’s going to happen at the wedding.
Last year to this year had a very natural and, in a weird way, obvious progression. Ted having AIDS is a surprise. [Laughs] But you knew there was going to be a wedding.
And it must have been a lot of fun with the concept of what an Andre wedding and bachelor party would be like.
He and Trixie are setting up the most burdensome to the guests, labor-intensive, un-fun wedding, because they want it to pop. It’s bridezilla and groomzilla, and they’re so excited to have the perfect wedding, and no one else is excited at all.
Obviously one of the most important things to Andre about the wedding is his best man. It’s a “Top Groom” theme, so he’s got Jenny as his “Gander” right now. In the next episode, it’s just too much. It’s just terrible. Keeping track of all of those hats, and dealing with everything. She’s going to figure out a way to get out of it.
The genius of Paul Scheer — he is so good, this is such a hard skill to do — it is so hard to be insulted, insult them back, and in the insult back, give them more fodder to insult you again. It is a really difficult skill, and he does it better than anyone on the planet.
Jayma Mays must be a real trooper, given that she’s playing one of the more unflattering characters in recent TV history.
She has been so lovely. “Oh, I’d love to do the show. “OK, here’s the thing: You have terrible taste.” “Oh, that’s funny.” “Here’s the thing: Your mouth sometimes looks like an anus.” “Oh, OK, well, that’s sort of funny.” “Here’s the thing: You’re allergic to his semen.” “OK, all right.” More indignities are heaped upon her at this wedding. She was just amazing. She’s so good, playing a very difficult role. She’s just awesome.
As over the top as things can get on the show, it still feels real — or real enough. Ruxin being chased by Seth Rogen wielding a dildo trident seems to fit just fine in the same world as the guys just sitting around and watching TV. Obviously, some comedies go off the rails into less believable territory as they progress — is it a conscious move to push those types of situations, without going too far?
We’re always trying to do two things, which are often in constant conflict with each other: Keep it authentic, so it feels like hanging out with a real group of friends, because I think that’s the relatability factor; and the wish fulfillment factor. Wish fulfillment can be a subtle thing, too. “I wish I had friends that were as funny as that.” It doesn’t have to be, “Oh, I wish I could punch [San Diego Chargers tight end] Antonio Gates.”
We’re always trying to keep it authentic, and at the same time, we are constantly trying to push the boundaries of what FXX will let us show you. We’re always trying to figure out what’s new and funny and brazen. We’re not afraid to put anything on the air. The champion of the league has AIDS. “Full-Blown Ted.” And Full-Blown Ted has a better life than them. “That’s really funny; let’s do a story about how they’re all jealous of a guy with AIDS.”
On a similar note, it’s authentic not just in the situations, but in the relationships. The show is so much based on the characters cutting each other down and generally treating each other poorly, there could be a wonder of, “Why are they even still friends?” Do you see that there are also boundaries that can be pushed, but not exceeded in that regard?
As long as they’re consistent with themselves. We set up what these people are like, and as long as they act in a way that’s consistent with how they’ve acted in the past, I don’t think anyone thinks, “Why are they still friends?” That’s what we always say about the show: “You don’t have to know anything about fantasy football, you just have to have friends that you hate.” You have friends that you just tolerate, and the reason why you tolerate them is because it’s fun to be with them sometimes when you’re making fun of your other friends.
I think part of it too is, it works. If what they were doing wasn’t funny, you wouldn’t like it. That’s really the key. I grew up writing on Seinfeld. They would say, “George Costanza’s the most despicable character on television. He does all these terrible things.” But it’s funny, so you like it. Larry David — he does some things that you just go, “I can’t believe you did that. But I’m so glad you did!” or “Why did you do that? Oh, I’ve done that.” He does amazingly questionable things, but it’s funny. That’s the way I was brought up writing, which is, “If it’s funny, it’s funny.” We never, ever, ever worry about likeability. We just worry about what’s funny and what’s authentic, and people will like it or they won’t.
I will tell you a sentence that never has been uttered: “I don’t know, do you think people are going to hate him if he does that?” We just never worry about that. All we worry about is what’s funny or not. If people like this kind of humor, then they just want to see funny, and they’ll like it because it’s funny. And you know what? The person who’s doing that terrible thing that’s funny? They like him, because you know what, it’s terrible, but it’s funny. It’s that simple.
Which actually seems more honest than typical sitcom relationships.
Let’s take Ted, for instance. Ted was a cocky, smug, intolerable guy, and then he got AIDS. It didn’t make him a saint. It made him a cocky, smug, intolerable guy who now has AIDS. Which I actually think is much more realistic, and much more honest. We’re treating him like a real person.
The League airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET/PT on FXX.