ANDREA SAVAGE IN LOS ANGELES, APRIL 2017. PHOTOS: BRIAN HIGBEE/COPIOUS MANAGEMENT. STYLING: JEN PATRYN/DE FACTO. HAIR: CAILE NOBLE FOR STARWORKS ARTISTS USING KÉRASTASE. MAKEUP: NICOLE WALMSLEY FOR THE WALL GROUP USING CHANEL. SPECIAL THANKS: APEX PHOTO STUDIOS.
In the pilot of I’m Sorry, Andrea Savage’s new comedy series for TruTV, a couple with a young daughter discovers another mother in their circle was once a prolific porn star. Facing her at a children’s birthday party later on, they struggle to maintain their composure. “They just don’t prepare you for this stuff in the parenting books,” says Mike (Tom Everett Scott). “No, they do not,” replies Andrea, who is played by Savage herself.
Co-produced by an impressive array of comedians including Adam McKay, the Lonely Island lads, and Will Ferrell, I’m Sorry is largely inspired by Savage’s own experiences as a working, married parent in Los Angeles. “My character is a very close version of me,” the comedic actor explains. “It’s definitely exaggerated, especially in the awkward moments, but the episodes are all based on real stories, and many of the dialogue lines are based on real life,” she continues. “I have more of a filter. My husband would argue my character is way more fun on a regular basis.”
Twenty years into her career, Savage is a comedy veteran: you’ve seen her as President Montez in Veep, Helen Basch in Episodes, and Veronica Von Vandervon in The Hotwives of Orlando. Alongside Jason Mantzoukas, who plays her writing partner in I’m Sorry, Savage stole every one of her scenes in Leslye Headland‘s Sundance film Sleeping With Other People.
Here, Savage speaks to her longtime friend and former Groundlings and Significant Others (2004) colleague, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Kaitlin Olson.
KAITLIN OLSON: Congratulations on being interviewed by me.
ANDREA SAVAGE: Thank you. I feel like I’ve arrived. Just now, for the first time.
OLSON: I feel like I’m in some weird power position. I’m enjoying it.
SAVAGE: This has all been constructed by me—it’s a long con. Don’t worry.
OLSON: You’ve got a long con going on?
SAVAGE: I’ve got a real long con.
OLSON: Alright. I can’t wait to see how it plays out. In all seriousness, congratulations on I’m Sorry. I think it’s genius.
SAVAGE: Don’t get crazy.
OLSON: Well, it’s not genius, but it’s great, and I’m very proud of you. I’m wondering who your comedic influences are.
SAVAGE: Present company excluded?
OLSON: You’d want to not mention me too much, because this is not about me, it’s about you.
SAVAGE: Right. I was very into Lucille Ball growing up. She was a big, big influence. I had the sheets and the dolls and everything. She was the first, and then it went into a Gilda Radner world, but also Carol Burnett—the bigger sketch comedy people, surprisingly, because I don’t really do that. Then I would say Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Steve Martin, and Larry David. I got into people who were doing versions of themselves—using their own uniqueness, but tweaking it.
OLSON: All those ladies you mentioned, those are my go-to answers in every interview, which is maybe why we like each other.
SAVAGE: That might be. Also, let’s not forget a Joan Rivers and a Betty White.
OLSON: Oh, Betty White.
SAVAGE: All of the Golden Girls ladies.
OLSON: Every single Golden Girl. My husband and I watched that recently. It’s hilarious.
SAVAGE: It holds up! It’s still hilarious.
OLSON: When did you start performing? I don’t know this answer. I don’t know if you did theater when you were a kid.
SAVAGE: I did musical theater.
OLSON: Oh. How did you do that? You have a horrible voice.
SAVAGE: First of all, you don’t know that. I was actually in two acapella singing groups and was the lead in many, many musicals. So…
OLSON: In high school?
SAVAGE: And into college.
OLSON: Jeez. Okay.
SAVAGE: Kaitlin, there’s a lot of gifts I have that I’ve kept from you, because I want you to unravel them.
OLSON: I don’t think I’ve ever actually heard you sing.
SAVAGE: I don’t really sing anymore, so my voice is probably terrible, but once upon a time.
OLSON: Can you sing for me right now? I can tell you my honest opinion.
SAVAGE: I can sing anything from Hamilton.
OLSON: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Go!
SAVAGE: No. I’m not singing for you right now.
SAVAGE: I started in musical theater, really pulling a lot of big faces—big musical comedy.
OLSON: You have a big, beautiful mouth, so that was probably easy.
SAVAGE: I have a very big mouth. And big eyes. Large facial features. I started in the comedy musical theater world in high school—I was Mame in Mame my senior year—and then did it through college. But I was pre-law in college, and really never thought I would be an actor professionally. I was very academic and was like, “That’s so irresponsible. I would never do that.” And now, here I am.
OLSON: That was going to be my next question, because I know you went to a real fancy school for smart people.
SAVAGE: Well, it’s sort of the bastard stepchild of the fancy schools. It’s the one everyone makes fun of, Cornell.
OLSON: I’m not going to. I went to the University of Oregon because it was close to home and I didn’t want to be far away from my mom.
SAVAGE: Well, you’re a disaster.
OLSON: I know. So, what happened? What did you think you wanted to be?
SAVAGE: I was going to go to law school. I think because I grew up in L.A. and no one in my family was in the entertainment industry, I had a lot of judgment. I studied abroad in Spain my junior year of college, which was amazing and also very lonely and hard, and it was there that I could finally listen to that weird little voice: “I think you want to try this. I know you don’t want to admit this to anybody, but I think this is what you want to do.”
OLSON: I guess if you’re from Los Angeles acting isn’t cool.
SAVAGE: It wasn’t cool, and it just seemed like, “Why would I do that?” I had some judgment on my own self about that.
OLSON: So you came back from Spain, what did you start looking into first?
SAVAGE: I didn’t discover comedy as a path for longer than I should have. I had to go back to school after Spain, I had one more year left, and I was still a pre-law major. I remember, you had to sit with your advisor, and by that point I think I’d come out to my family as an actor. I went in and I was like, “I’m actually going to go be an actor.” And my advisor just didn’t register it at all on her face. It was as if I was speaking another language. She paused and was like, “After that, do you think you’re going to necessarily, for sure, got to law school, or would you also consider business school?” I was like, “Did she not just hear my declaration?”
OLSON: [laughs] It was like you told her you were hungry and needed to go grab a snack.
SAVAGE: It just was such a foreign thing. I still did it, but it was like, “Oh god, no one thinks this is a good idea.” I think the person who actually encouraged me to audition for Groundlings, which is where we know each other from, was Chris Parnell, who I met in a cold-reading audition workshop. We became friends, and he was like, “You should audition for Groundlings. You’re really funny.” I went and saw a show there, I saw Jennifer Coolidge perform, and I was like, “She’s amazing. Yes, please.”
OLSON: I remember my first Groundlings experience, I saw Melissa McCarthy, and I was like, “Yeah… yeah.”
SAVAGE: “This is the place.” I auditioned there and got in the program there. Then I was in the Sunday Company, and then I was cut.
OLSON: Me too. I just say fired.
SAVAGE: I guess fired, but fired makes it sound like you were paid something.
OLSON: We were not paid.
SAVAGE: We paid to be in it and paid to be fired. I think you were cut right after me.
OLSON: I was.
SAVAGE: My Groundlings experience, apart from the cutting/firing part at the end, was great. I felt like it really taught me the beginning of writing, and also improv, which has been the key to most of my career. The one way that I don’t think Groundlings was the right fit for me, and I wish a place like UCB had been in L.A., was that sketch comedy and big characters are not my forte or favorite thing to do. My favorite scenes were where I was playing a version of myself, and writing a funny scene.
OLSON: You’re not a Saturday Night Live track.
SAVAGE: Melissa and I were in the Sunday Company together, and did many scenes together, and she’s the most amazing sketch performer. She’s so good at it. I knew I was a good writer and I had successful scenes, but I wasn’t good at putting on the wig and the glasses and the weird outfit. It just never totally worked on me. After Groundlings, I started doing stand-up and could meld what I learned there and just being me, and getting directly to the audience. That is when I started to realize, “This is my place—a version of me and grounded.” It was a more grounded comedy that I excelled at.
OLSON: Then you started playing some really great clubs.
SAVAGE: I advanced in stand-up quickly, I think because I was already a performer. I got some good stuff in stand-up, and met a lot of people in that world that I really liked. But then, for good or bad, I started working on a couple of shows, and you can’t really go out at night, because you’re up so early. I also got married to somebody who worked, and who still works, a normal day job, so the lifestyle of being out until 3 AM and sleeping until 10 or 11 was not going to work anymore.
OLSON: Do you miss that? If you could, would you do both?
SAVAGE: One hundred percent. I tried a couple of years ago to go back and do it—”I’ll just do one a week or every two weeks”—but it’s just not enough. It’s a muscle that you need to exercise; you need to do it four or five times a week.
OLSON: It’s a job. It gets better the more you do. I know you wanted to develop your own stuff, was that because you were having a hard time finding projects for women in comedy that you wanted to do? Or was it because you just wanted to be in charge of every aspect of production?
SAVAGE: Definitely more the former. I’d had my daughter and was back in the business, and suddenly all of the roles that were being sent to me were mom roles, which are just underwritten, underdeveloped, very one-note, not funny usually, sexless, and non-edgy. Just thankless. I was like, “I can’t read another harried mom of three description.” Also, I don’t play it well. I could do it, but I don’t want to do it, so I’m not even going to do it the way they want me to. I had developed a lot of shows in those years, I’d been paid to write them by different networks, and none of them had gone. They were versions of me playing myself in different ways. You can’t wait around for someone to develop a role for you. Especially as a woman over a certain age, you’re either the hardcore cougar, the president of something—which I’ve also done quite a few times—or the harried mom. I was a huge fan of Louie and Master of None and Curb Your Enthusiasm, those single point of view shows, and I was like, “Why are they all men? Why can’t there be a female version that’s not 25? Somebody who is a mom, but is also a lot of other things and is funny and has a life and is not asexual.” Those are the shows that I like to watch.
OLSON: Me too, which is why I like your show so much. How long has it been since you first came up with the idea for I’m Sorry? I remember us going out to lunch and talking about it at least 75 years ago.
SAVAGE: Seventy-six years ago.
OLSON: It’s been a while.
SAVAGE: You were young; you were, like, 40.
OLSON: Oh my god, I was so young! It’s hard for me to remember how old I am. I just figure out how old you are and then I subtract several years, because I always remember you’re a couple of years older than me. However old I was, I just know you were a few years older.
SAVAGE: [laughs] Yeah, yeah, yeah. I first had the idea about three years ago, but I shot the presentation two years ago. It was percolating; it’s a long process. I shot a presentation, which is what I used to sell the show, because I was like, “I want you to see exactly the tone and exactly what it is.” The network, TruTV, was like, “This is what we’re looking for. We want a writer-performer, and we want to just support your vision.”
OLSON: Music to your ears.
SAVAGE: But also, after you’ve been in this business for a long time, you’re like, “Yeah… go fuck yourself. You say that, but we’ll see.” But they really have done it. I keep saying if this show doesn’t work, I have no one to blame but myself, which is great. It’s so nice in this day and age to have some sort of line between your vision and what ends up on the screen. That is just, unfortunately, not often the case.
OLSON: I know we talked about it at lunch yesterday, but how does it feel to be entirely responsible for every aspect of it, from writing all the way to editing? I know you have a family. I’m not sure anyone asks men how they balance their children with their jobs—
SAVAGE: —They don’t.
OLSON: But I get asked that a lot, and it is a factor.
SAVAGE: It’s a huge factor.
OLSON: What has that been like?
SAVAGE: It’s been hard. I put a lot of rules in place, like when we were in the writer’s room, we had to end by 4:30 PM. I would do drop-off and I was home by 5 PM, and that was just it. I would work after my daughter went to bed and do re-writes, or before she got up in the morning. For production, I knew those 11 weeks were going to be really hard. We talked about it a lot. I’m very lucky, my mom lives in L.A. and she would come over and spend the night, take my daughter to school, pick her up from school, bring her to me in the afternoons. My husband, who has a crazy job, was like, “I’m going to be home by 6 o’clock every night.” I didn’t write any exterior night scenes for the show, and was very hardcore about how far away the locations could be. I kept everyone on schedule. You have to lay down some laws, and not shooting at night is huge. I had two scenes that we shot one night, and that was it. Those 11 weeks were hard. It’s no joke. I, luckily, had a great support system and really talked to her about, “This isn’t indefinite.”
OLSON: Especially because you made such a commitment to bedtime and morning time. For me, if I’m there for those for my kids, they’re okay. I miss them a lot during the day, but they’re going to school. I don’t think they notice it as much as we do. Were you able to really take it all in and process the fact that this is your baby coming to life? Were you able to enjoy it?
SAVAGE: I was able to enjoy it at a certain point. I keep comparing it to a marathon—it’s so hard, but also exhilarating, but also hell. Near the end, people start pooping themselves. There’s the feeling of collapsing and you’re like, “Okay, I’ve got a second wind.” [But] I’m nine winds down at this point, how much more do I have in me? It tested me to the limits, but in a great, exciting way. Also, the fact of it happening to me over the age 40, I have an appreciation for it. After so many years of being really close and not getting to do my show, or working on other people’s shows, I appreciate it now. I know this doesn’t come around often and this could be the only time.
OLSON: What happens on set on the days when, say, you’re ovulating? Is the crew still able to take you seriously or respect anything you say? Because that’s like, “Woah… she’s a woman.”
SAVAGE: “She’s a woman, and now it all makes sense when she’s so crazy, and why she wants the props to be to right, and why that angle of the camera doesn’t work. Obviously she’s on her period.”
SAVAGE: Overall, I had an amazing crew, but there were moments where I would be very clear-cut—”Why is their breakfast food here? This is a lunch scene”—and I felt like, even on my own set, it could’ve been greeted a little bit more like, “Oh, she just knows what she wants,” or, “That’s just the way you get it done,” versus, “Wow… there was probably a nicer way to say that.”
OLSON: I completely understand that. Sometimes I can’t help but think, “If Rob [McElhenney] were to say that exactly the same way, men would just jump and get it done.” Some of the crewmembers, they’re more old school. Do you feel like it’s difficult for women in the comedy world still? Or do you feel like that’s changed?
SAVAGE: It’s changed a ton, I think, just in terms of what a woman can play on TV and the range of what you can do. TV is just so broad now; you don’t have to cast as wide of a net. It’s Always Sunny started a lot of this. A lot of people paved the way in the last couple of years: Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham. I feel like it’s changed dramatically from when we started.
OLSON: Good. Me too. Wouldn’t it be nice if that wasn’t a conversation anymore? If that wasn’t a question I thought to ask you?
SAVAGE: Yeah. Even when we were talking about marketing, somebody at one point said, “It’s a show about a woman…” and I was like, “Why do we have to say it’s a show ‘about a woman.’ It’s a show about a person. You don’t say, ‘King of Queens is a show about a man, who…’ Can we just lose that reference completely?”
OLSON: I think in the next 10 years, we’ll be able to. I hope.
I’M SORRY PREMIERES TOMORROW, JULY 12, 2017, ON TRUTV.