Talking comedy, THE GREAT INDOORS, and Shakespeare with Shaun Brown
Tonight on CBS, Joel McHale and Stephen Fry return to TV in CBS’ THE GREAT INDOORS, a show following McHale’s Jack, an adventure journalist who faces a digital takeover of his outdoor-lifestyle magazine, and a workforce full of millennials.
Shaun Brown plays Mason, one of those millennials who is excited about Jack returning to roost, hoping he can learn something from this great adventurer.
“They’ve [Millennial characters] have never been to the wild, they’ve never roughed it, at all,” Shaun said, about the humor in conflict. “Just the conflict between those two. At the end of each episode, we learn something and we achieve a goal given our pros from each generation.”
On the appeal of the show, and working with this cast, Shaun said, “It’s a really cool nostalgia, but also very like, ‘Wow. I could totally relate to this.’….I totally forget that we’re doing a job. It just feels like we are playing around.”
Throughout our long chat, we talked more about working with the cast (“it’s been amazing”), working with professional animal actors (including a raccoon and a lemur), the Millennial reaction, and our favorite Shakespeare plays – read on for the full interview below and check out THE GREAT INDOORS on CBS at 8:30/7:30c!
Is this a script that you happened to come across, or did you actively seek it out?
No, it kind of came my way. I knew the creators beforehand. I was dying to work with them. When I read the script, it was one of those moments, as cheesy as it sounds, where you’re like, “Oh, wow. This is something I can definitely do and is very much in my wheelhouse.” Didn’t feel like a character, like I’m putting something on, you know? I went in and I read it. I guess they liked what I did.
For people that don’t know the show, talk a little bit about what exactly is this show and your character?
Sure, yeah. THE GREAT INDOORS is a story, tale of Jack Gordon, played by Joel McHale, who is an adventure journalist who has been out in the field and now he’s coming back to the magazine that publishes his work, only to find that the magazine is now a digital magazine, which is true to nowadays. The magazine is now run by millennials. These millennials have never been outside. They’ve never been to the wild, they’ve never roughed it, at all. It’s a generational conflict between the Gen X, out there before apps and stuff and that reliability factor and the millennials who are all about apps, who are all about social media, who are all about technology, who are very privy to that. Just the conflict between those two. At the end of each episode, we learn something and we achieve a goal given our pros from each generation.
It’s so funny, because you don’t think of Joel McHale as this old guy, but in the first episode, he comes back and he’s like really out of date. It’s crazy the generation gap there really is.
[laughs] I’m a huge fan of Joel. I was a big fan of COMMUNITY and THE SOUP. I flipped at the chance to work with him. He’s such a great guy. He’s so funny.
I think that it’s unlike shows we’ve seen on CBS before, which is interesting, because it’s this millennial idea. We’re used to seeing the older skewing shows for them, so I’m intrigued to see how people do respond.
Yeah. Me too. I hope they respond well [laughs]. I’d like to keep my job. That’d be great. No, you’re absolutely right. That’s another thing that stood out to me also was that it was very different, like you said. It skews older, CBS does , and this one. I would watch this show and I’m not a very big sitcom watching guy. This show I love. Not just because I’m in it, but because of the stuff we talk about and the humor and the comedy. Even when I have friends come see a live taping, they are like, “Bro, I would totally watch this.” That’s so surprising to me.
This kind of skews younger, but it also brings back that feeling of the live audience and the world we got away from for a while.
No, for sure. For sure. It’s funny because that was what we got away from. We’re bringing that back, but we’re also talking about stuff very, very current. It’s a really cool nostalgia, but also very like, “Wow. I could totally relate to this.” Does that make sense?
Oh, absolutely! You’re in a good situation too on Thursday nights. Joining three established shows on a big night, which that’s always fun to be a part of too.
Right. After that little show called The Big Bang Theory?
Oh, I don’t know if I’ve heard of it.
[laughs out loud] Yeah. It’s insane. Every day is a new adventure. I’m like, “Ohmygosh. Am I dreaming? What is happening right now?”
Well, when you hear the schedule comes out in May and it says you guys are going to be between The Big Bang Theory and Mom, which has been just slowly building this audience and a show that people flock to. What’s your reaction as a guy joining the show? That’s a vote of confidence, I would say, that you’re behind their biggest hit.
Yeah. I mean, the initial reaction, at first, was a lot of tears. A lot of jumping on the bed. But you’re right, because Allison Janney, first of all being Emmy nominee and award-winning, Emmy-Award-winning. Just that, in itself, is like, “Wow. She just might catch a glimpse of me.” She watches her show and then tunes in 10 minutes before. Yeah. Coming after The Big Bang Theory, which is one of the most watched sitcoms of recent history. It’s incredible. You audition for these things and you hope you get that job and you hope that job gets picked up. Every single thing has literally been perfect. It’s incredible.
What’s it like working with this cast? Because you have not only Joel, you have Stephen (Fry), and you have Chris (Mintz-Plasse). What’s it like for the people that we’ve followed these guys and now you’re a part of this cast. What’s it been like working with everybody?
It’s been, I hate to sound cliché, but it’s been amazing. You think when you work with these people, you hear, “Yeah. They are great. They are great.” You get on set and you’re like, “Oh, this person is actually a diva. This person is really hard to work with.” Every single person, Joel, Stephen Fry, Christopher Mintz, the writers to the creators, everybody is so collaborative in wanting this to be the best project. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun. I totally forget that we’re doing a job. It just feels like we are playing around and coming up with fun ideas and making each other laugh and telling each other jokes. It’s great. It’s amazing. I have no other words. My vocabulary is limited to incredible, amazing, and holy crap. That’s literally all I can think of.
The first episode really does deal with Jack coming back to this world. What are some things that we get to explore as the season goes on? What are some topics that come up? Or some things you can tease for people that we’ll see?
Oh, absolutely. Well, my favorite episode is when we try to teach Joel how to create a Tinder profile. [laughs] The way that we have our slideshows to make it more what he’s used to. Just when you break down dating apps and dating websites, it really sounds kind of silly. How to make yourself look more attractive than you probably are, whether it be by your bio, whether it be by the pictures you use. That narcissistic type of quality that it brings. It’s hilarious the way we do that for him. Already Joel McHale is a very sarcastic guy. Doing that for him and to him is just so hilarious. We broke so many times in our taping doing it.
Also, just the animals that make cameos. We’ve had a baby bear in the pilot. We have a big cat. I’ll tease you that one. We have a raccoon, a very chubby raccoon, and a lemur. That, in itself, is really cool, because I’ve seen raccoons. You know how in garbage cans and stuff?
I’m like, “I’m never going to touch you. I’m going to stay away.” These professional animal actors are so well-behaved, you just forget, “You know, that’s a wild bear cub who’s going to grow up to be THE REVENANT bear.” It’s been great working with them. Yeah. We have so many other things that we put Joel through and that he puts us through. We have a camping episode. I’m sure you can gather from that, when you put millennials who have never been outside of their comfortable workplace or home, and you put them in the wild and you give them no cell phones, the hilarity that will ensue.
It’s so funny that this season of Survivor has such a millennial aspect to it as well. CBS is really ramping up the millennial side of things. Have you been hearing from people? Or what are you hearing from people that are interested in the show or millennials? Or non-millennials? What are people saying or interacting with you about the show or about the setting?
Everyone is really, really excited. I mean, millennials, we are very much into ourselves [laughs]. Whether it be about likes or whether it be about followers. Anything that has to do with us, we are like, “Oh, heck yeah. Well, we are going to watch that.” Everyone is excited to see how millennials are portrayed. How a millennial is made fun of. Of course, we have some backlash from millennial critics about being offended that we are saying millennials are sensitive, which was hilarious that they were offended. We were not shocked. Yeah. It’s been great. At first, we were nervous to see how it would be received. So far, all of my friends are really excited. They’ve reached out to me on Twitter are very excited about just the story that we are going to tell, because it’s something we can really relate to and tune in and watch.
You mentioned, obviously, that there’s episodes that you have trouble getting through. You break a lot. What’s that like to film?
Yeah. Well, it’s for me, I come from a theater background. It feels like I’m just doing a really fun play every Wednesday [when we shoot]. As far as doing it with all the other actors and breaking, we’ll do a take and we’ll do it a clean way, but if we mess up, the way in which we mess up, the calling to us messing each other up or messing ourselves up in that break and there’s a sweet spot of where you’re kind of like, “You know what? Who cares? We are having fun. We will get another take.” You’re not on stage. It’s not completely live. The freedom that comes in that sweet spot of knowing that we could have a little bit more fun with it in each take, is what makes the big chemistry really pop and the jokes really land. Hence the breaking really, really happening.
I would say every scene one person will break or one person will make another person break. It’s just so amazing and so spot on. It’s a lot of fun. We have a hype man named Roger, who plays music and gets the audience going. It’s like a big party for 5 hours honestly. So corny and so hippy to say, but I really love doing this job, because of how much fun it is [laughs].
Is there a lot of improv opportunity? Or is it you’re pretty much sticking to the script?
We get to do some clean takes with whatever the writers wrote down. They’ll come and be like, “Hey, let’s do an alternative.” They’ll pitch something. Joel will take the reins sometimes and be like, “Oh, you know what? I’m going to come up with the stuff on the spot. Just keep going.” Or Chris Mintz will take the reins and be like, “I’m going to add a little bit more to the end of the scene, just keep the cameras going.
The writers are really receptive. They want it to be as honest as possible. Granted the writers are all millennials, so the jokes they are saying are actually jokes from millennials, which I don’t think people really realize. Yeah. They give us the opportunity to say it how we would say it or to add on to the joke that we feel like we would add on in the moment. Just really collaborative.
Why do you think it’s a show that everybody will relate to or can find and enjoy?
We all come across each other, whether it be in the workplace, whether it be in the familiar, that generational gap. Working in a work space before I became an actor and talking to the older employers and older employees, there’s definitely things in this where I’ve definitely never had that confirmation. Even if it would be the Gen X or the Baby Bloomers not understanding how to make the TV not go from satellite to DVD player.
How do we get HDTV on? That’s my dad. It’s like, Dad, you have to push the HD button.
My mom still calls me and goes, “How do I get to DVD?” I’m 3,000 miles away. Yeah. It’s all things we’ve experienced, whether it’s been made fun of for being attached to our phones. Or making fun of other for not understanding Facebook. Having your mom on Facebook and what that entails from the mom perspective and from our perspective. It’s a very equal opportunity bashing on it. I know it’s skewed to be like we’re making fun of millennials a lot, but Joel gets a lot of crap from us, too.
You said you don’t watch a lot of sitcoms or you hadn’t, but are there any shows that you like to sit down and watch? Or you make a point that you can’t miss an episode.
Oh, I’m a binger. Any great, hot show that’s out, I will wait for 4 episode, about 6 episodes, and I just sit down and binge and eat all of the junk food and everything.
Yeah. Right now, for me, MR ROBOT is an incredible feat. It’s so just commenting on what we’re going through as a society and conglomerations and corporations and the want to break free of that. That’s really, really amazing to watch and really brave in my opinion. Of course, you have shows like GAME OF THRONES which is an insane epic. Also, I really love the new show ATLANTA. I think it lends a new voice that we haven’t really heard from a TV show that deals with the black community. Not just the black community, but the poor black community in the south. It’s very, very funny. It’s very brave also in the stuff that they are touching on.
Each episode is so different. It’s like every episode is so novel and so new. It’s completely different than the episode before it.
Absolutely. I think Donald Glover is an absolute genius. The fact that I’m a huge fan of COMMUNITY [laughs] kind of lends into that dream of while I’m working with Joel McHale, hopefully Donald Glover will be next on that list, too.
You have movies coming out too, right? It sounds like you’re going to have a big 2017. What do you have coming besides this right now?
Oh, yeah. I have WILSON with Woody Harrelson, which it was great working with him. I love everything he has ever done. Working with him, it was a dream. He’s an awesome, awesome actor. I just basically have a cameo in the beginning of the film that kicks off his character and how much of a jerk he is. I have a film coming out called HEART, BABY, which is my most dramatic role I think I’ve had to date. It’s a true story set in 1984 during the Tennessee state prison riots about this boxer who was so good at just knocking out everyone, even a champion at the time. They said, “We’ll exonerate you and let you perform in the Olympics if you just take this deal.” He turns it down and for a reason that is very shocking. I basically play his best friend. The comedic relief, but also a lot of heart, which you find out at the end of the movie.
Do you find yourself gravitating towards comedy naturally? Or is it that you are just going where you find work that you enjoy doing?
You know, I always wanted to do more drama. I grew up doing theater and Shakespeare and classical plays. I really love story telling, so that lent itself to doing drama. I just so happened to be funny, they tell me. It put me in these comedies, and I’m always like, “Really? You guys want me to do that? I can cry on cue if you want me too. Just tell me.” Yeah. At the end of the day though, it’s all acting. I think comedy sometimes can be even harder, because you really have to make them laugh. If you don’t make them laugh, then it is uncomfortable.
It’s made me respect and admire comedic actors more so. Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do drama. I hope, later down the line, I’ll be the guy that goes into a drama and kills it and goes into a comedy and kills it. I just want to act honestly.
You mention that you love Shakespeare. Is there a role that you think, “Ohmygod, I would love to have the chance to play this on stage?”
Oh absolutely. Hamlet is at the top of the list. That is just such a great character for a young man to dive into. Othello is great. That racial character also in the play. The character of racism and him being the black king and his wife being white. The whole spinning into madness because of those insecurities. There’s so many other factors also. Those would be my top 2. I’ve done other plays. I was Puck in Midsummer, which was a fairy essentially.
Puck’s one of my favorite characters in literature.
It’s one of those also where you can have fun and be as physical as you want. In a lot of Shakespeare too, because you have to change that language. You have to make the audience tune in to what you’re saying and tune into the language what you’re trying to communicate. In doing so, you have to be physical and you have to be very on top of the craft, and a lot of what you’re saying. I think it’s a great gem to be in.
THE GREAT INDOORS airs Thursdays at 8:30/7:30c on CBS!