Comedian John Lehr On Hulu’s Western Comedy, “Quick Draw”

“Quick Draw,” Hulu’s off-beat, deadpan Western comedy, is set in an 1875 Kansas town. The deal: Sheriff John Henry Hoyle and his reluctant Deputy, Eli, are all about introducing the emerging science of forensics to their community crime-solving. It’s pretty much just like CSI, if CSI was less The Who and bikinis and more Curb Your Enthusiasm stuck in a time machine.

In a good way.

TSJ talks to comedian John Lehr about his involvement in the project. Plus also about riding horses, shooting guns, and his precocious appreciation of Playboy magazine.

Quick Draw

The Smoking Jacket: How did you come up with the title for your show? It’s a pretty great title. Old-timey and action-y at the same time. I like that.

John Lehr: Thanks. I’m pretty happy with the title. Those are hard, especially with comedies — you don’t want to try too hard but you want to let people know a bit about the show and to let them know it’s funny. Ah branding! I never thought I would be in that game when I was doing improv in clubs in Chicago. I can’t remember how we came up with it which probably means my genius writing partner Nancy Hower thunk it up.

TSJ: The repetition of your character’s “I went to Harvard” shtick is hilarious. I know someone who manages to tell everyone he went to Yale within about five seconds of meeting them. But you didn’t go to Harvard, did you? I know I for sure didn’t go to Harvard. I went to creative writing school at a very non Ivy League. In Canada. Which makes me more of a badass, obviously. Dumber, poorer, also. I thought you should know before you answer any more questions.

JL: No, I went to Northwestern in Chicago which, like every other college in the midwest, refers to itself as the Harvard of the midwest. Pretension in any form is easy pickings for comedy and I’ve had the same experience as you. It seems like every grad from an ivy league finds some excuse to let you know where they graduated. Usually they mention something about college without naming the place which forces you to ask where they went to school. They usually answer: “In Cambridge” followed by a pregnant pause and then, with a knowing nod: “Harvard.”  I love that. I don’t think we can have Hoyle tell people he’s going to Harvard enough. It kills me. Of course the reality is that Harvard is an amazing school and was around in the 1800s so it is feasible Hoyle would have studied criminology there.

Quick Draw

TSJ: The Western genre. Have you always been a fan? Do you have a favorite? Did you learn to ride a horse for this show? You probably already had a lot of guns because you’re American, right? So did you bring your own muskets to work?

JL: Oh hell yes. I am from Kansas and back then there were three channels on TV and all of them ran westerns constantly — or at least it seemed that way to me. As a child I was totally into a world where everything was seemingly solved by vigilantism and violence. Not to mention the whores and drinking. Those values help make me the man I am today. I can ride a horse and it turns out I can shoot a gun reeeeeaaaal good. My writing partner and I went to a gun range in LA to research for another project. I shot a few rounds and both of us were blown away at my aim. It turns out I could kill you pretty easily. That discovery led us to give Hoyle his amazing shooting abilities.

TSJ: (Parenthetically – see how there’s parentheses  do you have an opinion on the new Lone Ranger? If you do, you should tell me about it.)

JL: [I'm going with brackets on this one mixed with some italics for no reason whatsoever. I did not see the Lone Ranger but our kickass costumer Mel did. She was the one who made Cole Youngers leather mask {which, incidentally, was made out of one of her personal leather halter tops}].

“Pretension in any form is easy pickings for comedy”

TSJ: How did the creation of this show come together? At what stage did Hulu get involved?

JL: We produced a show for TBS called “10 Items or Less” which ran for three seasons and apparently does really well on Hulu. Hulu approached us to develop a project for them. We came very close on another project but we ended up selling it to another network. Nancy and I had been discussing how much fun it would be to do a western and it seemed like the kind of project Hulu might be interested in. We shot a short demo, brought it in and they loved it.

Quick Draw

TSJ: “Drenched in deputization” is a line that gets thrown around in the series promo. That’s funny AND clever. So can someone un-deputize themselves? Did you make that up? Is this a thing? Can you pull an “I’m rubber and you’re glue” at someone trying to deputize you? I feel like I never saw that on TV before.

JL: While there is a lot of historical accuracy in the show (Cole Younger was an outlaw in Kansas, Nicodemas was actually a town populated with freed slaves and there really was such a thing as a steam-powered vibrator), all of the dialogue is completely improvised. So we made all of that Deputization stuff up.

The scripts have no dialogue in them and the cast never even sees them (except for me because I write them with Nancy). The actors show up in costume and Nancy (who also directs) gives them a few tidbits about what their character wants and we shoot. (I just realized I used a lot of parentheses in this response and I blame you.)

QUICK DRAW – SERIES TRAILER

TSJ: Tell me more about the improv aspect of the show – do you guys operate with a script? Are there a lot of surprises?

JL: It’s really strange because even though the cast has NO idea what is going to happen in each episode, our shows generally follow the plot that Nancy and I wrote. But the dialogue is a completely different story. The whole reason we improvise is to get that humor that only comes spontaneously and there is tons of stuff that hits the edit room floor. Hulu is this rare outlet where we can actually release a ton of these outtakes, which is really exciting for us. If you go to the “Quick Draw” page you will see videos labeled “Beneath the Saddle,” which will give you a window into the insanity behind making this show.

TSJ: Do you have a favorite real western fact you want to share with the readers of TSJ? I hope you do.

JL: Hell yes. The show highlights a lot of the forensic science of the 1800s and one thing that blows my mind is the criminal identification of that time. This was before fingerprinting — but someone realized that everyone’s ears are shaped differently (BTW not entirely true). So there are actual posters with drawings of famous outlaw ears. If you shot who you thought was Billy the Kid, you would hold the drawing up to the corpse’s ear and compare. Pure comedy gold.

Quick Draw

TSJ: That is an amazing fact. So what was it like to film in drag? How was the corset?

JL: The corset sucked and I still don’t understand why we had to wear them. Beth, our costume designer, is f%#&%@^ amazing and you just do whatever she tells you to do. Sadly, this is not my first time filming in drag — I dressed up in an episode of “10 Items” as well. I think dressing in drag is sort of par for the course when you are a comedian. Kind of like a football player having a thick neck. It just comes with the territory.

TSJ: So – Playboy. When’s the first time you saw a Playboy magazine?

JL: My dad had a life-long subscription. He LOVED Playboy. He had a gold key and silver bunny cufflinks. As a young adolescent, I masturbated incessantly to Dorothy Stratten, Barbi Benton and Farrah Fawcett. God bless him.

When I was in college we went to the Playboy Club in Chicago. This was after he and my mom divorced. We got hammered and stole looks at the Bunnies’ chests.

 

The season finale of the Hulu Original Series, “Quick Draw,” airs Monday, September 16, 2013.

 

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