Last week I had the opportunity to visit the set and interview the cast of CBS’s upcoming sitcom “$#*! My Dad Says.” That title can mean either “Shit My Dad Says” or “Bleep My Dad Says,” depending on your moral values and proclivity for swearing. I’m a “Shit” guy myself.
As you savvy cats are probably already aware, “$#*! My Dad Says” is an adaptation of Justin Halpern’s popular Twitter account and New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller. It’s the first time a Twitter account has been adapted into a television show. There are plenty of SMDS followers out there who were deeming it failure before a single scene had even been shot, but as the social code states, “Haters gonna hate.” If Hollywood worried about offending fans of a property through its adaptation then we’d all be playing with a stick and hoop to get our entertainment fix. Not that there’s anything wrong with Depression Era toys, SJ senior readers.
When I arrived on set, the stage was buzzing with energy. It was immediately apparent that everyone involved was excited to be there, and not just because clocking in meant a direct deposit into his or her bank account. The cast, crew, and all of the contributors in between knew they were working on something unique and promising. It’s one of the most anticipated pilots of the new fall season, the guys who brought us mega hit “Will & Grace” are co-creators, and legend William Shatner plays the cantankerous dad who says the shit. I may be one semester shy of my degree in TV chemistry, but I’d call that a winning formula.
The cast of “$#*! My Dad Says” took some time out from their pre-taping to sit down with me at a fake farmers market that had been built for an upcoming episode. In front of carts of delicious wax fruit we discussed how the series came about, where the characters are headed, and what makes the much-loved Twitter account ripe for adaptation.
William Shatner “Ed Goodson”
SJ: What was it like turning 140 character tweets into a flesh and blood character?
WS: I had to do it in 148 days. The show is quite different from the twitters. The twitters are stark and monosyllabic almost. Very Western hero talk. The show is full of a lot of jokes in twenty-two minutes, so it’s a different milieu. It’s written by some expert comic writers. In fact, Max Mutchnick and David Kohan were the reasons I came on the show. Their reputation preceded them, and it turned out that they’re even better than I had imagined. They have top-flight instincts about what works and what doesn’t work. The half-hour show itself is quite different from the tweets. We start each show with a tweet and somewhere in the body of the show is embedded the words, but it may or may not color the drama of that half-hour.
SJ: This is your first time as the lead in a multi-cam sitcom. What’s it like performing in front of a live audience that’s expecting to laugh?
WS: I have worked in front of a live audience all my life, including a week ago, not quit knowing what I’m going to say, not unlike an interview. Being in front of an audience that continues to laugh is not unusual to me. What’s absolutely flabbergasting is the proximity of the audience to the actors. Which includes people who come down on what’s about fifteen feet of flat floor that leads to the audience from the set. It’s filled with people. They’re in your home. And there are stretchers of people who have no business being there except that they’re wearing something that allows it. So the fourth wall is gone, the artistic removal is missing, and you’re swimming among the fish.
Will Sasso “Vince Goodson”
SJ: Tell us about your character Vince.
WS: Vince is Mr. Shatner’s older son. He’s married to Bonnie Goodson, who’s played by Nicole Sullivan. They are grown ups. I hang around the house a lot. I just happen to be there, kinda hangin’ out at the house, and then some really good shit happens.
SJ: So you’re there when shit goes down.
WS: Yeah, I’m always there when shit goes down in life, in art, in love.
SJ: What’s it like working with THE William Shatner as your father?
WS: It’s bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. I honestly can’t say enough. He’s been a hero of mine for a long time, so it’s weird. At any moment you can pinch yourself and say, “Wait, what do I do? What reason do I have to wake up in the morning and think, ‘Ugh, it’s early. Ah shit I’m out of eggs.’” And then you go to work you’re like just forget it. This is crazy. And then also just as an actor he’s consummate, he’s giving, he’s a teacher. You’re always learning stuff. I could die tomorrow a very violent, painful death, and I would have a smile on my face.
SJ: If that happens, I’m going to have a great story because you called it.
WS: I could be pulled apart by a shark and a gorilla at the same time.
SJ: Right out on Barham Blvd.
WS: Will wandered out onto Barham Blvd and was pulled apart by a Bearsharktopus.
SJ: Can you let us in on any surprises with your character this season?
WS: We are keeping it tight-lipped, like “Lost.” “Shit My Dad Says” is the new “Lost.” Once we move this thing out to the island, which happens around episode 7, things start getting really crazy. There is going to be a smoke monster.
SJ: Will you play the smoke monster?
WS: No that’s Kathleen Turner. She just keeps smoking. She’s a love interest for Bill. He just calls her smoke monster, so really there’s no correlation between that and the “Lost” smoke monster. No, but for me, there’s an episode that we shot last week where Vince kind of shares with his father how he sees him, and how Vince sees Ed’s relationship with Henry. And as an actor I’m like this is going to be cool. There are so many places you can go when you have real character. Bill is rooted in reality and Justin [Halpern] is right here to make sure the voice is legit and at the end of the day it IS “Shit My Dad Says” and not “My Silly Dad!” or whatever the f*ck.
SJ: Patrick Schumacker is a good friend of mine, and I actually took over his position at Screen Junkies after he left to do this show. So my question for you is, how much do you HATE that guy?
WS: I want everyone to know this. Schumacker has somewhere up around 60 to 70 different pair of glasses. He wears a different pair of glasses for each calendar day of the month. He’s like the Sally Jessy Raphael of f*ckin’ TV writer/producers. He’s a douche-bag. A douche period. Bag period. Patrick is a slave driver. He corrected me the other day when I called him Pat. He said, “My name’s not Pat.” And I was like, “Oh. Patrick.” He goes, “No, you can call me the President of Showbiz.” And I said, “First of all, that title doesn’t exist. Second of all, I’ve been dragging my crank around this shit pebble pretty long myself, so don’t get ahead of yourself. We’re basically all at the mercy of the real President of Showbiz. Oprah.
Jonathan Sadowski “Henry Goodson”
SJ: Tell us about your character Henry.
JS: He’s a 27 year-old writer who lost his job, and I’m broke. Blew through my savings and now I have to move back in with my 74 year-old dad. He’s a guy who speaks his mind and I unfortunately have to deal with it.
SJ: You actually auditioned for Henry in the first pilot, lost the role to actor Ryan Devlin, and then ended up replacing him once the show was picked up. How did it feel coming in to play the new son?
JS: Well I knew a lot about the show because I was supposed to screen test for this role in February, and I ended up doing another pilot. And that show didn’t get picked up and they cast Ryan, and when they wanted to replace him they brought me back. To be honest, the story’s the same, but it’s a new show all together.
SJ: How is it working alongside THE William Shatner? And don’t let it affect you that he’s sitting right over there.
JS: Bill is fantastic. He’s a television icon who’s been acting for over 50 years, but I always tell myself not to get star struck. The minute you do that it affects your performance. If I’m standing next to him I have to assume I’m supposed to be standing next to him. I went to his place on Thursday. We watched football together.
SJ: Nice little bonding activity.
JS: Yeah, it’s great. We have breakfast in the mornings. It’s cool.
SJ: Do you look to Justin Halpern for inspiration since you are playing a version of him?
JS: We talk all the time about that stuff. I didn’t know Justin before I got this role, so the first time I met him was in the audition, and at that point I already had who I thought this character was in my head. But he’s great, and we talk a lot. I just don’t want to go on stage and do a Justin Halpern impersonation. Which I should work on, that’d be fun.
SJ: You’ve done work on multi-cam shows before, right?
JS: I’ve actually done three multi-cam pilots. This is my ninth pilot, and the first one to go to series.
SJ: So do you enjoy this format and working in front of a live audience?
JS: I do. I studied theater in college, and there’s something about the energy of a live audience. No matter how many seasons you do, no matter how many episodes you do, there’s something about when the audience is there and you do something funny and they laugh. There’s that instant gratification. And it’s fun to send that energy back to them, and it kind of enhances the performance.
SJ: How much do you hate Patrick Schumacker?
JS: That guy’s the worst. I can’t believe I’m working for him. And he’s just so condescending when he talks to you. And how he says, “Oh I LEFT there, that’s why Ian took over my job,” like you’re less than him.
Nicole Sullivan “Bonnie Goodson”
SJ: Tell us about your character Bonnie.
NS: Whenever I talk about my character it sounds so unfunny, but she really is funny. Bonnie and Vince are like their own world. They exist together and work perfectly, but from the outside you’d think God they’re irritating. Bonnie sort of wears the pants in many ways, but is very supportive of a guy who was probably raised by a mean dad and got a lot of shit thrown at him through his life.
SJ: How is it being back in the multi-cam format.
NS: I love it. Everything I’ve ever been a regular on has been four camera. It’s just where I feel the most comfortable. Watching the audience freak out over William Shatner is so fun. They love him.
SJ: When you tell your friends about the show do you call it “Bleep My Dad Says” or “Shit My Dad Says?”
NS: If there are children around I say “Bleep,” but other than that I say “Shit.” That’s just the heart of the show. And I understand the Parents Association, I get it, I have kids, I understand a world with no boundaries isn’t a world I want to raise my kid either, but at the same time it’s just what the show is. If they read they book and saw what a foul-mouthed person he was, they’d get it.
SJ: Will said if you guys do a Halloween episode, he’d be willing to dress up as Captain Kirk. Would you dress up as Uhora?
NS: The pretty black woman? Yes. Should I do blackface or would that be inappropriate? Should we draw the line there?
“$#*! My Dad Says” premieres this Thursday at 8:30/7:30c on CBS.