Co-created by executive producers Jonathan Krisel (Portlandia, SNL, Man Seeking Woman), Louis C.K. and Zach Galifianakis, the FX dramedy Baskets (which has already been picked up for a second season) follows Chip Baskets (Galifianakis) who wants nothing more than to achieve his dream of being a French clown. However, financial difficulties and an impenetrable language barrier send him back home to Bakersfield, where he gets an unsatisfying job as a rodeo clown while finding himself still competing with his siblings for the approval and affection of his mother (Louie Anderson).
During this exclusive interview with Collider, executive producer Jonathan Krisel talked about the melancholy tone of Baskets, how this show came about, why the mundane is interesting, the desire to focus more on the mother in Season 2, casting Louie Anderson, and the experience of collaborating with Zach Galifianakis and Louis C.K.
Collider: This show is hilarious, but it also has a melancholy feel to it. Was that intentional?
JONATHAN KRISEL: Certain shows, when it’s all comedy, it’s like when you eat something that’s too sweet and it just tastes gross. You need that salted caramel. That’s what I think Louie’s show is great, and everybody is now trying to do a Louie style, melancholy show because they’re sad and happy.
How did this show come about?
KRISEL: Zach was really the one who came up with the rodeo clown idea. He didn’t want to do a behind-the-scenes of Between Two Ferns. I wanted to do a showcase of what Zach can do, and I knew I wanted it to be a family drama. I don’t know if you know the Absolut Vodka sketches that he did 10 years ago, but it was the one thing that just blew Zach up in the avant garde comedy universe. And seeing him in different movies, not The Hangover, but stuff like Birdman, he just holds his own, in a really real way, and makes me think of Robin Williams, as someone who did drama and comedy, and had so much pathos to him.
Zach has got the movies, so this is a passion project. We just wanted to make something we love. There’s no box office that has to be met. One of his things was to put something gentle and nice into the world. It doesn’t have to be edgy, bad people doing scandalous stuff. We tried to make it really mundane, about Costco memberships and the small moments in a family, where people’s feelings get hurt. We have a big, high-concept rodeo clown thing, but that’s just texture to the world.
It seems like this is the type of show where you’d want to keep track of any bizarre little things that might happen in your life because they could work as a storyline.
KRISEL: Yeah. You’ve got these awesome performers, you can blow out those little moments ‘cause they’re going to be performed really well and the comedy is going to be really strong. The mom is the most relatable character, and now we really realize that it is the mom’s show. Going forward, I think we’ll lean on her even more. I think Episode 4, that’s really about her life, is just amazing.
How did you decide to cast Louie Anderson in that role? What does he bring to that character that makes it so unique and unexpected?
KRISEL: Transparent came out after we made our pilot and I was like, “Oh, no!” But, we’re not trying to do anything similar to that. We’re not trying to push the envelope. It was just a great casting choice that just happened to be very strange, but we’re not trying to rest on that or have that be the headline of it. He really delivers it because he studied his mother so much. His comedy routine that put him on the map in the early ‘80s was called “Mom” and it was about his mom. So, he came into this role with a PhD in mothers and observing mothers. Also, I love working with writer-performers. Zach is a huge stand-up, Louie is a stand-up and Martha [Kelly] is a stand-up. They’re bringing jokes to the party. If it was just an actor, it wouldn’t work. To me, the three of them are amongst the best. It makes my job a lot easier.
What’s it like to collaborate with Zach Galifianakis and Louis C.K.?
KRISEL: I did get an email, early on, from Louis C.K. saying, “I got your name from Zach. Who the hell are you?” And I was like, “Oh, god, I hate myself, too. I’m just an idiot. I don’t know.” I’m proud of the stuff that I’ve done that’s gotten me to this point, but you’ve gotta push the envelope as much as you can, every time. I also don’t want to do anything that’s been done. But when you’re working at people of that level, it’s the simplicity and the clarity that you see. It’s not like, “Oh, man, they came up with this really complicated idea.” It’s usually a really simple, clear idea without a lot of clutter. And the conversations between everyone, when you’re at that level, are right on the same page.
You know that the biggest thing you can do is the smallest thing. It seems like, to make a big impact, you’ve gotta do something crazy with special effects, but it’s actually the opposite. I’m very proud of the church episode we did because that’s something that everybody does. It’s so mundane, but it’s so funny. The things that happen at church are so funny. We’re not making fun of religion, but people at church singing a hymn is one of the funniest things you can see. Louie Anderson thinks my thing is the absurdness of reality. That’s what we do on Portlandia, all the time. I try to bring that absurdness of reality to everything.
I’m trying to impress Louis C.K. I made the show for him. In my mind, I was like, “If he likes it, I’ve succeeded.” You just don’t want to be flashy. Zach is known as the silly, funny guy from The Hangover, and a lot of people look down on that kind of comedy. To me, he’s a really smart comedian. It’s my love letter to Zach saying, “I think you’re one of the coolest, smartest comedians.” Even Between Two Ferns is so funny. It seems simple, but just a shot of Zach’s face is funny. That’s expert level stuff. He doesn’t even have to do anything. He’s amazing.
Baskets airs on Thursday nights on FX.