From the mind of acclaimed author Simon Rich comes the new FXX series Man Seeking Woman. The series stars Jay Baruchel as Josh Greenburg, a romantic young man recently dumped by his long-time girlfriend, Maggie (Maya Erksine). Thrust back into the single life, Josh faces the delights and perils of single life with the help of his best friend (Eric Andre) and older sister (Britt Lower), all in a way never before seen on television. See, this is not your average RomCom – surreal as it is sweet, Man Seeking Woman is an absurdist, heartfelt depiction of life in the modern dating scene.
At only 30 years old, series creator and executive producer Simon Rich has the resume of someone twice his age – He served as President of the Harvard Lampoon before graduating to work at Saturday Night Live and Pixar, and published four books and multiple pieces for The New Yorker along the way. While visiting the set of Man Seeking Woman last November I had an opportunity to sit down for an exclusive interview with Rich. He talked about the process of adapting his book The Last Girlfriend on Earth into a TV series, how much creative freedom he had, why the show hangs on Jay Baruchel’s shoulders, what he learned on Saturday Night Live, and more. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Tell me about the process of taking this from your writing on page to putting it on the screen.
SIMON RICH: Right, it’s sort of a long process because I started writing these short stories about five or six years ago. These supernatural, absurd love stories, and then I started publishing those in The New Yorker and then I collected all those love stories into a book. That I think came out in about early 2013 and then I started adapting it into this weird show. Now it’s almost 2015, so it’s hard to believe.
Was adapting it in your mind while you were writing your short stories or did that idea come after?
RICH: It came after. I always dreamt of doing a sitcom like this but I never expected that I would get a chance to do it, so I feel really lucky. I have a lot of gratitude that FX has allowed me to attempt something as strange as this show.
Yeah, totally. Let’s talk a little about the strangeness.
RICH: Yeah, it really is. Outside of the pages of The New Yorker I’ve never had this level of creative freedom.
Is it difficult or important to walk a line so you don’t maybe get too weird and alienate an audience?
RICH: Yeah, the most important goal of our show is to make sure that everything is emotionally grounded and that every scene is emotionally accessible and relatable. We try our best to never have it be insane for the sake of being insane. All the premises are kind of just surreal paintings of the experiences that I think we’ve all had. Experiences like getting dumped, or loving somebody who doesn’t love you back, or sleeping with the wrong person; these very basic universal emotions are at the core of the episode. It’s a very weird show. There’s time travel, there’s aliens, there’s an exorcism, and a Japanese penis monster, but at it’s core it’s a very simple show about a guy trying to find love.
RICH: In episode 7 Jay goes to a destination wedding in Hell. I’m really excited to shoot that.
How far into the season are you guys in filming right now?
RICH: Pretty far. We crossboard, so we’re doing three simultaneously right now. We’re on seven, eight and nine right now, we’re in that block, and then we shoot our finale, and that’s it.
I’m curious about the casting and putting the pieces together. It feels like a lot of this hinges on Jay’s personality.
RICH: Yeah! The whole thing’s on his shoulders, really. He’s sort of our Buster Keaton. The show is very much subjecting him to torture for 21 minutes a week. This show wouldn’t work without him. He is the perfect centerpiece to this thing. He’s obviously extremely funny, but more importantly he’s able to play these scenes with such naturalism, subtlety and emotional honesty, and no matter how bizarre and absurd and unnatural the situations are, he’s able to emotionally ground them. Yeah, it wouldn’t work without him.
Did you guys audition for it or did you pursue him?
RICH: Oh yeah, it was always our dream to get Jay. I’m not convinced the show would work with anyone else, is the honest truth.
RICH: Thrilling. It’s been the most exciting experience ever. I’ve been really lucky in my life to collaborate with a lot of amazing writers. Like on SNL I got to write with Marika Sawyer and John Mulaney every week, which was thrilling, and this has been similar experience with this group. The three or four months we spent in a room writing the show were definitely creatively the most exciting months of my whole life ever. Ian Maxtone-Graham, my hero from The Simpsons, Robert Padnick who wrote on The Office for years, a brilliant writer, and Sofia Alvarez is one of my favorite New York City playwrights, and then Dan Mirk from The Onion. I read through hundreds of packets trying to figure out who could write for this show, because it’s a strange show that requires a very unusual and specific skill set and I found these four people who are perfect. Yeah, I hope I get write with them some more, because they are just – I really look up to them, they are all just extremely talented.
I’m sure you learned a lot, but is there anything in particular you learned on Saturday Night Live that you’ve been able to apply to this?
RICH: Yeah. Well, that was my first real job, so that’s where I learned the very very basics of TV making. Before that I was a magazine writer and I’d written a book. I’d never written for actors before. I’d never written for anywhere except for the page, so that’s where I learned to write stage directions. That’s where I learned how to write for the camera, how to write for performers. Really just the very very basics of what I know I learned at SNL.
With the title of Man Seeking Woman that’s obviously going to deal with a lot of dating, a lot of different women. What sort of long term plan do you have for the show? Do you see room in there for a long term relationship at some point?
RICH: Good question. Yeah, the answer is yes. I don’t want to spoil it, but yeah, that’s the hope is that we’ll get to explore every aspect of the dating story. Of course there’s so many different stages and degrees of romantic relationships. There’s everything form one night stands to marriages, so hopefully we’ll get a chance to explore the whole spectrum.
RICH: There are other things, but this is obviously the project I’m most excited about. Making the show has been a dream of mine for years and I feel super lucky that they’re giving me a shot to try and pull it off.
Do you see yourself continuing to write for the page as well as the screen?
RICH: Yeah, I always love writing short stories. I don’t think I’ll ever stop doing that. Certainly my heroes growing up were story writers – Shirley Jackson, Steven King, I loved Woodhouse, and Joe Heller, and Kosinski and Vonnegut. I’m not going to stop trying to rip them off.
You said you wanted to do the show for forever. Is there something next up on your list that is the next big thing you want to accomplish.
RICH: This is it. This is kind of all my dreams come true, so I feel so lucky I get to do it and I’m still kind of shocked that they’re letting us get away with some of the stuff that we’re throwing out there onto the screen. I keep waiting for them to helicopter in pull the plug on the whole thing, but so far it’s just a lot of smart notes and thumbs up all around. So we feel very lucky to be working for FX.