Funny guys Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer have been passengers on Emmy Award-winning shows like Transparent and 30 Rock. With their Comedy Central special Crash Test, the two cut-ups are front and center, leading the way toward what could be Emmy gold for Outstanding Variety Special.
Premiering on January 22, 2016, Crash Test, directed by Lance Bangs, is a comedy special unlike anything you’ve ever seen, taking place on a bus (that’s right—just don’t make any Speed jokes). Huebel and Scheer act as hosts with all of Los Angeles as their stage as they pull up on the street to comedians like Rob Corddry, Aziz Ansari, and Natasha Leggero.
I talked with Huebel and Scheer about this grand production (but not before they argued over which one of them I liked better based on their appearances in Norbit versus School for Scoundrels) and learned about this incredible comedy experience and why they aren’t afraid of throwing down against past Outstanding Variety Special winners like The Kennedy Center Honors.
AwardsDaily TV: Crash Test had to be a huge undertaking. It’s a simple concept, but it seems like a big production – the Grease: Live of comedy with its mobility.
Rob Huebel: (Laughs.) That’s how we should market it. As “the Grease: Live of comedy.” If you think we’re not going to steal that, you’re so mistaken.
ADTV: Oh my God. Please do. I would love that. (Laughs.) But how did this all come together?
Paul Scheer: You know, Rob and I have been doing this show at the UCB theater (the Upright Citizens Brigade) for years now, since 2005. It’s just a place for us to kind of do whatever’s on our mind.
RH: It’s a stand-up show that we host.
PS: Every week, in addition to having stand-ups on the show, Rob and I will do elaborate bits with the audience. Like one night we sent people up on blind dates, we did a Seder (cause Rob and I had never had a Seder before). We’ve done all of these kind of bits and the joke that we always made was, “What if we just took this show and put it on a moving bus and went to the comedians’ houses instead of having them come to us?” Put the audience on a bus and just drive to their houses. And we said it as a joke, and then Ben Stiller and his company were like, “Well, let’s get you that bus.” Then, we were actually forced to make good on our promise.
RH: But you’re right, logistically, the actual production of it was really hard. That bus for example isn’t out here on the West Coast. It’s on the East Coast. So we had to pay that company to drive that bus all the way out here to LA just for that. That’s an expensive, weird job. Some guy had to drive that weird glass bus all the way across the country by himself.
PS: And the thing is, too, like what you said about Grease: Live, there is a true feeling of that. Putting on a special, even if it’s a stand-up special, is a big endeavor. You have to block it, shoot it, get the space, get the people there. What we did was we took all that pressure and put it on a moving bus. And we had people having to hit their marks as we were pulling up so there’s a level of danger in the entire show in the sense that everything had to be orchestrated down to the second and if we went too long, everything had to be perfectly timed out.
RH: Well, the main danger was that we didn’t tell the audience how long they were going to be on the bus. They just showed up and I think they thought, “This will be like an hour” or something like that. You know, cause the special is an hour. It took like eight hours to actually do it, and so we’re driving all over LA, and there are no bathrooms on the bus, so we would have to stop and let people go to the bathroom or get something to eat. At the beginning, you could see the audiences’ faces. They were like, “Ha-ha-ha! We’re having a great time!” Towards the end of it, they were like, “What the fuck is going on?”
PS: We had to have a fully functioning plan for the night, but because we’re on a bus and because there’s traffic and because things take longer and we were interacting with new things on the street that we could never have planned for, there’s a lot of improvisation in it. So that was part of the fun. When we went out to Mann’s Chinese Theater, we didn’t know what we were going to get. We had no dress rehearsal. We had no tech. We had that bus for one night because that was all we could afford. So we rigged it up, and were like, we’re going to shoot for eight hours, and make the best version of whatever we got. Some of the things turned out so great, like that guy Zev that we found on the bus, who did the earpiece thing. That was totally unplanned. We could have picked the guy next to Zev. We just didn’t know. And the people we interacted with on the street, we just didn’t know. We wanted to create a show that had a little bit of an improvisational element to it. So we knew what we wanted from a moment, but we were open to it going in many different directions. And that, for me, was the most fun thing to do because I don’t think anyone has done that in a special, captured that element of “anything could happen” right now. And I think shows like The Chris Gethard Show have an element of that, too. I think for us, coming from the UCB and that stage thing, I think we thrive on that and can find these moments that you could never even plan. And it makes it feel very different from a normal show.
RH: Most people that see the special say, “Oh my God. You have to come do that in my town. You have to come to Austin, you have to come to San Francisco. Please come to Seattle.” So we keep thinking, “Oh, yeah. We should do that.” Make this a regular thing. It would probably be so stressful to do, but I think it would be really fun.
ADTV: I wanted to ask you guys that. Would you ever do it again?
PS: Yeah, we’re in talks with Comedy Central, and it’s really figuring out the logistics. It’s almost doing a special as a series. How many can we do that won’t break the bank? There are a lot of elements involved in it. Rob and I have talked about maybe doing it during South by Southwest or Comic-Con where there’s a lot of people on the street, too. I think part of the fun is making the audience feel like they are really a part of the show and that they’re in it with us, and then also having the stage be a street, as a living, breathing thing. As we roll up into something, we’re changing the backdrop every single time, whether it’s stand-up, music, or whatever. Having Earl Sweatshirt and the Odd Future guys do that rap song—that was amazingly fun for us. The cool, live music performance kind of reminded me of the stuff that [Dave] Chappelle did with his musical stuff.
RH: I think the trick if we did more of them would be to really get the right people involved that can roll with something like this. Like Tom [Lennon] and Ben [Garant] from Reno 911!. When they show up as the cops when we go on the Paramount lot, it’s so funny and it’s so outrageous, but those guys are just making up that whole thing and we’re just kind of rolling with it. We would need to make sure if we were doing it in Seattle or wherever or Austin, that we’d be able to fly in all of our friends to get all the right people there.
PS: Yeah, so it’s basically like flying in a full show, the full variety show. But then the variety show isn’t even on stage. It’s on a street. And everything can put it off guard. We found so many fun moments. Originally, we were going to have Earl Sweatshirt scale down from a building with a stunt rig on. At the last minute, they couldn’t get the stunt rig to go, and he was going to land on top of the bus and crawl into the bus. We had no communication because we were on the bus. We were just going, so a lot of the stuff you’re seeing is us just killing time as we’re getting from location to location because we had this amazing team. It was like running a little army out there, around LA in this 30-block radius. We basically drove in a giant circle.
ADTV: So the comedians were just kind of waiting in the wings at specific locations? So you would just show up and then they’d come out of nowhere?
RH: Those are obviously not their houses where they are because we didn’t want to tell people where they lived, but we had blocked off a neighborhood in L.A. and then we just had all those people on tap for that night and we said, “OK, we’re gonna come by there at, like, 8 o’clock. So be in your location at 8 o’clock.” And for the next guy we’d be like, “Be there at 8:20.” It was literally scheduled like that. Cause the bus is so big that you can’t turn around and go back for anything. You have to catch the bus. It was a logistical challenge but it all worked out.
PS: We basically had like a full army of producers and directors running around trying to make it all seem seamless. At one point, we were driving through this neighborhood, and you could tell that people paid a lot of money for these houses, and then they would open up their door and see this giant bus. We had a bullhorn, screaming out into the street. And at one point, someone walked out of their front door and saw a bus full of us all wearing ski masks and yelling stuff. Those were moments that I really loved. There’s just an energy you can’t recreate but we were able to do.
ADTV: I want to ask you about the bus interior. It was very reminiscent of MTV’s TRL circa 2000. Did either one of you ever feel like Carson Daly? Did you have the urge to throw it to the Backstreet Boys or a screaming fan?
RH: It does look like that. That bus actually lives in New York City and does this thing called The Ride and they ride around Times Square and they have all these little stop-offs and everything. And there’s street performers and stuff. But because it lives in Times Square, I almost think it just sorta has that look to it. It looks like a thing from TRL, but it has all kinds of stuff like lasers. There’s a lot of stuff we didn’t use because we were like, “Well, if we do a smoke machine, then the rest of the show is going to be in this haze.”
PS: Grease:Live rehearsed for months. We literally got on that bus and took it out and were like, let’s see what it’s got. We decorated the side of it so it looked a lot different from The Ride bus, but it had the lights. It looked like if TRL jettisoned. If Carson Daly was like, “Guys, TRL’s gonna blow! Let’s get in our escape hatches!” And by the way, I know a lot about TRL because I did a dumb series on the web called Scheer-RL, which was a recreation of TRL with me as Carson Daly.
ADTV: I wanted to watch that. I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.
PS: It will always wait for you on the Internet. It will never go away.
ADTV: OK, good. Cause that’s been on my list of things to get to. (Laughs.)
PS: It’s so dumb. (Laughs.) But the bus was kind of already pre-manufactured, and we tried to make it our own. We could only do as much as we could.
ADTV: After eight hours on the bus, did it smell?
PS: (Laughs.) People were not shitting on the bus. No one shit themselves on the bus. I think the audience didn’t know what to expect. If they’re used to coming to our show, they knew it’s like a two-hour show from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. every Monday night. It’s the craziest schedule. I think they thought, “Oh, this will be like that.” But because the show just kept on changing, one of the last things that they saw was Earl Sweatshirt. The order [of the special] is the same. We kept on kind of goosing them whenever we felt they were getting tired. All of the sudden Tom and Ben are ramming the bus with a go-kart. Jack McBrayer is coming out in a green-screen suit. So they always felt like there was another thing coming at them. We didn’t tell them what was coming next. They didn’t know there was a musical thing. The only way they knew something musical was happening was by the smell of pot because Odd Future and Earl Sweatshirt and that whole crew smoked so much weed that actually the Paramount security people were like, “Our backlot smells like weed. You have to cut this off.”
RH: I think it’s like a rare thing, especially in Hollywood, it’s not like it is in New York where there’s so much live entertainment with all the theaters. I think this, to a lot of people on the bus, was almost like this mind-blowing live experience that they knew was never going to happen again. They’d never be able to go out and see Rob Corddry, Aubrey Plaza, Jack McBrayer, Tom and Ben, Earl Sweatshirt, Natasha Leggero. They would never get all of that in one night in any other format. I think it was sort of this really special thing. Even though it took eight hours, I think people were pretty psyched in the end.
PS: It has that Bonnaroo festival mentality. You’re into the experience. Bonnaroo, you’re there for a weekend. And for us, the big thing also was, Rob and I are not traditional stand-ups. We’re not going to get on stage solo and do an hour-long show. I think we both love the idea of doing kind of what we do do, which is kind of like sketch prov. We have these ideas. We have these written bits, but we’re open to improvising. We’re open to being with each other. There’s no outlet for it, so that was a part of our deal, too. How could we capture what we do without necessarily compromising to make it something a little bit different? Us on a stage, I think, would be compared too much to a stand-up special. We wanted to create what’s so fun about our live show, which is that anything can happen. We’ve had guests come in and people take the stage that you would never expect. I think the only way we could do it was with the bus.
ADTV: Speaking of anything could happen, was security or safety something you were ever nervous about?
PS: That bus goes, like, four miles an hour.
RH: The only thing that was unsafe I think was me and Paul standing up the whole time. They are weird about standing up when the bus is moving. Right away, we were like, “Well, no. We’re going to be standing up the whole time and we’re going to be running around on the bus.” We’re not going to abide by your internal bus safety rules. But as for the actual safety, we had a police escort and everything. Those motorcycle cops that take you everywhere when you’re filming. So that was all good. The only thing that was also hard was parallel parking. We had to pull over and find a parking spot for a 60-foot glass bus. It’s like trying to park the Love Boat. There’s no parking space for that. So that was kind of tricky.
PS: The other thing we were always getting into trouble with was we were essentially bullies. We had a loud speaker. We had this giant colorful bus, and we’re going down Hollywood Boulevard and harassing people on the street. We were just like the bully in high school, who’d go, “Hey! What are you doing? Kiss her!” There was a guy going to a valet stand, and we were like, “Tip him more! Tip him more!” And he finally went back in his wallet and got more money. We were like a bully that was doing good but we were definitely making fun of people. Luckily we avoided any fights. But we did get one guy to flip us off because we made fun of him while he was getting his salsa.
ADTV: I wondered if you were worried about Zev when he was out and you were feeding him lines.
RH: That was a little touch and go because we didn’t know him and know how good he was going to be doing exactly what we said. There was a part that we kept in there where he goes up to this girl by herself and he starts flirting with her and he asks her if he can touch her hair and then she very quickly turns around and gets her huge boyfriend. She’s like, “Babe!” And we’re like, “Zev, get out of there! Get out of there!” He was probably in the most danger, I would say, of all the performers. I think he was putting himself out there the most.
PS: His energy that he gives off on the street was so pleasant that he could say these weird, horrible things to people or unnerving things to people and people were giving him a second chance. I was nervous a couple of times. He started riffing on his own a couple times. I was like, No, no, no. Reign it back in. We cut out a lot of stuff, too. Rob and I could have a whole special of Zev, we were laughing so hard. We kept on trimming him down because he was saying the most insane stuff. And I realized an important life lesson: You can really say anything to anybody and they’re pretty much OK with it. He said so much stuff and it seemed to only endear him to people. Except that girl’s boyfriend.
ADTV: If Crash Test is nominated and wins the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Special, it’ll sit next to other such winners like The Kennedy Center Honors and Barbra Streisand: The Concert. How would you guys feel to be the winner to bring Nuts and Butts into the Emmy lexicon?
PS: I think that’s the only way we could do it effectively is if we had a mini-bus that we were able to drive up on stage and accept the award in a mini-bus.
RH: I think this represents the new style of comedy specials. With all due respect to The Kennedy Center Honors and all of those very prestigious productions, ours is very run-and-gun and down and dirty. But I would say, pound for pound, just as funny as those comedy specials that my parents used to love. But I think it just represents something brand-new in the comedy world.
PS: I’m going to go one step further and say to any other potential nominee that’s even in this category, “So what. You did a show. Were you moving on a bus during it? No. Case closed. We’re the best. The only special that moved the audience, the performers, and ourselves.”
RH: Well then I would take it one step further and say if any of these other shows are interested in fighting us, we’re down. We live here in Los Angeles. We’re easy to find. And if you think your show is better than our show, come and fight us.
PS: Take that, Kennedy Center Honors. Take off your top hat and your bow tie, and come meet us out on the streets of LA. We got a bus. What do you have? A podium? No thank you. Take that Mark Twain award and shove it up your ass.
Crash Test, a Paramount Digital Entertainment production, is available for purchase on Vimeo for $3.99.