Another Period: Natasha Leggero and Riki Lindhome on Getting Down and Dirty With History
It was an inspired idea: Take the world of privilege of Newport, Rhode Island in 1903 and marry it to a Kardashian-style reality show, complete with side interviews and super-bad behavior. Comedians Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel and Oates) and Natasha Leggero (Burning Love) ran with the idea last year to create Another Period, where they play overcoddled and not very bright sisters Lillian an Beatrice, still living on the Bellacort family estate, even though both are married with many kids. Meanwhile, there's a community of servants at the estate, led by Peepers (Michael Ian Black), who are treated cruelly but know no other way.
At the end of Season 1, the girls found a modest amount of fame as "the Pig Sisters," and want to take advantage of it by getting their marriages annulled. In Wednesday night's second episode, those annulments are official, and now the girls have to hash things out with their husbands Victor (Brian Huskey) and Albert (David Wain)—who just happen to be having a torrid affair with each other. Lindhome and Leggero talked to TV Insider about their love of the seemier parts of history and how they make sure the show doesn't get repetitive.
What were you thinking about going into season two? It does feel like right now we're getting a little bit more into the characters.
Riki Lindhome: I think that's the cool thing about the second season is you get to know, not just your actors, but your characters. By the second season, you know what Garfield (Armen Weitzman) would say. You know what Peepers would and wouldn't do. You just have more of an intrinsic sense of them that you don't have in the first and second and third episodes and so ...
Natasha Leggero: Also Riki and I were in the editing room for the whole first season so we could really see, "Peepers is so great at this. Let's write more of this so we can watch more of this," so we kind of really were able to write for people's strengths.
Watch an exclusive clip from Wednesday's episode:
What do you guys rely on to make sure that the jokes about the differences between then and now land? Do you do extensive research on the time period?
Lindhome: We do so much research. Natasha and I have made several trips to Newport where this thing takes place and we go to the house museums there and we read a lot of books about ... We kind of read books about the time period year-round. Both of us just finished a book about Alice Roosevelt and we also have a researcher from Drunk History actually who helped us.
Leggero: In terms of whether or not the joke is funny, usually what helps it land is if we think it's funny. I mean, that's pretty much the test. Obviously so many things are pitched, so we're just really always trying to find the thing that we think is the funniest and then of course wanting things to be historically accurate as well. We don't want to lie.
How did you decide to put those two concepts, early 1900s society and Kardashian-style reality shows, together before the first season?
Leggero: I had read this book about Newport, Rhode Island which it was all talking about the Guilded Age and basically between 1901, 1902 and 1912, before they introduced income tax, 90 percent of the wealth in all of our country was in this tiny city and so I actually took a trip there and you can still visit all these houses and hear the stories of these people and women really ... Even though women didn't have a lot of weight at the time, women socially in this town actually ran the town. You hear these stories and then Riki and I have since been back and we'll tour the houses and you just hear about these people who were like desperate to get attention and climb the ranks of society and that's really one of the only ways that women could get ahead.
It just seemed like a natural fit and also the idea with the Kardashians ... Whatever that human impulse is to become famous, that's not a new thing. It's easier now with technology and media, but it's not like people didn't have that impulse to become famous 100 years ago. It's a human impulse so we were just very intrigued by that.
With the idea of now taking historical figures then and then bringing them into this world, how do you make that happen? Do you ask, "All right, Harriet Tubman, how are we going to bring her into this world? What are we going to do to make Harriet Tubman funny?"
Lindhome: We basically just start to brainstorm. We have this great group of writers and we just start to talk about just what would be funny about Harriet Tubman and I don't know who said it, but someone was like, "Well she is the only face of the Underground Railroad. She's the only one, so how did that happen where there's not like ten people remembered for it? There's this one name," so the conversation just goes from there. You're like, "What if she was a branding expert? What if she knew how to get her face on things? One day she'll be an image."
Leggero: I mean there's really not that many choices because in terms of people that everyone's familiar with that were famous at that time period, there aren't that many. I think we had all watched this Roosevelt documentary. I forget, maybe it was on PBS, but they all talk about—
Lindhome: It was a Ken Burns documentary.
Leggero: Right, and we had all happened to have watched it and they had all kind of painted FDR as kind of a dick. Then we kind of took that and ran with it and we were like, "What if he was just a total a--hole before he lost his legs?" We'll obviously take liberties that way, but it's definitely we're working within the constraints of the time period. We're making all the characters who are famous the right age and also, it's very realistic that people would be coming to Bellacourt because hotels weren't really even invented 100 years ago. Upper-class people would travel and stay at rich people's homes and they'd have a letter of introduction kind of thing.
Where does that impulse come from, saying, "Okay FDR's going to get excited to see Elanor getting busy with Beatrice?"
Leggero: Because it's funny.
Lindhome: Also in the documentary, it wasn't outright stated, but it was a bit heavily implied that Eleanor had a friend that she lived with for 20 years and FDR had a secretary who was always with him and it was implied that they both had other relations the whole marriage.
What is fascinating about that to you, that people acted in a way not dissimilar to the way we act now, but just history books never talk about it that way?
Lindhome: One of the thing's that's funny to us is when they show affairs in old-timey movies, it's always dramatic and, "I love him!" Sweeping music and we've got this [vibe of], "Yeah, I used to go down on that girl," like we just have the more realistic version, which definitely happened back then. There was definitely people who had affairs and it wasn't dramatic, that they just were like, "Yeah, I'd like to have sex with that person."
What other historical figures are we going to be seeing coming through Newport during the season?Lindhome: Einstein will make an appearance. Mark Twain will be back.
Leggero: Cedric the Entertainer plays Scott Joplin. We also have [guest stars] Jemaine Clement, Andrew Rannells, Michaela Watkins, Bobby Lee. We have just all of our great comedy friends. Tom Lennon is coming back.
Now that the girls are now single, what kind of interesting trouble are they going to get themselves in this year that was maybe a little bit different than last year?
Lindhome: One of the things that we thought would be funny was, I feel like maybe I have a lot of married friends who feel like the only thing stopping them from getting all of the hottest people in the world is the fact that they're married and it's ... Not really. The second we're single, we're women in our late 30s with 16 children. It's not going to be like immediate that we land a man and it never occurs to us until then, so it's sort of like ... We're sort of Bridget Jones-y in that way where we're like, "Well whatever happens," it's not this instant line of suitors that we had expected.
You're on your third Hortense now, right? You acknowledge that at the end of the season premiere. Is this going to be like Becky from Roseanne that you're just going to kind of rotate through different people playing Hortense, or it really was Lauren [Ash] wasn't available so you had to bring in somebody else?
Lindhome: It truly was scheduling conflicts because I mean if you saw last season or you saw the pilot, Lauren was great. She's on the show Superstore right now. We hope this is our last Hortense. We hope this is it.
Any thought of having the three Hortenses somehow managing to be in a same scene together?
Lindhome: I don't know if we thought about that, but it could be funny.
What do you do in the writers' room to make sure you're staying fresh?
Lindhome: Well we have interesting characters and so we have a lot more to explore before things get stale. We don't even know where Blanche is from yet. There's people from people's pasts that could come. I feel like there's still a lot of territory before we need to worry about that.
Leggero: Riki and I, we have very high standards for what we want episodes to be about. I say we have maybe, we have 50 ideas we loved, but these 15 ideas that got into the 20 ideas for storylines that got into the 50 then, those are our favorites.
Why do you think that actors that are of the caliber of Michael Ian Black and Paget Brewster and Christina Hendricks all drawn to the show? Is it the chance to be completely goofy and silly? Or was it something else?
Leggero: I think it's a mixture of amazing taste and also people just love dressing up. What shows do you know about where people get to be someone from 100 years ago and be funny? I don't know any shows. I mean, The Goldbergs is from 30 years ago and they get to dress up in period pieces, but that's the only comedy period piece I can even think of that's on TV.
Lindhome: Also we write specifically for those people and so we do our best to make sure that they love the part. When you have high-level people like that, you think about it. You go, "Well what's going to make them really want to do this?" It's like if they're going to be funny or not.
Were you surprised for instance, how funny Christina Hendricks [who plays a servant called "Chair" and Commodore Bellacourt's mistress] could be?
Lindhome: I think we were really excited when she signed on and we didn't really think, "Is she funny?" Then after her first scene we were like, "Good, oh thank God." It hadn't really occurred to us to be like, "We're worried about [it]," and then after we saw her do a scene we were like, "Whew!" She's hilarious.
Leggero: So much of comedy too is just being game and being down for whatever and she was just so cool.
The person I always think of as being game and down for whatever is Brett Gelman. How do you write for a guy like Brett?
Leggero: Yeah, he's so great. The problem with writing for him is that no one else can do what he does, which it's like ... He's so unique that it's actually pretty easy to write for him because, like I said, no one else is like him. He can play creepy murderer, but still kind of has sex appeal and also be sort of erudite. I don't know anyone else like that.
Lindhome: He's not afraid to lean into the disgusting, you know what I mean? He'll say it the grossest he can say it and he has fun and still sex appeal in playing a disgusting character like Hamish.
Leggero: The thing that I love about his character too is as you'll find out from this season is we actually find out where he's from and he is not low-class and so I've never seen anyone do a better mixture of high-class and low-class together.
Is Jason [Ritter]'s character [Frederick Bellacourt] cgoing to just get dumber and dumber as we go along?
Lindhome: I don't know how he could get dumber.
Leggero: Let's just say he gets more power. Again, back to the historical accuracy of our show, we actually found out that during the time period 1902 when the show takes place, there actually wasn't a Vice President. We had this idea that it is feasible that someone like Frederick could've been Vice President and they've erased it from history.
Because he's just that dumb.
Leggero: Yes, exactly.
Lindhome: Yeah, he's just an asterisk.
David Koechner, who plays patriarch Commodore Bellacourt, can really get red-faced on demand. I know some of it is makeup but...
Lindhome: You know, none of it is makeup. He just commits so hard. Because he's so into the moment. He's so mad or he's so whatever's going on he just really gets into. He's just a really good actor and his actual face gets red when he gets mad.
Leggero: I mean, once we knew how bright David was after season one, it was easier to write for because everything just became funny. Also even on paper, his character, we were afraid it might be a little too one note, but he just added so much dimension to it that Comedy Central, he was like everybody's favorite character and he's got a bigger part this year. We were just so lucky to have him with his schedule.
How much did you have Paget [who plays matriarch Dodo Bellacourt] this year, because I know she's in a little bit of one of the three episodes, but she was also doing Grandfathered at the same time I would imagine?
Lindhome: Yeah, well because it's contractual things with Grandfathered, we only had her for three episodes, but we try to get as much fun out of Paget as we can in those episodes.
Leggero: The good news is Grandfathered is cancelled and Another Period is not.
That's true, so maybe we'll see more of her next year.
Leggero: My husband just said I shouldn't have said that, so maybe you want to delete that.
Have you guys always liked history? Has that been a thing that you guys have always enjoyed and been interested in?Lindhome: About the last seven or eight years I think.
Leggero: Yeah, me too. I just feel like, history is just such a strange thing to teach children because I was never interested in any history until I got into college and really started learning about ... The Guilded Age, I think I read an Edith Wharton book, The House of Mirth and then I was kind of hooked on these 100 years ago, kind of the formality and the glamour, but I think it's a lot to ask children to be interested in history. It's actually something that's nice to find in adulthood.
When I watched the second episode with David [Wain] with his hatchet hand and his hatchet fears, when you guys come up with the joke of his wound looking and feeling like something else ... ?
Leggero: I think that came from a brainstorming session. We were brainstorming with the writers and we realized we wanted to do something that was sort of a satire about gun control and then we came up with hatchet control and then hatchet wounds and then I think that came into people's minds as a vagina.
Comedy Central lets you guys go pretty far with this stuff. Have they turned any joke down, any story down?
Lindhome: I don't know! I mean, we have this thing with Standards and Practices where swear words get beeped and sex scenes can't be too graphic, we do have the same TV standards as everyone else, but as far as content and jokes, they're pretty hands-off.
Leggero: I mean, I think that's why Comedy Central is experiencing such a Golden Age right now because they're just really having people who they think are funny, letting them do their thing. That's a big difference than what's happening in network if you ask me, so I just think we're really lucky to be at such a open, cool network who trusts us. There's been very few things. I mean, the only things they don't really let us do are things that like you said, Riki, the graphic sex scenes that just because of the ... Commercials or whatever.
Any concern about the episode because it's now it's going to be airing a little bit closer to the most recent mass shooting, in Orlando?
Lindhome: It's just that it's so unfortunate, but it's also a testament to how relevant that storyline is. It's really sad and things need to change and so we definitely don't' regret putting in a storyline that shows the absurdity of not having gun control.
Leggero: It's more relevant obviously now than when we came up with it in the writers' room after another mass shooting seven months ago.
So what kind of issues are we going to see a take on?
Lindhome: We have political issues, like how a buffoon can become high-up in a political office so there is that.
Leggero: I don't know if anyone can relate to that.
Another Period, Wednesdays, 10/9c, Comedy Central.