Kevin Iso on Bringing Authenticity to Brooklyn Life in ‘Flatbush Misdemeanors’
Comedian Kevin Iso has been grinding it out in the unforgiving world of entertainment for years. You may have spotted him recently on Comedy Central doing stand-up or in Hulu’s short-lived drama, High Fidelity. He’s also a writer on the upcoming HBO series That Damn Michael Che.
In many ways, all of Iso’s experiences have led to Flatbush Misdemeanors. The critically-acclaimed indie web series from Iso and fellow comic Dan Perlman about life in New York’s Flatbush, Brooklyn is officially evolving into a half-hour comedy series for Showtime this spring. In the show, which is part comedy, part social commentary, Iso plays a fictionalized version of himself — also named Kevin — who is a starving artist sleeping on the couch of his friend Dan, a teacher. The two are looking to find their place in the world while living in their gritty neighborhood.
“[Flatbush] is very personal and comes from how I just lived,” Iso says. “That ‘starving artist’ thing — I moved up to New York when I was 21. I had nowhere to stay and had to figure it out. From there, I wanted to do standup. I also had to figure out a way to pay rent … You do what you have to do so you can do what you want to do. I’m still so close to that. I feel like I was writing in my journal and it came to life. Just trying to make it.”
Below, Iso talks about why this raw comedy will resonate.
What was the journey of Flatbush Misdemeanors landing at Showtime?
Kevin Iso: We wrote the script, and people didn’t understand it. We ended up shooting one episode. People were still hesitant saying, “It’s good, but I don’t see it being a TV show. It’s more of a short film.” At the same time, we put it out at the festivals and people were really loving it. The reaction gave us the same feeling that stand-up does. I could actually see what jokes were landing and what ones weren’t.
We started pitching it around, and it had a little bit of buzz. It came down to a few networks. We ended up going with Showtime. I didn’t think anyone was going to pick up a project from a dude that doesn’t have an Instagram [with] a million followers. You have to do the work and show them what you’re trying to create.
How would you describe your creative process with Dan?
When you work with someone on anything creatively, you treat it like an actual relationship or partnership. You’re working together, but there is also a need for the time and space to independently create. That way, you’re able to maintain that spirit of creativity that drives us to do this in the first place.
Were there elements of the dialogue or story that the Showtime folks were hesitant about, or were they genuinely respective of your vision?
With anything, you’re going to get both. This is a business. They are like, “We’ll give you the things you want. At the same time, let’s do this properly.” The thing I love the most about the show is the cast. Showtime let us do what we wanted to do with that. We kept a lot of people from the web series. That was special to me. You keep it in the family. You don’t go, “I’m going to cast The Rock now.”
You do have some new additions like Kristin Dodson, who is a scene-stealer as one of Dan’s students, Zayna.
As soon as I saw her tape, oh my god. I told her, “Whatever you want to do with this character, do it. You are the character.” She was born and raised in Brooklyn. It even got to the point where she would see something in the script and say, “I wouldn’t say it like that.” I’m like, “However you want to say it. Say it.” A lot of the cast could relate to what was in the script. Whether they knew someone like the character or lived it themselves. The chemistry is there. It’s special because I feel like the cast really embodies what is inside this neighborhood.
How important was it for the show to delve into topics like gentrification, the school system, race?
I think whatever people get from it, they get from it. I don’t want people to see this thing and think a bunch of stereotypes. That was something, personally, I was fighting against a lot. I wanted to take these characters and make them fully fleshed out as complete human beings. I think ultimately what a lot of this show is just kids trying to raise themselves. If you look at it through that lens, you’ll have more compassion for a lot of these stories and understand them in a way that speaks to the story, the characters, and the show.
Flatbush Misdemeanors, Sunday, May 23, 10:30/9:30c, Showtime