Brother Nature: Old School, Family Comedy with an R-Rating
Mikey Day on being in class with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, how to decide when a joke has gone too far, and why shorter is always better.
Mikey Day is a writer, actor and producer, best known for his work on Saturday Night Live, Robot Chicken, and The Underground. Now he has teamed up with SNL-cast member Taran Killam (The Heat, Ted 2) to write a new comedy Brother Nature, produced by Lorne Michaels.
In Brother Nature, Roger (Taran Killam) is a straight-laced politician who wants to propose to his girlfriend (Gillian Jacobs, Community) at her family’s lake house. But everything falls apart when he meets his future brother-in-law Todd (SNL’s Bobby Moynihan).
Creative Screenwriting chatted with Mikey about being in class with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, how to decide when a joke has gone too far, and why shorter is always better.
Tell us a little about your background and how you got into the business?
I’ve always loved writing comedy. I’d write sketches in high school for the assemblies. We only had two microphones, so we’d record the dialogue and music onto cassette tapes and lip-sync the sketch at the assemblies. So old school.
I studied theater in college but the most significant introduction into the business came from The Groundlings.
I took classes there and got into the main company in 2005. It taught me so much about improv and sketch writing because once you start performing there, you’re writing sketches, putting them up for a director and doing a show every week for an audience.
You learn a lot about what tends to work and what doesn’t, and you’re constantly trying to top yourself with new ideas.
It’s not only a great showcase but you’re surrounded by many talented people all doing what you love to do. Melissa McCarthy was in the main company with me for a while. I was in class with Kristen Wiig. Really awesome people who you get to watch, learn from, write and perform with.
I met people at The Groundlings who I still work with to this day, and definitely credit that place for a lot.
Where did the idea for Brother Nature come from?
Cameron Fay developed the story and initial draft of the screenplay. I believe he might have based it very loosely on his family experiences.
What were your influences for the film?
Taran said he really wanted the film to have an old school, family comedy vibe. Although it does have an R-rating, mainly because of a fishing sequence that involves some blood and a scene involving edible marijuana potato chips. But I do think families and kids will enjoy it. It’s not a raunchy movie. It has a Great Outdoors / What About Bob? feel to it.
What’s it like creating a film for Lorne Michaels?
It was awesome. We had a table read of an early draft and Lorne gave us some notes that really helped us nail down the tone, structure and opportunities for comedic sequences within the genre. He put a lot of trust in us and basically let us do our thing. It was pretty surreal.
In addition to SNL, which has impacted so many people, especially those interested in comedy, Lorne’s produced some movies that were big deals for me growing up. I’ve seen Wayne’s World a ridiculous amount of times. When I was 12, I owned and wore that black Wayne’s World hat.
Tell me about your writing partnership with Taran.
I’ve known Taran for a long time so it’s easy to write with him. The more you know someone, the easier it is to say how you truly feel about ideas, and the product inevitably turns out better.
If I have fun writing with someone and I’m laughing a lot, usually that energy comes out on the page. My favorite SNL sketches were written with people whom I’m not afraid to act like a full idiot with.
Is there ever a point where a joke goes too far?
I think that depends on the project. With Brother Nature, it was a summer vacation, family comedy. So we kept in mind the thought: “If you were watching this with your parents, would this joke turn the vibe super awkward and make you want to throw yourself out of a window?”
Tell me about your writing rituals.
For Brother Nature, we started rewriting a little as the SNL season wrapped up. Sunday’s basically your only free day during an SNL show week, so we did as much as we could.
Once summer started, Taran and I would meet at the Broadway Video offices at the Paramount lot in LA in the morning and write until early evening. Matt and Oz, the directors, would drop in and help us with certain ideas and generally keep it on track as a cohesive story.
Sometimes Taran and I would go off and write up scenes separately for a couple days, then meet back up and go over them together.
We had a hard August start date so that pressure helped us work pretty efficiently.
How much of this film involved improvisation?
A lot. We were lucky to have a cast that was highly adept at thinking on their feet. Bobby is a machine, and for every line in the script he’d give you several alternate lines that were so funny. He’d improv and set up bits and characters and then bring them back in later scenes.
Taran and Bobby would often finish the scripted lines and then keep going for minutes after. Kumail would do a lot of subtle, funny improv. He’s so comfortable letting uncomfortable silences sit there for a while. There’s definitely hours of unused footage on a hard drive somewhere.
Do you have any advice for comedy writers?
That’s tough. Comedy is such a personal thing to each individual.
In general, from my experience at least, I find that shorter’s always better. Better to leave them wanting more than wearing out your welcome with something that started out enjoyable.
Have any of your beliefs as a writer changed over the last decade?
With each experience, I feel like I learn and use that to hopefully get better. I have a son now, so kids tend to give you a new, interesting outlook on life.
But a lot of general comedic concepts that I enjoy have remained the same. Stupid stuff always makes me laugh. Someone throwing something and accidentally hitting a person in the face with it made me laugh at age 5 and makes me laugh now.
Probably too hard.