“Can A Kind Man Survive In A Cruel World?” Dave Holstein Talks ‘Kidding’
Dave Holstein, best known for his writing work on the hit TV show Weeds discusses the world and inspiration behind his darkly comic TV show Kidding with Creative Screenwriting Magazine.
Good ideas take time to ferment and ruminate in every TV writer’s mind. Dave Holstein is no different. The earliest incarnations of Kidding (Jim Carrey) occurred in 2010 while Weeds was still filming. He wrote the first draft of Kidding in 2013 as Weeds was winding up. It took another five years to get the TV show to the small screen. When asked what inspired the idea for the show, Holstein responded “I wanted to write something for myself and not to necessarily sell it.” Screenwriters should follow their creative passions rather than market trends. In Holstein’s case, this strategy paid off handsomely.
Holstein missed the darkly comic tone of Weeds and sought to recapture it in Kidding. He added songs, poetry and performance [what Holstein loves doing] to form the creative backbone of Kidding. Theme and character soon followed.
The shifting of extreme drama and comedy in Kidding came about from the central premise of whether a kind man can survive in a cruel world. This lent itself to the light and dark tones of the TV show. When balancing the dark comedy aspects of the show, Holstein was more concerned about “not sticking to a particular tonal format in each episode, but rather the entire season.” Certain jokes were edited out of the TV pilot to keep its tone “dark and sad. When we did engage in lighter moments of levity, they rewarded the audience a little more,” mentioned Holstein.
Holstein did a lot of research into developing the character of Mr. Pickles [the children’s performer in Kidding] played by Jim Carrey. Firstly, there was an element of purity to the Mr. Pickles. “How can somebody legitimately be that kind and honest in the real world?” he stataed. There are two sides to Mr. Pickles’ character [cruelty and kindness] struggling to co-exist, leading to his emotional buildup. Kidding also explores the juxtaposition and contrast of private versus public personas. Part of Mr. Pickles’ character was to demonstrate he was the same person on stage as he was off stage despite his on camera affability.
Thirdly, Holstein wanted to create “a legitimate children’s television show that didn’t feel like a spoof or a parody.” This final aspect of Holstein’s research involved consulting child development experts to further authenticate Mr. Pickles’ character.
Holstein knew exactly what TV show he wanted to make, based on the tonality and genre of Weeds. The pilot episode of Kidding was “pretty much verbatim” of the script he wrote five years prior to filming it. There were no story rabbit holes or obscure incarnations that never made it the screen. This confirms the value of knowing and outlining your story before commiting to the keyboard. “Kidding was outlined a hundred times before it was put into draft,” he added. “Aside from tone, a lot of thought was put into the structure of the pilot. When you have such a dense pilot, you have a lot of information you want to tell in the most intelligent way possible… You have to be careful and precise about how you dole out that information.“
Holstein wanted to show that kindness, the opposite of the excessive violence and insults that pervade many TV shows, could exist in Kidding. This is especially important to Holstein in light of the current social climate of escalating hatred. Can this cynicism be overcome? Holstein attempted to do just that in Kidding.
He quotes “It gave me struggle. It gave me hope. It gave me a central conflict and a story engine that was relevant and endless.“
When asked if Mr. Pickles was childishly naïve, ignorant, or other wordly, Holstein paused for thought.
“We always try to treat Mr. Pickles like Jesus. He has a genuine religious philosophy that has resonated with people for years. And that’s his superpower.” Some may argue that Mr. Pickles is disconnected from reality, but he really has a supernatural ability to see the best in people. “Maybe he is crazy. Maybe he isn’t. Maybe we should all look at the world the way Mr. Pickes does?” elaborates Holstein.
Holstein sees his thematic exploration of absolute kindness and honesty in times of as timely. “What makes the show vibrate more than usual is that Mr. Pickles is the only truly honest person left on television.”
Despite the richness of the writing, the main actors Jim Carrey, Catherine Kineer and Frank Langella added a dramatic depth to the material which Holstein did not initially see on the page. “A good writer shouldn’t fight the actors’ instincts. S/he should lead into them.” Sebastian’s character (played by Frank Langella) was originally written as a fast talker. However, Langella brought a gravitas to Sebastian who “made serious statements about very silly things,” quipped Holstein.
Mr. Pickles is straddling the line between grief and identity crisis. He’s coping with his estranged wife following the accidental death of their child. All the characters in the show innately ponder the question “Who am I now that this trajedy has happened to me?” This forces them to closely look at who they are in a more honest fashion. Estrangement has had unintended consequences in Mr. Pickles’ crumbling life as his new order is established.
When asked what makes Dave Holstein tick, he replied “I always try to find an emotionally grounded story. The more heart it has, the more license I have to become comically absurd.”
Like Jim [Carrey], Holstein gets bored easily. When searching for creative inspiration he strives to write audiences something they haven’t seen before. That can be challenging. Kidding gave him the opportunity to take a mammoth creative risk. “We have to swing for the fences or burn this network [metaphorically] to the ground,” said Holstein. “If the show feels like another TV show or it’s forgettable, we’ve missed our opportunity.”
In conclusion, Holstein hopes Kidding extends beyond him as a TV writer. He hopes the show will inspire us all to become better people and more honest with each other
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