Forget everything you think you know about comedy, Brett Gelman and Adult Swim.
No, seriously. In order to truly enjoy Gelman’s special, “Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends,” you need to go in with an extremely open mind, no expectations and no inhibitions. Because you have never seen anything quite like this, and you probably won’t ever see anything quite like it again.
You might know Gelman from his role on the criminally underrated NBC sitcom “Go On.” He played the twisted-yet-sincere Mr. K. Or maybe you know him from his role on “Eagleheart.” Or perhaps you recognize him from one of his many TV show guest appearances (there are a lot). If you do, you already know Gelman has a unique brand of humor unlike any other comedian you’ve ever seen. He can be dark, twisted, unhinged, all at the snap of his fingers. But even if you think you know his style of comedy, you’ll still be shocked by his Adult Swim special.
Perhaps it’s best to let Gelman describe “Dinner with Friends with Brett Gelman and Friends” in his own words. “It starts out as having the conceit of a show like Jon Favreau’s ‘Dinner for Five’ and then quickly descends into a hellish nightmare of psychological torture,” Gelman tells Zap2it. “You’re going to be going, ‘Huh. Did David Lynch or Lars von Trier make this? What’s going on?’ It just goes to complete hell.”
But wait, isn’t this supposed to be a comedy? Yes, it is. And Gelman and director Jason Woliner managed to marry comedy with horror in a way you never even thought was possible. “It’s going to be the closest that comedy comes to death. It’s pretty crazy,” Gelman warns. “It’s really dark, but it’s a release for people. It’s a release to get scared. We try to provide both humor and fear. I’m really proud of this because it blurs the lines between comedy and horror. It’s not ironic in any way.”
It’s true. Perhaps the reason why the special succeeds in combining comedy and horror is because the cast commits to it 100 percent. “We just wanted to do it straight up without commenting on it, and in a way we lucked out that it still remained to be funny,” Gelman says with a laughs. “And my character, he’s just such a terrible guy. He’s so evil. And it’s so unexpected that I can be that evil, that it’s so awful that it’s funny.”
Gelman isn’t joking, either — he plays himself, but it’s a version of himself that we hope for his sake isn’t reality. “When you get into the headspace of that character, you’re kind of constantly worrying, ‘Is there something deeply wrong with me?’ It’s really scary and you feel crazy,” Gelman says. “But it’s also very fun and you understand why people lust for power and things like that. But at the end of the day it’s really about a person who is so enraged that people think they can be better than him. There’s a real arrogance to him. It was fun to dance with the darkness. And then at the end of the day, you’re not that person. You’re fine. You get to be evil and then go home.”
The funny thing is, the special wasn’t always this dark. In the beginning, it was a much different story. “The original concept was that it would be more of me performing characters at the table for the guests and there would be a lot of awkward bits in between,” Gelman reveals. “But then Adult Swim gave us a really great note and said that would be too taxing. And we agreed with them. They just said, ‘We wanted you to make a thing where you’re just f***ing with the guests.’ Great note! And from that, it kind of just organically spiraled into this evil horror show. There’s no better way to f*** with the guests than to literally, physically, psychologically and mentally torture them.”
If that sounds intense to you, that’s because it is. Gelman and Woliner made sure never to hold anything back. “We just kept going and going and going and there were definitely times where we were like, ‘Is that too far? Oh well, we have to do it!’ We never dialed back,” Gelman says. “But there was one point in the second day when we were shooting — we shot the whole thing in two days and in order so the second day was really violent — and I checked my phone to see a text from Jason asking, ‘Are we evil?'”
Gelman stops talking to laugh heartily … and little ominously. Then he continues, “And me and the actors would just look at each other while filming and go, ‘This is so f***ed up.’ But hey, if you’re making those choices you have to take it all the way. I’d rather fail going down in flames than fail because I didn’t go all the way. Jason is the same way and these actors were the same way. I’ve always been someone who’s not afraid to piss people off. That’s how I’ve always been, for better or for worse. Hopefully people will think that this is for the better.”
Gelman also assembled quite the impressive roster for his cast, making it all the more jarring to see them in that situation. “These are all actors that I’ve been a fan of for a long time and they’ve all given such amazing performances,” Gelman says. “Gilbert [Gottfried] obviously, Fred [Melamed] in ‘A Serious Man,’ Alison [Pill] not only in ‘Newsroom’ but also ‘Milk’ and ‘Midnight in Paris,’ and Lance [Reddick], I’m a diehard ‘The Wire’ fan, and Dale [Dickey] in ‘Winter’s Bone’ and ‘True Blood,’ and Alex [Karpovsky] is so hilarious on ‘Girls.’ So it fell together and we were able to get all these actors who showed up and fully committed.”