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'Enlisted' producers Kevin Biegel & Mike Royce talk about FOX military comedy
On getting laughs while being respectful to the military, the 'Stripes' influence, and more
So you have to balance a couple of things here. You have to get laughs about the Army without making it seem like you're making fun of it.
Kevin Biegel: Yeah, but that's one distinction though. We're not getting laughs about the Army. It's all character-based laughs. We're not trying to do some wicked satire here. This isn't poking fun or mocking anything. All the laughs here come from the anatomy of the situation these guys find themselves in and the characters. This is never going to be the show where we're just mocking Uncle Sam for whatever choices they're making. It's not about that and we can't make it political one-way or jingoistic the other way because we're going to lose viewers.
The pilot is very respectful of the Army and makes clear the importance of this unit even though it's staffed with misfits. But you've got people on both sides of the spectrum where if you go an inch this way or an inch that way, they're going to hate you.
Kevin Biegel: All we can do at the end of the day is say, “Here's the show in its entirety.” And our intentions should be very clear once you see all of these episodes. And episode to episode, we're never doing anything that we feel is pushing it too far or making fun of or something that's going to offend people. We pull ourselves back all the time saying, “This is going to be too much. We don't want to offend so-and-so.”
Mike Royce: We're never mocking the idea of being a soldier. All the comedy hopefully comes from the fact that this is their workplace. The Army gives you this big broad canvas and a lot of outside stuff and there's just a big things that happen there. It gives you the opportunity for physical comedy, yes, some slapstick and some broad stuff, but that's part of the mix. It doesn't mean that we don't want the characters themselves to be grounded and the characters to be there for a reason. They'll be questioning maybe what reasons they're there for, but that's part of the fun.
Kevin Biegel: They're human beings too. And at the end of the day anyone can get offended by anything. And it one person takes offense at something we do, I apologize in advance. But we can't try to answer every single possible offense from the get-go, because then whether it's in the Army or whether it's in an office or whether it's they're police officers, you're going to totally cripple yourselves. All we can do is try to tell a really true honest stories about these characters and brothers in this world and do everything we can to let anyone in the military know our intentions are noble and it's just to shine a light on a job that we think is interesting and important.
You both have experience with comedy/drama hybrids, Kevin with “Scrubs,” Mike with “Men of a Certain Age.” What discussions have you had with Fox about taking the show in some of these more serious directions you’ve talked about?
Kevin Biegel: They're for it. They've known from the get-go that there's things that we want to deal with in the show that you wouldn't normally see on a sitcom. I even contend that even in the pilot, Geoff sitting in the bar and having a private moment looking at a picture of a soldier who passed away isn't something you normally see. Having him talk about his father who passed away isn't something that happens, I love “30 Rock”; it isn't something you do on 30 Rock every week. We don't want to scare an audience away and we certainly don't want to be treacly, but we want to make sure that all of that comedy and all the characters is grounded by something real in each of these episodes in each of the stories that we tell. And every time we've come to Fox and said, “Look, we want to take this character here, we want to show that maybe Geoff’s character isn't 100 percent the same after he came back from overseas,” they're behind it because they know that we're being very careful with it. But they also know that's an area that we want to go. If we're just goofy, the show's not worth doing.
Mike Royce: The way we're approaching it isn't like we can't wait to take the show into this dark area or this dark area or this dark area. It just means we want the world to be grounded and real and then we're trying to tell a good story. Those good stories go into what these people do; what these people do go into certain areas. Comedy is job one. Obviously it's a comedy but just like “The Office” can get emotional, we're emotional people.That's what we discovered about each other.
Kevin Biegel: Oh my god.
Mike Royce: And as much as we want to have a fat guy on a wall occasionally, and a broad joke here as part of the mix, what we're drawn to is the real behind the characters. And that helps drive everything. And once we ground it we get into the silly because we can have fun with it.