Interview: Jo Roueiheb

Jo Rouieheb Interview indexJo Roueiheb’s the star and co-creator of the superb pilot I Adore Dolores, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago and described as “Exquisitely funny…A one of a kind comedy that I’d love to watch new episodes of each and every week”. She’s also responsible for a great deal of very funny comedy elsewhere too, including the web series Two Natasha Lyonnes, and has performed regularly as part of the Upright Citizens Brigade, while her videos have featured on HuffPost Comedy, CollegeHumor and Funny or Die. Here she tells us all about the creation of I Adore Dolores, what might happen in potential future episodes and why she wants Clint Howard to cameo, her time with the Upright Citizens Brigade, how she wishes the comedy community was more daring and diverse, and much more besides.

Comedy To Watch: You first portrayed the character of Dolores at a party, but what inspired you to create her?

Jo: A few years ago, my then-roommate had an old man wig from a “Jack and the Beanstalk” children’s show. I wore it and played around improvising as this character called Dolores. Then I went to Denver and fleshed her out more at an improv show, but it was still pretty rough.

A few months later, my friends, Sam and Mike, invited me to a Halloween party and by that point, I knew Dolores was like Lucy Ricardo but sad. I grabbed a bunch of Dolores accoutrement – a man’s shirt with blood all over it from an old sketch and maracas I’d had since the ‘90s. I performed her as an overly optimistic divorcée, and she was a big hit at the party.

I was free flowing in the character because I was on acid – no need to mention that if you’ve already seen the pilot. And then everything started to inform the other things: the bad breakup I just went through, the costume, the wig, my emulation and adoration of Lucille Ball, the acid… it felt like I really knew Dolores.

Then I started going out in public as Dolores. I wore her wig to a random Polish bar in Queens. One time I went to a going away party, and unfortunately the group ended up at a strip club, and I was really only comfortable going in character as Dolores. I ordered a cup of milk in a dirty glass and a Shirley Temple. The bartender said, “You need to order real alcohol or get out.” After trying to fist bump security a couple times, I left.

I kept working on the character and fleshing her out. I did her at some UCB shows and then around town in Dallas. I was also Dolores in China, at the Great Wall, which is featured in the pilot.

CTW: And how did co-writers Sam Marine and Emily Wilson become involved?

Jo: After Dolores’s big reveal at the Halloween party, I started chatting with my friend Sam, who happened to be dressed as a clown with red and yellow garments. She said she was, “the bratty heiress-daughter of Ronald McDonald.” We knew each other through CollegeHumor and had collaborated before on a few sketch shoots, so we started talking about the world these two characters could inhabit together. By the next party in January, the world we were building was getting pretty interesting. Emily overheard us talking and asked if she could get in on the project, which Sam and I were thrilled about. Emily and Sam went to film school together and so they knew each other’s sensibilities really well. And then the three of us committed to meeting every week to actually make it happen.

CTW: Once they were how did the pilot develop over time?

Jo: The pilot developed with a lot of wine and a lot of time. We initially wrote a full season – 6 episodes – but realized that the budget for a full season would have been crazy expensive. So we took our best bits and repurposed those moments, then added the connective tissue for the pilot. It was basically an exercise in throwing everything at the wall and realizing we can’t pay for it, then figuring out how to still make it happen.

CTW: Was there anything you wanted to do in that first episode that you weren’t able to?

Jo: There’s a scene where I’m cleaning something on the ceiling, and Dorma is sort of holding me up. But after a while Dorma loses interest, and just sort of lets me fall on the ground. The original plan was to have me in a harness, and make it look like I was flying in an exaggerated fall. But we didn’t end up using the harness because the grid we were hanging from wasn’t safe enough. We made it work with a camera trick, though, and I think it works well this way.

CTW: Are there plans for more episodes of the series? And if so, can you tell us a little about what might take place in them?

Jo: We have a full season written and would love to make more, and we are looking for avenues to make that happen. The pilot does a good job of introducing the aesthetic of our world along with the weird and wacky characters that are recurring throughout the season. We made sure there were dynamic character arcs that would be both meaningful and bonkers. For example, how Dolores handles herself when her problematic ex-husband (Rormald McDormald) shows up again. Or how Dorma is coping with the media scrutiny following her very public and infamous “incident.” We also get to meet other colorful characters, such as Dorma’s ex-flame, Beefy King. Oh! And there’s even a big Hollywood exposé that really offers some juicy insight into Dorma’s past growing up as a child star and fast food heiress. There’s really a lot to play with.

CTW: If you had an unlimited amount of money, what would you like to do with Dolores, Dorma and the rest of the characters?

Jo: I’d definitely want to entertain ourselves with really deep diversions and easter eggs for the audience – I love going down the joke rabbit hole. In the early days of the project, when we were writing with abandon and probably a couple glasses of wine deep, we thought it’d be funny to write in a Clint Howard cameo – either like his scene in Armageddon where he delivers the terrible news or his scene as Balok on Star Trek when he was a kid. We don’t know who would get the reference. It would just be for us… and Clint.

CTW: And do you have any ideas or plans for different tv shows or films?

Jo: Banana Cheese is the collective that Sam, Emily, and I make up, and we have some more ideas for down the road. And aside from that, I’m in the early writing stages of a short film and a cartoon series, neither of which are far enough along in their gestation phase to warrant sharing any details. 🙂

CTW: You’ve also made the superb web series Two Natasha Lyonnes, can you tell us how that came about, about the making of the series, and if you have plans for more episodes in the future?

Jo: Torey Strahl and I were watching Russian Doll and both started doing the Natasha impression back and forth. And then we heard a March 2019 NPR interview where Lyonne describes her childhood admiration of Pacino, De Niro, and Chris Walken. She emulated their machismo from a young age, and, for us, imagining a small Lyonne walking around Israel (she spent time there as a kid) doing these impressions was very funny. So we wanted to do our version of her version of these wise guys. We bought the wigs and fake cigarettes and were having so much fun in the character. We thought it would be great to make a buddy comedy with the same buddy twice. When we started editing it, we realized it was more enjoyable the faster and punchier the scenes were, so we chopped it up into a web series. Yes, there will be more episodes.

CTW: And you’ve worked with both UCB Comedy Originals and CollegeHumour, can you tell us a little about your experiences with them, and what the highlights were?

Jo: Working with UCB was awesome because I was on set either as a PA or sound operator, and I was also an editor. It was there that I got a real handle on the comedy process and UCB style of pacing in sketch and timing in editing. I was with UCB Comedy when I first moved to New York and started taking classes there, so it was great to be collaborating with the performers that blew my mind with a third beat connection the night before. CollegeHumor had good production value. They would put earnest intention into the props. For example, there was a Catdog with guts spilling out of its butthole – and they took such care making it. I loved being around that creative energy and seeing the performers do crazy stuff. And it was really fun working the all-nighters. That always felt like something special was happening.

CTW: If you could change any element of the comedy world, what would it be? –

Jo: I guess when you look at TV writers rooms in the US, for the most part, it’s affluent white people with college degrees. It would be cool to have more diversity – not just in gender, age, and ethnicity, but also socio-economic situations. It would be nice to have a wider range of experiences informing the comedy, because the jokes could be richer with more texture. It also seems like TV execs are scared of things that are different until that thing is successful… and then they want seven other versions of it. For example, The Daily Show, now there are a bunch of shows following the info-comedy presentational format. I’d like the community to be more daring and diverse.

CTW: What one piece of underrated comedy do you wish more people knew about?

Jo: I grew up on classic sitcoms. So by the time I was a teenager, I was drawn to weirder, more subversive satirical comedy. I loved Serial Mom and I remember seeing Girls Will Be Girls fresh out of high school. I was smoking weed for the first time with my friend Heather and I was like, “What the fuck am I watching?” I felt like I had discovered a whole new reality of what comedy could even be.

CTW: And finally, if you could interview yourself, what question would you most like to ask? And what would the answer be?

Jo: “What is my password for my Discover card account? Why can’t you (I) remember it?” I would hope my answer would be correct, but I don’t have a good track record.

Alex Finch.
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Related Links:
Jo’s Official Website.
You can watch I Adore Dolores on Youtube here.

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