Sunday, January 6, 2008
Kerri Kenney Takes on Strikes, The State, and Reno 911!
Since posting my last State interview with Thomas Lennon, the Writers Guild of America, which includes many members of The State, has gone on strike against Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. While the overall outcome of the strike remains uncertain, Kerri Kenney has not let the strike spoil her sense of humor. In fact, for someone coming directly from the picket lines, she seemed in remarkably good spirits during our interview. She happily talked about her experiences picketing, the delays surrounding The State DVD, and David Wain and Ken Marino’s newest movie project. I’m pleased to present Kerri Kenney as the eighth installment in the Heavy in the Streets interview series with The State.
DJ Sorce-1: Hi Kerri. One of the first questions I wanted to ask was…
Kerri Kenney: Why am I so lame and calling at the wrong time (Laughs)?
DJ Sorce-1: (Laughs) No, not at all. How has the strike been going?
Kerri Kenney: It is what it is. Tom Lennon and I were just out on the picket line today. It’s definitely more upbeat when you’re with friends. I’m not a big fan of opposition. I’m such a rule follower that the whole strike thing is a tough one for me. I’m sort of just doing what I’m told. It’s hard for me to do stuff like block peoples cars. It’s not really like me to be that confrontational. I think most writers are sort of non-confrontational, so it makes for a bit of a strange atmosphere. It is what it is, and we have to do it. For what it is, it’s going well.
DJ Sorce-1: Do you think the writers are making some positive progress in terms of getting their demands heard?
Kerri Kenney: It’s hard to say. The studios are really big companies with a lot of money. But there is a lot of solidarity, which is great. I think that’s what is important right now, and about all we can do.
DJ Sorce-1: I’m behind you guys and I hope things work out for the best. I know it’s hard when you’re going up against people that have that much money and power. I’m sure it’s intimidating.
Kerri Kenney: Yeah. It’s hard when you’re a hyphenate too. I’m as much a writer as I am an actor and producer. So I get what’s going on, and I get it from all angles. I shot a movie last week with David Wain and Ken Marino. It was while the strike was happening, and they’re allowed to continue to shoot the movie. It’s bizarre to be shooting one day, picketing the next, and the shooting again the day after. It’s strange to sort of change hats like that.
DJ Sorce-1: Yeah, I’m sure. Have you had any really uncomfortable moments with people that you’ve worked with in the past?
Kerri Kenney: No, there hasn’t really been anything like that. I think everybody’s shrugging their shoulders and acknowledging that we’re in a tough position. There is a lot of support out there from the other unions. My husband is a director of photography and he works for two network television shows. His shows were the first two to shut down. Everybody knows that you have to follow your union. Every other union drives by and honks in support.
DJ Sorce-1: I read that people like Jay Leno have come by to hand out doughnuts.
Kerri Kenney: Yeah, I heard that as well. I haven’t been to that studio. I’ve only been at Fox and Paramount. I’ve seen the cast of How I Met Your Mother, Larry David, Matt Groening and lots of different people out there lending their support, which is nice.
DJ Sorce-1: That’s great. How are Ben and Tom dealing with it? I talked to Tom a little while ago, right before the strike, and we talked a lot about the treatment of screenwriters. In a way it was like foreshadowing for what’s been happening.
Kerri Kenney: We’ve kind of know this was going to be coming for a long time. I think we had hoped it wasn’t actually going to have to happen, but the idea of striking has been looming for a long time. The Screen Actor’s Guild contract is up in June, so the same thing may happen again. We’ll see. Tom and Ben are just doing their thing. It sort of feels like you’re still at work; it’s just a different kind of work. You’re out there walking around in circles and carrying a sign. We’re all still making jokes. We’re just doing it without writing it down and while walking in an oval (Laughs).
Reno on Strike
DJ Sorce-1: It’s good you guys are keeping a sense of humor about it. You, Tom, and Ben have always seemed to have a unique chemistry, as if you were a group within the group of The State. Has it been that way since the early days, or was that something that happened later on?
Kerri Kenney: I think for me it kind of happened later. Tom and Ben always wrote together quite a bit. I wrote a lot with Michael Black, so it seemed logical when Viva Variety happened. Tom and I are the two oldest friends within The State. We met as 16 year olds at summer acting camp our junior and senior years of high school. We’ve been close friends for 21 years. I’ve always loved Ben’s work and Tom and I have always worked together, but I think during The State we had different groups. It would change all the time. I would go through fazes where I would only write with David, and only write with Tom, or Michael Black.
DJ Sorce-1: While we’re talking about your writing for The State, two of my favorite skits that you’re in are the hormones skit and the road trip skit. Do you have any interesting inside information about either?
Kerri Kenney: There’s an interesting back story to the road trip one, which is that I totally forgot it even existed. When I was doing the DVD commentary recently, at the beginning of the skit, I was looking at the rest of The State going, “What is this? I’m in this? What am I doing?” I didn’t remember a thing about it. I was watching it as if I had never seen it before. I didn’t remember the punch line or any of the jukes. So it was fun. When you have a short term memory, you can re-enjoy your own TV shows. I swear to god I think I got ruffied and we shot that, because I remember nothing about it.
The hormones sketch was one that we started performing pretty early on. It was a stage piece. Before we had a TV show, we had a stage show that we did in college. We all were acting students, so we were spending our days in sweatpants rolling around on the floor, doing movements, and learning breathing out of our ass techniques…you know, fantastic $20,000 dollar a year kind of stuff. Some of our comedy was very physical then, and I think that may have come from those classes.
It was also fun to have sort of a racy, PG-13 sketch that we could do. We were never really gross for the sake of being gross. But I think with that sketch we loved the statement at the end that the unsatisfied girl was going to pleasure herself. It was kind of racy and raw. But at the same time it was kind of cute with all of the hormones in their swim caps practicing their baseball swings. It’s a really fun sketch to watch and it’s a lot of people’s favorites.
DJ Sorce-1: You talked a little bit about the role of the woman in the hormones skit. It must have been interesting being the only woman in an otherwise all male comedy troupe.
Kerri Kenney: Well, it never really felt that way, and I never felt like I had to make a statement. If anything it felt like, to me anyway, that we were all the same. I never felt separate in any way. I felt, in fact, when I met the guys, that we’d all sort of found each other finally, and that we’d found other parts of our own voice. I never felt like my voice was, “I’m the girl.” I just felt like 1/11th of the voice. I never felt like I had to be the voice of women or speak up for females or anything like that. We just felt like a unit.
It felt very asexual to me as a group. I was just as likely to make a balls joke as anybody else, and Ken was just as likely to play a woman as I was. It was very mixed up, in a great way. I was always respected, and I was like a sister to a lot of them. Plus my sense of humor is more masculine, if you want to put a gender on it. It’s kind of crude. I did one sketch called Kerri’s Day that poked fun at being the only female in The State. But nobody was really asking for my female commentary about being a member of The State. I just needed to write something for that weeks show. It wasn’t really a joke that needed to be told, and I wasn’t trying to make any kind of statement.
DJ Sorce-1: What is the story with The State DVD? I saw something about a delay and all the fans are anxiously awaiting its release.
Kerri Kenney: I’ll tell you the reason why it’s delayed, but I’m not sure about when it’ll be coming out. We started to make a deal with Comedy Central and Paramount to do a State movie. Everything is suspended at the moment because of the strike. But we’ve continued to talk within the group about the movie and what it’s going to be. The studios hope was to push the release of the DVD so that it corresponded with The State movie. Now that were not sure when The State movie will be, I couldn’t tell you when they are going to release the DVD. We have contacted them and said that because of the strike they may want to look into just releasing the DVD, but I’m not sure what came of that. David Wain usually deals with that stuff. He’s the business guy a lot of the time.
DJ Sorce-1: How do you feel about how the DVD was packaged and everything?
Kerri Kenney: I haven’t seen it. I would love to see it, but I haven’t. I only saw the pieces that we did commentary for.
DJ Sorce-1: Is there commentary for a lot of the skits?
Kerri Kenney: There is. We got together in groups on the east and west coast and did a lot of commentary. It was really fun. A lot of us hadn’t been in the same room as a group for many years. There are only a few videotapes of The State sketches, and a lot of us don’t even have those. It was great to see those sketches together after all those years. The only people who have all the episodes are the people who thought of taping them at the time.
Reno 911! Miami Premiere in Hollywood
DJ Sorce-1: Let’s talk a little bit about the show you’re doing with Tom and Ben, Reno 911! You guys recently did a movie. Were there any big differences between doing Reno 911! Miami and Reno 911! the show, and do you have a preference?
Kerri Kenney: The show and movie were both very similar. We made an effort to make the movie as much like the show as possible so our audience would enjoy it as much as new viewers. The main difference was shooting, writing, and editing time. It was very short. We’re normally producing 16 episodes at a time. The movie was an hour and half of material. That’s about five episodes. It felt easier and a little bit more carefree, with the exception of the looming idea that it was a feature film. But that was more exciting than anything. We had the same system down and the same crew we used for the show.
The main difference was that we were at South Beach, which is not at all like LA. For me it was also different because I had just had a baby. I had my son there with me, which was both challenging and exciting. If I had a preference I think it would be the movie. We did so much extra shooting that we ended up with an entirely separate movie which is on the DVD. Just from the nature of the show, we’re used to overshooting. We ended up with way more material than we needed. I like that. I like to really be able to pick through and use what we’re absolutely certain we want as opposed to saying, “We need something for the sake of time, so let’s stick this in.”
DJ Sorce-1: When I spoke to Tom, it sounded like a lot of Reno is improved. How much would you say is improv versus structured.
Kerri Kenney: All the dialogue is improved. The only things written for Reno are episode outlines. The movie needed a bit more structured outline because we needed to tell a story. But the dialogue is never scripted. For example, in the alligator scene from the movie, the script would say something like, “They go to a pool and find an alligator in a pool. A neighbor shows up. The neighbor is played by Chris Tallman.” And that’s it. Then we’ll call up Chris to find out what he wants to wear for the scene. We tell the wardrobe person what we want and set up a day and time for the scene. Then we say, “Action” and start shooting a bunch of stuff. A lot of it is unusable, and a lot of it is great. It’s the most fun way to shoot. Actors love it because it’s so freeing. When we’re done shooting, we work with a team of great editors and are really in there during the editing process.
DJ Sorce-1: Does the Reno cast hang out a lot off set when you aren’t shooting?
Kerri Kenney: People do in smaller groups. Cedric and Carlos are very close. Tom, Ben, and I are always busy doing lots of different stuff together. But as one big group not really. As individuals people are very active in other parts of their career. It’s a group that definitely doesn’t sit around and wait for Reno. Niecy Nash just sold a show and she has another TV show on E! Cedric is constantly in movies. Carlos is a stand up guy and a voiceover actor. Everybody is busy in their other lives. Niecy and I both have children. It’s not like it used to be with The State where it was like, “Hey dude come over to my apartment, we’ll write some skits and smoke some pot.” Everyone has careers and families now, so it’s quite different. But we do like each other, so when we get together, it is a lot of fun.
DJ Sorce-1: Where would you say your Trudy character ranks on your list of favorite roles?
Kerri Kenney: It’s definitely my most favorite. I could play her for a hundred years. I adore her. I would love to be able to just say whatever comes into my mind in life. I don’t want to be as ignorant, racist, or inappropriate as her. But I love her innocence. That’s something about her that makes her really freeing and fun to play. I’m much more concerned about how I come off as a person in my daily life. As I said before I’m a rule follower. I’m not as inappropriate as Trudy on any level. I don’t want to sound all actory and say, “She cracks me up”, but sometimes the things that come out of my mouth when I’m truly just trying to be Trudy crack me up. She’s a character that allows you to go to some ridiculous places as an actor.
DJ Sorce-1: I feel like the movie really allowed Trudy to shine, especially in the beach scene.
Kerri Kenney: We had so much fun doing that. Niecy and I always have a blast together.
DJ Sorce-1: It’s pretty cool that you’re a member of the all female rock group Cake Like. Can you give some quick background on the group and talk about if you have any current project you’re working on?
Kerri Kenney: We haven’t played together in several years, mostly because I live in LA now, and Jody Seifert and Nina Hellman live in New York City. The band started in New York, and we started just for fun. I was the singer and the bass player. We made a record with John Zorn on a Japanese import label. It was just a little record. Ric Ocasek heard it and loved it, and ended up playing it for Neil Young. Neil Young was starting a label on Vapor records. Ric Ocasek produced us and we did two records on Vapor records with Neil Young. We also did the H.O.R.D.E. tour and toured with Neil Young around the US and Europe quite a few times.
We had some videos on MTV, and we did well. Our first record got three and a half stars in Rolling Stone. We also got two pages in Spin magazine. We were quite successful for a bunch of girls who were just doing it to have fun in the beginning. By nature of the fact that we didn’t know what we were doing, we couldn’t copy anybody, and we had a pretty unique sound. It was really fun. I’m still very close with both Jody and Nina, and we still hope to play together again when we can put the kids down for five minutes and get in the same city.
"Lorraine's Car" by Cake Like
DJ Sorce-1: For my last question I wanted to ask you about the new movie Ken Marino and David Wain are making called Little Big Men. What can you tell me about it?
Kerri Kenney: It’s so fun to shoot with David, Ken, and Paul Rudd. This time David and Ken get to run around with a bunch of money, which is new for us. We’re really used to doing smaller projects. When you work with a big studio, you have a lot more resources. David will write a little joke about something and they end up building a huge set around it. It’s really fun to watch. I was only there for the days I was shooting my scenes, which wasn’t that many, but I have a good feeling about the movie. It looks like it’s going to be really funny, and there is a lot of improv in it. Those guys are great and I would love to keep making movies with all of them.
To order a Cake Like CD, click here. To check out Kerri's impressive resume at IMDB click here.