Not many people can say they've worked with Judd Apatow and Paul Reubens. Comedian and writer Paul Rust can.
He recently co-wrote "Pee-wee's Big Holiday," which debuts next month on Netflix, and co-created the new Netflix show "Love" with his wife, Lesley Arfin, and Judd Apatow.
The show, which stars Rust and Gillian Jacobs, centers around two people who form an unlikely bond while struggling to make it in the entertainment industry.
Rust got his start doing comedy at Upright Citizens Brigade a few years ago. Since then, he's written for "Comedy Bang! Bang!" and "Arrested Development."
When Rust joined us at The Frame, he talked about his collaborative process, his love for Pee-wee Herman and how his stint as a bad sex robot helped him connect with Judd Apatow.
You wrote and directed a video in which you star as a pretty inept sex robot. But that was a kind of turning point in your career, right?
Yeah, it's so funny that you say that, because I got a call one day from Judd Apatow. And he was like, "Hey, Allison Jones showed me this YouTube clip of you as a bad sex robot." [laughs] "I thought it was really funny." I had known him for a while, but that was the thing that reconnected us. So yeah, I guess that video with poor cinematography and awful sound ended up having some sort of effect. [laughs]
What was the call from Judd? What was he interested in doing with you at that point?
Charlyne Yi and I had co-written a script for Judd, and I was currently working on the Pee-wee movie, but that was Judd's first exposure to me as an actor. [laughs] You can tell by that performance.
But that raises a really interesting question. In two of your most recent collaborations, "Love" with Judd Apatow and "Pee-wee's Big Holiday" with Paul Reubens, you're working with writers and comedians who have a very distinct, specific style. You have your own style, of course, so how do you find a middle ground that's satisfactory to everybody?
I mean, Judd Apatow and Paul Reubens are two people who I'd be more than happy to learn from, because I think they're geniuses at what they do. In a weird way, I think I probably connected with them because they'd already influenced me.
Growing up, I dressed up as Pee-wee Herman. I was a big Pee-wee Herman fan. [laughs] It would make more sense if it was for Halloween, but sometimes I was just dressing up as Pee-wee. I was going to go to a midnight screening of "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" in college, and it's the sort of thing where people dress up. So I got dressed up, and then I got lost, I was speeding, and a cop pulled me over while I was wearing a Pee-wee suit. That's a hard ticket to get out of.
And then, in college, watching "Freaks and Geeks" and seeing Judd's sensibility flipped a switch for me creatively. By the time I reached those guys, their sensibilities were already in my creative DNA, so there was never a negotiation about whose voice we were doing.
As a child, you dressed up as Pee-wee and you were clearly influenced by what Paul Reubens was doing. When you started collaborating with Paul Reubens, what was the experience of working with him like? How did you start talking about what you could bring to him?
The first three times we met, I don't think I remembered anything. [laughs] I was just in this daze like, Oh my gosh I'm sitting here with Paul Reubens. And I kept almost calling him Pee-wee. [laughs] I'd just drive back to my house with my head swimming. That was the initial three to five times we met.
Paul's a genius, so it really did feel like getting to work with a master, someone who really knows comedy. As far as what I could bring to it, maybe it was just me being an admirer of that character, and being a reminder of that for Paul.
"Pee-wee's Big Adventure" might be the finest comedy ever made, and Paul and I talked a lot about how, unlike any other comedic character, Pee-wee exists in a sort of utopia — no one ever points a finger at him to go, "Look at the weirdo!" So we really wanted to hold on to that aspect in the Pee-wee movie, because we felt like someone else might put someone snarky into that universe, or have Pee-wee use Instagram. [laughs]
In the show "Love" you play a character who's an on-set tutor for a TV child star. But secretly, you don't want to be an on-set tutor. You want to be a writer. I suspect that that might be informed by your background as a writer in the business.
Yeah, I guess so. There was some apprehension there, just because even a smart person might go, I'm not going to make this guy a writer. I'll make him an ad exec. Like so many Albert Brooks movies, I think he's playing an ad man because it's just such a nice substitute for a writer. [laughs]
But I didn't do that, and yeah, I'd been working as a writer for the last decade or so. I guess as far as how the industry gets represented, it had always been a bummer to see people as cigar-chomping meanies. That's not my experience — it's usually that people are trying to do good things, but the business makes it sometimes difficult to do the right thing.