Josh Gad is a busy man these days. Right in the middle of preview shows of controversial (but well–reviewed) Broadway muscial The Book of Mormon—Gad stars as mormon Elder Cunningham in the comedy from South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone—today he launches his first originally created web series on My Damn Channel.
Gigi: Almost American began as a one-off sketch about a clumsy foreigner hacking together some English in headphones while holed up in a bathtub. For Gad and his fellow comedy troupe partners that make up The Lost Nomads (Ty Clancey, Ida Darvish, Tyler Moore and Kevin Larsen) that was all there was to this experimental Gigi character. But when BBC Worldwide execs Dan Tischler and Jane Tranter caught a glimpse of it stashed on the Lost Nomads demo reel, they saw something bigger.
Announced back in January at NATPE, this is the first original web series released from BBC Worldwide Productions, the studio behind international hit TV shows like Dancing with the Stars and What Not to Wear.
Gad has dipped more than a few toes in the web series waters, starring along side Jon Heder in the Streamy-winning supernatural comedy Woke Up Dead for Sony’s Crackle back in 2009. But Gigi marks his first originally created project to get a full web series season pickup from a studio. We caught up with Josh Gad for a few minutes in between Book of Mormon shows to get his take on the first major web series out of his Lost Nomads crew.
Tubefilter: What’s the deal with bathtubs? Woke up Dead opens with a bathtub, and it looks like Gigi spends a little time in one too. Are you particularly fascinated by them?
Josh Gad: Ha. Interestingly enough, we shot a one-off about this foreigner in a bathtub learning English about five years ago, long before Woke Up Dead. Then we [The Lost Nomads] met with BBC Worldwide Productions and they were talking with us about teaming up to do a web series. They said what about that one that you guys did in your reel about the forgeiner in a bathtub? We said, It’s not going to be a series, because where do you go with that? They we started to throw out ideas of where you could go with it. And not only could it be a series but it could be a great series. So we wound up shooting a pilot that they funded and we showed it to My Damn Channel who loved it.
Tubefilter: So taking Gigi from a one-off sketch to series, how did you navigate the line between one-dimensional joke to narrative arc?
Gad: When we started this process, there were two things I wanted to accomplish. First, I didn’t want to re-tread any familiar format. If it was Borat or Mr. Bean, I wasn’t interested. What those guys did was so different from say, the more dialog based comedy of Judd Apatow, was the commitment to physical comedy. I’ve always ben obsessed with physical comedy—my idol is Charlie Chaplin and I grew up watching The Gold Rush. There aren’t as many comedians that rely on physical comedy any more.
At it’s core Gigi is about a guy that’s prusting this Amercian dream and just wants to fit in, but along the way his encounters take him to a girl—an unrequited love— and he’s a foreigner who doesn’t understand how these things go.
Tubefilter: Gigi seems to be a nomadic without a country we can pinpoint him from, and of course your comedy troupe is somewhat fittingly names The Lost Nomads. Do you feel a little nationless at times?
Gad: I think that The Lost Nomads is a reflection of our style of comedy and that Gigi ties into that. It was very intentional to never reveal where Gigi is from because we think it’s funnier that way. It’s much more fascinating for this character to keep it mysterious and focus on his interactions with other characters instead of directed at a specific social commentary.
Tubefilter: Why choose the web as the venue for this project?
Gad: The web created a very exciting form of storytelling. I keep coming back to it because I love the artistic potential and because it’s a breeding ground to see if something can work. You can fail to succeed. You can really experiment to see what’s working.
Tubefilter: How about working with a TV production studio like the BBC, this was their first original web series. Were they pretty open about the comedy?
Gad: I’ve never had an experience that’s been so unbelievably cooperative. Everybody has really made this a group effort and nobody dictated what needs to be done and what can’t be done. [BBC Worldwide Productions] certainly wasn’t hands off, but it’s been creatively very open.
Tubefilter: With the BBC’s track record, are there TV or Film plans in store for Gigi?
Gad: Everybody is already buzzing about the possibilities, there’s been real interest of developing this as something bigger. But right now I want to see how people respond to it on the web. And I would still love the opportunity to explore it more on the web.
Tubefilter: Were you at all concerned about confusion of the title Gigi with the musical (and film) of the same name?
Gad: Actually it does play into one of the episodes. Gigi gets confused when he see and audition for the show Gigi, since LA was doing a revival of the movie for the stage when we were shooting it.
Tubefilter: The Book of Mormon is in previews and already getting some rave reviews. Were you at all nervous about how it would be perceived?
Gad: It’s definitely exceeded all of my expectations. Certainly I was concered, but early on (about 3 years now) it became very clear to me that they really did know what they were doing with this one. It’s something that they are very aware of what the repose would be if it was just Mormon bashing. At the end of the day it really is a pro-faith show. It’s something that if you can stick with it, then they really do work in the freedom of belief and the power of belief.
Two episodes premiered today on My Damn Channel (and MDC’s YouTube channel) of the 10-episode series, with new ones out every Wednesday. Oh, and want tickets to Gad’s Book of Mormon musical which opens official this weekend? Good luck—there’s a ticket lottery.