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Green Room: Jailbait, The Breakout Prison Comedy

April 4th, 2011 by Ben Collins Editor

Consider John Lehr a dedicated public servant.

The star of the TBS sitcom “Ten Items or Less” endured a flu and got completely naked in front of some close professional friends to create his new Internet comedy show “Jailbait.” And he did it all for some prison jokes.

The good news is that it worked. The show is both the laugh-out-loud and the cringe-inducing kinds of funny. The bad news is it’s so racy that you shouldn’t show it to your kids, unless you want to end up where Lehr’s character “Ozzie” is on Jailbait.

Ozzie was caught buying drugs he didn’t want, so he’s in prison and he’s a little bit too excited about it. This explains the almost perpetual nudity and jokes we can’t repeat on this blog. But thank God for the perseverance of this civil servant, because John Lehr’s new show is very funny, and that’s why we decided to talk to him about it.

Every episode of “Jailbait” is available on Hulu starting today.

Hulu: Tell me how you got “Jailbait” off the ground.

John Lehr: Well, my partner Nancy Howard and I created it as a pitch. We thought it was going to be a pretty edgy TV show. Before we got a chance to shop it fully, Sony, who we had worked for—we had a show called 10 items or less—they approached us. They said, “Do you have anything that might work on the Internet?” We always loved the freedom of that idea. It’s difficult to do when you’re already in the union, but Sony was behind it. We wanted to make sure the show was all on the up-and-up and that the budget was decent. So we said, “What do you think about this jail thing?” We had shot a little teaser. Just a five-minute thing with me in an orange jumpsuit. They loved it. So we wrote up the ten episodes, edited ‘em, and now they’re here.

So once you found out that this was going to be an Internet series, did you think, “Hey, this gives us carte blanche to go way over the top?”

That was our attraction. It could be anywhere, but we were enthusiastic by the idea of being able to go do whatever we want, really. At first we thought, “Let’s do the comedy version of Oz.” That show’s so intense, you know? So we thought, hey, we have the opportunity to do this, but way over-the-top. Let’s do that and try to make it funny. When we heard it was on the Internet, we though, “Absolutely, let’s push as far as it can go.” Let’s make it something people would want to click on, go really outrageous and get a good shot.

When I’m watching this, the prevailing thought in my head is, “Man, that’s a lot of time spent naked in precarious positions trying to do comedy.”

We don’t write dialogue. All of the dialogue is improvised. The cast never sees the script. The script is sort of a really detailed outline. I don’t know really, uh, know why I put myself in that position. Why would I write myself getting a cavity search? I mean, I love Borat. I love Sascha Baron Cohen’s work. How can you do a prison show and not do (a joke about a cavity search)?

What’s funny is that I was sick as a dog during shooting. There was some horrible flu going around. The shower scene that opens the first episode—I was just miserable. Cold and wet. It was horrible. I was first wearing this thing called a dance belt. It’s like a jockstrap to cover up… that area. After a while, we were like, “Look, I can tell it’s a jockstrap.” I was like f*** it. I just took it off. So I was completely naked after that.

How did the prison ward in that scene, who is conveniently located behind you the whole time, feel about this?

Thankfully, he is a friend of ours. His name is Kirk Ward. He’s really talented. He knows what we are. The difference between wearing that little piece of cloth and nothing at all—it isn’t that big of a difference. Plus, he was sick, too. He was like, “Let’s get this over with.”

Despite how absurd this show is at some points—at least at in the first few episodes—I think it does an accidentally good job of how a very square, unaware person might react if they were stubborn and new in prison.

I think there’s some truth in that. There’s a part of me that wants to be liked in any situation. If I have an interaction with a police officer, my voice goes a little bit higher. It’s a 13-year-old version of myself. But with this character, even when someone is trying to beat the crap out of us, he’s trying to convince himself that at least a part of that would be pleasant. He’s so desperately trying to get along because he’s an idiot.

So what’s your “Jailbait” pitch to some Hulu viewers who have just watched some Always Sunny and want a few more minutes of some solid, inappropriate humor?

This is the kind of thing that you’re going to want to forward onto your friends. It’s so over-the-top and outrageous and it’s the only thing of its kind you’re going to see on the Internet. It’s really outrageous, really crazy, singular. It looks great. And, oh, it’s really funny.