When Seth Meyers met writer Mike Shoemaker on the set of Saturday Night Live, the two quickly bonded over their love of comic books. But it wasn’t until 2006 that they decided to turn their love of comics into a project of their own.
With Seth’s work as head writer and Weekend Update anchor on SNL and Mike’s work as a producer on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, it only took another seven years to get to the finished product, The Awesomes—which happens to be on Hulu every Thursday, starting today— but not before it premiered at its own panel at San Diego Comic Con two weeks ago. After the panel, we got a chance to speak at a press conference with Seth and Mike, as well as the show’s writer Judd Winick (Real World: San Francisco) and voices (and SNL co-stars) Bobby Moynihan, Kenan Thompson, Taran Killam, along with Ike Barinholtz and Josh Meyers (both of The Mindy Project fame), to see how the labor of nerdy love came to be.
HULU: What inspired you to come up with The Awesomes?
SETH: We’re sort of comic book fans in the classic sense. As much as I enjoy how, as comics evolved, they started deconstructing the ideas of superhero teams, this is very much the construction of a superhero team, based on the classic golden age idea of what a superhero team was. We just always loved superhero teams. That was our favorite kind of comic book. We liked the interpersonal play between different superheroes. That was always fun for us.
HULU: How did you assemble your own team for the show?
MIKE: When we first thought of it, within a couple of days we were texting each other. I’d say that four days in we had this list, and it’s the team that you see now. What changed was the way we told the story. But right away we said, “We need one of these, we need one of these. This one is going to be Kenan. This one is going to be Ike.” And we knew that all the way down. So the team was assembled even before we asked them to do it.
HULU: Why’d you decided to go with Hulu instead of traditional TV?
SETH: Well, Hulu for us was a network like any other network in that they provided us a platform for our show and when we started talking to people we found that the other networks were always telling us how to make The Awesomes more like a show that would fit on their network whereas Hulu was the one place that asked us what it was we wanted to do and basically said “we’re happy to give you the space to do that.”
HULU: Cartoons are obviously a crazily different process. And you guys are pretty locked into sketch comedy, banging stuff out on a weekly basis. How did you adjust?
SETH: You learn exponentially as you do this process and you’re four episodes in before you can adjust for it. We were really lucky to have Bento Box, smart animators. In the very beginning we told them, “We’re really green. We defer to you on a lot of things. If you feel like our pacing is slow, let us know. If you feel like it’s too dialogue heavy…” There were things that they really helped us with. From the beginning, we asked Hulu to find us a place who knows what they were doing and were confident enough to share their notes.
MIKE: We sent them individual voices and the timing they sent back after they edited it was great. The difference between this and sketch or Late Night stuff is that we had to learn what deadlines were. We’re used to having to get something live in an hour. We had to take serious ones. What seemed like an arbitrary deadline, “That’s like nine months away. We’re going out to dinner.” But you had to learn.
JUDD: “No, that’s a milestone we have to hit.”
MIKE: And also doing ten episodes at the same time. You’re locking color while doing voices here while a script is done and the outline is done for episode 7, and oh, by the way we’re doing voices here, final color here, final mix here, all the way down that spreadsheet.
SETH: I’m confident there is going to be at least three gaping holes in story. I think I’m very happy with the grand arc, and that’s where Judd was essential to the whole process. His plotting experience was so great for us. I do think that I was doing a rewrite, Mike was doing a rewrite, Judd was doing a rewrite. At some point it’s going to be episode 107 and they’ll be having the exact same conversation as 105.
JUDD: Like we totally set up that thread, but we just did nothing with it.
SETH: But we do start and finish exactly where we wanted to.
HULU: And that gives you the opportunity to give you a season-long arc.
SETH: Absolutely. When we had been talking to networks over the years, a lot of them were like, “That’s great, but we’d like it if they were stand-alone episodes,” and I believe that audiences like that, but we just didn’t want to do that.
HULU: Judd, how does this differ from writing comic books?
JUDD: This is more fun. One of the big things with writing comics is that when you get a little too funny, people don’t like it. But this is a straight-up superhero story. It’s a comedy about a superhero team. It’s not making fun of superheroes. This isn’t a big parody show. We’re not shitting on genre. One of the first things they told me was, “You know we want this to be funny. So there are characters with depth in their relationships. What we’re going to do that we don’t get to do too much in comics is to move the dial forward. Things are going to happen. There’s a whole season arc. Every season ends with a cliff hanger. We start in one place and end in another. It is like a comic book arc. It’ll be different and hopefully we’ll get to do the next arc, which will be Season 2 or more as things change or shift around. Changes that matter. Not that we don’t have characters with a lot of depth in the superhero books. We get to play for keeps, and it gets to be funny… funny and dramatic. And it’s an action show. That’s what I love about the teaser. It isn’t one of those chock-a-block seasonal teasers. “Let’s just show all the action sequences!” No! There’s lots of fights and cool action.
MIKE: That’s where Judd came in. We had no idea how to write fight scenes.
SETH: When you write for Saturday Night Live or you write for late night TV, so much of it is about the logistics of what you can do. You can’t have people flying on wires. You’re always thinking, are they going to be able to build this set in time. When it’s animation, it can be whatever you want.
JUDD: Muscleman and Sumo pick up a bus and throw it. You get a helicopter. “They’re good for hurling!”
SETH: Hulu has been great to us from the start. I mean, we try not to be guys who go over on budget. There are places, though, where we were reminded that we can’t do that.
MIKE: Bento Box has really brought their A-game. They were going to do a great job no matter what they got paid, which wasn’t the same as they probably got for Bob’s Burgers but they put everything into it.
SETH: The timing of our relationship with Hulu is great. This show is in the first wave of what is going to be the future of that website. They’ve been really hands-on with us but it hasn’t been terrible studio notes. Charlotte Koh from Hulu has a history of doing superhero stuff.
MIKE: She worked at Marvel. She understood and liked what we liked.
SETH: And she’d be the person who’d say “Isn’t this a thing that already happened?”
HULU: If you could have any super power, what would it be?
BOBBY: I feel like the only two choices are flight or invisibility. You could be super fast, but I wouldn’t want to read minds.
KENAN: I think we have that. It’s called Twitter.
HULU: What is the worst super power you can think of?
SETH: To jump one second into the future.
MIKE: Being good at interviews.
BOBBY: The power to stay still or the power to stink really bad.
KENAN: I’ve always felt bad for Batman since he just has his gadgets. He’s just a rich dude. I admire him the way I admire Iron Man since he’s such a gadgeteer.
BOBBY: They were originally going to call him “The Gadgeteer.”
KENAN: The Gadgeteer! Right? That came out after The Rocketeer.
HULU: How did you guys come up with your voices?
KENAN: For mine, whenever I do my mother’s voice, it would be like any typical version of a large black woman. Seth wanted for my character to be like myself, but to slip into the comedy when I do my mom.
BOBBY: I had it differently. I think I play like twenty different people in it so it was just finding something different to do or crazier to do one after the other.
HULU: You should do Kenan doing Reba.
BOBBY: I would love to. That’s my favorite digital short by leaps and bounds.
HULU: What are your favorite characters of each other?
KENAN: Drunk Uncle and Anthony Crispino.
BOBBY: Reba, by far, and Charles. I don’t even know if it made on air. It was a random sketch and it wasn’t a character that you do and they asked you what your name was and you just said “Charles.” Very coy. Everything he does kills me. I’ve told this story before. We just talked about it a minute ago. There is a picture that I have of me with Kenan before I got the show. I used to go wait outside 30 Rock, so I got my picture taken with Kenan and a couple of years later I got the show and I had to tell him, “I took a picture with you two years ago outside.”
KENAN: And I was all, “I remember that! I remember that!”
HULU: As New Yorkers, do you guys think that if supervillains were invading the city, as many people would be living there?
KENAN: We’d be fine. New York’d be fine.
BOBBY: We can take anything.
KENAN: We’d be like, “What’s going on? Meh.” It’s New York, man. It’s vibrant. It’s alive. It’s a 24-hour city. There’s danger in the city.
BOBBY: I just moved and my entire window looks over the Hudson River from the Intrepid to the World Trade Center to the Empire State Building, and you look at it and you’re like, “This is nuts.” If anything goes down, it’s kind of terrifying. All these huge disaster movies that you watch, and they look so real.
KENAN: Sounds like you’re pretty rich.
BOBBY: I just moved! It’s not that big! I just saved a little bit of money! There’s just that window. There’s nothing else there, except a life size R2-D2. I wish I was kidding.
HULU: Do you guys have any favorite superheroes?
BOBBY: I like the big guys. The Hulk. The Thing.
Kenan: Was he not a big part of the Fantastic Four movie?
BOBBY: I don’t think so. They made a weird live action movie a while ago before Jessica Alba. The The Thing costume was one of the greatest living achievements. It’s like The Garbage Pail Kids movie. It’s like a guy in a crunched up yellow paper mache. It was from the 80s and it looks it. When he turns invisible, he’s still there.
HULU: Who would you dress up as if you did Cosplay?
IKE: If I got super nerdy, I would do Game of Thrones. I’ll go with Jamie Lannister. What the hell? Or Taran Killam. I’d grow a beard and wear a hat.
TARAN: Look like you work in a soup kitchen, but they can be heroes, too.
IKE: You don’t have to be super to be a hero.
TARAN: Vash the Stampede from Trigun.
HULU: That is super specific. That’s anime?
TARAN: It’s like sci-fi western. He’s a bio-engineered weapon, but all he believes in is peace, but if push comes to shove, he’ll fight. If he has to.
JOSH: I just got a text from your wife. She’s leaving you.
TARAN: Oh God! That was the straw!
JOSH: She’s not leaving with me. She’s just taking my advice to leave you.
HULU: What super power would you guys love to have?
TARAN: Time control.
IKE: I think portion control.
TARAN: Just cut out the breads and pastas.
IKE: But those are my favorites!
TARAN: Charles Barkley, that’s what he told me. (As Charles Barkley): I still eat a ton, but it’s all vegetables.
IKE: And you’re like, Charles Barkley, do what you want. You’ve burned enough calories. Also, “Flying.”
HULU: How’d you come up with your voices for the show?
IKE: (pointing to himself and Josh) Ours were just our voices.
TARAN: They said fast and redneck. So I just did redneck and pitched it a little higher. I grew up in Big Bear, which is a mountain town.
JOSH: (joking) I f–king hate that town. It’s the worst place I’ve ever been.
TARAN: It’s the only place I feel safe! It’s beautiful, but a ton of the population has Southern accents for some reason when you’re two hours east of Los Angeles.
IKE: It’s the funny thing about living in Southern California. We have hillbillies.
“The Awesomes” is available on Hulu and Hulu Plus.