Interview: Doug Mand

    Doug Mand, an American comedian, writer and producer, found his breakthrough while attending NYU and writing sketch comedy with his buddies. From an early wish to become an actor to finding his true calling within writing, Mand has achieved some great things included writing for Emmy nominated show How I Met Your Mother and now his own Netflix sitcom Pretty Smart. However, one thing has been consistent in his career from the beginning, the people who surrounded him when he was writing 3-minute pitches in college are still the same now.

    To know more about his journey and how Pretty Smart found its way to shine in the middle of countless Netflix original dramas, we interviewed Doug Mand.

    Before the success of your Netflix show. How did you get into TV and how did your career start?

    I went to NYU and I met a guy named Dan Gregor who became my writing partner, that also worked on Pretty Smart. We started a sketch comedy group and we started performing at the upright citizens brigade theatre in New York and I thought I was going to be an actor. I was trying to be an actor, but started writing while doing sketch comedy, and then when I graduated, Dan and myself and Adam Pally who is an actor as well, we started to film our own tv show ideas and write scripts, and we were able to sell some of them. And that’s how it started to happen. We created a pitch for a TV Show, and we filmed the first 3 minutes of it because we didn’t have any money. We wrote all script and we sent it to everyone we knew. I had a manager at the time as an actor, and just a couple of people we knew in the business from performing, which wasn’t many, but it made its way up. We were very lucky, and we were able to sell the show to ABC. And from there, we just kind of kept writing. Adam went on and became a very successful actor, Dan and myself went on to writing. We got hired to write on How I Met Your Mother, and from there I’ve been writing ever since.

    You wrote for a successful show like How I Met Your Mother, does being part of a project of that magnitude carry a weight on your future projects?

    No weight, nothing negative. I don’t see it as a weight, How I Met Your Mother, was the greatest job anyone could ever asked for. I really learned how to write on that show, cause all writing staff was all so talented, so warm and kind to me and to Dan, and over the course of the 4 years there, both of us really learned how to write television, and how to write stories. It was so wonderful, so what I took from How I Met Your Mother was just a sense of, putting together a show that people care about and makes people laugh, and all I got to see the kind of work environment that I would want to create if I was ever to have a show. The kind of office, the kind of writers’ room, that is nice and welcoming, and safe to be yourself. So, I don’t see any pressure, it’s just more like, it helped me. It helped me become who I am, and I just took wonderful things from it. And Kourtney Kang, who I met there, is now an executive producer on Pretty Smart, and so many people from that show read this script before I sold it. It felt like graduate school.

    It’s been around 2 weeks since the show premiered. How did the idea for Pretty Smart come about?

    It came about very naturally. I think Jack, with whom I created it, who is a close friend of mine, I think he just texted me “What if they’re all the dumb one?”. You know, in a lot of shows there’s always a dumb one, and dumb is not meant to be a negative word, but sitcom dumb. I didn’t want to be pejorative or negative towards these characters, I love these characters. So he (Jack) texted me that, and I immediately texted back, and we started talking about it, and it kind of just flowed from there. We were just like “this feels like a fun show that can be warm, at a time where there’s lots of negative things going on. And it feels like a show that we can do as a multi-cam, which is not necessarily something I have done since How I Met Your Mother. And Jack and I were having a fun time just talking about it, and then we started to write it, and we took it to our agents and managers and said, “We think we have an idea here”, and they were like “Yeah, that’s pretty funny”, and we just set up some pitches. Thankfully was something that Netflix was looking to do and just kind of happened.

    Did you have a challenge that felt difficult to overcome over the period of the production?

    You know, the pandemic made it very different, we didn’t have any other writers on set with us and we had an amazing writers’ room on this show, and we didn’t film in front of an audience. We were wearing masks and we were wearing visors, and the actors had to rehearse with masks, so you couldn’t see their face, which was a bit of a struggle. It wasn’t terrible, it just made it a little harder. So, I would’ve loved to have the writers there, just because it’s fun to be on set, and to feel the energy, but they were watching on ZOOM while we shot. So those were probably the biggest challenges. But it was a very smooth, kind, nice set. We had great directors, Pamela Fryman, who director almost all episodes of How I Met Your Mother, she directed the first 3 episodes of this show. She was the first person that Jack and I called when we got the order and begged her to do the show, because she’s so sweet and she’s so warm and good, and that energy comes through her throughout all set. And the actors were all very sweet too.

    Sitcoms are known for their subjective comedy and writing effective work can be difficult within the guidelines of a studio. Did you feel a certain freedom writing for a streaming platform like Netflix?

    Yeah, Netflix was wonderful to work with. They have their own set of guidelines, but it’s not the same as networks. So yeah, they were very supportive, and allowed us to say things that we wanted to say, make jokes that we wanted to make, and it was a wonderful experience to work with them. They were very hands off, so it did feel different, my first time working with them.

    Neither Gregg nor Emily are new to this format or the public eye, and they clearly shine throughout, but Cinthya, Michael and Olivia are the definite breakout stars. Was the chemistry and dynamic of this group like what you imagined while writing, or was it even better?

    They are all such wonderful actors, and Emily and Gregg come with so much experience that they’re just ready to go. And Olivia, Michael and Cinthya, haven’t done multi-cam before, and they just really took to it, and it was a pleasure. Jack and I felt so lucky to have all of them. And see what they brought to the lines, and as we saw them perform more, we would write to what we felt that they were amazing at. It did change the way we looked at the characters once the actual actors stepped in into those shoes. They became different in our minds, and more full, and more three dimensional.

    When it comes to the process of writing a comedy like this, do all the writers in the writer’s room have to agree that the dialogue is funny? How do you guys manage it?

    Oh, that’s a great question. That’s what the job of a showrunner is so, you hope that everyone laughs at it but, there’s some jokes on the show, that you can go online and see that some people did not like them, and some people do. You can’t please everyone, so at the end of the day, the decision comes down to me and Jack saying, “We like this or let’s find something better”. But the goal is always to be like “Does all writers room like it?”, and there are a lot of times we did, and it’s a really funny writer’s room, and a lot of the jokes that people are responding to came from the writer’s room of just pitching on ideas.

    The entire season built up the Grant and Chelsea relationship, but the real relationship development that we saw was between Chelsea and Claire, and how they were working on reconnecting. Is this love triangle bound to affect them?

    Well, without giving too much away, I would say that you hit the nail in the head, this is about two sisters reconnecting, and It think something all of us in the room want to do is, be respectful of that relationship, and not make them petty, we don’t want them to be flip it with one another. The feeling we wanted to come across is that they both care for one another, specially by the end of the season. Hopefully that protects them a little bit as our characters, and hopefully we get another season, and you will see what happens with it. But at the end of the day, their relationship is very important to us, and we want to do right by them, and do right by sisterly bonds.

    One of my personal favorite characters must be Solana and how multidimensional she can be but, in a world, dominated by social media Jayden is the accurate representation of how society acts nowadays. Especially when his self-awareness about his own flaws come into play. How deep do you intend to explore this storyline?

    Michael is such a gifted performer, and he’s such a joy to give things to, and see what he does with them. We want to keep pushing that character, and see where the stories go, if that leads him to struggle with what he does for a living, we don’t really know yet. We have some ideas. They are all smart in their own ways, and they all have their blind spots, which I also think is very human, we all do. The things we just don’t see as problematic, but everyone else around us does.

    If you could have anyone guest star in a second season of the show, who would it be and why?

    We had Ming-Na Wen in the first season, she’s a legend, I mean she’s amazing. She’s just a joy to work with and everyone was so excited. I’m a fan of sitcoms, I’m a fan of the classics, so bring back anyone that you don’t expect to see, that was just so good in the medium, is very exciting to me, the thought of bringing someone that maybe haven’t thought for a little while, that is just incredibly talented. You didn’t realize that you missed seeing them on the screen. So, I don’t know if I can give you any specific names, obviously any of the cast of friends, they are all such amazing actors. And then there’s so many great performers out there, I also get really excited about the idea of bringing a dramatic actor into to do something that you wouldn’t expect.

    Lastly finish this sentence: “People should watch Pretty Smart on Netflix because…”

    Because it’s a feel-good comedy, that will help you escape some of the unpleasant noise in the world right now.

    Arts in one place.

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