John Lehr on Crackle’s Jailbait

John Lehr on the new Crackle webseries that he created and stars in.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

John Lehr created the new Crackle show JailBait and he also stars as Ozzie O’connor. Each five minute short has a new adventure with Ozzie and his cellmate, his work detail, the nurse, etc. The show premieres April 1 and we got to talk to Lehr about his prison comedy.

 

CraveOnline: Why do we always laugh at prison anal jokes?

John Lehr: I don't know. I think the reason we do is because there’s a deep seated fear that we may one day end up in prison and we laugh at what we’re scared of. I think that would be the psychologist approach. But also because anything to do with the butt is just plain funny.

 

CraveOnline: Are your monologues to the camera just riffing?

John Lehr: Yes, the whole show is actually improvised. There is a script but there’s no dialogue. Nancy [Hower] and I, my partner, it’s just the way we work. We write a script that’s fairly detail but it’s all ash and slug, so there’s absolutely no dialogue. The cast never sees the script. Nobody sees the script except for Nancy and I and the executive. The script is basically used to convince the executive to give us the money to shoot it and to show our crew, like art department, what we think we’re going to need. All the dialogue you’ll hear is improvised.

 

CraveOnline: So how long could you go in the visiting room before you cut it down?

John Lehr: Different lengths. It’s interesting because we just delivered to Sony a ton of outtakes. There’s so much footage that we think is really funny. It’s just making a webisode longer than five minutes seems like a bad idea so you just kind of have to choose your stuff that you like the best. But there’s tons of stuff that didn’t make it that we’re hoping Sony will toss out there as extras. Anyway, we just gave them like a terabyte drive full of riffs and deleted scenes, just all kinds of craziness.

 

CraveOnline: What made you think about talking to your cellmate about Star Wars and Jar Jar Binks?

John Lehr: Well, first of all, I really do feel that way so there’s a weird thing that happens with improv. After the first couple of minutes, you may have some thoughts or ideas or training, but then that pretty much all goes to hell and it turns into just a stream of conscious emptying your brain. You say all kinds of things that are the truth, that just kind of come out which is kind of what we’re going for because then I think audiences can sense that, when it’s somewhat authentic to the performer. Yeah, I feel like Jar Jar Binks ruined everything and I don't know why I brought it up.

 

CraveOnline: You certainly speak for a lot of us, but the context is different than we’ve ever heard that argument before.

John Lehr: Yeah, I think you’re right. Then the whole explanation of what the internet is right now is pretty funny. Putting f*** in anything and you’re going to get some porn. I have to hand it to my fellow actor who plays El Rey. He did a great job of just keeping that straight face, man, and just being scary as hell. He’s a sweet guy. All those guy, all those scary looking character actors who always play skinheads or bad guys or gang members, they just loved being in a comedy. Just sweet guys, really great.

 

CraveOnline: Isn’t that true in Hollywood, the ones who play scary bad guys are really nice, and it’s the America’s sweethearts you have to watch out for?

John Lehr: Yup, I think that pretty much is an axiom. Well, character actors in general are just great people because they work. They literally work and we’re the guys who are eating at the craft service table and an AD comes up and says, “No, that’s just for the stars.” So we’re used to just being nice to people. You’re absolutely right, those guys are so used to people being afraid of them that they were just so happy. And also just to give them total free reign. They never had that before. They usually do a scene with the star, then the star leaves and they’re acting with a piece of tape on a C stand.

 

CraveOnline: Was it fun auditioning hot guards for the car wash?

John Lehr: Hell yeah. That was one of my professional highlights. The woman that we cast was hands down the winner, no question.

 

CraveOnline: What did she have to do to stand out?

John Lehr: Well, I think you see it all on the screen, my friend but she also happens to be a really good actor. We wanted somebody who could act because if Sony decides to bring this thing back, we wanted to be able to use her and our thinking is down the road, you know the character Art who plays the guard? We were thinking of having a relationship between him and her and Ozzie kind of helping him land her as a date. That’s just a future episode that was in the back of our minds so if we are going to bring her back, we wanted somebody that could actually improvise and she can. She’s a triple threat.

 

CraveOnline: Will Ozzie become a hardened convict by the end of this?

John Lehr: I could ruin it for you but yeah, it’s pretty much the end of season one, if there to be a season two, Ozzie is not going anywhere. Just as prison is known to turn criminals even harder, it also happens to Ozzie. The American penal system does just what it does to every person who gets locked up, makes them worse.

 


CraveOnline: What is it like working in jail, even for pretend?

John Lehr: Well, have you ever been arrested? I have and it’s not pleasant. It sort of brought back some memories of that in my early ‘20s when I was a little crazier. So jail is not a pleasant place to be, even on a set. We initially wanted to shoot in a real prison. That is not a real prison. That’s a soundstage. We wanted to shoot in a real prison. There’s this kind of famous prison that’s totally vacant. It was an old women’s prison from the ‘20s that’s out in LA. It’s out where the 110 and the 5 meet in Lincoln Heights. If you saw the inside of it, you would be like oh my God, that’s been in every movie, because it has. Everything from the Lady Gaga music video, but it’s real. It’s really disturbing because it’s totally vacant and there’s no power and the city just doesn’t do anything to it but they let you shoot for free which was right within our budget. Sony sent in their HR people, their safety people and discovered that there was led paint. So even though hundreds of movies have shot there, we weren’t allowed to. I think in the end it was sort of a good thing because it was so skanky and so scary, it would’ve been really unpleasant for the actors who had to hang around. There wasn’t a nice green room that there was at DC Stages where we shot.

 

CraveOnline: What were you arrested for?

John Lehr: It was a DUI with possession at the time. Everything got dropped, thank God, even though I was totally guilty. All the charges were dropped.

 

CraveOnline: How much time did you spend in the tank?

John Lehr: Just one night and I never want to go back.

 

CraveOnline: Was boredom the worst part?

John Lehr: Well, I was on LSD at the time so there wasn’t a lot of boredom. It was more just abject fear.

 

CraveOnline: Do prisons provide those orange jumpsuits?

John Lehr: The jail that I was in, we had to purchase those ourselves but those are actual prison jumpsuits. Our costume lady pointed out that she ordered them from a jail uniform supplier.

 

CraveOnline: So you have ideas for a season two?

John Lehr: Hell yeah. This thing could go on forever. All you’ve got to do is watch MSNBC after 10 o’clock and there’s episode idea after episode idea. Essentially seeing a nice guy crushed under the failures of our inability to treat prisoners fairly, and also the characters are nice. I’d love to see Ozzie and the nurse get to know each other a little better. I probably in an afternoon could pitch you about 20 or 30 episodes I would think. Pick a good 10 and we could start shooting by the weekend.

 

CraveOnline: What would be too much for JailBait?

John Lehr: Hmm. Boy. I don't know, anything come to mind for you? I think the whole point is that there really isn’t an ultimate bar there but ironic that we’re inside prison and yet we’re more free than any other show that I’ve ever worked on.

 

CraveOnline: What is your comedy background?

John Lehr: Well, I started in Chicago. I went to Northwestern and I did improv in Chicago and ended up in a group that kind of wanted to get away from the Saturday Night Live kind of improv and get more into relationship narrative based improv. I ended up doing a show that was discovered by a talent scout out here in L.A. and came out and was flavor of the month, landed a big agent. I did some Noah Baumbach films. I did three of his which gave me some notoriety and then I ended up doing this series called Jesse on NBC with Christina Applegate which was a great gig because I didn’t have to learn any lines. I was a mute character. It was fantastic. Then I did guest spots on Friends and other things and started writing more and more. I sold a couple of scripts to NBC and ended up producing a few pilots. Finally I ran into Nancy Hower who was directing a film and I played a small part on it. She said, “You can improvise if you want” so I started improvising and she was just really excited about that and the two of us fell in love on the set, just loved working with each other. So we ended up doing this film called Memron that I starred in. That won Slamdance and out of that we got a pitch at Sony for a show called 10 Items or Less which ended up running for three seasons on TBS. Now we just completed a pilot for Comedy Central and another pilot that our agent is taking out. That’s kind of my scene.

 

CraveOnline: I remember Jesse. Didn’t they make you talk halfway through the first season, and then get rid of all the brothers completely?

John Lehr: That is exactly right. Then of course the ratings dropped miserably and they cancelled the show. It was my foray into super duper pop half hour multicamera television and I love the people I worked with but you certainly can’t do things like you can do on JailBait.