I saw Mystery Team at Sundance in 2009; before watching the movie I wasn’t sure what to think – here was a sketch comedy troupe best known for their internet videos, making their feature debut with a movie that made fun of teen detective books, like Encyclopedia Brown or The Three Investigators. But it turned out that the movie was great, and more than funny it was a real movie, not just an assemblage of comedic bits.
Now, after touring the country, Mystery Team is on DVD. I had a chance to talk with the performing members of DERRICK Comedy – DC Pierson, Dominic Dierkes, and Donald Glover (Dan Eckman, the director of the movie, and Meggie McFadden, the producer, are also members), and this is what happened.
Buy the DVD now from CHUD. If you live in LA, Mystery Team is playing the New Beverly this weekend in a double feature with Ghostbusters. I can’t even imagine why you wouldn’t be there.
I first met you at Sundance in 2009 and here it is a year and a half later; you’ve taken the film around the country on a tour and now you have the DVD hitting. Can you talk about the grassroots way that you promoted this film?
DC: It was just predicated on the idea of a college tour. We went to towns where there was a large college audience, and we did smaller towns in the fall of last year. Then through the beginning of this year we were in larger markets like Chicago and Seattle and LA and New York and places like that. It just kept going. It was really cool because it was pretty much just us and the movie and the people who wanted to see it. We didn’t have a whole ton of money or traditional advertising behind us, and we wanted to prove that people would come out and see something interesting and cool if you make it cool for them to do so. We were overwhelmingly happy with how that went. When we were in Chicago at the Music Box we were like, “Holy shit, there are 700 kids here in one room.” It was crazy and awesome, and we tried to make it special for everyone who came out. Now it’s hitting phase two, which is DVD and hopefully whoever wants to see it can get a hold of it.
I think the coolest thing is that people came back again and again and again. They didn’t just come out once, they came a number of times to see this movie.
Dominic: Yeah, it was super flattering. I remember when it opened in Seattle there was a handful of people who came to Seattle and who wanted a sword for Sword Club – which is what we gave to people who saw the movie twice in a theater – they were like “We saw it in Portland and now we’re seeing it in Seattle!” Any time people travel several hours to see the movie was just so flattering. We’re so grateful for people doing that.
DC: I had actually told them that the movie was the band The Flaming Lips. They thought they were following The Flaming Lips around.
When you got together you were a sketch comedy group, and you had made a number of well received internet sketches. But writing a feature is a totally different thing. How did you guys sit down to write this movie?
Don: We broke it up into acts – first act, second act, third act – we had a storyline that we went through together. The five of us [Don, DC, Dominic, Dan Eckman and Meggie McFadden] wrote the story together and then somebody would write the first act, we would give notes on it, then we would be writing the second act while they were revising. We wrote it together in that fashion.
Was it hard going from writing shorter sketches to doing a full 90 minute feature? Was that a different skillset or was it comfortable?
Dominic: With the sketches the way we looked at it was the best way to explore a quick comedic idea, tighten it to three minutes and then get out. With the movie when the five of us writing the story it was many, many hours that making sure the mystery made sense and that it was a gratifying mystery. We were making sure that the characters changed and that it wasn’t just… we didn’t want to make the sketch movie. We didn’t want to make the movie where it was three stylized characters, and watch them parade around the film and interact with other funny characters until it was done. We wanted to make sure the character arcs work, and the story worked. That was unusual for us because in a sketch you don’t care if the characters change – you just want to watch them endure whatever unusual pain the world is dealing them.
Talk about the stylized characters – how did you decide who would play which? These are archetypal characters taken from kids’ books, but how did you decide who would be who?
DC: We just clued into them personally, and we know each other pretty well, so we knew which archetype would work best for each person. I was personally the kind of kid who decided ‘I have a fifth grade reading level in third grade, so I must be the smartest person alive!’ I was sort of a know it all, and so I clued in to that personally.
Now that the film is hitting DVD, what is the future of DERRICK Comedy as a group? You’ve all been blowing up on your own and going places, but what about the group itself?
DC: I think we’re really excited for this movie to get out there in the world finally, after we’ve been working on it for three years. We’re going to keep making the sketch videos because we love that, and we’re looking for the next big idea that we want to do as a movie or a project for the group. But everything we do is idea-driven, so as soon as we have the kind of idea where we say ‘Sweet, we’re going to take time off from our lives for the next three years to make this thing happen,’ we’re going to do that, but we’re also content to keep working together for the rest of our lives in various collaborations and in our own things, and let DERRICK be this place where we can create all the weird ideas that no one else let us do.
DC, you’ve turned into a legitimate novelist with a terrific debut novel. You’re working on a new book?
DC: That’s correct, I’m working on the next one. I don’t have a deal for it yet, but we’ll see what happens.
Dominic: The Boy Who Could Sleep And Always Wanted To.
DC: People said about the first book that it was too outlandish, and I needed to make the next one more relatable. So it’ll be The Boy Who Could Sleep, and it’ll be about four or five pages.
Dominic, what do you have these days?
Dominic: I’ve been writing stuff. We’ve been doing a weekly improv show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater. There’s a two man sketch show I’ve been putting up, and bouncing around from writing gig to writing gig here in LA.
UCB seems like an amazing place for any comedian in LA. It seems like every comedian in town goes there to appreciate other comedians.
Dominic: I love it in New York and LA. Like DC said we’re very idea-based in how we tackle projects, and UCB is so that. You have people in all stages of their career collaborating with other people in all stages of their career on these weird little show that everyone gets on board for because it’s a weird, funny idea. It’s a great incubator, which is how I’ve heard Ian Roberts, one of the founders, describe it in interviews. It’s an incubator. No one gets paid to perform at UCB but you don’t pay to perform at UCB. It’s outside the commercial aspect of it. It’s a great place for performers to find their voice and to learn from people who are doing what they want to be doing.
Don, you’re on what I think is the best new show of the year, Community. Do you have something planned for the hiatus?
Don: I’ve been doing stand up around. I was on tour with the Funny or Die tour for a month. I’m planning on doing a small tour with the music I’m making, because I have an album coming out in a couple of months. I’m writing a movie, and I’m going to see where that goes. That’s what I’m really focused on. As of right now I want this movie to be great.
Do people assume your music is novelty music because you’re a comedian?
Don: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s fine, I would think the same thing. I just hope they give it a chance when they listen to it. That’s something I deal with on the album, actually. People don’t want to say they like it because if it’s a joke they’re going to look like the idiot.
Do you have any idea what might happen to Troy next year? He’s really turned into television’s most delightfully dumb character.
Don: I was talking to Dan [Harmon] about it, and he was excited about bringing me back because this guy is so weird now. We can do whatever we want with him. He’s one of the weirdest people ever, and he has weird ideas of what life is supposed to be. I’m excited to see what Dan has in store for him. Whatever they throw at Troy I want to play with.