After years on the comedy circuit, comedians Natasha Leggero (Chelsea Lately) and Riki Lindhome (Garfunkel and Oates) wanted to work together on a TV show they themselves would want to binge-watch. They had two ideas: a satirical reality show or a riff on a period piece. And then they thought: why not combine them both?
The concept for Another Period—think the Kardashians meets Downton Abbey—struck a chord with some of the best humorists in the biz: the two recruited for roles Drunk History creator Jeremy Konner to produce and the likes of Jack Black, Ben Stiller, Paget Brewster, Michael Ian Black, Chris Parnell and—as a servant that the Bellacourt sisters rename Chair—Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks. Snoop Dogg even agreed to do the theme music.
TIME caught up with Leggero and Lindhome to talk about how turn-of-the-century millionaires lived like rappers, how TV shows can survive in the YouTube era and skewering the “rape joke” debate.
TIME: You did a lot of research to make sure the show was going to be accurate. What were some of the most surprising things you learned about the turn of the century?
Riki Lindhome: In the last episode, there were a bunch of things based on reality that were all surprising to me. Our brother is appointed to be a senator. I didn’t realize the senate wasn’t elected then. It was just appointed. And then Sigmund Freud diagnoses our brother as homosexual, and he uses masturbation therapy to cure us of our hysteria. Those are all based on real things.
Natasha Leggero: When we went to Newport and would visit these houses that were around in the Gilded Age—it was this time period from 1900 to 1910 before there was income tax—people would live in these houses that would need 30 indoor servants and 20 outdoor servants just to keep it working. So you’d go see these places, and they wouldn’t want the servants to be seen, so sometimes they would be in the basement. But this one house we went to, they had them on the third floor of this mansion, and so that no one would see them they built a brick wall around all their bedroom windows so that when they would open up their windows they would just see brick.
Did you worry that there would be ludicrous aspects to the show that the audience wouldn’t believe was historically accurate even though they were?
Lindhome: We were at Comic-Con a few weekends ago, and I just ran into a few people I know. Somebody literally said, “It’s funny how you guys did no research and just made it all up.” I said, “What? No, that’s all real.” People definitely think we made more up than we did.
Having said that, there are definitely aspects you did make up or exaggerated for comedic effect.
Lindhome: Of course. So, for example, black face was a big entertainment thing at the time. It just felt overused and inappropriate. So we made up a thing called McFace because there was also a big prejudice toward Irish people at the time. We have a McFace performance where Natasha’s character wears a light face with freckles and a red nose and a Raggedy Ann wig.
Leggero: Most of the servants came from Ireland, Australia, France—so there was a lot of prejudice.
Your cast is a who’s who of comedy right now. What was your pitch to them?
Leggero: I think people saw it and saw it was funny. We got together with Jeremy Konner, who really helped us with the vision of it.
Lindhome: We made a 10 minute short of the show before we pitched it just because we knew what the tone was, but it was hard to necessarily tell what it was on the page. So we would send that around to people and send parts that we specifically wrote for them. We got very lucky. We got all of our first choices, which is really rare.
I don’t know how much overlap there is among the people who watch reality TV and people who watch BBC period shows. When you were conceiving the show, who did you decide your audience would be?
Leggero: Riki watches both of them. But I think that Riki and I started this show because we wanted to be in something that we would both watch. As we look at all the shows we’ve been a part of, how many of these would we actually stay home and watch? There were some, but not anywhere near a large enough percentage for how many credits both of us had. We wanted to make a show that we thought would be funny and the people we would perform for would think was funny.
Lindhome: It’s for smart people who like comedy more than a certain demographic.
Leggero: It’s not TV for people who just want to watch TV and turn their brain off. It’s entertaining and satirical and hilarious. We have all these amazing comedy performances. I think it’s for people who get comedy and want to see their favorite comedians.
Comedy Central has really had a renaissance in the last five years or so with these must-watch shows like Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele in addition to The Daily Show. But the thing that’s gotten these shows a lot of attention are viral YouTube clips of a one-minute sketch or a two-minute Jon Stewart bit. Is it harder for narrative comedies like yours to stand out in this world where fewer people are watching TV live and more people are surfing YouTube?
Lindhome: It is harder, and I think for us, it’s going to be more of a slow burn. I think we’re going to pick up fans as we go. Word of mouth has really been helping us. As far as viral videos go, it’s hard for a narrative show to have viral videos. But there’s a lot of hit narrative shows that don’t. Broad City on Comedy Central, or on network TV something like Big Bang Theory doesn’t have viral videos.
Leggero: There’s also a lot of very funny clips online. You probably lose a little something if you’re not watching the entire show, but we’re hoping that those clips are good enough on their own to get people to seek out the show.
We sat in the writers’ room for 10 weeks. We have 13 characters and would spend a whole week on one character and exhaust every possible storyline. Everything comes back around, and there’s this intersecting of story lines and an operatic element. So it’s worth checking out the relationships between these characters and their arcs.
We want people to get invested with these characters and take a break from watching people fight at the DMV. My boyfriend’s always watching these videos, and it’s always people fighting at a checkout or on a bus or babies twerking. I get it. That’s what we do online all day. But this so isn’t that. There’s nothing better than renting a season of a show and just lying in bed and watching the whole season and getting it. It’s such a great thing to be able to watch a series of something.
Lindhome: We want people to fall in love with our show the way they fell in love with Mad Men or Downton or Breaking Bad.
Leggero: Or Last Man on Earth or Transparent or Kimmy Schmidt. These aren’t shows where you want viral videos online of them.
The show has done a really good job of addressing modern day issues. In one episode where a character is raped or as they say, “ravished,” two other characters discuss whether “ravishing” jokes are ever appropriate and where the line is, which is obviously a big debate right now. Do you feel like it’s easier to talk about those issues in a historical show?
Lindhome: I think it does, in the same way that The Colbert Report has that same advantage of him taking the extreme right-wing view, and by doing that, arguing for the left-wing point. We take the view of certain people of that time period and show how ridiculous it was by vehemently going for it from that point of view. Like, the Bellacourt sisters are anti-suffragist. We just make it ridiculous.
Leggero: Because you know, those women existed at the time. But we also have the advantage where history is cyclical. Just in the same way the Gilded Age was this 10-year period where no one paid income tax and people were living like rappers—Carnegie had money in the billions in 1900—and then you look at today and see that people have legally figured out how to not pay income tax anymore. It’s like we’re entering this rich person gilded age again. Not to get too political, but it’s all repeating itself.
Final question: If you could choose a historical figure to give a reality show now, who would it be?
Leggero: Maybe Marie Antoinette? She seems excessive.
Lindhome: That’s kind of the inspiration for the show anyway.