In 2017, Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider, the head writers of Saturday Night Live, left the show for a new marriage. That marriage was The Other Two, Comedy Central's newest half-hour comedy. Things are going well, as The Other Two will make its premiere on Comedy Central on Thursday, January 24 in all its sharp-tongued glory.
On SNL, Schneider and Kelly were known for their viral digital shorts, like the raunchy holiday sketch "Twin Bed" or the beloved "Back Home Ballers." The Other Two is in many ways a natural extension of the duo's pop prowess. The show follows 13-year-old pop star Chase Dreams (Case Walker, an actual Musical.ly star) and his two wayward older siblings Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne Yorke). The show gets to do some nimble footwork here, examining both the tragedy of young fame — Chase's manager, played by Ken Marino, dyes Chase's tongue pink because apparently that's something tween girls find attractive — and the tragedy of the fame chase.
Both Brooke and Cary have pursued careers in the arts. Brooke was a dancer, and Cary went to drama school, the same one that Patrick Wilson's cousin attended. (This joke, peppered throughout the show, has great payoff.) Now, their sweet little brother is grinding in garages and hawking fancy watches. Meanwhile, lingering in the background is the death of Chase's father, which the family still hasn't dealt with. The Other Two is as if "Back Home Ballers" got a plaintive year-long rewrite, or if Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping got an injection of pathos.
Ahead of the show's premiere, Refinery29 spoke to Schneider and Kelly about viral fame, creating pop parody, and, most importantly, Ariana Grande's Piggy Smallz.
Refinery29: Did y'all know what Musical.ly was before you started working on the show?
Sarah Schneider: "We didn't, actually. We knew more of the YouTube phenomenon. We kind of studied that world. But, when we were casting was when we found out about Musical.ly because one of our producers was looking for a talented, young kid singer, and one of our producers has a 13-year-old niece, and [the niece] was like, 'You should look on Musical.ly.' That was literally the first time we had heard of it."
What do you make of Case Walker's viral fame? He's only 15!
Chris Kelly: "He's 15 now. He was 13 or had just turned 14 when we met him. We met him because of Musical.ly. Once someone recommended Musical.ly to us, we started just scouring that. What did we make of him? I think we were just so impressed by him and intimidated by him. He's just so young and so confident and was so open at his first audition. He was just like, 'Yeah, I've never done this before, and I thought I would try it.' He didn't have any nerves or insecurities."
SS: "I think our attitude towards him was very similar to Cary's attitude at the end of the pilot of our show. Where we were like, 'Haha, Musical.ly, what is this silly app?' And then, watching it, we were like, 'I mean, I don't not get it.' He was great, and it makes complete sense that people would be following him."
Are you at all concerned Case will get crazy famous and leave the show behind, just like Chase does to Brooke and Cary?
CK: "Yes, every minute of every day."
What was behind the decision to make Chase so sweet? He could have been a real asshole.
SS: "We talked a lot about that in the writers' room. We basically just thought — we liked that if he was nice and like, it was tougher to dislike him and his siblings. We really liked the idea that his older siblings wouldn't just write him off as this little shithead kid. They love him, and they support him, and that makes their situation much more complicated."
Who decided to parody Call Me By Your Name?
CK: "I don't know whose decision that was. I don't remember it. We're glad it worked out! I can't remember if it was in the script or if it was just something that made us laugh in the room. When we got the rights to the music and we were actually shooting it, we were like, 'I guess this is a real thing we get to do.'"
You were just able to get rights to "Visions Of Gideon"?
CK: "You write a bunch of things all the time, and you just kind of plow ahead in the writers' room, but when you get to production, they're like, 'Okay guys, that was fun, but we can't actually do this.' You never know! But yeah, our music supervisor was great! She was like, 'Yeah, we reached out, and they said yes and we can afford it, so it's happening.'"
SS: "It was surprising. That movie had come out while our writers' room was in session, and we all loved it, but Chris especially was a fan. And we would just talk about it all the time in the writers' room. So when there was a devastating moment in the show, we were like, 'We must. We have to.'"
What was it like finding a songwriter for the fake songs in the show?
CK: "We mostly worked with this guy named Leland, who writes music for Troye Sivan and a bunch of other pop stars. He's the one who wrote — well, Sarah and I wrote the lyrics, but he wrote 'My Brother's Gay' and 'Stink' and all the other iterations, the remixes and stuff like that. He was incredible, just because we wanted him to be funny, but first and foremost we wanted him to legitimize Chase. We wanted him to sound real, feel real. If you actually heard him on the radio, you'd be like, 'What is this song?' [Leland] was incredibly talented, and anytime we sent him the vibe we were going for, he would send us back an option right away that was perfect. We really, really lucked out. Then we would kind of write lyrics to fit what he had sent us."
Were you extra conscious of the rest of the music in the show because it's such a musically-based show?
SS: "You just want the music — any sort of background music at parties or stuff like that to feel legitimate and not distracting. So we did care about that, but it's tough. You wish it was all Rihanna and Beyoncé, [but] it can't be. But we did keep in mind that we want these premieres and birthday parties to feel real in the world and scored as such.
CK: "Occasionally, we would, later on in the season once Chase becomes more famous, we would kind of put Chase's songs in there, too. So at a party, or with the Insta-gays on the rooftop, it'll be a couple of real songs we pulled from the world that are in the background, and then we also put 'Stink' in there. Just to prove that he's as real as anybody else."
Were the accompanying music videos based on any specific music videos?
CK: "We kind of pulled from phases of music videos. Like, stages from an artists' work. Like how Sarah was saying, the notion that you can feel a team working behind the curtain of a pop star. You can feel a team deciding, 'Okay, now this pop star can be a sweet little cutie. Now, he's gonna do socially-conscious music video. Now, he's gonna be a bad boy. Now, he's gonna be sexy.' To that end, we based the music videos on that structure, where each music video is hopefully a different coordinated phase of this pop star's life."
SS: The "My Brother's Gay" video is kind of a loving tribute to the One Direction video.
CK: "Visually, yeah."
SS: "We were kind of like, 'Christina Aguilera's Beautiful meets One Direction's The Story of My Life.' That's the vibe we were going for there. Genuine and raw and wooden barn and hanging photographs and all that. And then for his later songs, we went more of like, Kesha, later Bieber, bad vibes for 'Stink.'"
CK: "We noticed there were a lot of music videos in the Justin Bieber world and with other Shawn Mendes-types where it's just like 'It's me and 15 of my older girlfriends having a party in a car garage.' It's like okay, sure."
SS: "In Chris and I's head, we were like, 'It's one of those music videos that's just in a garage for no reason.' Not based on anything specific. And then when we started doing research, we were like, 'Oh, there's a reason that's a stereotype.' There are so many [music videos in garages]."
CK: "That's when you want to spend more money on a music video and make it sexier and more festive, but they still don't have that much money. So the car garage gives them, like, a lot for free."
SS: "It's funny, too, when the singers clearly don't even have a driver's license yet, but they're in the front seat of the car."
The show has a really devastating subplot at its core, with Chase's dad having died recently. What went behind the decision to weave that into the story?
SS: "We like sad juxtaposition. We knew we had this bigger, broader, sillier backdrop of Chase and his career and music videos. We thought it allowed us to add this subplot that was a little darker because it added contrast. We liked that combination."
CK: "The whole show is kind of serious, if you think about it. It's a hard comedy, obviously, but everything the characters are going through are rooted in their fears or their anxieties or their insecurities or not being comfortable in their own skin. We kind of liked the idea of telling a real, grounded dramatic story but then adding comedy to that."
SS: "We also liked the idea that the characters would be going through all of this stuff on their own, like they would be dealing with this decision of whether or not to tell Chase about their father — they'd be dealing with that regardless. Now, they're just doing it in the public eye. The reason that they're facing it is because 'Stink' is such a huge hit. That is such a silly reason and lens through which this drama comes forward."
CK: "No, I did not even think about that. I think we were before that."
SS: "When did she get her pig?"
CK: "She got it recently! But we wrote that scene over a year ago. We should ask her if she stole it from us."
Definitely more likely.
SS: "That has been such an interesting part of this experience is like, trying to write and parody this pop culture, and we've accidentally been a little close to things. For instance, originally, the song that was going to be his big pop hit was going to be called 'Drip,' and Cardi came out with a song called 'Drip' the week that we started writing it. So, we had to kind of re-think that. But that is kind of the danger of parody."
CK: "It's been hard to parody pop culture and know that it's not going to come out for a year. Even when we were like, 'Okay, he'll do an Instastory,' we were like, 'Are people even going to Instagram after a year? I guess!' Things move so fast that we truly don't know. We would try to find the right balance with a specific joke, but keep things general enough that it could work either way. It was tricky."
Y'all were previously the co-head writers of SNL. What's been the biggest or strangest shift between working on these two shows?
SS: "We talked about this before — the biggest difference was just, we had so much more time to work on this. When we're at SNL, everything happens in a week, and then you start over. And so you don't really — there's not a ton of time to sit with your script. We had so much time to think about and create this season arc and make sure we had everything right. Like, the dad storyline you mentioned, we had the luxury to make sure that felt correctly plotted out and we rolled out the right details at the right time. That is all completely different. But in a good way!"
Interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
This story has been updated.