David Wain Talks Summer Camp

The Wet Hot American Summer co-creator spoke to Maxim about his cult classic and his own experiences at camp.

Wet Hot American Summer was the quintessential cult comedy: actors (many of them now household names like Bradley Cooper and Amy Poehler) played teenagers despite being significantly too old, a talking can of vegetables was a major star, and camp looked more fun (and twisted) than any of us remembered. None of this would’ve been possible without comedian David Wain who, along with Michael Showalter, created the 2001 classic.

With the prequel, an 8-episode Netflix series called Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Summer, taking us back to Camp Firewood, we spoke to Wain about getting the gang back together, his inspirations, and his own experiences at summer camp.

How long was Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp in the works?

We’ve been talking about doing this since we made the first movie 15 years ago. It was such a special experience for all the people involved at the time, and we always dreamed about doing a sequel sometime. Somewhere early on we decided that it would be better if it was a prequel and that’s where we ended up.

Why’d you decide to make it a prequel?

I think just as more time went by and as the actors got older and older, it seemed like it would be so counterintuitive and therefore exactly what we should do. The actors would be way too old.

Right, about 20 years too old.

The prequel has proven to be such a fun thing to do because it’s really an origin story. There are so many things that happened in the movie or that are shown in the movie or things about the characters, but we learn about the why and how, and how it all came to be, and it’s really been a blast to do that.

So why’d you make it a TV show instead of just another movie?

We had thought about it as a movie at one point but as we started getting serious about doing it together we realized that there were so many actors and characters that trying to fit it all into 90 minutes would be tragic. On the other side of the spectrum, doing a conventional TV series didn’t feel right either. What was emerging with Netflix seemed like the perfect way to do it where it could be something longer in scope but can still be consumed sort of like a movie. Netflix, which didn’t exist before [when the film came out], seemed like the perfect medium: halfway between a TV project and a movie.

It’s incredible that you got everyone back on board to do this. Was it difficult to get the original cast back on board?

I’m happy to say that when I reached out to the cast, it was unanimous. The scheduling logistics was another clash entirely. The basic enthusiasm and signing up was immediate which was a testament to the special place that the project seems to hold in all of our hearts.

In addition to the original cast—Paul Rudd, Bradley Cooper, and Amy Poehler—I know that John Hamm, Chris Pine, Kristen Wiig, Jason Schwartzman, and John Slattery also join. Why them?

We wanted better actors, but they weren’t available so we just settled for those guys. We just can’t get necessarily good people for everything so we just got crappy actors. [Pauses to talk to his kids for a minute.]

How old are your kids?

Four and Seven.

So I’m assuming they’re not going to be watching Wet Hot American Summer yet?

No, they’ve seen very little of anything I’ve ever done. I’m just dreading the day that they’re able to Google me and find the Stella shorts and other things that I’ve done in the past.

Yeah, the one that springs to mind is the Mrs. Claus one.

Right, that’s a good one.

Stella’s a bit before my time, but once I found them, I went down a total rabbit hole. They’re so strange and funny and unlike anything out right now.

I actually hadn’t seen them in a while and I watched just a few seconds of one recently on YouTube and I was like, “Oh my Goodness!”

Back to Wet Hot: were there characters that were based on people you met in summer camp?

Well in 1981, I was 11 so I certainly was the indoor kid in the original movies. Michael and I weren’t the most popular. We weren’t total losers, but we worshipped the 15-year-old campers that seemed like adult super stars to us. It kind of makes sense why the characters playing 16-year-olds are fully grown adults. That’s how we thought of them at that age.

Yeah, I remember camp counselors seeming like most grown-up people in the world.  

In my summer camp the name of the different groups showed how old you were. Chipmunks, Eagles, Beavers, Foxes, Wolves, and then once you were over 16, you were a counselor. I felt like that was the end of life, then death.

Did filming this make you and the rest of the cast feel really old, or was it a nice reunion?

If anything, no. It made me feel younger. The original movie was 15 years ago, but reuniting everyone and doing it again it really was a wrinkle in time. You just forget the time in between the two projects was sort of a blur. We all were just doing it again. 

Photos by Gemma La Manna for Netflix