Jillian Bell & Charlotte Newhouse Talk ‘Idiotsitter’
A Harvard grad is hired to be the nanny for a 25-year-old womanchild under house arrest. What could go wrong?
There are few moments in Comedy Central’s new series Idiotsitter when creators and stars Jillian Bell and Charlotte Newhouse aren’t acting in a way that endangers both themselves and everyone around them. The show — about a Harvard grad named Billie (Newhouse) who takes a job as the nanny to Gene (Bell), a 25-year-old womanchild under house arrest — is a master class in over-the-top physical comedy with a highly entertaining odd couple.
When I met Bell and Newhouse early one morning at their hotel in Soho, it took me a moment to get used to their totally laid-back presence. They both arrived wearing chunky knit sweaters in muted tones and delicate gold jewelry, like they had walked straight out of a Madewell catalog, instead of, say, dressed in matching tuxes while drunk driving to a funeral. (That particular Idiotsitter scene needs to win an award for “Most Realistic Use of Boxed Wine.”)
Over coffee (Bell ordered “apple juice, like a child”), we talked Idiotsitter, their writing partnership, making fun of Jay Baruchel, and Vanderpump Rules.
I know the two of you originally met in [famed LA improv company] Groundlings. How did each of you get into comedy in the first place?
J: I always wanted to do it as a kid so I knew I wanted to come to LA or New York and just start pretty early.
C: I didn’t. I moved to LA and was like “I wanna be an actor!” I had no idea what kind. Then I went to a Groundlings show and I saw a sketch with Melissa McCarthy and Jill Madsen and they were playing albino twins going to prom and I was like “that’s what I wanna do!”
J: You just wanted to be albino. Not a comedian.
C: And a twin. [Fake crying] And I wanted to go to prom.
How young were you, Jill, when you wanted to get into comedy?
J: I mean, like a kid. I was always trying to make my parents and my friends at school laugh. I moved out to LA and I started at the Groundlings when I was 18, and I considered that my college. A very silly college.
And then you wrote for SNL for a year, right? Was it more stressful writing for them or for your own show?
J: Ooooh…writing for them, for sure. I mean, that was my first writing job. And it’s hard because I learned to write at the Groundlings and you learn to sort of find your own voice there, so you’re writing for yourself constantly. So to go into an environment where it’s similar but different — you’re writing sketch, but you’re not allowed to write for yourself — is really difficult.
I also made a promise to myself that I wasn’t going to give away any sketches at SNL that I wrote at Groundlings because it would have hurt my heart too much to give that to somebody else. I mean, they’re incredibly performers, but to give them something you’ve done is very hard to watch.
C: Very stingy, very stingy.
J: [Laughs] I know, but it was protecting my heart a little bit.
C: Cold heart.
J: I know, cold dead heart. Cold selfish heart.
So tell me about filming Idiotsitter. It has such a physical comedy that one thing I kept wondering was if anyone got hurt during production.
C: We got hurt all the time. I always break my toes, and I definitely broke my toe. It was amazing, after the stunt guy spent half an hour explaining how to fall. I was immediately like booooooom cruuuunch.
J: Like, “I broke my toe immediately.”
C: It was very physical. One thing we would consider, if we take this further, is that we were in almost every scene. And if we ever had a break when one of us watched the other one, it was such a joy.
And the other thing that was crazy was we had a night shoot — we were up all night and it ended at five o’clock in the morning. And I was drenched in blood. And it was freezing and you’re in sticky cold blood, just standing there in the cold, covered in flies.
Gross. You also have a bit in the fourth episode where the two of you just keep doing Jay Baruchel impressions. Are you guys friends with him? Did he know about this?
J: NO! And honestly, it’s something that came up because we were just like “oh this is funny that we can kinda do his voice.”
C: It was from the web series. There was a line I said when I was like [in a Jay Baruchel voice] “I am coming.” And I always thought it was funny because it sounded like Jay Baruchel. And we started doing it. We never thought about the fact that…we don’t know him.
Oh, you don’t know him. I just assumed he was a friend.
C: We were shooting a scene with a guest star and he was like, wait, “you don’t know him?”
J: And we were like “noooo.” And he was like “oh God” and we felt terrible. I was like, we’ll write him a letter and tell him this is just something we’re doing that’s silly and like, honestly I hope he doesn’t think it’s horrible.
C: We never said anything mean.
J: I totally forgot about that and now I’m having hot sweats.
C: It’s not mean. We call him adorable!
How’d you come up with Gene and Billie’s characters?
J: We came up with the idea for the show first, because we wanted it to be one location so we could shoot something for cheap if we had to do it ourselves. So we had that idea of keeping it in the house, and under house arrest, and then these characters sort of just came to us.
We were playing around with it, talking out the idea, and we’d start to improvise and that’s sort of just how our characters became who they are.
Are either of you more of a Gene or more of a Billie?
C: It’s pretty 50-50. Billie’s 50 percent me and 50 percent Jillian and Gene’s 50 percent me and 50 percent Jillian.
Do you know anyone who’s like Gene in real life?
C: [Laughs] Gina, my cousin — she’s upstairs. Her friend called her after she saw the promo and was like “is this show about you?”
J: She just came upstairs with the tiniest dog I can only describe as a squirrel and she just goes “hey!” and throws the dog on the bed. The dog pees all over the hotel bed.
C: He’s already pooped and peed all over the hotel bed. And she’s like “that’s just Bunchy doing Bunchy.”
J: I would say Gina’s like Gene. And I can’t believe how close their names are to each other.
Did either one of you really want to play one character or another?
C: As we were writing we would act scenes out and kind of organically fell into those roles. I mean, Gene is such a fun character. I think, in the web series, I wasn’t as into Billie. I was like “ugh.” But now I would prefer to play her.
J: Well good, she’s yours! You booked the part. She’s fun and she has so many fun flaws. And she’s socially awkward. She’s also very trusting, which is adorable, and also fun. Your character ends up doing a lot of fun things in the series that, even though Gene’s weird, she’d never do.
When I first started watching Idiotsitter, all I could think of when I saw Gene was Step Brothers, which is one of my favorite movies. But I also feel like that sort of stunted character has, so far, been an extremely male part. I do think you translate it really well for women.
C: We described her as a womanchild right away.
J: I think it was something like a 14-year-old boy in a 25-year-old woman’s body?
Was it important to you to make the female version of that role?
J: I don’t think we think of it as “this is going to be important.” I don’t think we think about that for anything. What was important for us was to just make a show that to us was funny. And not like “this is two women doing this.” We just wanted it to be funny.
I also do sense that we’re at this point in comedy when people aren’t questioning whether or not women are funny.
C: You’re right. Right now it’s like “women are hot in comedy!” but hopefully eventually it will be like “everyone can do whatever.”
I do feel like Comedy Central’s been instrumental in that — you have Broad City and Another Period and now Idiotsitter.
C: And they’re really smart in showing “look we have all these shows by women. Look how different they are.”
Any hints at whether or not there’s going to be a second season?
J: It’s going to be a matter of seeing people’s responses. And seeing if people tune in. Do people still say tune in?
Well, I think everyone just watches everything online now.
J: Online is so fleek. I love watching streaming with my bae.
C: [Leaning into recorder] I love to get cross-faded with my bae on fleek and watch VOD.
J: I love that this is the one part of the interview where we’re leaning in like “teenagers please hear this.”
I don’t think any teens are reading Maxim, sorry. So it’s an election year, so I’m obligated to ask you this: who would Gene and Billie vote for?
J: Oh Gene — for sure Donald Trump.
J: Yeah for sure, she’d be like “he says things and I just get them.” I know his name and I love his hotels. I love The Apprentice.
C: I think Billie would have a real crisis of conscious about whether to vote for Bernie or Hillary and in the end she would vote for Hillary because she wants to give women a voice. Just how I feel.
Who are your comedic influences?
J: Catherine O’Hara, Eileen Brennan, Madeline Kahn, Jennifer Coolidge — I love Jennifer Coolidge.
C: And you know, some dudes. Those guys.
And what are you two working on next?
J: A movie script called Let’s Get Married. It’s about a guy and a girl who are best friends since they’re little, and when they’re 18 they make a promise to each other that if they’re not married by the time they’re 35, they’ll get married. And then they hit 35 and their lives are still lame and they decide to get married as friends.
Any other TV shows?
J: There’s a movie we want to write and I feel like we have a couple TV show ideas in mind but we want to produce them.
C: We have to get through those two movies though.
You seem to have a really in sync writing partnership. How did you decide you wanted to work together this closely?
J: We were in a Holiday Show…it was my first show being in the Groundlings company and we wrote one sketch together and we just were so on the same page.
C: And it was such an odd page. A really odd page.
J: And then we decided like “oh we’re writing partners. This is it.” It was really incredible because that’s a very difficult thing to find.
C: I pitched her an idea that was real weird and she immediately saw it and pitched something that made it 100x better and just that…it’s hard to find. Someone who’s like “I get it, I see what you’re doing.”
Is this your last day here?
J: Yeah, we leave for LA tonight.
You don’t like New York?
J: Because I just smiled when I said we leave tonight? Well, I get that New York has “magic moments.”
C: The city’s alive! It’s a living breathing thing!
J: Do you know how many times you’ve said “the city’s alive?” I for sure get that but daily life stresses me out. It can be so easy. We can be in our own cars and listen to our music and get to our destination and chill out and live in our homes and there’s no rats running over our feet.
A rat ran over my foot last time I was here.
I believe you.
C: Because it’s a living breathing city!
I just feel more stressed when I’m in LA because everyone’s so chill and nice that I assume they’re all lying to me.
J: But where did you get that mentality?
C: But no one’s going anywhere [in LA]. It’s like 2 PM on a Monday and everyone’s at the Grove eating lunch and I’m like “what do you all do?!” And they’re like “I dunno man, I’m just L-I-V-I-N'” Live to surf, man.
Since I started watching Vanderpump Rules, that’s honestly what I think all of LA is like now.
C: Uh, best show ever.
J: Do you want me to show her what I got you for your birthday?
C: Yes. I’m obsessed with it.
At this point, Jillian pulls out her phone and starts playing a video of herself saying “Hey Charlotte, it’s your birthday, so I got you something.” Jax Taylor from Vanderpump Rules enters the screen to wish Charlotte a happy birthday too. I let out a half-yelp half-scream, disturbing the rest of the patrons in our fine establishment. This interview is over.