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‘Friends of the People’ Debuts on truTV

Sure, Saturday Night Live is getting more diverse by the day and we love us some Key & Peele like they were our play cousins, but with all the bad news out in these streets, who couldn’t use another laugh?

Well, get ready to ROFL with Friends of the People, truTV’s first foray into scripted programming. “Lil Rel” Howery, Kevin Barnett, Jennifer Bartels, Jermaine Fowler, The Lucas Bros. and Josh Rabinowitz are the seven stars of what is being described as man-on-the-street improvisation meets sketch comedy.  The show, which has already unveiled episode one online, formally makes its TV debut on Oct. 28 at 9:30 p.m. CST.  Already, it looks DVR-worthy, but you know JET has to dig a little deeper to find out what is in store for the season to come.

Last Comic Standing finalist and stand-up star, Lil Rel, answered the call.  The entertainer– also one of the show’s producers–  talks about how the crew came together, the offbeat inspiration behind some of their jokes, and even casts a little side eye when asked why both Friends of the People and Key & Peele recently lampooned Jaleel White/Steve Urkel.

JET: How did you select the title Friends of the People?

Lil Rel:  We went through a bunch of titles and a list of show names.  And a bunch of names popped up in Google.  I think I came up with the name.  Hard to tell who called it Friends of the People. We’re all really good friends. It’s a likable show.

JET: We’ve got Saturday Night Live, Key & Peele, and of course, people still fondly remember In Living Color and MADtv.  What distinguishes Friends of the People from other sketch shows?

LR: Well, it’s kind of a combination of Key & Peele, The Chappelle Show and a couple of other shows.  What I think makes us special is this is a complete cast.  The comedy is not built around a person or two people.  We all write, we all produce, and we all figured out way to put all of the things we do individually into one show.  We have humor for everybody.  I think we all understand each other’s voices, but we all try to do things that aren’t what we usually do.

JET: Where did you meet your fellow cast members? I know that some of you got to know each other in the now-defunct In Living Color reboot?

LR:  Me, Jermaine (Fowler) and Jennifer (Bartels) met at the In Living Color reboot.  I met Josh [Rabinowitz] in Montreal at the Just For Laughs festival and thought he was dope.  Kevin Barnett  is friends with Josh and Jermaine.  As for the Lucas Bros, all of us are cool.  All of us came together at a Funny or Die party while we were in Montreal.  That’s when we found out the In Living Color reboot wasn’t going to happen.  I was saying: Why don’t we do our own show?  Sure, we could keep doing our thing individually or we could combine and make something dope.

JET: As a longtime Lil Rel fan, I know you have some hot impressions up your sleeve.  What impressions will we see of yours?

LR: You’ll see Rick Ross.  I definitely have some impressions, but you’ll also see some original character work.  I do a great old man and a great old lady.  This is just season one.  I have so much in store.

JET: In the first episode, there’s a funny bit in which a group of  people dressed in ’80s gear get ready for a rumble in true music video style,  and suddenly, everything goes left.  Explain how the “Beat It”-inspired sketch came about?

LR: I wrote that.  It’s about me being a fan of Michael Jackson.  In the “Beat It” and “Bad” videos, he had these dancing gangsters.  I’m from Chicago so I always watched those and thought: This is weird.  What if a dancing gang went up against a real gang? I’m a huge fan of those ’80s videos, like “Rhythm of the Night” and so I’m glad about the way it turned out.  That was like a dream sketch I wanted to come to life, and it did.

JET: So a while ago, I noticed that Friends of the People did a sketch supposing that Jaleel White (Steve Urkel) was this evil mastermind who ruined Family Matters.  Then, very recently, Key & Peele put out a sketch showing White as a mind-controlling murderer who had the rest of the cast living in fear.  Why is Urkel so frightening to folks all of a sudden to inspire two skits?

 

LR: To me, it’s interesting that Key and Peele have an Urkel sketch.   We shot ours in January.  All of a sudden, they produce some Urkel stuff? For us, the Lucas Bros are the ones who came up with this concept.…They are always researching stuff.  Both of them are always on the Internet researching stuff.  We read a real article about how the show nearly got canceled the first season, until Steve Urkel came along.  We sat there in the writers’ room and came up with reasons why it happened.  What Key and Peele did was funny, but you see the difference between a sketch with just three people in it and us, an ensemble.  The energy is totally different.  I think our sketch is 20 times funnier and we did it first.

JET: Well, let the record reflect that.  You hit it first.  Changing topics a bit, I noticed that your team seems to go out in the streets a lot and interact with regular people and street performers, including one very memorable collaboration with a dancer.  Is that all improv? Or is it planned?

LR: Naw, that man-on-the-street stuff is very improv.  As the season goes on, I can’t wait for you to see the other stuff.  I’d go up to the director and ask: “Can I do this or can we make a fake balloon and do that?”  The answer was “yeah.  This is all real stuff, like that guy you mentioned, he was just dancing everywhere.  I said: “We have to get him.”

JET: Is there anything else you want people to know about the new show?  

LR: They’re going to enjoy the show; it’s a breath of fresh air. I love the buzz so far, and I am getting great text messages from actors and comics I respect.  Get ready, hopefully this can be this generation’s In Living Color or MADtv.

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Your turn: Are you going to check out Lil Rel and the rest of the funny cast of Friends of the People?