“Comic Perversion” – Law & Order SVU’s Executive Producer Warren Leight & Guest Star Jonathan Silverman

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Executive Producer Warren Leight and guest star Jonathan Silverman sat down to chat with us about tonight’s episode of Law and Order: SVU – Comic Perversion which touches on a very controversial topic of rape in comedy. They raise the question of is it funny, what effect a comics brand of humor may have on its audience and why our culture is drawn to such a taboo subject.

LAW & ORDER: SVU airs Wednesday, February 26th at 9/8c on NBC “Comic Perversion”

How did you come up with the idea for this episode Comic Perversion?

Warren Leight: Well I’ll start. This is Warren. I’ll start and then Jonathan inhabited the character.

Warren Leight: I’d say, you know, this – we were aware last year there were – there’s a spate of comics getting a lot of attention for rape-jokes. And obviously there was the Tosh incident, was I think one of the more public and egregious incidents in which he decided wouldn’t it be funny if he – someone was heckling him and he got into it with her. And said wouldn’t it be funny if you were – if these guys gang raped you right here?

And, you know, at SVU we don’t think that’s funny. And then there was Dane Cook had certain jokes.

And then we’d start to – we also saw a lot of network sitcoms. It’s almost like rape-jokes became the sort of the go to. And I was a comedy writer years ago. And we used to call joke like material. If you didn’t have a joke you would reach for joke like material. And you would just try and end the sentence with the word (Kay) or something like that, you know or else – so it felt like all of a sudden a lot of sitcoms were also thinking it was really funny to make a rape-joke if they didn’t have something funny to say.

And, you know, we’ve – doing this show we deal with the real life part of rape, not the funny part.

And so we wanted to do an episode about rape culture and what we call rape comics. And is – there’s of course – there’s a giant defense to these guys. A lot of comics stood up and said you got to let people say what they want and they’re shedding light on the dark areas.

And are they or are they just going for shock or are they just being pure out. To me shock comedy or, you know, the point of good standup comedy is to take on the people in power, not to take on people who’ve been disempowered by something as horrible as rape.

So we thought this is a good ground to shape an episode around and we wanted a comic who was charming and funny and in some ways despicable. And so I thought of Jonathan pretty quickly there.

Jonathan, do you want to talk a little about Josh Galloway?

What can you tell us about your character? 

Jonathan Silverman: It’s…Warren and his staff wrote an absolutely fascinating character. And I was a bit terrified to tackle it. 

And in all honesty reading it for the first time and working on it before we started shooting it, I didn’t have much positive things to say about him. I really felt I was playing a very nebulous, a vulgar character.

But something interesting happened while we were shooting it. In trying to dissect and attack the role, I found a way for me myself to sympathize with the character I was playing and to try and make him human.

And Warren and his amazing staff of writers and…

Warren Leight: Well let’s mention that Brianna Yellen it’s her first episode for this show.

Jonathan Silverman: Brianna Yellen.

Warren Leight: She’s…

Jonathan Silverman: She’s just brilliant. She’s this…

Warren Leight: And it’s her first.

Jonathan Silverman: …young lady that…

Warren Leight: And (Julie) and I co-wrote the story with her. And she penned the episode. And it’s her first time out. She’s been working on staff in a lot of capacities. And she was as disturbed and fascinated by this as anybody here. So she was the real impetus. That’s B-R-I-A-N-N-A, Y-E-L-L-E-N.

So she was – she helped shape this horrible person that Jonathan played (even).

Jonathan Silverman: And I’ve actually known Brianna for a number of years because she was the Assistant to Mr. Ted Kotcheff who also was a major part of SVU and directed a little movie I was in called Weekend at Bernie’s so I’ve known this young lady for…and I’m so proud of her. And again Warren and Brianna and his staff created truly a despicable and uncomfortable human being.

But Mariska and I, Mariska Hargitay and I had a lengthy discussion at one point. And we both found reason to sympathize with this gentleman’s plight. He looks at himself as a social satirist who wants to hold a mirror up to society and its pitfalls. And he actually discusses how it’s important to look at society’s evils.

And if you can’t laugh at it then all you really can do is cry. So it’s his opportunity to put it out there. The other interesting thing about this character is at times we find out he practices what he preaches on stage. And I tried to figure out a way to make him a little more sympathetic as well. And as a guy who is a performer and for whatever reason he seems to be adored by his young crowd that he seems to attract as a lot of these standup comics do, a very hip young college crowd.

And a number of times…

Warren Leight: And of many women as well. Many, many…

Jonathan Silverman: Yes (like me). And these girls are approaching him. He doesn’t seem to be the one who is targeting them. They’re coming after him and they’re showing up in his space and going to his hotel room.

And we just tried to figure out a way to play it from the other perspective just to give the audience a chance to see for themselves who they might side with and live for a minute or two in someone else’s world and perhaps understand it better.

Since Benson’s attack by Lewis this season she seemed to be overly eager at arresting men and her professional judgment seems at stake.

Will her decline continue throughout this season or can we expect her to gain some stability?

Warren Leight: Okay, well this is Warren. I guess I’m responsible for her decline so I’ll take that. I think that, you know, she’s suffering from PTSD and I think she’s working through it. I think in the next few episodes we see her comfortably in command of her squad. Although in this current episode Comic Perversion, I think you see some of her – I think you see some anger still leaching through.

But I feel like unless Lewis returns maybe the worst is over for her. That’s a big unless.

Can we expect Lewis to return?

Warren Leight: You never know with a character like that and an actor like Pablo. I think that there’s one last stance that they might need to have. I don’t have that episode written at the moment. But I can – we left them – I feel like it’s a little bit – there’s – I think he still has a need for closure and he’s a pretty stubborn guy.

Sometimes it’s hard to get actors to be willing to play less than sympathetic characters. And I’m just wondering for Jonathan if he had any qualms about playing this guy.

Jonathan Silverman: Hi. This is Jonathan talking. That’s a great question. First of all, Warren Leight is a God in my eyes and he knows I would do anything to work with him again. I was lucky enough to be in the – at least the West Coast Premiere of his wonderful play, Glimmer, Glimmer & Shine at the Mark Taper Forum probably. When was that Warren, 12 years ago?

Warren Leight: 1904 I think something like that.

Jonathan Silverman: Yes, 1904. It was done in black and white even live on stage.

Honestly he knows. I would do anything to work with him. So when he presented me with this script I was blown away by how powerful it was and a little scared about just the workload involved. And then of course my next reaction was, “Oh, can I do this?” You know it’s obviously a subject matter that is very delicate and to me, to my wife, to some of our dear friends.

And I was somewhat hesitant and even, you know, I had to discuss it with my reps, with my manager, with my agents. And we ultimately decided, you know, this is what I do for a living. And you don’t always get to play reputable characters. Sometimes you get your hands a little dirty literally and play the bad guy.

And I’m so glad I did. Obviously I hope people don’t respond to my character’s inclinations on and off stage.

But it was a wonderful opportunity to portray and to get this message out so I’m thrilled I did it.

Warren Leight: I will say it was very brave with Jonathan. I will tell you now, there’s probably not a standup comic in the country who would have dared to do the part because and I am very comfortable with Jonathan because we had done this play together. And I knew he could land every beat of this thing.

And, you know, it has worked out well for Pablo Schreiber playing one of our villains. And I think it will – it should work out well for Jonathan. But it is interesting to me how many people tell me how much they want to be on SVU but they don’t want to play a pedophile or a bad guy.

And really that’s what we have for, you know, to offer. Our good guys are already on the squad. And I’m very glad that Jonathan stepped up. And he, you know, he’s – like Pablo, he didn’t flinch for a moment. You know you have to drive into the skate of these characters and man did he drive into this good.

I was wondering just like what can we expect to see for the end of this season, can we expect to see any more guest stars? 

Warren Leight: Well I think word is out that we have Alec Baldwin will be coming up. I think everyone – he’s shooting today in a story. I hope the paparazzi are leaving him alone.

And he’s shooting in an episode directed by Mariska that will air March 19th. We also have Donal Logue and Sherri Saum airing the week before that.

So we – the guest stars will keep coming. It depends on how much money’s left in our budget.

But I think that they’re going to keep coming. We’re hoping to get Pablo back as well, Pablo Schreiber.

But in terms of storyline it’s – for the fans who’ve been following it, this has been a pretty dark winter for the squad. Amaro, I think there was an episode called Amaro’s One-Eighty in which he shot a 14 year-old kid. He – whom he thought was armed.

Rollins has gone on a horrible gambling slide and that will reach its climax in the Donal Logue episode.

Obviously Olivia is still recovering from not just the assault but the trial. So everyone – I…has been doing – Fin is fine so far. But it’s been a real – as it has been in New York, it’s been a real long winter for our characters.

And the question for the last third of this season is, how are they going to come out of it and what will be the after effects or the ripple effects of everything they’ve gone through individually and interpersonally?

So we got a lot of spinning plates that we have to try to figure out how to – or whatever it is. Whatever it is you’re supposed to do with spinning plates, we have to figure out what to do with them because we have a lot of plates spinning right now.

And there’s going to be a few pretty big surprises as the season goes on. How’s that for a little piece?

Jonathan I was just wondering. I know you’ve done comedies in the past like you say Weekend at Bernie’s. I was wondering what it was like to go from that to kind of doing a more serious show like Law and Order SVU.

Jonathan Silverman: I relish doing anything that’s a bit out of, you know, the norm and out of my wheelhouse.

I supposed there’s a certain comfort level for me in doing comedy. But I’ve certainly done my share of dramas and anytime I get a chance to play a somewhat nefarious bad guy I leap at it. What was interesting about this is probably around 70% of what I do in this episode is up on stage being a comic.

So it was a blend of being on…

Warren Leight: Or in the witness box on trial.

Jonathan Silverman: Yes, exactly, yes. Yes, Warren and his staff allowed me the opportunity even when I was on trial to use the jurors as an audience so I was constantly trying to get them to crack up.

Granted there’s a number of scenes in this upcoming episode where it was very uncomfortable, very raw, very naked literally. And I got to do things I really don’t get a chance to do thankfully in my own life and, but and certainly on screen as well.

And I felt awful actually. I didn’t really think I would but I really felt I needed to scrub and bathe after one particular scene that we shot. So it affected me. It really threw me for a loop actually.

Warren Leight: I’ll just add. I think people – I did do a play with Jonathan ten years ago I guess. And I have done that same play with a number of actors. And I’ve done – oh anyway, cutting to it. I think he’s one of the more underrated dramatic actors because comedy comes so naturally and easily to him.

But I think Jonathan is ridiculously talented and facile and when you need him to go dark he doesn’t hesitate.

And there’s a lot of depth behind it and a lot of, you know, that overused actor term. He’s very brave. And he’ll just go there. And he doesn’t – didn’t hesitate. And there was some really disturbing scenes. And he pulled them off without sweating. It was almost kind of – it was a little scary at times though how effortless he made the disturbing scenes seem.

Jonathan Silverman: Thank you Warren.

Warren Leight: Well but it – I can’t say enough about Jonathan’s acting. And I’ve – I hope nobody catches on before I get to create my own scene.

This is for Warren. I follow you on Twitter and in this day and age of social media exploding in such a short period of time, how has it been as a creator of a show, show-runner, affected you and your process and how you deal with the show and deal with the fans through such a more personal interaction? 

Warren Leight: I like it. I like Twitter. You know I don’t have – it’s great because you can just – if you have two minutes of downtime you can go on, see what’s going on. Drop a couple of bombs and get out. And I like doing that.

And it’s – I feel it does get a dialogue going with the fans. And of course with the haters which is also fun.

But it gets – it’s a way – we’re 15 years in so it’s not – we have to figure out ways to reach our fans directly. We’re not going to – there’s not going to be a ton of promo for us or a ton of ads for us.

Or so we – what I like about Twitter is we get to speak directly to the fans and kind of – it’s also good when there’s about 30 rumors a week that go out and trying to shut those down as fast as I can.

So I enjoy it. Most of the time I enjoy it a lot and we have the entire writing staff now tweeting. We have an SVU writers of account, the entire cast tweets. And it’s also a way of just since none of us actually talk to each other in real life, it’s a way of finding out what each other’s doing all the time.

So I enjoy it. And it’s – and on occasion I saw Sherri Saum on Twitter. She said she wanted to play a bad guy. And so I just…

Yes.

Warren Leight: …I had been – I had done In Treatment with her and I just tweeted her immediately and said, you know, can I hold you to that? And we just booked her for episode 17 which she just finished shooting.

So it’s actually been interesting.

That’s fantastic.

Warren Leight: Now Mr. Silverman is not on Twitter as far as I can tell. And I feel like…

Oh Jonathan why aren’t you on Twitter?

Jonathan Silverman: I, you know, I have my Betamax and (unintelligible).

Jonathan Silverman: And I’m just happy with technology from 50 years ago.

So you don’t feel like you’re missing out on anything by avoiding that side of technology.

Jonathan Silverman: I’m amazed by it. And my wife is on Twitter. And actually she just got me on Instagram so I’m going to start playing around with that. I’m just always a couple of years late to the party on all this stuff. So I’ll join soon. I promise.

Well hopefully we’ll see you soon.

Warren Leight: My understanding is in advance of the – Jonathan plays Josh Galloway on the show. And my understanding is in advance of the episode airing there are already two or three Josh Galloway accounts that have been opened so.

Jonathan Silverman: Really.

That’s pretty incredible. The reach and scope that instant connection with the fans. If they can make these fake accounts for specific characters that haven’t even aired yet that are on a television show.

Warren Leight: I know. I smell spinoff.

Warren Leight: Yes. If this leads to a sitcom for Jonathan about rape comic Josh Galloway, I think that’ll be exactly what we didn’t want to have happen.

Jonathan Silverman: It’s a new (world).

 

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