FX’s Chozen (Mondays, 10:30/9:30C) is a bit of an odd duck. It’s the first animated series to be built, as our headline suggests, around an ex-con, gay, white rapper. The show could be looked at in a lot of different lights: a satire of rap culture from a unique perspective; a straightforward sitcom about a guy try to make it; the story of a man out of time trying to figure out his life in what has to be a strange, new world, and so on.
Series creator Grant Dekemion and Chozen himself – Bobby Moynihan – talked with a group of journalists/bloggers about this unusual new series.
Hi. Thanks for talking to us today.
Grant Dekemion: Hi there.
Bobby Moynihan: No sweat. Thanks you for having us.
I’ve been watching the show, and I have to say I didn’t think I would necessarily like it or that it was my kind of show but I think it’s really good.
Bobby: Thank you so much.
Well, you read the description and you start going, “Okay,” you know. I’m probably not your target audience, but still it’s really well done. I don’t know what else I can say about it. But anyway, was it difficult trying to get someone to take a chance with something that’s kind of off-the-wall or not your standard TV show let’s say?
Grant: This is Grant. I guess I can hit that real quick. Surprisingly, when it came to FX, it wasn’t difficult. I mean, that’s what they’re known for. They are known for taking chances, and they are known for doing programming that’s kind of unique and groundbreaking, and this is the place myself and the producers always pictured the show as having a chance to live.
So we went there with high hopes and our high hopes were met. They were very excited and very invested, and we were really fortunate in finding a home on the place where I think the show has the greatest chance to make an impact.
Good. Bobby, did you have to audition or were you involved at the beginning with the process, or how did it come about for you?
Bobby: I’m actually a gay white rapper cartoon in real life, so it just worked out really good. No, I got an email saying, “Would you like to put yourself on tape for this,” and they had one of the little character descriptions—the drawings of what they look like—and they said Method Man was involved and I said, “Yeah, I don’t want to do anything more in my life than this.”
Well, that’s great. I’m going to tell everybody how good it is, and I hope it’s very successful.
Bobby: Thank you so much.
Grant: Thank you so much for your time.
Bobby, I was wondering how you came up with the voice for “Chozen”?
Bobby: I know it sounds weird to say, but it’s a voice I’ve been doing all my life maybe. I feel like I know a lot of people that sound like “Chozen,” and when I saw the drawing and read Grant’s script—the character is so well-defined already that all I had to do was come in and talk and have a good time. So I felt like it was something I had inside me already.
So there wasn’t anything about this character that you added? You just stuck with Grant’s script?
Bobby: No. I mean, we do some improvising. Me and Grant will go back and forth, or he’ll have a line and I’ll add to it, or he’ll say, “No. Try this,” and I think it’s a good mix between the writing on the show is pretty wonderful, so I like to let them do that, but when we’re doing the recording sometimes something new will come up or something very dirty, and then I beg Grant not to put it in, and he does, and I was wrong, and it’s very funny.
So, Grant, how did you come up with the concept for the show then?
Grant: Well, I had always wanted to do a show—I knew I wanted to do a show involving music and the struggle to be a musician, and I’ve loved hip-hop my whole life, so I just started thinking about it. Then I also wanted to create a character that I’d never seen before on TV, and I think “Chozen” fits that bill.
I think there’s a lot of interesting things you have with “Chozen.” Here’s a guy who’s coming out of jail; here’s a guy who’s trying to take his life back. So to me it’s a different kind of—it’s like a delayed coming-of-age story a little bit, and I thought that would be a fun way to kind of get into a type of story that’s been told a few times but in a different way.
Hey, Bobby. It’s your old UCB buddy —- from … improv 101.
Bobby: What’s up man? Amazing. How are you?
Good. How’s it going?
Bobby: Good. Doing well.
Well, congrats on the new show. I really enjoyed it, and I’ve enjoyed watching your work over the years, so I’m looking forward to it.
Bobby: Thanks, man.
So here’s my question: My audience are screenwriters, so my question is kind of about comedy-writing now—for both of you guys writing comedy—and the idea of parody versus original concepts. For example, your “Snookie” impression was hilarious.
Bobby: Thank you.
It was a great pop-culture parody at the time.
Bobby: She’s not a real person is she?
Whereas like “Drunk Uncle” and “Anthony Crispino” are these original characters that you created, but yet they remind us all of someone we know. They kind of have those essential human truths in them. So for you guys, what’s the difference in writing these two types of characters and stories, and where does Chozen fall in that kind of area, range?
Grant: Oh boy. I think Chozen in my mind and the way the writers work with him, he’s a very real person to me. I don’t think he’s a parody of anybody or a parody of any idea. I know people like him—maybe not exactly like him—but there are traits about him that are familiar to me and, I think, familiar to Bobby as well.
Within the show I do think we do have some fun with—there is some parody in our show of whether it’s famous people or ideas or things like that. It’s always a fun place to get jokes and kind of get a tentacle out into the real world because we’re in a cartoon world. So I think we do a little bit of both, but I think “Chozen” is wholly unique and in my mind wholly real and original to himself.
Bobby: To be honest, it reminds me the most of “Kenny Powers” on Eastbound & Down. It’s like “Kenny Powers” is a real person. The way people talk about that is like he’s a real person, and hopefully they’ll do the same about “Chozen.” It’s like this guy is a loose cannon lunatic, but he’s actually a pretty good person with a good heart, and it’s an amazingly fun character to play because there is this—it’s so insane and so off-the-wall but there is this groundedness [sic] to him, and there is this kind of own life philosophy that he has that I will say since I’ve gotten the show I have actually had the thought in real life of like, “I need to act more like this “Chozen” dude,” because he gets what he wants, and he gets results. He may go about in a weird way, but it’s a very well fleshed-out character, and that’s one of my favorite parts about it.
How do you find that line, if I may ask, between the dark sides of him—I mean, he literally wants to rape men—and then the good side of him, you know?
Bobby: Yeah, I think he just wants love from anywhere, and I think whatever he wants he’s going to take just because that’s how he’s learned how to do things. But that fine line, I don’t know. I think one of the best parts about it is that we can kind of dance on that line, and there are times when you can kind of take it over the line, and there are times where you don’t need to, and I think it’s a good balance between the two on Chozen.
There are some lines when I watch it I cringe because I can’t believe I said that, but then I go—but coming out of “Chozen’s” mouth it seems completely perfect.
Grant: Yeah, I think it’s important to recognize too since “Chozen” in the real world—he is making an effort, albeit a backwards effort, to try to figure out how to relate to people. So you will see him try to develop a relationship, try to be in a relationship, and it isn’t all about some forced thing with them. It’s that mind trying to figure out, “Okay how do I participate in a give-and-take,” and that’s obviously a struggle for him a little bit.
Bobby: Yeah, there’s a line in the second episode were “Chozen” wanders into an LGBT meeting and immediately screams, “Where’s the dick at?” I believe?
Bobby: It’s completely just out of—that’s just how he knows—that’s what he does, and that’s how he knows. They’re asking him questions about if he’s bisexual or not, and he just says, “Stop trying to label me. I’m just ‘Chozen.’ Like, I’m a sex person.” Like he just does what he wants to do and lives his life.
I haven’t gotten to see the show yet, but I’m really excited to see it—but from the press material that has been released I’ve read that Chozen kind of launched a fight against misogyny and homophobia in rap lyrics. So I kind of wondered is Chozen a show with a message hidden within the comedy?
Grant: I wouldn’t say so. I mean, I do think there are some ideas and messages that may be touched upon, but we write the show. The show is about one person and about one person’s experience, so it’s not—it has nothing to do with politics or anything like that. I think just because of the nature of the character and the way he goes about things certain things could hit people in a certain way, but that’s nothing intentional that we do from our end.
Bobby: Yeah, I kind of see it as it’s a show about a man and his relationship with his friends and his sister, and he just happens to be a gay white rapper also.
Awesome. What do you hope viewers kind of take away from the show?
Grant: Well, I’ll go first. I just hope they have some laughs. I hope they can connect with the characters. I hope they can laugh. I hope they can kind of invest in the struggles and the wins and losses of all these great people we have on the show and they’ll just kind of jump on for the ride.
Bobby: Yeah, as far as an animated comedy goes, to me it’s not like Family Guy which is just joke after joke. It’s more of like this is a story about this guy’s life, and I hope that people want to see where he goes in his life, and I hope they continue to watch it so they can find out.
Grant, if you just read the premise of your show it sounds like it could’ve gone either way in terms of how it’s done, animation or live action. So talk about your animation background and is this program—did you think about doing it as a live-action show for FX, and how different is this from other animated work you’ve done?
Grant: Well, one of those questions is a really quick answer: I haven’t done animated work prior to this. So this is my first foray into animation, and when we got the concept of the show going and the idea of the show, myself and the other producers we just thought it was a natural fit to try to do something with animation.
We wanted to do an animated show that was perhaps a little more grounded than a lot of animated shows, and there are things we can do with animation that we couldn’t do with live-action. Mainly we can go inside people’s heads inside their dreams. You could shoot that live, but it would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, so we thought animation was a good fit.
So given that this is your rookie experience in animation, how did you work out the process? How did you work out diving into this world?
Grant: Well, it’s really an ongoing—I’m still kind of getting an education on the whole process. We were fortunate enough to get to work with Floyd County, who is the animation company behind Archer, and so the guys over there have decades of experience in creating animated television, and they’ve really kind of took us under their wing and showed us their process which is very unique in the animated world. There’s no other studio making content the way Floyd County makes it.
So we really just kind of got a crash course in here’s how you do things, and we kind of just jumped in feet first, and we’ve been learning every day since. I think we’ve about got it figured out, but it’s a very complex process.
I was wondering if you had heard of Big Dipper? He’s an overweight white gay rapper in Chicago.
Bobby: You’re not going to believe this: That’s my father.
There you go. I didn’t know if you had heard of him before making the show or after?
Bobby: I actually haven’t heard of him before, but he sounds wonderful.
Grant: I hadn’t heard of him, however—
Bobby: He is going to love this show.
Grant: As soon as the show was announced or something, all of a sudden I heard of him real quick because I think—I don’t know, he said, “This show is about me,” or something like that, and so then I became familiar with him.
Bobby: What’s his name again?
Bobby: I’m going to have to look this up.
Yeah, you’ll have to look them up on YouTube. Then also, do you guys have LGBT consultants about the show, or where do you get some of your info from, because it’s really funny but I just wanted to know about that.
Grant: I mean, I don’t know if I’d use the term consultants, but we have a very diverse staff on every level of the show from the creative staff to producers to the studio, so we have voices in the process represented. So yeah, I mean we definitely have had many people help us out whenever we’re in need of knowledge, but they’re part of the process. It’s not as if I call someone up and ask about—
Right, I get it. I love the show, so I just wanted to say was great. I wasn’t offended at all being gay, so there you go.
Bobby: Oh great. Thank you.
What was it like having Method Man in the booth rapping lines he hadn’t written, and did he ever offer any constructive criticism from the booth?
Grant: Well, it was interesting. I’ve only done a few rap things with Meth, but the main one we did, he was actually in Norway at the time. So we were over this wire, and I had written this pitch for what he would rap, and obviously he’s the pro—he can feel free to mess with it if he likes. But it was a little bit surreal him being like, “Okay, well play me what you’ve got,” and he hears it and he’s like, “Uh, okay,” and then he does it his own way.
I mean, probably the funniest part is we had all these lyrics in mind, and he liked them, so he’s like, “Yeah lets go with this.” And it took me literally an afternoon of editing to be able to get a demo of what this could sound like, and I think Method Man did it in one breath in about 32 seconds. So it’s been really great, and we’re going to be working with him tomorrow.
He’s been very collaborative, and he’s always open to throwing in his own flavor and switching things around and just in general making them better. So it’s been really cool.
Awesome. We’ve seen shows in the past like Metalocalypse eventually turning into a touring band. Could you see Chozen following that path?
Grant: I don’t know about that one. You know, I think we do a great job making these songs for the show, but it is—I’m not a pro rap-performing artist. I do the best I can, and it does take probably a bit more production on our end to get stuff done than it would if we had someone with the skills of Method Man or whoever doing it every week. So I don’t know if it would lend itself quite to that, but I’ve actually seen Metalocalypse the band, and I’m a huge fan.
I had a quick question since I heard you guys are still doing some recording. Bobby, you’re also on Saturday Night Live, can you talk a little bit about balancing your work on Chozen as well as kind of fronting Saturday Night Live as well?
Bobby: Yeah, to be honest it’s not hard at all. Even during the show week it’s pretty easy. The recording studio is two blocks away from SNL. I’ll go run and do that and then run back to SNL. It’s not as hard as you would think.
The hours at SNL are pretty insane, but it’s nice to be able to run across the street and act like an idiot for an hour, and then run back and act like an idiot for seven hours.
Then I’m also curious since you have Method Man on here, but are we going to see any other guest rappers or any other big voices that we should be looking forward to?
Bobby: The rap debut of Kathy Bates is going to happen. No, I would—I don’t know. I hope so. I mean, I hope some guys see it and want to do it. Yeah, that would be wonderful.
Grant: We don’t have anyone locked up just yet, but that’s something we definitely want to try to do.
Is there any wish list or anything like that?
Grant: Oh boy. I mean, I could go on forever.
Bobby: Yeah, me too.
Grant: You know, it really depends on you kind of have to figure out what the character needs to be like first, and then you can just take your pick of great rapper that would fit that.
Bobby: Grant, you don’t know this yet, but I would like to do an episode where you meet “Chozen’s” mom and the voice is just DMX.
Grant: That would be amazing.
I have to say I had to agree with my first colleague. When I first saw it on paper I thought, “You know, I don’t know that this is for me,” but once I saw the video for “Murder, Sex” I was intrigued. I watched all five of… I felt in love with it. I think it’s a wonderfully written, hilarious, really well-grounded show. I’m just really excited about it.
Bobby: That phrase, “Once I watched “Murder, Sex” I watched the rest,” has never been uttered before, and it’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.
It caught me immediately. Once I saw that I was like, “Okay, this is something I’ve got to watch,” so I’ve been watching. Grant, the thing I wanted to ask you, you talked about doing the show, developing a show about somebody up-and-coming in the music business. What was specific about rap and hip-hop that made you go with that instead of maybe rock or pop or dance or whatever?
Grant: Gosh, good question. Well, I grew up in bands. I grew up in rock bands, and then I did some work in the rap game as it were, and I thought that the rock-band story has kind of been told and been, I think it’s been told really well more than a few times, and I think in the rap world there have been a couple of movies about it, but there hasn’t been any TV.
It’s also just really the practicality—writing a show about a rock band and then having to create original full-band rock songs. That’s a very difficult thing to do. You know, it’s really just—to me hip-hop is fun. It’s interesting. Hip-hop is pop culture now, and I thought there were a lot of fun things we could do in that world, so it seemed to make sense in that regard.
Yeah, and the whole fact that you have a gay rapper in the rap world is really irreverent. I think it’s a clever irreverent. I mean, they still have the stigma of being a little against gay rappers, and the whole fact that he’s actually working in that is a whole joke within a joke.
It’s one of those unintentional ones you were talking about. I think there are a lot of messages, but again they’re very layered and buried underneath. I think that’s part of the whole thing about it that’s really funny.
Grant: Yeah. I mean, my view is anybody—there are all different types of people in rap and rock who act, and there are straight people; there are gay people. You just want to pick a character and have fun with them, and this is our choice.
That’s fantastic. Bobby, a quick question for you: Big news, of course, today on the news is SNL just hired the first African-American comedian in seven years. Have you heard anything about it, or have you talked about it, or have you met her?
Bobby: Yeah, I know Sasheer from Upright Citizens Brigade, so I was very happy. She’s a very, very—we’re very, very lucky to have her, and she’s a very talented girl. So I’m excited for her to be on the show and for America to see her. I think she’s great, and I think it’s a great addition.
So this is going to be a pretty exciting year for SNL.
Bobby: Yeah. I mean, it’s funny. Yeah, I think so. With everyone leaving and stuff, it’s a whole new world. I’ve been on the show since Amy and Darrell Hammond were on there, and as a fan of the show since I was a kid to just kind of see it change internally alone has been fascinating. The act next year is the 40th anniversary. It’s very big times over at SNL, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Okay, I’ll put you both on the spot on this one. Okay, I guess Bobby you first: What was your favorite album of 2014?
Bobby: I’ve got to go. I got to go. I got to go. No, I’m just kidding. Say again? Sorry.
Bobby, what was your favorite album of 2014?
Bobby: Of 2014?
I mean 2013. I’m sorry.
Bobby: Wow, maybe Eminem’s album. I don’t buy a lot of albums anymore. I listened to the same five albums I’ve listened to my entire life, so my favorite album for 2014 was “Ready to Die” by Notorious B.I.G.
Bobby: That was me.
Oh, I’m sorry. Grant?
Grant: My favorite album? I’m blanking on the name of the album, but the artist’s name is Action Bronson.
Yeah, I know what you’re talking about.
Grant: He’s awesome. He’s this big white rapper dude from New York who sounds just like Ghostface Killah. He was like a professional chef, and he raps about gnarly stuff and food.
Okay, I am about as far from your target demo as you can possibly imagine—old, white guy, child of the 60s—and I loved what I’ve seen so far.
Grant: Oh, great.
The thing I think I like most is that “Chozen” is such a walking contradiction, so he’s a real person. He can go off like a bomb in one scene and then tell someone very sincerely, “Respect yourself.”
So how do you figure out the balance between all the various sides of his personality and how far you can push in any of the directions he gives you to play with?
Bobby: I mean, I feel like the characters so well realized and so well written that—and I come from an improv background, so I kind of just come in—the one thing I know when I’m doing “Chozen” is that whatever “Chozen” is doing at that exact moment is the only thing he’s thinking about, and he will do it until he’s conquered it. So if that means one second trying to get a boyfriend and the next second trying to make his sister feel better about herself then that’s just how it is, and then he moves on to the next thing that he wants very badly.
It’s just such a real character to me and very—the way Grant wrote it and the way that the writers write it is just—it’s very easy to do. It’s very easy to play.
Cool. Grant, as a follow-up could you talk a bit about where “Chozen’s” crew came from and how you’re developing his relationship with his sister?
Grant: Well his crew, these are guys he’s known since he was in grammar school. So these are all buddies of his from the neighborhood, and as the season goes on we do kind of see a little bit more of them and their formation and things like that. So they’ve known each other forever, and when he gets out of jail they just kind of pick back up where they left off.
As far as his sister, she was kind of a default crash pad for him, and I do think their relationship—I mean, that’s one of my favorite parts of the show. I feel like she has this kind of animal living with her that she has to deal with, and she’s pretty responsible, and she’s a pretty sharp gal. But you know, it’s obvious there is love there. It’s obvious—well it’s not obvious he appreciates everything she does, but I think he does.
I mean, it’s important to realize this person has been in jail for ten years, and anyone who comes out of jail is a little bit of an alien, is a little bit of a man out of place and out of time, and I think “Tracy” is the one person that really understands him beyond all the bluster and can kind of ground him every time.
Bobby: Yeah. The pilot episode is a lot about how “Chozen” got where he is and how he’s just gotten out of jail, and then the second episode revolves around “Chozen” trying to find out if this guy that’s dating his sister is cheating on her, and that’s one of my favorite things. He just got out of jail; he’s trying to do all this stuff; but he’s got to take a break real quick to make sure this guy is not messing with his sister. He’s a human being. He cares about people.
I was wondering, Grant, you spoke a little bit about having some rap music background. Can you talk to us a little bit about your background in general as far as music and writing—writing non-music as far as—both types of writing.
Grant: Oh, sure.
Bobby: Grant, you were originally in Parliament Funkadelic, right?
Grant: I was. Yes. I was in Tony! Toni! Tone! as well.
Bobby: That’s right. You were.
Grant: Well as far as the music, my music writing, I mean I just started playing music as a kid and was in various types of bands all through college and after college and played a little bit and toured a little bit and kind of get tired of it, and then the writing didn’t start really until about six and a half years ago when I kind of saw my friends who had been writing and working at it—I saw their lifestyle, and I saw it was tough, but I saw how great it was when you could make something and see it happen whether it’s a play or a YouTube video or something like that. So I started writing creatively, which is something I kind of did for myself but never in a format for a script or a TV or movie or anything like that.
I just worked on that, and then I got a break on Eastbound & Down. I got a chance to work on that, and then I did a lot of set writing and rewriting on that. I really cut my teeth there and kind of learned the game as it were, and after that I just started getting this idea together as best I could, and lo and behold it happened to work. So that’s a brief history of a short career.
Great. I was wondering, obviously the show—I don’t find the show at all offensive. I enjoy it. I think it’s very good. But it seems like anytime somebody does something that touches in certain controversial subjects, let’s say—things that are not typically addressed on television in much depth or that you don’t see a lot of—unless you’re in that world you don’t see a lot of—I mean, rap music is sort of an African-American world sort of, and then being gay and all these things that you’re touching on. Are you concerned at all or does anyone who’s connected with the project have any concerns about white straight guys doing the show?
Grant: I mean, I have no concerns. The way I write the show is I write the show and I don’t even consider any of that. I don’t consider sexuality. I don’t consider color. I don’t consider any of any of it because I don’t think it’s germane to the characters. I don’t think it’s important, and I think that’s the most fair way to write a person.
You know, some people might not be into the subject matter. Maybe some things aren’t for them, and that’s totally fine, but I do think the show is wholly relatable to anyone and everyone, and I think everyone can get something out of it.
Bobby: Yeah, I think 20 years ago it might have been a little shocking. I think now—I mean, one of my favorite parts about the show is it does feel like, to me, a story about a guy and his friends, and he happens to be a gay white rapper. It’s not like that’s what drives him a lot of the times, but it’s written so well that it just comes across to me as—I feel like 20 years ago you’d be like, “Who is this guy?” and now I feel like there’s probably 100 “Chozens” running around on this block in New York City right now where I am, you know? There are a lot of people like “Chozen” who are just living their lives. It’s not really that crazy of a thing anymore.
I’m curious about writing for SNL, about working there—trying to get sketches that you’ve written on the air—and I’m also curious when Seth Meyers leaves who actually is going to be the head writer and how you think it—
Bobby: I’m glad you asked: It’s you. Congratulations. No, writing on SNL is a crazy process. As cast members we’re all expected to write. Sometimes it’s harder for the cast to get sketches on. If you see something where a cast member is talking a lot, it’s a good chance that they are probably the ones that wrote it. You have to kind of write for yourself on that show.
I’ve been lucky enough to get some stuff on that I’ve written, and you always feel much more in control of it, but also another amazing thing about SNL is walking in and some writer hands you some really brilliant piece of work that they’ve written, and then you get to perform it. So either way you win.
I think I’m more of a performer than I am a writer. I feel like SNL has taught me to be a much better writer, so that alone has helped. As far as what’s going to go on when Seth goes, they don’t tell me anything. I have no idea.
And why does Taran Killam get to play all the sexy-guy roles now and not you?
Bobby: I let him do it because he needs it, you know? I mean, if I had a dollar for every sexy guy I’ve played in TVs and movies, I wouldn’t have a single dollar. But no, Taran is the perfect straight man. He’s kind of taken over for Jason, and he does it really well where he can—he’s so talented and can do anything. Taran gets to play all the sexy roles; I get the play all the weird looking ladies. So we all play our roles.
Everybody wins I guess.
Bobby: Yeah, I’m just happy to have a job.
Grant: Thanks everybody.
Photos by Patrick McElhenny/Courtesy of FX