Between Louie, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Wilfred and The League, FX has created a unique comedy block. But in October, Louis C.K. announced he'd be taking extra time to develop the next season of his acclaimed show, meaning there would be a big hole to fill over the next couple of years. FX President John Landgraf said at the time the plan was to recruit more comedians to develop projects similar to what C.K. had done, which is where Jim Jefferies comes into play.
An Australian comedian best known in the United States for his HBO standup special, Jefferies was brought to FX to pitch a show he would make with showrunner Peter O'Fallon. It ended up being Legit, which debuts tonight. As he told Spinoff Online at the Legit premiere red carpet, the executives Jefferies met with picked up the first story he told them.
"I went in, I didn't have anything written down, I told them the muscular dystrophy story and by the end of the meeting they said, 'Yeah, we'll make that,'" he recalled. "And then I said, 'Oh, I've got some other stories,' and my agent literally dragged me out of the room. I said, 'What are you doing?' and he said, 'You've just won. You can only ruin this now by talking more.'"
The "muscular dystrophy" story ended up being Legit's pilot episode, and the premise for the series. It's also true: One of Jefferies' best friends had a younger brother with muscular dystrophy, and the two decided to take him out of his home and to a brothel so he could have a taste of life. In Legit, Jefferies' character Jim, an Australian comedian trying to make it in America, is best friends with Dan Bakkedahl's Steve, and he ends up taking Steve's younger brother Billy (played by DJ Qualls) on a road trip to Las Vegas so he can have sex for the first time. In fact, eight of the 13 episodes in Legit are inspired by real-life stories Jefferies tells in his standup routine.
Although Qualls shines as Billy, it was a role the Road Trip actor was initially hesitant to play. The restricted body movements and difficult subject matter made him decide to film the pilot without a contract -- a decision he soon regretted.
"We don't pull any punches on this show, we pretty much tell things as they are," he said. "I can't play with my physicality. I'm basically acting with 13 inches of my body -- like, my head to the bottom of my neck, and my fingers a little bit -- and that's scary as an actor."
But Qualls soon realized Legit was something special. FX asked him to come on as a series regular, a big improvement for Billy. as the character was initially supposed to die after four episodes. Qualls committed and hasn't looked back since, calling Legit his biggest challenge in a long while.
"I've done so much stuff in this that really pushed me beyond my comfort zone, and I'm really happy and really proud of it. Even if this show were to fail, I'm so proud of myself for having the balls to do this and be this vulnerable," he said. "I read an early review the other day and I thought I'm finally getting my props as an actor, and it makes me feel so good."
Bakkedahl also said he’s stretching himself as an actor, as Steve – of all the characters, even Billy – is more tragic than he is comic: His marriage has fallen apart, and he's stuck in a rut in his life, none of which was caused by anything bad he did.
"The storyline of Steve is that of that kitten with the last nail stuck in the sofa trying to drag it across the room to his own will and not acknowledging that the game is over," Bakkedahl said. "The wife is gone, the kid is gone, you lost. And it's not that he's a bad guy, it's not that he was a philanderer, it's not that he didn't bring home the bacon; it just didn't work. But he does not give up on that."
He continued, "I think the beauty of someone like Jim and what Peter brings to it as well is they find a way to look at even the darkest situation and say, 'Well, there's comedy in everything, it's really just about timing.'"
That's not to say there aren't comic moments in Legit. It's just that the comedy is matched by a "rawness," as the show's cast members like to describe it. Although it is different from Louie in many ways, it's clear that Legit is trying to reach the same emotional levels while also being vulgar and hilarious.
"We wanted to have it dark and everything, but balancing the comedy -- I think it's all funny. I don't know," Jefferies said. "I don't know what the target audience for this show is, but I like it, and I hope that there's other guys like me or girls like me, and I hope that people dig it. I'm very proud of what we've done."
Whether Legit succeeds is yet to be seen, but it's clear the cast had a blast making the first 13 episodes. Sonya Eddy plays Billy's nurse Ramona, and all she could talk about on the red carpet was how excited she is for the world to see her "sexy" scene in what she thinks will be Episode 5.
"Y'all going to be like, 'Oh, my God.' I had a ball. I was like, 'Let's go for it,' because it's always the little skinny girls that get to run around and be half naked. I never get to do that. I was like, 'Oh, I get to let my freak flag fly, what?' I was like, 'I'm in!'" she said. "They get raunchy. That's the thing that I love about this show: The raunch factor is high, the craze factor is high. The shock, the rawness of it, is definitely up there, but we meet it with heart as well, and that's what takes the sting out of something that somebody might necessarily be offended by."
Mindy Sterling plays the mother of Steve and Billy, and while her character is "appalled by everything that is going on," the actress sees the merits of Legit and Jefferies. In particular, she said she likes the way the family unit is dissected in the series because she feels it's an honest portrayal of the way people deal with problems in real life.
Then there's Ginger Gonzaga, who isn't in the first three episodes but gets introduced later on as Peggy, Jim's girlfriend/booty call (depending who you ask). Although her character easily could be drawn as a mean caricature of women, Gonzaga said she's happy with the way Peggy is portrayed by Jefferies and O'Fallon.
"Jim and Peter, I think they're actually really good at writing for women, which is rare for male comedy writers," she said. "The boys get to have so much fun, I was intrigued by how much I actually got to play."
The general consensus from the cast is that, regardless of whether Legit thrives during its first season -- and judging by its first few episodes, it does seem like it will fit in well with FX's other comedies -- they're all really proud of the work they've done. If this is the direction the network is heading after Louie, then it's definitely an edgy and exciting one.
"I think [FX has] a very distinct brand of comedy," Bakkedahl said. "The same way a kumquat is in an orange family, so is a grapefruit, you know? We're the grapefruit. A little more bitter, and a lot bigger."
Legit premieres tonight at 10:30 ET/PT on FX.