The adage "You just had to be there" definitely applied during Comic-Con International, when the creators and stars of the surrealist Adult Swim black comedy The Heart, She Holler took the stage.
Executive producers John Lee and Alison Levy along with stars Patton Oswalt, Amy Sedaris and Heather Lawless fielded questions during a panel moderated by Kristen Schaal. Lee announced Cartoon Network had picked up the show for another season and treated the audience to a sneak peek of an upcoming episode.
Premiering in 2011, The Heart, She Holler follows the uncomfortable saga of the Heartshe family, mostly focusing on the sibling rivalry between Hurlan (Oswalt), Hurshe (initially Schaal, but now Sedaris) and Hambrosia (Lawless). Thematically, it blends Southern Gothic drama, horror and public-access soap opera with hints of David Lynch -- in a good way.
As the lights darkened and the episode started, the crowd alternated between sounds of awe and disgust as Oswalt’s character, the damp, bucktoothed, man-child Hurlan Heartshe, milked the nectar of immortality from a supple teat growing from an old woman’s back. When his chubby hands couldn’t’ coax out a steady flow of viscous fluid, Oswalt wrapped his mouth around the nipple and began to suck -- loudly. Groans of appreciative disgust soon turned to howling laughter when Hurshe Heartshe, played by the incomparable Sedaris, began a quest for her game-quality mounted hymen to entice a man she hoped could help the Heartshe family recover from their financial hardships. To refrain from spoilers, I won’t elaborate on the rest except to say that the entire episode can be summed up in another adage: “What the hell did I just see?” In a good way, though.
Schaal began the discussion by asking Oswalt where he saw his character in five years. “In Congress,” he said. “They actually manage to make him dumber this season, so maybe brain-dead but still functional?”
She then turned to Lee, wondering how he and Vernon Chatman, series director and co-writer, came up with the show. “Regretfully, it came from Wonder Showzen," he said. "There was a segment called 'Horse Apples,' which was a parody of Hee Haw. We just love to write jokes for stupid people, and then we wanted to work with real people [instead of puppets]. We thought,'What a great thing to do. Let’s make this a nightmare!'”
Lawless then spoke on where she saw her character Hambrosia in five years. “Maybe, like, working at the mall," she said. "In a kiosk, or Chick-fil-A. Something like that.”
Levy was asked what her funnest day working on The Heart, She Holler had been so far. “I just like hanging out with these guys," she replied. "I like to see them have to deal with all of the torture they have to go through, especially with the clothes and the make-up.”
Schaal turned the panel over to audience questions, and Lee rewarded each participant with a T-shirt. To the delight of the panel, a Comic-Con staff member insisted that instead of throwing the shirts, Lee had to walk them out to each person.
“I brought a bunch of geodes I wanted to throw out to people," Oswalt joked. "Is that bad? Should I not?”
An audience member asked how the panelists convinced Adult Swim to pick up the show. “We sent a drawing to the network and then they gave us a bag of money,” Oswalt said. “That’s how television works.”
The next audience member asked how much of the show's dialogue is scripted, versus improvisation. “Its probably 99 percent what’s written in the script,” Lee explained. “Probably more things get cut out because of time than get improvised.”
Oswalt chimed in: “They also get cut out because you write stuff that we try to do and absolutely can’t make work! There was one thing you were trying to do with a walnut opening up in my hand. That took longer to shoot than anything because we could not get it to fall open.”
Lee shared that his favorite moment of improv from the show was Oswalt saying, “I don’t wanna get raped to death no more, it makes my tushy frown.”
“Take that, Mamet,” Oswalt replied.
The questions continued, with the panelists asked what the line between “gross” and “funny” is, and what was the worst thing each actor had to tackle.
“I had to hold a gun to multiple pregnant bellies of mine,” said Schaal, who appeared in Season 1.
“I had to eat the guts out of an animal," Oswalt said. "Remember how fun that was? I also sucked the spinal-fluid teat of an old woman.”
“I got gutted by a real knife,” Lawless said. Lee commented that Lawless often had the worst make-up for her character. In the end, the panelists agreed that grosser is always funnier.
Oswalt was asked if he had any plans to work on other Adult Swim properties. “I just go back and forth between whatever is interesting," he said. "The Heart, She Holler has by far the most interesting script I’ve read. I like that the entertainment industry seems to be collapsing because they’re getting desperate, and it feels like Hollywood in the late '60s and early '70s. It’s more fun for people like us."
The panelists discussed their comedic influences. Lawless shared that she is always scared in life. “I’m always on the fence of being terrified and thinking that the other option is to laugh my way through it. The show is very scary to me, so I find it very funny and enjoyable and horrifying.”
The final question was from the father of a fan of the show, whose son had texted him to tell the panel how awesome the show was. Lee called the man up to the stage so he could respond to the text.
After several moments of typing, Lee announced, “I just wrote, ‘Fuck you, I’m not your real dad.’”
Season 2 of The Heart, She Holler premieres this fall on Adult Swim.