Comedians Dave Chappelle and Jim Breuer are hanging out on the Disney studio sound stage where their new ABC comedy “Buddies” is rehearsing its first episode. It’s been a long first week fine-tuning the show, but Breuer is bursting with energy while waiting to do the next scene. He sings out loud, he makes funny faces. He swings a pretend baseball bat, then a golf club, then he’s in the air for a pretend jump shot.
Meanwhile, Chappelle is flopped on the bed on the set that is his Detroit studio apartment. He spends the short break on his stomach, his lanky arms and legs outstretched.
Like the characters they play on “Buddies"--their alter egos Jim and Dave--the real Jim and Dave acknowledge the differences between them. As Chappelle puts it, “I’m more of the quiet lyricist. Jim, he’s got that physical thing.”
It was that very dynamic that led to the involvement of sitcom gurus Carmen Finestra, Matt Williams and David McFadzean. Between them they have co-created, produced and/or written the mammoth hits “Home Improvement,” “Roseanne” and “The Cosby Show.” And they saw the two young stand-up comics as a team that would work on a TV show.
“Jim is more emotive and expressive,” says Finestra, representing the triumvirate behind “Buddies.” “Dave likes to keep his cards low, which makes him very funny when he’s reacting to things.”
In fact, the whole show aims to celebrate the differences between the characters Jim and Dave, who happen to be best friends. Yes, they live in the same brick apartment building in Detroit and constantly visit each other through the fire escape. They run their video business together and can finish each other’s jokes. But Jim is married to the outspoken Lorraine, while Dave is not quite ready to tie the knot. Jim’s a risk taker and Dave’s a worrier. Jim is white and Dave is black.
“We wanted to do a show that would work on several different levels. We’d have an interracial comedy where we could have two guys who are friends and celebrate the differences. And we had always wanted to do a show about a newlywed couple and how having a friend outside of that affects things,” Finestra explains.
If the interracial comedy idea sounds familiar, Finestra insists their take on it is fresh. “What makes this different is that we’re not in anybody’s face. We deal with racism in a way that I think is more real. Many people have an innocent racism where they have very stereotypical attitudes which they don’t think are offensive or harmful,” he says. “We’re punching little pins in the balloons of those people, without making big political statements like Archie Bunker did.”
The racist attitudes on the show will come from Maureen, a.k.a. the White Trash Queen, who is Jim’s mother-in-law. “Give me a lawn chair and a highball, and I’m home,” actress Judith Ivey, playing Maureen, says with a syrupy drawl during rehearsal.
When Dave comes into Jim’s apartment through the fire escape for a surprise visit, Maureen recoils: “Don’t hurt me, the stereo’s over there.” Jim comes to his best friend’s side and explains that Maureen met Dave at his wedding.
“Oh, he was the one clearing the dishes,” Maureen says.
“No, he was the best man,” Jim answers.
The flip side to Maureen is Dave’s cantankerous father (played by Richard Roundtree), who doesn’t want his son to be in business with Jim, or rather, “Casper.” His motto: “black owned, black operated.”
“Those two embody extreme attitudes from the different sides of black and white, but in a way that’s fun and not necessarily confrontational,” says Finestra.
But the producers don’t want the racial elements of the show to take over. “I think we’d love the audience to get to the point where they don’t really think about Jim and Dave as being black and white....”
The honest friendship between the two characters is Chappelle’s favorite part of the show. “We understand each other. That’s what I really, really adore. But I don’t think the racial issue can be ignored, because it’s something that’s so real to me.”
Breuer can also relate easily to his character. “It’s very close to home. With me and my real wife, it’s the exact same thing as me and my wife on the show, Lorraine. Lorraine is amused by his humor ... but she has to put him in his place every once in a while.”
The two guys seem pretty confident about their first show. Breuer mugs a bit, saying: “Yeah, we’re gonna knock ‘Home Improvement’ on its ... “
“Buddies” is a major break for both of them. “A dream come true,” says Breuer, 27, who like Chappelle, 21, has spent several years on the comedy circuit despite his tender age. Fittingly, the two were good friends before they were cast on the show.
In fact, “Buddies” was actually designed around the guys. The producers were first approached to do a spinoff of “Home Improvement” but weren’t interested. Instead, they were looking for new talent. They saw tapes of Chappelle and Breuer--and “Buddies” was born. The Jim and Dave characters were introduced to America during a “Tool Time” segment on “Home Improvement” when Tim gave them tips on how to deal with women.
And they’ll probably need a little more help. Like Jill on “Home Improvement,” “Buddies” features strong female characters in Lorraine (Ari Meyers) and Phyllis (Tanya Wright), who is Dave’s headstrong girlfriend.
Indeed, the producers have taken other cues from their past successes in creating “Buddies,” such as using stand-ups to star. After all, it worked with the Cos, Roseanne and Tim Allen.
And like their other hits, the creators say “Buddies” has a positive, uplifting spin. “We try to write people who basically feel optimistic about their future and their lives,” Finestra says. “This show will be bolder than the other shows we’ve done, because of the racial aspect, but it will embody the same spirit of humanity.”
“Buddies” premieres Tuesday at 9:30 p.m. on ABC.