Starring a quartet of seasoned comedy veterans in David Alan Grier, Martin Mull, Vicki Lawrence and Leslie Jordan, the new Fox comedy “The Cool Kids” raised a few eyebrows as it entered this fall’s lineup. Once the proud incubator of edgier fare such as “The Simpsons,” the so-called “new Fox” of 2018 is betting on a retirement home sitcom led by actors who earned acclaim in boundary-pushing comedies from decades past.
Lawrence first rose to fame on “The Carol Burnett Show” in the ‘60s and ‘70s followed by “Mama’s Family” in the ‘80s. Mull satirized the talk show format with the absurdist “Fernwood 2 Night” before appearing in big-screen comedies such as “Mr. Mom” along with the initial run of “Roseanne.” A longtime, stand-up comic, Grier broke out as part of the boundary-pushing sketch series “In Living Color,” while the Memphis-born Jordan appeared in “The Help” as well as a host of TV comedies, including “Will & Grace,” “Murphy Brown” and “Ugly Betty.”
With its elder perspective, “The Cool Kids” admittedly shares traits with the revered NBC comedy “The Golden Girls.” But, sitting down at the Fox lot on a set decorated in what could be considered “senior living chic,” Lawrence considers her show “much sassier” than its predecessor. That could be expected, given the show’s creator, Charlie Day, is one of the forces behind the FX series “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” which has a history of testing the limits of TV comedy.
With the cast in costume for a shooting day, the actors talk about the series and riff about modern life in a way that might outpace the show.
Were you guys familiar with Charlie Day’s work before this?
Lawrence: I was not. I didn’t know Charlie at all. So I’ve been binge-watching “Sunny.” It’s hysterical.
Grier: But I also feel that for Charlie doing this — he’s younger, edgier, he’s not of this generation. So maybe that injects this with a different kind of energy. Because you know, old people writing for old people — it’d be more of like a whole episode of just comparing aches and pains.
Mull: This episode has a lot to do with cell phones and computers, both of which are totally alien to me.
Grier: You should show him our feed, there’s one where the three of us are going on and on, and finally Leslie goes, “Is Martin here?”
Lawrence: It was a group text; you’ve still not jumped in. That was a month ago.
Mull: Oh, god.
How much do you guys get to play with generational differences around social media and technology on the show?
Lawrence: I don’t think Charlie’s going to — he doesn’t want us to be old. He wants us to be with it. And crazy, and fun.
Grier: When my mom got up there, there was a lot of [sex] in that older community. They did everything young people did. It’s just older.
Lawrence: It’s high school.
Grier: It’s easy to get drugs because everybody’s hurting. Painkillers are no problem. Weed? My dad turned me on to medical marijuana. That’s really the tone of the show right now.
Mull: Also, when I wake up in the morning, I’m instantly aware that I’m driving a used car. I’m wearing hearing aids, I’ve got a titanium hip, I’ve got a lot of this [stuff]. But my brain still thinks I’m 35. And when I see a guy going down the street one mile-an-hour in his walker, I wonder is that son of a [gun] still thinking 35 and his body is ready for a box? The answer is probably yes.
So I think that’s what we’re concentrating on is even though it might take me a month to get across the room, while I’m doing that, I’m thinking 35. That’s the thrust: We still have young thoughts and issues.
Jordan: But we have spent eight hours with social media experts — kids — literally eight hours.
For the network?
Mull: I think eight weeks.
Grier: I’ve never felt older, by the way.
Lawrence: We did a photo shoot a few weeks ago in a huge studio, cement floors. At one point, they got us on the ground to recreate a publicity photo from “The Breakfast Club.”
Jordan: I was Molly Ringwald.
Lawrence: Yes, he sprawled on the ground. Martin’s on the left, I’m on the right. He’s behind, they go “Martin, can you pull your leg in slightly?”
Mull: And I go, no it doesn’t work.
Lawrence: Artificial hip doesn’t do that anymore. So they said, “Vicki, can you sit Indian fashion?” And I’m like, “No, no, new knee doesn’t do that.”
Jordan: (laughing) They said, “Martin, can you give us some more face?” He said, “I don’t have any more.”
Lawrence: They’re all young people; there wasn’t anybody there that was over 30. So they got their shot and they walked away, and it took us 20 minutes to get up.
Grier: That could’ve been the end of the show, right there.
All of you have been part of some foundational TV comedies in your careers. Has comedy changed in what you’re doing now?
Grier: In a way, it’s completely changed. I saw a special like [Hannah Gadsby’s] “Nanette,” which was a young Australian lesbian, which is basically a TED Talk with chuckles. Twenty, thirty years ago, that wouldn’t be comedy. I mean, that’s not what I watched. Those weren’t my mentors. So there’s a whole wave change in terms of younger comics just spilling their guts; it’s confessional. Everything has to be “real.”
Lawrence: But that’s also kind of the problem with comedy now too, don’t you think?
Mull: I grew up with people like Bob & Ray, where it was all about wit and timing. And, for instance, if I watch a “Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon,” and I remember the old “Tonight Shows” with Johnny Carson, they are totally different. With Fallon, it’s a Vegas show.
Grier: But don’t you think, like in the late ’60s there was a trend after the Smothers Brothers, [with] cool young comics. It was all political. That quickly became tiresome because that was the easy joke for that time. Everybody was doing it. So that led to a throwback like when Steve Martin came in and was totally absurdist. Ridiculous, apolitical.
Jordan: And this show’s a throwback.
Lawrence: I think this is going to be a half hour of “Just laugh because it’s silly.”