Just days away from the premiere of the third season of the Sarah Silverman Program, Steve Agee — one half of the most dynamic gay couple on television — gets deep about reality television, Twitter and his dramatic shift in the popular Comedy Central series.
Steve Agee is best known as half of the gay couple that lives across the hall from Sarah Silverman in The Sarah Silverman Program. He also worked a decade in reality television (including on Temptation Island and The Osbournes), then became a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live and later a writer/director/actor in his own online work on Funny or Die and Channel 101, including his most recent (on Atom.com), the Berry/Agee Experiment, with English comic Matt Berry.
On Silverman’s show, Agee, along with his TV lover Brian Posehn, smokes a lot of pot (including once with God), plays a lot of video games, and gets into a variety of domestic spats, only to adorably and hilariously make nice by the end of the episode.
In a strange way, he’s the moral center of a show that delights in pointing out how stupid it is for TV shows to have moral lessons at all. Ahead of the third season premiere, Agee called to talk about the show, his time on reality TV, and his prolific Tweeting.
At the time of this interview, you have a mini Twitter war going with Todd Barry. [When Agee Tweeted “my new hip hop name is Tim. I will only answer to that,” Barry responded “Hi Tim. If you see Steve, can you tell him to shut the fuck up?” It’s escalated from there.]
It’s getting kind of intense. I don’t know that intense is a word used to describe Todd Barry a lot.
Intense is the last word I would use to describe Todd Barry. Todd and I are friends; we’ve known each other a long time. He started this. I don’t even know how or why he would do this, but of course, I played along. It’s weird. There are so many people on Twitter – I don’t know if they think it’s real or not – but they will take sides. I’ve blocked a few people for saying really shitty things about me. And, he’s had to do the same thing.
Do you feel any pressure on Twitter to entertain people with your Tweets?
Every now and then, I will start to write a Tweet, and it’s usually the Tweets where I’m trying to be funny, and about halfway through it, or just before I hit send, I can already tell how people are going to be replying. Sometimes, it’s annoying in my head, so I won’t even hit send. Umm. What was the question again?
There really wasn’t a question there. We should talk about Sarah Silverman, because, otherwise, I will talk endlessly about Twitter.
I could talk for hours about Twitter.
But, The Sarah Silverman Program is coming back, and it’s been gone for a while.
Yeah, our last episodes were in December of ’08. Our momentum is non-existent. But, this season is an epic season. The writers just went nuts. These episodes are like mini-movies. Some of the stories are absolutely crazy.
|The Sarah Silverman Program|
Your parts seem to be bigger in some of these episodes, especially the gay marriage one.
I think with that one, with the subject of Brian [Posehn] and I getting married, they had to put a little more screen time in there for us. There’s another episode later in the season, I can’t give away what happens in it, it’s pretty huge, but Brian and I are the A-story, we’re the focus of the episode, which is pretty huge for us.
As the show has gone on, do you feel like you’re getting more confident as an actor?
Definitely. For the episode I’m talking about, Rob Schrab, our director, actually sent me to an acting coach. It’s a really heavy episode. Kind of dramatic. It’s funny, but there’s definitely dramatic scenes in there. I’ve never done any kind of dramatic acting, so Rob said he’d send me to a coach. Sarah’s show is basically my first acting gig, so I was happy to take him up on that offer.
It seems strange that you and Brian play the most caring gay couple on television.
Especially because if you break down the stories in our episodes, we fucking fight a lot. Every now and then you’re like “Why the fuck are these two guys even together?” But, eventually, it ends with us very sweetly realizing we could never be with other people. We’re like two teddy bears.
It’s a strangely positive portrayal, which is weird, because in the whole rest of the show, no one ever learns anything, which is rare on TV.
Sarah’s character especially never learns any lesson at all. She’s borderline retarded. For some reason, that’s very endearing. You almost feel sorry for her. If any characters learn anything, it’s usually Brian and I, I guess. We learn what we already know…. which is that the other person is awesome.
|The Sarah Silverman Program|
I hate to take you back to working on reality TV, but I think you’d be a good person to ask about Jersey Shore. When you watch a show like that, can you enjoy it, or do you see all of the parts that go into making it? Or, is it just too miserable to watch?
I’ve never seen Jersey Shore. I can appreciate why it exists. I know why reality TV has lasted. I know why it’s never going to go away. It’s because people love watching train wrecks. People love that kind of shit, because it makes the viewer seem less crazy. You can watch and go, “Holy fuck. I am so glad my life is not like this.”
Reality shows have just come to the point where they’re casting people who are going to be controversial. They look for assholes, they look for despicable people, and the average viewer loves to watch that. I worked for almost 10 years in reality TV shows, so I’ve seen it all. I just don’t like watching it, not because it takes me back, but because it’s so tiring for me. I know those people are out there, I’ve known it for years, and I don’t need to be reminded of it. But, I’ll never say to one of my friends, “How can you watch that?” I know how they can watch it.
Do you think there’s a difference between the reality shows, like Temptation Island, where people are competing for a prize, versus something like Jersey Shore, where the prize is just being in the show?
A lot of these people do go on just for camera time. They have some weird mentality, and they think they’re going to be celebrities and make a lot of money. And, for the most part, they won’t. The people who make the money are the producers. They’re making so much money off of these people’s stupidity, and that’s kind of a bummer to me.
Have you wrapped up the Berry/Agee Experiment?
We only ever intended to do four videos for the Berry/Agee Experiment, because Matt and I are so busy. I look at Matt as a huge star. I honestly I got to do a web series with Matt Berry, because Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace is one of my favorite shows of all time. That show is brilliant. Rob Schrab and I were such huge fans of the show and of Matt Berry, and we just wanted to have him on Sarah’s show and Rob figured out a way to have it done. He came out to do an episode, and he and I really hit it off.
Matt’s also a musician, so when he went back to England, he wrote a dumb song about me and just e-mailed it to me. And, I first came to L.A. as a musician, so I have recording equipment in my house, so I recorded a dumb song about Matt. So, for no reason, for like a week straight, every day we would e-mail each other really horrible songs about the other person being really terrible. This was for no profit, for nothing, just to make each other laugh. I was pitching some shows to Comedy Central and nothing was sticking, and I mentioned these songs and played a few for them, and they were like, “This is great. Let’s do a documentary web series about you guys recording these songs.”
|The Sarah Silverman Program|
You Tweeted recently that you went on an audition but didn’t get the part. What was it?
It was for the lead in a sitcom. The character description was “an overweight Chicago cop.” I was supposed to be a fat guy. Like, I know I’m out of shape, and a little bit overweight, but I’ve never really thought I’m fat. I’ve looked in the mirror and thought, “Goddamn, I need to lose weight.” But, it was really a bummer to get this audition. So, I come in, and I meet the casting director, and she has me read the scenes, and she was laughing a lot. Afterwards, she was like, “That was great. You nailed it. The only problem is that you’re not fat.” My only response was “Thank you so much.” So, I’m not going to get it. But, I don’t mind.
It’s a very flattering rejection.
Exactly. And, that’s very rare.
The third season of The Sarah Silverman Program premieres this Thursday at 10:30 pm on Comedy Central. You can follow Steve Agee on Twitter at twitter.com/steveagee. The Berry/Agee Experiment is here.