Actress and comedian Rachael Harris, who will be guest-starring in an upcoming episode of Childrens' Hospital, has been everywhere. She was a correspondent for the Daily Show, she appeared in The Hangover last summer, she has even been in a CollegeHumor short. She is Ben Joseph's secret comedy crush.
Were you familiar with Childrens’ Hospital before it became an Adult Show?
Sounds like a good time.
It was really just the atmosphere. It was so fun. Everybody is just trying everything, and there’s no ego. All day, it was, “OK, that doesn’t work let’s try something else.”
So it’s a pretty improv-friendly set?
Do you prefer that loose improvisational feel to some of the more scripted things you’ve done?
I like them both. Honestly. One is really great because you have to bring yourself to what is already written, and make that work. And the other one, there's just a little more pressure when you’re improvising, because you have to come up with funny, and if it doesn’t work it’s your fault.
You can’t blame the writers.
Right. If the writing isn’t necessarily good, you do get to that place where you say, “I’ve done it eighteen different ways and it still doesn’t work.” But at the same time, it can be scary to improvise with people you don’t know, because there’s so much trust involved. You think, “They may not get my sense of humor,” or “They may not get that I’m joking,” and it’s a little bit more tentative. If you’re improvising you want to be with people you really know and trust.
You came up through The Groundlings. Does that training carry over to the improv work you do in television and film?
Definitely. Groundlings, at its most basic, trains you to be instantly enthusiastic with what is being presented. You know that if somebody is improvising something with you, you agree with it immediately. It’s the basic principal of “Yes, And…”
On a show like Curb, maybe this is my opinion, but [Larry David] has more of a structured outline, where as with Reno 911 it’s a little looser, more of a sense of, “Who knows where it’s going to go?” They’ll say, “This is the scene, we would kind of like to go here, but let’s play with it.”
Do you think there’s an expectation in comedy now that all actors will be able to improvise?
I think there is an assumption that, when you’re an improv actor, that you are just going to come in and make it your own. And if you’re working on a show that is definitely an improv show, that’s fine, you go in with that intention. But when you go in with something scripted, and then they say, “You know what, just make it better,” then I think I should get writing credit.
The other side of that, I imagine, is that improv can be frustrating for a writer.
And I would never assume that they want me to improvise a line, unless they tell me to do so. Which is the danger now, people going in and paraphrasing what these writers have spent hours getting right. You have to first do what is written on the page, and then if they want you to add, they need to invite you to do that. It’s not a given that you can make it your own.
What do you think of the Internet as a medium for producing and developing comedy?
I love it. It depends on what your goal is, and for me, I just wanted to do funny bits with my friends. To make it for ourselves, and see if other people think it's funny. But in terms of developing something, Childrens' Hospital is a perfect example of something that started as a web series and became so popular that now it’s on Adult Swim. Previously, you couldn’t spread something like this unless you put it on VHS and passed it around. Now people can just pull it up from their living room. It's so much more immediate.
A web short is also not a big risk. At most, it's a few days of your time.
That’s true. It’s not a big risk, but it is there forever. What happened early on with Funny or Die is that I was treating it like a Groundlings sketch. With the Groundlings you can do a bad sketch, and it doesn’t go up the next week. But after we did a couple things for Funny or Die we were like “Oh God, this will go on forever, this will never go away.”
That’s interesting. It’s something that feels very disposable but is actually very permanent.
It’s totally risky. And I’m sure there are people with awful videos of them at their worst moments, and that will be there forever. The Internet has made us all very paranoid. You just can’t be as reckless anymore.
You’re talking creatively reckless, right? Not personally reckless
Both. I think it really has changed the way people live their lives.
Just from meeting you, I would say you are not living the lifestyle that some other people are living. Unless you hide it very well.
I’m going to say no comment. No, I’m definitely not a booze bag or a big partier, but I’m definitely not a snore either.