Chozen is a new animated series on FX that premieres on January 13, 2014. We were invited to be part of a conference call interview with series creator, executive producer, and writer Grant Dekernion and series star Bobby Moynihan who voices the lead role of “Chozen.” Below is an edited version of that interview.
Question Was it difficult trying to get someone to take a chance with something that’s kind of off-the-wall or not your standard TV show let’s say?
Grant This is Grant. I guess I can hit that real quick. Surprisingly, when it came to FX, it wasn’t difficult. I mean, that’s what they’re known for. They are known for taking chances, and they are known for doing programming that’s kind of unique and groundbreaking, and this is the place myself and the producers always pictured the show as having a chance to live.
So we went there with high hopes and our high hopes were met. They were very excited and very invested, and we were really fortunate in finding a home on the place where I think the show has the greatest chance to make an impact.
Question Bobby, did you have to audition or were you involved at the beginning with the process, or how did it come about for you?
Bobby I’m actually a gay white rapper cartoon in real life, so it just worked out really good. No, I got an email saying, “Would you like to put yourself on tape for this,” and they had one of the little character descriptions—the drawings of what they look like—and they said Method Man was involved and I said, “Yeah, I don’t want to do anything more in my life than this.”
Question Bobby, how did you came up with the voice for “Chozen”?
Bobby I know it sounds weird to say, but it’s a voice I’ve been doing all my life. I feel like I know a lot of people that sound like “Chozen,” and when I saw the drawing and read Grant’s script—the character is so well-defined already that all I had to do was come in and talk and have a good time. So I felt like it was something I had inside me already.
Question So there wasn’t anything about this character that you added? You just stuck with Grant’s script?
Bobby We do some improvising. Me and Grant will go back and forth, or he’ll have a line and I’ll add to it, or he’ll say, “No. Try this,” and I think it’s a good mix between the writing on the show is pretty wonderful, so I like to let them do that, but when we’re doing the recording sometimes something new will come up or something very dirty, and then I beg Grant not to put it in, and he does, and I was wrong, and it’s very funny.
Question Grant, how did you come up with the concept for the show?
Grant I had always wanted to do a show—I knew I wanted to do a show involving music and the struggle to be a musician, and I’ve loved hip-hop my whole life, so I just started thinking about it. Then I also wanted to create a character that I’d never seen before on TV, and I think “Chozen” fits that bill.
There’s a lot of interesting things you have with “Chozen.” Here’s a guy who’s coming out of jail; here’s a guy who’s trying to take his life back. So to me it’s a different kind of—it’s like a delayed coming-of-age story a little bit, and I thought that would be a fun way to kind of get into a type of story that’s been told a few times but in a different way.
Question In terms of comedy writing, can you talk about parody versus original concepts? For example, your “Snookie” impression was hilarious.
Bobby Thank you.
Question It was a great pop-culture parody at the time.
Bobby She’s not a real person is she?
Question Whereas “Drunk Uncle” and “Anthony Crispino” are original characters that you created, but yet they remind us all of someone we know. They have those essential human truths in them. So for you guys, what’s the difference in writing these two types of characters and stories, and where does Chozen fall in that kind of area, range?
Grant Oh boy. I think Chozen in my mind and the way the writers work with him, he’s a very real person to me. I don’t think he’s a parody of anybody or a parody of any idea. I know people like him—maybe not exactly like him—but there are traits about him that are familiar to me and, I think, familiar to Bobby as well.
Within the show I do think we do have some fun with—there is some parody in our show of whether it’s famous people or ideas or things like that. It’s always a fun place to get jokes and kind of get a tentacle out into the real world because we’re in a cartoon world. So I think we do a little bit of both, but I think “Chozen” is wholly unique and in my mind wholly real and original to himself.
Bobby To be honest, it reminds me the most of “Kenny Powers” on Eastbound & Down. It’s like “Kenny Powers” is a real person. The way people talk about that is like he’s a real person, and hopefully they’ll do the same about “Chozen.” It’s like this guy is a loose cannon lunatic, but he’s actually a pretty good person with a good heart, and it’s an amazingly fun character to play because there is this—it’s so insane and so off-the-wall but there is this groundedness [sic] to him, and there is this kind of own life philosophy that he has that I will say since I’ve gotten the show I have actually had the thought in real life of like, “I need to act more like this “Chozen” dude,” because he gets what he wants, and he gets results. He may go about in a weird way, but it’s a very well fleshed-out character, and that’s one of my favorite parts about it.
Question How do you find that line between the dark sides of him—he literally wants to rape men—and then the good side of him?
Bobby I think he just wants love from anywhere, and whatever he wants he’s going to take just because that’s how he’s learned how to do things. But that fine line, I don’t know. I think one of the best parts about it is that we can kind of dance on that line, and there are times when you can take it over the line, and there are times where you don’t need to, and I think it’s a good balance between the two on Chozen.
There are some lines when I watch it I cringe because I can’t believe I said that, but then, coming out of “Chozen’s” mouth, it seems completely perfect.
Grant I think it’s important to recognize too since “Chozen” in the real world—he is making an effort, albeit a backwards effort, to try to figure out how to relate to people. So you will see him try to develop a relationship, try to be in a relationship, and it isn’t all about some forced thing with them. It’s that mind trying to figure out, “Okay how do I participate in a give-and-take,” and that’s obviously a struggle for him a little bit.
Bobby There’s a line in the second episode where “Chozen” wanders into an LGBT meeting and immediately screams, “Where’s the dick at?” I believe?
Bobby It’s completely just out of—that’s just how he knows—that’s what he does, and that’s how he knows. They’re asking him questions about if he’s bisexual or not, and he just says, “Stop trying to label me. I’m just ‘Chozen.’ Like, I’m a sex person.” Like he just does what he wants to do and lives his life.
Question I’ve read that Chozen launched a fight against misogyny and homophobia in rap lyrics. Is Chozen a show with a message hidden within the comedy?
Grant I wouldn’t say so. I do think there are some ideas and messages that may be touched upon, but we write the show. The show is about one person and about one person’s experience, so it’s not—it has nothing to do with politics or anything like that. Just because of the nature of the character and the way he goes about things certain things could hit people in a certain way, but that’s nothing intentional that we do from our end.
Bobby I see it as it’s a show about a man and his relationship with his friends and his sister, and he just happens to be a gay white rapper also.
Question What do you hope viewers kind of take away from the show?
Grant I’ll go first. I hope they have some laughs. I hope they can connect with the characters. I hope they can laugh. I hope they can invest in the struggles and the wins and losses of all these great people we have on the show and they’ll jump on for the ride.
Bobby As far as an animated comedy goes, to me it’s not like Family Guy which is just joke after joke. It’s more of a story about this guy’s life, and I hope that people want to see where he goes in his life, and I hope they continue to watch it so they can find out.
Question Grant, if you just read the premise of your show it sounds like it could’ve gone either way in terms of how it’s done, animation or live action. Did you think about doing this as a live-action show for FX, and how different is this from other animated work you’ve done?
Grant One of those questions is a really quick answer: I haven’t done animated work prior to this. So this is my first foray into animation, and when we got the concept of the show going and the idea of the show, myself and the other producers we just thought it was a natural fit to try to do something with animation.
We wanted to do an animated show that was perhaps a little more grounded than a lot of animated shows, and there are things we can do with animation that we couldn’t do with live-action. Mainly we can go inside people’s heads inside their dreams. You could shoot that live, but it would be prohibitively expensive and time-consuming, so we thought animation was a good fit.
Question Given that this is your rookie experience in animation, how did you work out the process? How did you work out diving into this world?
Grant It’s really an ongoing—I’m still kind of getting an education on the whole process. We were fortunate enough to get to work with Floyd County, who is the animation company behind Archer, and the guys over there have decades of experience in creating animated television, and they really took us under their wing and showed us their process which is very unique in the animated world. There’s no other studio making content the way FloydCounty makes it.
So we really got a crash course in here’s how you do things, and we just jumped in feet first, and we’ve been learning every day since. I think we’ve about got it figured out, but it’s a very complex process.
Question Have you heard of Big Dipper? He’s an overweight white gay rapper in Chicago.
Bobby You’re not going to believe this: That’s my father.
Question There you go. I didn’t know if you had heard of him before making the show or after?
Bobby I actually haven’t heard of him before, but he sounds wonderful.
Grant I hadn’t heard of him, however—
Bobby He is going to love this show.
Grant As soon as the show was announced or something, all of a sudden I heard of him real quick because I think—I don’t know, he said, “This show is about me,” or something like that, and so then I became familiar with him.
Bobby What’s his name again?
Question Big Dipper.
Bobby I’m going to have to look this up.
Question Do you guys have LGBT consultants about the show, or where do you get some of your info from, because it’s really funny.
Grant I don’t know if I’d use the term consultants, but we have a very diverse staff on every level of the show from the creative staff to producers to the studio, so we have voices in the process represented. We definitely have had many people help us out whenever we’re in need of knowledge, but they’re part of the process
Question What was it like having Method Man in the booth rapping lines he had written, and did he ever offer any constructive criticism from the booth?
Grant It was interesting. I’ve only done a few rap things with Meth, but the main one we did, he was actually in Norway at the time. So we were over this wire, and I had written this pitch for what he would rap, and obviously he’s the pro—he can feel free to mess with it if he likes. But it was a little bit surreal him saying, “Okay, well play me what you’ve got,” and he hears it and he’s like, “Uh, okay,” and then he does it his own way.
Probably the funniest part is we had all these lyrics in mind, and he liked them, so he’s like, “Yeah lets go with this.” And it took me literally an afternoon of editing to be able to get a demo of what this could sound like, and I think Method Man did it in one breath in about 32 seconds. So it’s been really great, and we’re going to be working with him tomorrow.
He’s been very collaborative, and he’s always open to throwing in his own flavor and switching things around and just in general making them better. So it’s been really cool.
Question Are we going to see any other guest rappers or any other big voices that we should be looking forward to?
Bobby The rap debut of Kathy Bates is going to happen. No, I would—I don’t know. I hope so. I hope some guys see it and want to do it, that would be wonderful.
Grant We don’t have anyone locked up just yet, but that’s something we definitely want to try to do.
Question Is there any wish list or anything like that?
Grant It really depends. You have to figure out what the character needs to be like first, and then you can just take your pick of great rapper that would fit that.
Bobby Grant, you don’t know this yet, but I would like to do an episode where you meet “Chozen’s” mom and the voice is just DMX.
Grant That would be amazing.
Question We’ve seen shows in the past like Metalocalypse eventually turning into a touring band. Could you see Chozen following that path?
Grant I don’t know about that one. You know, I think we do a great job making these songs for the show, but it is—I’m not a pro rap-performing artist. I do the best I can, and it does take probably a bit more production on our end to get stuff done than it would if we had someone with the skills of Method Man or whoever doing it every week. So I don’t know if it would lend itself quite to that, but I’ve actually seen Metalocalypse the band, and I’m a huge fan.
Question Bobby, you’re also on Saturday Night Live, can you talk a little bit about balancing your work on Chozen as well as fronting Saturday Night Live as well?
Bobby To be honest it’s not hard at all. Even during the show week it’s pretty easy. The recording studio is two blocks away from SNL. I’ll go run and do that and then run back to SNL. It’s not as hard as you would think.
The hours at SNL are pretty insane, but it’s nice to be able to run across the street and act like an idiot for an hour, and then run back and act like an idiot for seven hours.
Question Today’s news is that SNL just hired the first African-American comedian in seven years. Bobby, have you heard anything about it, or have you talked about it, or have you met her?
Bobby I know Sasheer from Upright Citizens Brigade, so I was very happy. She’s a very, very—we’re very, very lucky to have her, and she’s a very talented girl. So I’m excited for her to be on the show and for America to see her. I think she’s great, and I think it’s a great addition.
Question Grant, you talked about developing a show about somebody up-and-coming in the music business. What was specific about rap and hip-hop that made you go with that instead of maybe rock or pop or dance or whatever?
Grant I grew up in bands. I grew up in rock bands, and then I did some work in the rap game as it were, and I thought that the rock-band story has been told, it’s been told really well more than a few times, and in the rap world there have been a couple of movies about it, but there hasn’t been any TV.
It’s also just really the practicality—writing a show about a rock band and then having to create original full-band rock songs. That’s a very difficult thing to do. You know, it’s really just—to me hip-hop is fun. It’s interesting. Hip-hop is pop culture now, and I thought there were a lot of fun things we could do in that world, so it seemed to make sense in that regard.
Question Bobby, what was your favorite album of 2013?
Bobby Maybe Eminem’s album. I don’t buy a lot of albums anymore. I listened to the same five albums I’ve listened to my entire life, so my favorite album for 2014 was “Ready to Die” by Notorious B.I.G.
Grant My favorite album? I’m blanking on the name of the album, but the artist’s name is Action Bronson. He’s awesome. He’s this big white rapper dude from New York who sounds just like Ghostface Killah. He was like a professional chef, and he raps about gnarly stuff and food.
Question “Chozen” is such a walking contradiction, he’s a real person. He can go off like a bomb in one scene and then tell someone very sincerely, “Respect yourself.” How do you figure out the balance between all the various sides of his personality and how far you can push in any of the directions he gives you to play with?
Bobby The characters are so well realized and so well written that—and I come from an improv background, so I just come in—the one thing I know when I’m doing “Chozen” is that whatever “Chozen” is doing at that exact moment is the only thing he’s thinking about, and he will do it until he’s conquered it. So if that means one second trying to get a boyfriend and the next second trying to make his sister feel better about herself then that’s just how it is, and then he moves on to the next thing that he wants very badly.
It’s just such a real character to me and very—the way Grant wrote it and the way that the writers write it is just—it’s very easy to do. It’s very easy to play.
Question Grant, could you talk a bit about where “Chozen’s” crew came from and how you’re developing his relationship with his sister?
Grant Well his crew, these are guys he’s known since he was in grammar school. So these are all buddies of his from the neighborhood, and as the season goes on we do kind of see a little bit more of them and their formation and things like that. So they’ve known each other forever, and when he gets out of jail they just kind of pick back up where they left off.
As far as his sister, she was kind of a default crash pad for him, and I do think their relationship—that’s one of my favorite parts of the show. I feel like she has this kind of animal living with her that she has to deal with, and she’s pretty responsible, and she’s pretty sharp gal. But you know, it’s obvious there is love there. It’s obvious—well it’s not obvious he appreciates everything she does, but I think he does.
It’s important to realize this person has been in jail for ten years, and anyone who comes out of jail is a little bit of an alien, is a little bit of a man out of place and out of time, and I think “Tracy” is the one person that really understands him beyond all the bluster and can kind of ground him every time.
Bobby The pilot episode is a lot about how “Chozen” got where he is and how he’s just gotten out of jail, and then the second episode revolves around “Chozen” trying to find out if this guy that’s dating his sister is cheating on her, and that’s one of my favorite things. He just got out of jail; he’s trying to do all this stuff; but he’s got to take a break real quick to make sure this guy is not messing with his sister. He’s a human being. He cares about people.
Question Grant, you spoke about having some rap music background. Can you talk a little bit about your background in general as far as music and writing—writing non-music as far as—both types of writing.
Grant Oh, sure.
Bobby Grant, you were originally in Parliament Funkadelic, right?
Grant I was. Yes. I was in Tony! Toni! Tone! as well.
Bobby That’s right. You were.
Grant As far as my music writing, I just started playing music as a kid and was in various types of bands all through college and after college and played a little bit and toured a little bit and got tired of it, and then the writing didn’t start really until about six and a half years ago when I saw my friends who had been writing and working at it—I saw their lifestyle, and I saw it was tough, but I saw how great it was when you could make something and see it happen whether it’s a play or a YouTube video or something like that. So I started writing creatively, which is something I did for myself but never in a format for a script or a TV or movie or anything like that.
I just worked on that, and then I got a break on Eastbound & Down. I got a chance to work on that, and then I did a lot of set writing and rewriting on that. I really cut my teeth there and learned the game as it were, and after that I just started getting this idea together as best I could, and lo and behold it happened to work. So that’s a brief history of a short career.
Question Given that the show is about rap music which is sort of an African-American world sort of thing, and then being gay and all these things that you’re touching on. Are you concerned at all or does anyone who’s connected with the project have any concerns about white straight guys doing the show?
Grant I have no concerns. The way I write the show is I write the show and I don’t even consider any of that. I don’t consider sexuality. I don’t consider color. I don’t consider any of any of it because I don’t think it’s germane to the characters. I don’t think it’s important, and I think that’s the most fair way to write a person.
Some people might not be into the subject matter. Maybe some things aren’t for them, and that’s totally fine, but I do think the show is wholly relatable to anyone and everyone, and I think everyone can get something out of it.
Bobby Twenty years ago it might have been a little shocking. But now, one of my favorite parts about the show is it does feel like, to me, a story about a guy and his friends, and he happens to be a gay white rapper. It’s not like that’s what drives him a lot of the times, but it’s written so well that it just comes across to me as—I feel like 20 years ago you’d be like, “Who is this guy?” and now I feel like there’s probably 100 “Chozens” running around on this block in New York City right now where I am, you know? There are a lot of people like “Chozen” who are just living their lives. It’s not really that crazy of a thing anymore.
Question Bobby, I’m curious about writing for SNL, about working there—trying to get sketches that you’ve written on the air—and I’m also curious when Seth Meyers leaves who actually is going to be the head writer and how you think it—
Bobby I’m glad you asked: It’s you. Congratulations. No, writing on SNL is a crazy process. As cast members we’re all expected to write. Sometimes it’s harder for the cast to get sketches on. If you see something where a cast member is talking a lot, it’s a good chance that they are probably the ones that wrote it. You have to kind of write for yourself on that show.
I’ve been lucky enough to get some stuff on that I’ve written, and you always feel much more in control of it, but also another amazing thing about SNL is walking in and some writer hands you some really brilliant piece of work that they’ve written, and then you get to perform it. So either way you win.
I think I’m more of a performer than I am a writer. I feel like SNL has taught me to be a much better writer, so that alone has helped. As far as what’s going to go on when Seth goes, they don’t tell me anything. I have no idea.
Question And why does Taran Killam get to play all the sexy-guy roles now and not you?
Bobby I let him do it because he needs it, you know? I mean, if I had a dollar for every sexy guy I’ve played in TVs and movies, I wouldn’t have a single dollar. But no, Taran is the perfect straight man. He’s kind of taken over for Jason, and he does it really well where he can—he’s so talented and can do anything. Taran gets to play all the sexy roles; I get the play all the weird looking ladies. So we all play our roles.
Question Everybody wins I guess.
Bobby Yeah, I’m just happy to have a job.