The Characters Episode 3: Henry Zebrowski
Netflix gave Henry, Ed Larson, and I cart blanche in creating a half hour comedy special centered around the many characters of Henry Zebrowski. When we sat down to write it, we wanted to do more than just shove together a collection of randomly assorted sketches. We wanted to tell a story, a morality tale if you will, about a guy who comes to terms with his own ego through a past life regression that gives him insight into the man he has become. Also, we wanted a dick-sucking squid in there somewhere. These were life goals that we thought would never be accomplished. Ed and I are credited as Lead Consultant on the special, and we wore many hats much like the floating heads in the image below.
We took some of the classic characters that Henry has played through the years (Naked Patrick, Peppers, Riff Raff) and added some new ones into the mix (namely the Middle Eastern food kart guy Jamji) and conveyed a story of sketches with a through-line. Netflix gave us fantastic notes and allowed us to keep some things that we never thought would make it to air. I even wrote my own show bible in which I linked the souls of the different characters in each timeline a la Cloud Atlas. For me, each character symbolizes a catalyst for the evolution of our main character's soul evolution. It was important for me to endow every single ridiculous aspect of our special with a deeper meaning that one might discover though multiple viewings.
From the moment we hit the set, the director on the project, Andrew Gaynord, turned to myself and Ed for feedback and had us communicating with the actors, especially Henry, with performance notes. Andrew was an absolute pro and a joy to work with. He was incredibly open to feedback and opinions on the takes and especially welcomed any jokes we had to toss out to Henry as we went. It was an incredible thrill to get to have a toe dipped into the directing without having to, you know, do all the hard stuff that comes with it. I can't take credit for any of that.
I had the opportunity to perform several roles in the special ranging from a corny Tourist Husband to Buddy Holly to Creepy Guy (okay, that one came naturally) and it was a real joy to do. I was also the squid. That was my hand. It was...interesting. Essentially, we had this guy there who was a real pro puppeteer. He had worked with Henson and everything. However, the shoot was running behind schedule as shoots do and he had to roll out due to union rules. That's when they turned to me. I had to man up to the task of using my hand shoved awkwardly into this squid puppet then squeezed between Henry's supple thighs in order to gyrate on his crotch for what seemed like an endless amount of takes. It was as painful as one might imagine, but I did it only on the grounds that I got a puppeteer credit.