Teachers: Two Katies Talk Comedic Humiliation, John Hughes Entrances and Group Support

By Carissa Pavlica at

If you haven't been watching Teachers on TV Land, use this as your reminder you should make time on your schedule (or DVR) to go back to class.

Six talented comedians have been doing their best impressions of teachers on the series of the same name, and watching is a little like eating potato chips. Once you watch, you can't stop.

The things that happen in Fillmore Elementary School we can only hope aren't representative of schools across North America today, but then again, maybe it would entice people into the profession...

The comedy troupe, the Katydids, consists of six ridiculously talented women and they're the masterminds behind Teachers. A little bit of themselves is poured into each of their characters, and Katie O'Brien (Ms. Bennigan) and Katie Thomas (Mrs. Adler) spent some time on the phone with me to chat about Season 2B.

How did you all determine which one of you would be which character on Teachers?

Katie O'Brien: Well, we actually all created our own individual characters when we wrote our web series. When we went to start writing we decided we were all going to kind of take one aspect of ourselves or who we used to be and blow it out and make it a little more heightened.

So we really all were responsible for our own characters and they grew into bigger versions of that as we moved on to making the TV show.

And whenever the story ideas are tossed out there for characters originally, now that it's not just individual characters that you're working on, does it sometimes take a while to determine which character's going to get the best idea?

Or is it still pretty singular that you each determine for your character what story idea is going to be the story art?

O'Brien: I think at this point we've worked together so much and we know these characters so well that any time a story area is thrown out or pitched we're kind of like, "Oh, Snap will do that," or, "Oh, Ms. Adler would do that." So I feel at this point we're such a well-oiled machine that we can zero in pretty quickly who's going to do what.

And we also write a lot for each other. So anytime something's pitched I feel like we all have a pretty good idea of who will do it just based on experience.

Kathryn Thomas: Just to add to that I think each of us has our own preference. I think some of us like writing for our own characters more than other characters and some of us prefer to write for the other character over yourself.

Why is that?

Thomas: That's a good question.

Is it harder to write for yourself sometimes? Or is it ...

O'Brien: I know that I don't like to write for myself. I have a really hard time with it, and I also feel like whatever another Katie will write for Ms. Bennigan will just be better than what I would've written for her.

I just really trust them, and I know that they're so creative and great that whatever they'll write for her will be better than whatever I would've written for myself anyways. But that being said, I really enjoy writing for other characters way more.

So I don't know, maybe it's just easier because you can see it clearer. Or I don't know why. But for some odd reason, I have a hard time writing for myself but love writing for other people.

Thomas: Yeah, I'm the same way. I think I prefer to write for the other characters. And maybe I like seeing what the others come up with for me to play with. I just think it's exciting; I really think these girls are brilliant and trust them like O'Brien said. And it's just fun to be challenged by the rest of the group.

Yeah, and because you live in your own skin all the time anyway. So, to have somebody else challenge you-

Thomas: Exactly.

... seems like a lot more fun. Almost like a...

Thomas: Yeah and also ... Oh, go ahead.

I was going to say almost like an improv. Like they're throwing ideas at you and then you just have to do it.

Thomas: Yeah, exactly. And I think that also because we based all these characters on a little piece of truth about ourselves, by this point ... And we started writing a web series in 2012, so we've been living with these characters for a long time.

So, for me I know I feel a little bit like, oh, I think I'm kind of cashed out of ideas for this character to some degree, so it's nice for other people to be generating that.

So it seems like "hot dad" for instance got tossed around a little bit before he landed in the lap of Ms. Bennigan. Was there ever an option of "hot dad" landing with one of the other characters before becoming an item with you, Katie?

O'Brien: You know what's funny is "hot dad" kind of started in the web series. Not the same "hot dad." The actor who plays "hot dad" now, his name is Ryan Caltagirone, and he's amazing.

But when we did the web series, Kaitlin Barlow ... I think it was Kaitlin, wrote a sketch about Ms. Bennigan being in a conference with a really hot dad, and so it kind of started in the web series. And I think just because I happened to be in that sketch at the time, it just stuck with Ms. Bennigan and it worked.

And then when we found Ryan when we were auditioning for "hot dad" we were like, "Oh my gosh, he's so wonderful and amazing." And so I feel like it just kind of always stayed with Bennigan honestly because it started there in the web series. But it would be interesting to see him passed around...

Like an object.

O'Brien: Yeah, like an object. I know we've totally objectified Ryan; it's so funny. On other shows, it's typically the women objectified and on this show we're like, "Just smile. Be beautiful." You know, he doesn't have a name, his name is "hot dad" with no name. So, it was kind of our fun way to do a role reversal.

Thomas: I think what was so brilliant about the "hot dad"/Bennigan dynamic is that Ms. Bennigan is the most naïve innocent character of the group, so to put her with someone who is so gorgeous and so hot and so sexual is very fun to see.

Like if "hot dad" was with Ms. Snap who's very confident, I think we would know what was going to happen. It would be kind of obvious. But with Bennigan, she's so sexually repressed; it's fun to put her with a handsome man.

It works. It definitely works. The other relationship that's a lot of fun includes Principal Pearson. Or it's not a relationship at this point, but it's aiming in that direction, and it's being played with, I guess. What kind of fun is it to play with him as an actor?

Thomas: Tim is brilliant. When we were casting that role, we had a very specific idea in mind, and it wasn't what Tim Bagley was. And then Tim came in and read, and we just fell in love with him. In our head, he was a little more typical masculine type guy.

Our showrunner, Ian Roberts, had been reading him in the room with us a lot and Ian's very big, gruff, masculine Jersey guy and then Tim came in and brought this whole new life with him. Tim Bagley's a brilliant improviser and so unique and specific.

He has just offered, I think just in who he is, so many ideas to us that have been inspired by his weird performances and his quirks. And we just keep putting him in humiliating situations because he's game and he plays it so brilliantly.

Yeah, there are particularly humiliating scenes coming up in 2B that I think fans are going to really enjoy.

O'Brien: Yeah. We're excited in 2B, Pearson takes a new direction that I think will surprise a lot of people. And he starts interacting with the teachers differently and, yeah, you kind of see him in a whole new light coming up.

So I'm really excited for people to watch and react. Because, yeah, like Katie said, Tim is brilliant, and he's in some very interesting positions coming up.

Yeah. He definitely takes it to a whole new level.

O'Brien: Yeah.

Are there any scenes in which any of the Katies really have to say something like totally against type, and it's something that you guys fought back against?

Thomas: Well, you know, it's funny. I don't know that we've, I don't think we find ourselves in the situation of playing against type a lot because we're creating our own material.

We do find ourselves in the position where we're in the writer's room and we'll come up with an idea that we think is really hilarious and we'll pitch on it, and we'll write it, and we'll think it's so funny, and then we'll get into the set and realize that we actually have to do it.

Like, for instance, maybe one example of that was season one ... You can correct me if I'm wrong O'Brien, but when we thought, "Oh wouldn't it be hilarious if Ms. Bennigan had a hypoglycemic reaction and went crazy and took all her clothes off and ran around the school?"

And then we got to set, and it was like, "Oh no. O'Brien actually has to wear flesh colored boy shorts and a strapless bra and run around in front of 100 crew members all day." You know? So I think we do that a lot to ourselves. But I think it ends up really being rewarding both for us and for our viewers.

O'Brien: Yeah. I agree with Thomas. I feel like we're always pushing, and we find ourselves where it's like, we write it and think it's hilarious and then we're like, "Oh. Now I gotta do it."

But it's great because as a comedian you typically are stripped of any self-dignity anyways, so it just seems like a natural thing to put yourself in really humiliating situations and be comfortable with it. I think that's a part of the mental illness of all of it.

But it's great because we have a really supportive group, and no matter what we pitch typically everybody's like, "Yeah that's awesome!" And everybody's so supportive, so it ends up working out.

I don't know if you know, but the 2B premiere episode is available online so that we can talk about that in some detail. On it, Ms. Adler has a secret admirer, and the Pretty In Pink dress was just so out of character and yet so awesome.

And what was it like wearing that iconic dress and being so different for one episode?

Thomas: It was like a dream come true. I mean, I’m such a John Hughes fan. Ms. Adler is based on me as a teenager. I took who I was or who I thought I was when I was 16, which was this angsty kind of dark kid, and thought, like, what if that version of Kathryn Renee Thomas never grew up.

And I've changed since then, so for me, I like pink now, and I think our costume department crushed that dress. It was amazing because they actually found two dresses at thrift stores and sewed them together and it turned into that.

It was so incredibly close to what Molly Ringwald wore in Pretty In Pink, it was absolutely dreamy. It was great to wear some color.

It was awesome. It was just a great, great scene, especially because you're still kind of angsty because of what happens and then you're in that dress and it just all works.

Thomas: Yeah, it was really fun to play.

The whole episode, being featured at a school dance, it's just a lot of fun. What's it like going back to elementary school dances as an adult?

O'Brien: Very awkward. You still feel very awkward, even as an adult. You think that you wouldn't feel that way, but getting back, even dressing up and getting back in that environment, you still feel that angst and that awkwardness.

It was fun to go back though because it's such a nostalgic experience, and it was fun to play with that. And then Katie – or Kathryn – Renee, Kathryn and I wrote this episode together, and we just loved the idea of playing with the nostalgia and playing with, as Katie said, this John Hughes staple feeling of school and dances.

And so, it was really, really fun but all of the emotions from grade school and elementary school came flooding back.

Thomas: I think that, even though Pretty In Pink was over 30 years ago, nothing much has changed really in terms of who kids are and the feelings they go through at different times. And so it's pretty timeless.

And even for me when I was shooting and making that grandiose John Hughes entrance into the gym, which was a very dreamy moment for me, I felt totally insecure and weirded out with these little kids, 12-year-old kids staring at me when I walked in and feeling like I was going back to that time of, like, "What are they thinking about me? Do they think I'm ugly? Do they think I'm cute? What's going on?"

And it was so funny to actually care about what 12-year-olds were thinking about me. And it's just like, ah, not much has changed. I still see groups of teenagers, and I immediately walk in the other direction because I'm like, "Oh they're going to be mean to me. Oh God, they're going to start throwing things at me."

So if you guys are a comedy troupe, are you pretty much down to business on set or do you get disruptive at times? What's it like working together?

Thomas: Animals.

O'Brien: Yeah, we're animals. Thomas is right. We can be very, very serious and when it needs to be, okay everybody stop horsing around, we have to get this done. But we also can be, like Thomas said, complete animals.

And we like to pull pranks on each other a lot; we do that a lot on set. I'm trying to think of some specifics that have been pulled. Like typically in scenes if somebody's filming, in the past what's happened, our showrunner Ian will hide in a closet while we're filming and hop out in the middle and scare everybody.

We do a lot of inside jokes. So yeah, we're just all over the place.

That would be so fun. Okay, I only have two more questions. Two more questions for you. If you could add a new teacher to Fillmore, what ideas would you have to add someone to the cast and who would you like to join?

Thomas: Oh wow. That's a good question.

O'Brien: Well, I would love to add ... It can be anybody, right?

Yep. If it happens to be Katie, if you know another Katie out there, go for it!

Thomas: We got them all.

O'Brien: Okay, I'm going to add another Katie. My dream growing up – I was a huge, huge fan of anything that Christopher Guest did and I was always a huge fan of Catherine O'Hara. And think that she's brilliant. And she's a Katie.

Or she's a Catherine, but I think my dream would be to add Catherine O'Hara as a very tight-lipped and very strict, maybe like a, not a superintendent, but somebody that oversees the district or something like that. That would kind of be my dream, to bring her around.

Thomas: I think that Ali Wong is a name that's coming to mind. She's not Katie, but she's just so different than all of us and so sharp and so nasty. I mean, we're all nasty girls; we're all nasty women here. But she just takes it to this whole new level in this unabashed, intense way that I admire, and I just think that she would add a lot to the party.

I think it would even be really fun to see her come in as a student teacher who you'd anticipate would be on the lower end of the status level, or ladder, but she would come in as a student teacher and put all of us in our places, and I think that would be really fun.

Finally, I’m hoping you can tease a bit of the Season 2 finale because it’s such a fabulous episode. What do the fans have to look forward to?

O'Brien: Yeah, we decided we kind of liked the idea that every 10 episodes that we would break form in some sort of way with an episode. So the last 10 we broke form by doing a musical and then this 10 we really loved the idea of doing something different stylistically.

And so we decided to shoot an episode in the style of the 1940s and part of it is in black and white. And we really wanted to tackle a women's issue that hasn't changed much in the course of time.

And so what the issue is, maybe we won't spoil, but it's a really cool episode. It's set in the 1940s. I'm trying to think. Thomas, what am I missing that we could tease?

Thomas: I think a good tease would be that we took a women's issue of today that very specifically affects one of our characters through a very big life change she's having, and examine it in the 1940s. I think, originally, we really wanted to do a 40s episode, but it became, like, but why?

Not just we want to talk in a Mid-Atlantic accent and it's fun for us, and it's fun to dress up like Katherine Hepburn, which is as nerdy as improv girls think is fun. But the "why" was really interesting to figure out, and I think it turned well, and I'm really proud of it. I think people will like it.


Teachers returns Tuesday, November 7 at 10 pm only on TV Land. You can catch the premiere now online, on demand, and on the TV Land app!