An Interview with John Lehr

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John Lehr has appeared on everything from GEICO commercials (as a caveman) to the series JailBait and 10 Items or Less (both of which can be found for free on Crackle). Most recently he has be found on the Hulu-original series Quick Draw as sheriff John Hoyle. The most impressively fully improvised, series offers up comedy Wild West style.

What was it like growing up in Kansas? Do you think your early environment fostered an active imagination early on?

My childhood was VERY Steven Spielberg (circa his ET phase). My brother and I were both latch key kids so we had a ton of freedom. However instead of using this freedom for imaginative play, we chose to blow things up, TP peoples’ houses, look at my dad’s Playboys and watch a TON of TV.

 Does imagination come in handy when doing improv as you often have? What do you love most that particular style of acting?

Yes. In all seriousness full on improv (which is what we do on 10 Items, JailBait and Quick Draw) is intense left brained stream of consciousness. It’s a fantastic experience when you can successfully switch off the logic/judgment side of yourself and let her rip. Although, when you do that, some pretty twisted stuff can come out.

What is it like working on a fully improvised show? What is the most challenging thing you face when filming that sort of thing?

The shooting process is unlike any other set. Nancy (my writing partner who directs all the show) and I write really detailed scripts but a) the scripts contain no dialogue and b) the actors never see the scripts. This creates a really easy going atmosphere even though what’s really going on is pure chaos. The most challenging part comes in the edit room when we have to glue it all together.

Before becoming an actor you taught elementary school. What was it like? What did you learn from that whole experience? Do you ever miss it?

I learned that it is HARD. It’s grueling, demanding, low-paying work and anyone who chooses that profession should get serious pay and the promise of a never-ending dilaudid drip. I certainly miss the fun parts but I just don’t have the guts for that work. I worked in inner city classrooms and later, when I moved to LA, I subbed high school in South Central.

How did you first find yourself involved in acting?

I loved Forensics in high school (speech not the science of dead bodies) and some theater but I had no intention really of going into acting. I was accepted to Northwestern University and intended to study education when my mom encouraged me to audition for the theater department. I got it but it was really the Mee-Ow Show (NU’s student improv show) that got me hooked on performing.

What led you to create the Quick Draw series? Do you think exclusive shows and content will help expand the variety of entertainment available to viewers?

Oh definitely. There are so many new distribution channels out there now. Hulu is unique in that it is not a network per se. People go there to watch TV shows they have missed. The fact that Hulu has some original programming is a bonus. We love the fact that we are not under the spotlight like a network show. People find us organically.

Nancy Hower (my writer/producer) and I had wanted to do a western for a while – we just thought our comedy would do well in a historical context. When Hulu approached us about developing something with them, it seemed a perfect fit. They loved it from the get-go.

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What has it been like working with the other members of the cast?

Fantastic. The show is filled with improv super heroes and ringers we have brought in from past projects. Allison Dunbar, Tim Bagley and Bob Clendenin all worked on 10 Items or Less (Bob also worked on JailBait). Nick Brown and Alexia Dox both appeared in a pilot we made in NYC last year and David Hoffman was in a pilot we made. Tash Aames appeared on a pilot we made for NBC. We are so lucky to have this level of talent on the show. Everyone is improvising all day long so your sides hurt from laughing by the end of the day.

Did you have an affection for the Wild West as a kid growing up? Why did you decide to set the series there?

Absolutely. I grew up in Kansas and my brother and I watched tons of westerns. I never expected to be working on one though! Nancy and I both love action and we thought the time passage would help our style of comedy so I guess it was meant to happen.

Do you think there will be a second season of Quick Draw?

We hope so. All indications are good but the official word will not come out until early November.

What do you enjoy most about working with Nancy Hower?

Ha! Everything. She is a god damned genius and I am speaking the truth when I say I would have absolutely no career without her. She co-writes everything with me, directs every episode and edits every scene. She is a brilliant renaissance woman who constantly blows my mind with her creativity and ingenuity. We love working together – so glad we found each other.

Do you have a dream project you’d most like to see into being?

I gotta say Quick Draw is pretty damn close to comedy nirvana for me. As a comedian I never thought I’d get to shoot people and ride horses and get paid! Hilarious.

Are there any little known things about you that your viewers might be surprised to learn?

I think the thing that surprises people the most is that all of the dialogue in the show is entirely improvised. Also there is a ton of historically correct stuff along with the comedy. For example, Cole Younger, the lead bad guy in the show, was a real outlaw from the 1800’s. Same with Pearl Starr (Hoyle’s step-daughter). There is a point where the whores discuss the value of a steam powered vibrator which really existed.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

We are waiting patiently for Hulu to pick up season two and have three projects in development. We’re set to pitch them along with our agents CAA.

Anything you’d like to say in closing?

Thank you for having me!

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