During an exclusive interview at Comic-Con, Greg Grunberg and Josh Cooke shared what their new webseries ISSUES is really about and why they think it is riding the wave of the digital era and offers a unique perspective on the tortured psyche of superheroes buckling under the weight of their responsibilities and insecurities.
So what is ISSUES about?
JOSH: It was created by myself and Matt Oates, and the concept of the show is that it’s about a therapist – a psychologist — whose clients are animated superheroes. So it’s a live action, real world with superheroes who have a lot of serious issues. Greg came into because he plays The Dark Kodiak, who is sort of our Batman arch-type character, but in a bear get-up, pretty much.
GREG: In a gay world, I’m a bear. So it fits perfectly!
JOSH: When I asked him, ‘Can you play a bear?’ His response was, ‘Grrrrr!’
GREG: And so the answer was ‘Yes!’ We had done a movie together called ‘Group Sex,’ so I was kind of returning the favor. I was thrilled when he asked, especially when I saw the sketches and since Josh was kind enough to come over to my house to do the pilot. It was easy. When I saw it, I was like, ‘Uh, can I stay on this show?’
Where did you come up with such a zany idea?
JOSH: When Matt [Oates] was in college, he took a psychology class there. It was so fascinating. The teacher said that, in child psychology, it had become more popular to use comic-book and superheroes to explain certain diseases or issues, like Batman might be schizophrenic or a have a different kind of bipolar disorder. So it associates things, like if Superman had alienation issues. They will get to kids through these characters. So [Matt] wrote this down in his book and he’s like, ‘Hmmm, superheroes in therapy.’ Then 10 years later I asked him if he had any ideas and he came up with that.
GREG: How did you guys meet?
JOSH: I’m in one of his movies. It’s called ‘Wasted’ with Eddie Kaye Thomas, who plays The Incredible Flame in this, and Kaley Cuoco was in that movie with a whole bunch of other people. And we sort of stayed in touch ever since then. But it just came from that. It was mainly just to laugh or crack-up since we’re both comic-book fans.
GREG: Have you seen it? It’s a lot of fun. You’re going to love it ‘cause he did all the stuff with a tennis ball in the scene. It’s an animated character like in ‘Roger Rabbit,’ but his reactions are real and so believable. I was so happy ‘cause when you do something like this. I had done a game called ‘L.A. Noir.’ I had no idea – and then like ‘bang!’ I’m like, ‘This is cool!’ A lot of times, you never know.
JOSH: You don’t know how it translates ‘til you see it.
JOSH: There are 6 episodes and they are on Crackle.com, which is Sony’s web arm and they range about 4 and ½ minutes long. There’s six different heroes. We had imagined it as a larger world initially, but animation is expensive. We have an amazing animation company called TitMouse that did METALOCALYPSE, ADULT SWIM – they are awesome, awesome guys – and Garret Vander, who did our character designs is great. He’s a comic artist. He doesn’t have a comic-book, but he did an amazing job.
So this is original online content?
JOSH: Online original content. We have no idea where it will go, if it goes anywhere. Originally, it was sort of a movie or a half-hour and we decided to go this route because ‘what the hell?!’
GREG: Well, it’s a great launching pad.
JOSH: It will be interesting. The industry has gone through a lot of changes since we started. It was actually supposed to premiere last summer, with internal changes and everything like that. So we’re just excited that it’s here now. There’s also going to be a comic-book in stores I think this Fall. Just one issue, a special edition. There’s also going to be a teaser – a 5-page teaser of that comic coming out in August or September on Crackle.com available for digital download.
You’re essentially creating mini-webisodes?
JOSH: Yeah, definitely. These are webisodes.
GREG: The cool thing though is that more and more of these guys are looking for a ½ hour format. They are not looking for and they don’t want the 6-minutes formats. They want more.
JOSH: When we created this, they were looking for the 4-6 minute format. But then the entire thing took so long that now we’re sort of riding the edge of the wave and people are looking for longer content.
GREG: What’s great is these webisodes are teasers for a full episode.
JOSH: We can maybe build on it.
Kind of like sprinkling candy all about.
JOSH: Yeah! We have a whole other back-story and whole future of a character. We originally were supposed to have 12 episodes. But we couldn’t. It was too expensive to do. To have one animated character is expensive, but we had more like 8 in a scene. It was just like we couldn’t afford it so we had to hold off on that. Maybe we’ll get there.
Can you describe some of the other characters?
JOSH: We have a character called the Bohemeth. They are all sort of similar archetypal characters. He’s sort of based off The Hulk a little bit, if The Hulk was Woody Allen terrified of everything. And then we also have a character very loosely based on Professor Xavier, sort of — but he’s not sure if he’s a bad guy or a good guy.
Is he collecting superheroes?
JOSH: The whole episode happens in voice-over ‘cause they are communicating telepathically and he’s a very disturbed individual. We also have The Quickness, which is sort of The Flash type character who is remanded to rehab due to drunk running and has a publicist and sort of deals – like superheroes have reality shows, if they were in our society, so he kind of deals with that aspect of it. And then Dr. Ted, himself, has live-action nemesis who is a psychiatrist who treats super villains across town. It’s sort of another character who comes into it.
GREG: Kind of a Kurt Fuller-type.
Awesome! Just talked with him in the PSYCH press room.
GREG: Did you really?!
JOSH: He’s here?!
He was here for PSYCH.
Yeah, he moderated the PSYCH panel.
JOSH: Is he here now?!
He was. I don’t know if he’s here at the moment. But he might be for the SUPERNATURAL panel.
GREG: We have to call him!
Definitely. I’m sure he’d love to do it. Okay, we’re a little off-topic.
JOSH: If you’re talking about Kurt Fuller, you’re never off topic!
GREG: That’s true. [Laughter]
Back to EPISODES, do you foresee this turning into a much bigger project?
JOSH: I hope so. It would be nice and I am hoping that it does. I would love to have Greg involved more. But I can’t afford him.
Do either one of you have the time available to take on a bigger scale project?
JOSH: Matt’s the co-creator and he directed the episodes and he did all the editing for like nothing. He really did it as kind of a passion project. He’s the one who really spear-headed the whole thing. He found the deal. He’s just an amazing director. He is really the one who kind of deals with everything. I was off doing other stuff. The nice thing for a voice-over is you can come in a knock out 6 episodes in a day, if you needed to. So if we’re lucky enough to have some kind of life after this, hopefully we will have the Greg Grunberg ‘Grrrrr’ back.
GREG: You’ve got me! You had me at ‘Grrrrr.’ [Laughter]
JOSH: Also on the show as Side-Car is Seth Green. He wants to become his own hero. He plays kind of a Robin-esque character to [Greg’s] Batman-esque character. But he wants to go off and be his own hero, so he has devised his own costume and theme song. So I think at the end of his episode, he’s playing his theme song on the keyboard and he’s singing horribly and he calls himself Night Blazer. He’s signing, ‘Night Blazer – king of the night!’ And at the end of it, we had Greg do this pounding on the wall and yells, ‘Shut up! You’re terrible. Shut it down!’ It just cracked me up. Whatever. It was so funny!
GREG: It was loosely based on the song ‘Black and White.’
Do you have a hard time keeping a straight face when you do the scenes?
GREG: Oh, yeah! You know what? What is funny is the tone. I immediately went to this place with a deep voice and I’m going to do my voice like this like Batman, and he’s like, ‘It’s just you and you’re talking and stuff.’ But then when the issue is pressed – he confronts me about my parents and past and really what is at the root of all this and my voice gets deep. That’s his wall, ‘cause I’m going to my superhero place where it is safe. Just like Christian Bale, all whispery.
JOSH: It was such a fun thing. Everyone was so great. I’ll tell you the cast — it’s this lovely gentleman right here [indicating Greg], Seth Green as Side-Car, Eddie Kaye Thomas who plays the Incredible Flame, Rob Riggle as Captain Magnificent, Ron Livingston as Agent Nothing, Eric Stonestreet as K-9.
You must have a wish list of actors who you’d like to have work on the show.
JOSH: The Quickness who I always imagined JD Smooth. That guy is so funny. We never actually got to that stage ‘cause that got cut early on. We had a female character and then Patton Oswalt would really love to do this one character. But all these things got cut.
GREG: This is what happens when you’re a journeyman, like this guy [indicating Josh].
JOSH: A journeyman?
GREG: Yeah, you just work all the time. Look, I work a lot too, but he – you can call him up and he’s working. But he can just call these people up.
JOSH: I don’t know any of these people!
GREG: You’ve worked with them.
JOSH: You’re the one who’s plugged-in.
GREG: I’m just saying, you’ve got friends. It’s nice to call up friends, like you called me. He was like, ‘Can you –‘ and I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes.’
JOSH: He’s just such an awesome guy. He’s like the best guy ever.
GREG: Hey, I also would appreciate it if you could mention TalkAboutIt.org. It’s my website for epilepsy.
JOSH: Talk about friends! You had like Captain Kirk, Spock.
GREG: Yeah, everybody I asked to do TalkAboutIt.org, they come and do it and Josh was nice enough to come on a Sunday and it was great. Curt [Fuller] was funny too. Curt did it. Jamie Denton did it. Bob Guiney did it. Who else did it? Jorge Garcia. He’s really funny. He’s like on a subway and he’s holding on and I’m like, ‘You know where you’re going?’ and he’s like, ‘Lost.’ [Laughter]
Do you ever say to yourself, ‘Pinch me, I’m living the dream and I can’t believe it’s real’?
JOSH: It’s pretty awesome, I’ve got to say! It’s pretty great.
GREG: It is. Yeah, it really is. Honestly. Then my wife says, ‘Don’t forget, you’re taking the trash out.’ Seriously, this is the dream. This stuff doesn’t matter. [Josh] is married to a beautiful woman. My wife is the greatest. And the kids. That’s the most important.
And she’s letting you work on a show about superheroes in therapy.
GREG: Exactly! My wife is amazing.
Okay, so what would be the message you would like the fans and your audience actually take away from the show?
JOSH: You can make fun of me, but actually, deep down, it’s kind of like it came from this whole initial concept which we couldn’t really get to about what is it like to be a normal guy living in a world with these demi-gods that can do things. What would that be like when someone like us is doing this interview and then suddenly a dude flies through the room like some evil guy and smashes though the wall You’re just kind of living and then you’re like, ‘Okay, what the hell?!’
GREG: In all these superhero movies –
JOSH: There’s always that moment.
GREG: All these people are just like, ‘Aaaaaaahhhh!’ and you don’t focus on the one who goes home and goes, ‘Oh, traffic sucked because that superhero did his thing again.’
JOSH: One of my initial pitches was the opening scene of the first ‘Matrix’ movie and Carrie Ann Moss is in the computer room and they go, ‘Freeze!’ I always imagine that after she leaps up and everything, one of those cops goes home and he’s just like, ‘The bitch ran on the walls! How did that happen?!’ So my initial thought was Dr. Ted runs a group therapy place to deal with all this crap. In the larger form of the show, that is something he’d do. But it really came from what you just said about living the dream. Looking around, I’ve been fortunate enough to work a decent amount and do some things. But then you look around at people who are really doing things, like Greg with the charities that he does and the website and everything, and I go, ‘What am I really doing? Am I really anything at all?’ That’s what Dr. Ted and the show in a larger scope is meant to be. It is like, we are in a world where there are people who do incredible, phenomenal things on another level. So how do you cope with it? One day you realize, ‘Well, I’m just not there.’ You actually go there. There is those moment in your life and I think there is a lot of people that feel that way, and that really is sort of the center of the whole larger scope of the show. For right now, we’re dealing with the therapy bit. But if we ever get to go forward, that would be the premise.
So it’s like dealing with the after-shocks and ripple-effects that superheroes have on the rest of us?
JOSH: The rest of us and really how do you deal with it. I think the ultimate answer is: what would they take away — you do the best that you can. You just do the best you can and hope it’s enough.
GREG: I came from a show where there were ordinary people waking up with powers and how do we deal with that and figuring out, ‘Why us?’ My character especially, I just wanted answers and I just wanted a normal life afterwards. So it is very relatable to me. I just thought ordinary people are dealing with this extraordinary thing. We’re dealing with extraordinary characters.
JOSH: And also, the heroes being really ordinary people who are caught up in it and probably don’t understand these extraordinary things – and no one ever thinks of their feelings.
GREG: Plus, Josh’s reactions — when you see it, you’ll see what I mean – are so great. They’re real. It’s funny.
Are you actually worried now that you’re working on something so zany and fun that other projects will pale in comparison?
GREG: Not really. I’m on BIG MIKE, which is an awesome show.
JOSH: Anything can be zany in a way and that’s pretty awesome.
GREG: At the end of the day, I want to laugh. I want it to be zany and funny. HEROES was always like, ‘It’s the end of the world!’ and ALIAS too. I want to do sitcom and that’s how BIG MIKE is. It is a sitcom/procedural 1-hour, but it hasn’t been picked-up yet, so we’ll see.
So you think they are compatible if you want to do both?
GREG: Yeah. Hopefully, we can bounce.
JOSH: Oh yeah. This would be on a much smaller scale.
GREG: But you never know!
An abundance of riches, it’s never a bad thing to have too many things to do.
With an abundance of enthusiasm and energy for their latest creative endeavor, Greg and Josh invite you to join them in the mixed up world of ISSUES where superheroes are just like us and need a bit of therapy to figure out who they really are and what they want out of their lives. ISSUES is currently airing as a 6-part webseries on Crackle.com. Check it out and let Greg and Josh know how you feel about superheroes being just like us – fractured, insecure and wondering what the meaning of life really is about.
Tiffany Vogt is a contributing writer to TheTVAddict. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).