The 10 Things That Inspired Kate Berlant And John Early

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Kate Berlant and John Early sitting on a couch together eating ice cream, surrounded by small photos

A big part of succeeding in comedy is finding your voice, and arguably no funny duo working today has been able to establish a more distinct one than Kate Berlant and John Early. For nearly a decade, these comedy soulmates have been making hysterical videos in an entire league of their own.

The duo clearly loves finding humor in uncomfortable situations, but never in a way that feels mean-spirited or cruel. Instead, they seem to be inviting us all to laugh along at the neurotic and petty impulses that we all pretend don't inform our every decision. After all, if we're all desperate for love and acceptance, is it really that embarrassing?

Whether they are discussing their shared love for Paris or wasting their entire five-minute set on The Tonight Show praising each other, the two can find the laugh hiding in almost any situation. And in their newest comedy special, Would It Kill You to Laugh?, streaming now on Peacock, Berlant and Early prove that nobody is making anything quite like them.

So I wanted to know: What do two of the most creative minds in comedy consider their inspirations? Berlant and Early spoke with BuzzFeed about a few of the movies, shows, and internet videos that helped shape their voices as comedians.

Photo illustration: Brooke Greenberg / BuzzFeed; Images: NBCU, Everett Collection: Universal, Warner Independent Pictures, Sony Pictures Classics

1.Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Fred Willard, Parker Posey, and Christopher Guest performing onstage

It's not hard to see why this iconic mockumentary about a small town theater production was influential for Berlant and Early, as the tone of Waiting for Guffman is similar to what you will find in Would It Kill You to Laugh? Berlant said that while she "didn’t understand it fully the first time," she immediately "had this attraction to it" and "it hit [her] on this guttural level where [she] knew, 'This is so good.'" The duo said that while Guffman is obviously hysterically funny, they also love the "devastating" nature of Corky's (Christopher Guest) realization that Guffman, the famed New York critic, did not show up.

Early also praised Guffman for its brilliant utilization of "the mockumentary" as a form of storytelling, noting that the format has "been so degraded since Waiting for Guffman," where "it always makes sense why there's a camera in the room."

"When it’s done well, like in Waiting for Guffman, the rules of the mockumentary are so clear, and they never break their own rules," Early said. "That heightens the tension so much and creates such a different performance for the character if somebody knows they’re being watched."

Rent it on Prime Video.

Sony Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

2.The Office (UK) (2001–03)

Ricky Gervais sitting at a desk

While many would say The Office qualifies as cringe humor, Berlant explained that a big part of why they love the show is the "sincerity found in the absurdism" of David Brent (Ricky Gervais), noting that there is "so much tenderness and sadness to him," even when Brent is at his absolute worst.

"I think we both connect to his desperation to be funny and connect with the people around him through these big gags," Berlant said. "It’s so human and it’s so beautiful, what he’s doing."

Brent may not be a hero, and he may even seem like the butt of the joke, but what both find appealing about transparently insecure characters like him is how much they can relate to that discomfort.

"Most people would look at David Brent in The Office and say, ‘Oh, I know that guy,’" Early said. "Whereas we say, ‘I am that guy.’ I feel like him in my daily life."

Watch it on Hulu.

BBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

3.The Comeback (2005–14)

Lisa Kudrow smiling

Simply put, Early said that The Comeback "completely changed [his] life" and he "had never seen something be so funny." While it's a show that once again finds laughter in how the lead character's insecurities lead her toward uncomfortable situations, the duo pushed back against the notion that Valerie (Lisa Kudrow) is unlikable. Berlant argued that the "psychotic genius" of Kudrow in this show is that she shows that Valerie's desperation is deeply relatable. It's that humanity hiding underneath that is so foundational to Berlant and Early's comedic sensibilities.

"There are people I’ve recommended The Comeback to who say they can’t watch it because the show is so mean to [Valerie]," Early said. "And I am like, 'What are you talking about?’ That show is so humane."

Watch it on HBO Max.

Warner Bros.

4.Romy and Michele's High School Reunion (1997)

Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino in the car

According to Berlant, this classic movie resonated with her and Early specifically because they "love the romanticization of that friendship, and it’s something [they] relate to." Like Romy (Mira Sorvino) and Michele (Lisa Kudrow), Berlant and Early "see [their] friendship as so central to [their] lives, and [they] attribute a lot more importance and value to it than most."

"Friendships are often seen as less intimate and essential than romantic partnerships, but we don’t feel that way," Berlant said.

Considering that they have been making comedy together for so long and share such a distinct comedic tone, it's no surprise that friendship means a great deal to the two. And if there is a movie that celebrates friendship, it's Romy and Michele's High School Reunion.

Rent it on Prime Video.

Buena Vista Pictures / Courtesy Everett Collection

5.Strangers With Candy (1999)

Amy Sedaris looking overwhelmed

"It pushes back against schmaltziness in general," Early said of Strangers With Candy. "I feel a real kinship with that. It’s irreverent and it’s handled so well that it feels very personal."

Early notes that the cult series, which centers on a 46-year-old ex-con returning to high school as a first-year student, is "incredibly transgressive" because it is a pitch-perfect satire of an after-school special fueled with "a rage at the saccharine, oversimplified moralizing that’s in a lot of shows."

"They’re looking at this specific form, the after-school special, that is very pious and beats you over the head with no subtlety," Early said. "And Strangers With Candy is perverting that."

Berlant also noted that their shared love for the series comes from their affinity for "genre acting." The abandonment of realism allows for some genuinely surreal and ridiculous acting choices, which is constantly present in Would It Kill You to Laugh?

Watch it on Paramount+.

Warner Bros. / Courtesy Everett Collection

6.French and Saunders (1987–2007)

Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French in dresses

If there's one comedy duo that Berlant and Early seem to look up to the most, it's Jennifer Saunders and Dawn French, who created and starred in this beloved sketch show. The influence on Would It Kill You to Laugh? is immediately apparent, as French and Saunders is packed with meta-humor that involves several layers of inside jokes, along with a general flair for the theatrical that is played as part of the show's humor. The most obvious similarity between Berlant and Early and French and Saunders is the fascination with performance; Early said that a big part of his own humor comes from exploring "a performative quality that is really funny and really human."

Watch it on Prime Video with Freevee.

BBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

7.Death Becomes Her (1992)

Meryl Streep and Goldie Hawn in black dresses

While it initially received mixed reviews from critics, Death Becomes Her has developed a massive cult following since its release, especially within the LGBTQ community. Rather than condemn Madeline (Meryl Streep) and Helen (Goldie Hawn) for their "villainous" behavior as they fight for the affections of plastic surgeon Ernest Menville (Bruce Willis), fans have rallied around them as heroic figures. In the same vein, Early said that "it wasn't intentional, but with some hindsight, it is now very obvious that Death Becomes Her is an influence here."

"The feud spanning decades, the art of one-upmanship," Early explained. "Also, hostility in the right context can be really really fun, and that's hopefully the case with our special."

Rent it on Prime Video.

Universal / Courtesy Everett Collection

8.The Stella Shorts

Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain in suits

Following their success with The State, Michael Ian Black, Michael Showalter, and David Wain created Stella, a comedy group that spent nearly a decade making some of the most innovative and hilarious sketch comedy of the early days of the internet. While they would eventually go on to have their own show on Comedy Central, the trio began by simply making sketches, including "Turkey Hunting" and "A Day Off From Work," and putting them online. Black, Showalter, and Wain's blend of dark humor and tender pathos is a natural fit for the way that Early and Berlant create comedy. Early said the Stella Shorts were "huge touchstones early on in both our friendship and the videos we made together ... especially the way they slip into genre acting styles, even if the larger sketch isn't an example of that genre."

Watch it on Vimeo.

Stella

9.Variety Shac Shorts

Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Variety Shac, since it started as a monthly show in New York during the early to mid-aughts that was created by comedians Shonali Bhowmik, Heather Lawless, Andrea Rosen, and Chelsea Peretti. Along with musical and comedy performances, the four would premiere a short film at each show, with the likes of Fred Armisen and Ed Helms making cameos. While going back and watching sketch comedy can be a risky gambit, these shorts hold up well (though, be warned, you need Quicktime installed to watch them). Early explained that he and Berlant bonded over

Don't feel bad if you've never heard of Variety Shac, since it started as a monthly show in New York during the early to mid-aughts that was created by comedians Shonali Bhowmik, Heather Lawless, Andrea Rosen, and Chelsea Peretti. Along with musical and comedy performances, the four would premiere a short film at each show, with the likes of Fred Armisen and Ed Helms making cameos. While going back and watching sketch comedy can be a risky gambit, these shorts hold up well (though, be warned, you need Quicktime installed to watch them). Early explained that he and Berlant bonded over "the lo-fi, pre-drone simplicity" of the shorts early on in their friendship, as they both loved "the way they pop off into the totally absurd."

Watch it online.

Variety Shac

10.Absolutely Fabulous (1992–2012)

Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley looking at a map

French and Saunders are perhaps the largest influence on Early and Berlant, and this series, created by Saunders and starring her and Joanna Lumley, is based on the French and Saunders sketch "Modern Mother and Daughter." The show explores the London fashion scene, and Early praised it for being "very sneakily deep and psychologically complex." The duo pointed to the book club sketch in the special as the clearest sign of the way Absolutely Fabulous informs their comedy; the series features moments similar to "the absurdity of [John] faking a stroke to avoid sharing [his] opinion of a book [he] didn't read."

"At the end of the day, Kate and I always just wanna throw ourselves down a flight of stairs like Jennifer Saunders in Ab Fab," Early said.

Watch it on Hulu.

BBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

And lastly:

Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers Reuniting on CafeMom

Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Somers sitting a table

The entire framing of Would It Kill You to Laugh? involves a fake televised reunion between Early and Berlant (with Meredith Vieira taking on hosting duties). Over the course of the special, we learn that the two had a massive falling out involving a lawsuit that turned them from friends and collaborators into enemies. It's one of the funniest bits, and its real-life inspiration comes from the infamous reunion between Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt, who managed to awkwardly bury the hatchet after not speaking for decades following the end of Three's Company. It turns out that the video was foundational to John and Kate's entire friendship.

"Deep cut," Kate explained. "That was the video John showed me the week we met."

Watch it on YouTube.

CafeMom

Would It Kill You to Laugh? is available to stream on Peacock now.

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