‘Very Important People’s Vic Michaelis On Their Host Persona & Some Truly Wild Characters: “Tommy Shriggly Really Came In And Hit Me Like A Wrecking Ball”

Very Important People has seen host Vic Michaelis interview an assortment of characters that really can’t be described in just a few words. From Vic’s Ex-Step Grandmother (Lisa Gilroy) to Mental Health Advocate Tommy Shriggly (Zac Oyama), every improvisor brought a uniquely wild energy to Dropout’s short form series, matched by Michaelis’ ability to perfectly adapt to every situation while keeping up their host persona.

After being given full makeovers—including makeup, prosthetics and costumes—comedians come up with a character to sit down for a fully improvised interview. Michaelis says it was important for them, as well as director Tamar Levine, to create a sense of continuity with the host character, especially since the goal of the series was to showcase “different comedian’s styles of comedy” by not putting them into a box, “but to build the box around them.”

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'Very Important People'
Host Vic Michaelis interviewing Princess Emily (Anna Garcia) in ‘Very Important People’

DEADLINE: How did you get involved with Very Important People?

VIC MICHAELIS: I was a freelance player when Dropout was called CollegeHumor, filling in on some of their sketches when Dropout launched. From there, they asked me to come on Make Some Noise, and I had a lot of fun doing that, and then the opportunity came when Sam [Reich] emailed me and was like, ‘Would you want to host this show? It’s like a reboot of this old show called Hello, My Name Is.’ It was Pat Cassels and Josh Ruben, who were just unbelievably amazing. I grew up watching it and I just jumped at the opportunity to be able to do something launching off of that.

DEADLINE: Were you ever worried this was an elaborate setup for an episode of Game Changer?

MICHAELIS: Constantly, every single day of my life. I feel like Sam has created this beautiful haunted house that we all live in, right? Where it’s like, there’s nothing that happens that I think immediately any of us who have done any work there don’t go, ‘Am I being pranked? Is this a prank… In a fun way, but a prank? I think it might be a prank.’ And it so far has only turned out to happen a couple of times that you get there and you’re like, ‘Oh no, this is a prank.’

'Very Important People'
Ally Beardsley in the makeup chair to become Pig #2 in ‘Very Important People’

DEADLINE: How much do you know about the characters before the interview begins?

MICHAELIS: I was a part of the conversation of the makeup looks. They’d already planned on who was going to be in the show and the type of makeup looks that they wanted, and then I got to help pair people I thought would be good with different looks. I didn’t make final decisions, but I got to come in a little bit with that. When it came to them creating characters, that was where I didn’t want to know much. I do think part of the magic of improv is coming in and reacting to what’s in front of you, so it was important to me that I didn’t know too much. Oftentimes I’d get people’s names, just because then we’re not spending the entire first part of the episode being like, ‘What’s your name? How do you spell that?’ Double checking pronunciation and things like that. But yeah, I really do think the important part of the show is improv. You could have somebody that’s like a frog in a top hat, and that doesn’t give you as much information as you would think it would once people create a character.

DEADLINE: Tell me about the initial conversations with director Tamar Levine. Did you come up with an interview style together, or was that all improv on the day?

MICHAELIS: Tamar and I talked pretty extensively about the host character and their motivations first. And then also I personally spent a lot of time doing research of both comedic and just regular hosts. Tamar had this big vision for what she wanted it to feel and look like, in terms of a ’70s and ’80s style, really referential to early Oprah in the feel of the set and the costuming.

It was a blend of both [coming up with a style together and improv]. You can do as much prep as possible, and then when you get to the test, if you don’t know the answers, you don’t know the answers, you know what I mean? So, we did a lot of prep, a lot of looking at different interview styles, comedic interviews, a lot of obviously Ziwe, Eric Andre, Zach Galifianakis… a lot of those improvised interviews, seeing how they were doing it. But a lot of those, they had pre-written questions beforehand. So, at the end of the day, the thing that we kept coming back to is looking at it like a first date in improv. That’s a very classic type of scene where it’s getting to know you, but you don’t want to be so stuck on the basics and the same types of questions. So, we really looked into the different types of interviews that exist, like somebody’s trying to promote something or going on an apology tour, things like that. And then anytime we would break, Tamar, the production crew and I would sort of just chitchat and say, ‘What type of interview do we think this is? Let’s try to lean into that.’

But I would say improv was always first. One of the beautiful things about this show is really showcasing different comedian’s styles of comedy, and it was really important to not make them fit into our box, but to build the box around them. And I think something that allowed us to do that while keeping a sort of continuity within the show was to have things to hold on to with the host character.

'Very Important People'
Host Vic Michaelis interviewing Tommy Shriggly (Zac Oyama) in ‘Very Important People’

DEADLINE: Were there any improvisers that really surprised you with their characters, or threw you off a bit?

MICHAELIS: All of the improvisors, especially in season one, are very good friends of mine who I improvise with on a pretty regular basis, which was nice. I think a lot of that chemistry comes through in the show, so I don’t think anybody really threw me off, but there were just moments of my friends who I love being the most themselves and just really, really making me laugh. I mean, if we’re talking maybe the one that really tickled me, and I guess threw me off is not a way to put it, Zac [Oyama]’s Tommy Shriggly really came in and hit me like a wrecking ball. Zac is one of my favorite people in the world to improvise with, period, and it was really just watching him be the most heightened version of himself. I watch him play a lot of silly characters on stage, and if you watch him on other Dropout shows he is usually these very sweet characters who are very close to himself. And I think, especially with the makeup, a transformation happened that was really incredible.

DEADLINE: What are some highlights you have from working on the first season?

Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Drama magazine <a href="https://issuu.com/deadlinehollywood/docs/deadline_-_emmy_preview_-_drama?fr=xKAE9_zU1NQ" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:here;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">here</a>.
Read the digital edition of Deadline’s Emmy Drama magazine here.

I think, especially doing improv, you spend truly so much of your career doing it for five people in the back of a room, which is great. You learn a lot doing it that way, and it’s beautiful that it’s an art form that can exist that way. You can kind of just pick up with a couple of your friends and do it wherever. There’s not a lot of overhead. But getting to do it on a platform where people are seeing it and appreciating it, and getting to do it with the people I am closest to, especially in life and that I have come up doing improv with, and have the reaction be so overwhelmingly positive, has really just been such a gift.

Tamar and I talk a lot about this, that even is nobody was watching it, we have this filmed and it’s something that we’re really proud of. And the fact that people like it too is huge. We’re doing season two, which… It’s funny, because people keep being like, ‘What’s your dream job?’ And it’s so cheesy, but this is really what I would pick. If I could write down on a piece of paper exactly what it would be like, it would be a plot description of VIP.

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