INTERVIEW: Jordan Morris Talks ‘Bubble,’ Podcasting, the Potential of Genre, and More
Jordan Morris is a podcaster and television writer. He is the cohost of the long running podcast Jordan Jesse Go! and is now the creator of the extremely popular scripted podcast Bubble on the podcasting network MaximumFun.org. We sat down to talk about the origin story of Bubble, the intersection of genres, and of course our inability to shake this feeling of impending apocalyptic doom and societal collapse — which ties in handily to the themes of Bubble!
Nerds and Beyond: Tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you do?
JORDAN MORRIS (Creator): I am a podcaster and tv writer. For the past 12 years I’ve done the podcast Jordan Jesse Go! which was one of the original “two white guys chatting about nothing” podcasts — or rather, made in the era of the “two white guys chatting” podcasts. We’ve been doing that for years, and I’m also a television writer – I’ve written for things like @Midnight on Comedy Central, and now I write for UniKitty on Cartoon Network and Good and Mythical Morning on YouTube.
Nerds and Beyond: What inspired you to write Bubble?
MORRIS: Bubble was a TV pilot that I wrote when I was thinking about how to get jobs in the kind of media that I am passionate about., which is funny genre stuff. Like, I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and a lifelong comics reader, so I love stuff that has a lot of character based comedy but also takes action and genre and sci-fi seriously. So I was thinking about my ideal show that I would want to watch and started out with a couple of vague ideas, like what if living in a hip city meant you also had to fight monsters on your morning run? And a hip town knows that it can be a little slice of hell sometimes and rent is expensive and coffee shops are often annoying and things like that – and so I was taking that and making it literal. Taking the struggle of making rent in a place like L.A. or Brooklyn or Portland and trying to make it the crazy sci-fi version of itself. So that was the germ of the idea and I kind of just filled it in with characters from my life, or versions of people that I knew and that was the start of the story.
Nerds and Beyond: For those of our readers that haven’t listened to Bubble yet, how would you describe it?
MORRIS: The elevator pitch would maybe be “Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Broad City” and taking that sensibility, the sci-fi world where everyone takes the sci-fi seriously, but there are also jokes? Taking that, and updating it for 2018. And there’s also a little bit of Portlandia in there – making fun of millennial hipster culture, but also presenting a sci-fi nightmare version of the gig economy where we all have to literally fight for our lives just to make rent.
Nerds and Beyond: So this was originally written as a TV pilot? Why did you end up turning it into a podcast instead?
MORRIS: So I wrote the pilot and had a couple of meetings about it and every single meeting I heard some version of “this is great we love it, but it’s too weird, we’ll never make it.” And it is, it’s very weird and it would be very expensive to produce. It’s a mumble-core comedy show but you also have to have lasers and robots and monsters; it’s maybe not super cost effective. So I was kind of bummed but still really loved the story, and so I did a staged reading of it at a little comedy theater in Hollywood just to kind of help supplement the script. But people really responded to the staged reading and it got a lot of fans just from being posted on Soundcloud, and people kept saying, “When are there going to be more episodes?” and I was telling them, “Never.” But then I had a conversation with the people over at Maximum Fun, which is the podcast network where I do my chat show, and they had been wanting to get into scripted stuff, they had been wanting to try something scripted (which isn’t a new podcast format but it’s definitely not common). There’s only a couple of big examples of scripted podcasts, so it’s kind of a new frontier, and we weren’t sure if it was something really anyone wanted. But they wanted to try it and they knew Bubble had a little bit of a fanbase already from the staged reading, so it made sense to them. And they went for it. They said that if I wrote more episodes, they would produce them. So we put together a cool writing team with some writers that I really love: Sarah Morgan who’s a writer for the BBC, Janine Brito who writes for One Day at a Time, Ryan Perez who wrote for The Break with Michelle Wolfe… just a lot of my favorite people. We got together and just kind of banged out eight episodes and MaxFun produced them and we put them out. And it got a way way bigger response than any of us thought it would.
Nerds and Beyond: What was the process of creating a scripted podcast like?
MORRIS: So we tried to make it as much like TV as possible, because it started out as a tv script. I got together with Nick Adams, who is a terrific writer and has written on Bojack Horseman, and he’s a beloved recurring podcast guest of our “white guys chatting” podcast. So he helped me shape the big story that would be taking place over the eight episodes. And after I had a few sessions with him, I made outlines for every episode (about three pages)… basically the broad strokes of what would happen in each one. Then I passed those outlines out to the writers, and everybody did it on their own time. After all the scripts were written, we put together a great “punch up” room, with a bunch of other cool writers, to come in and read the scripts and offer more jokes and perspectives and things like that. Danielle Radford from Screen Junkies was there, Riley Silverman who writes for Sci-Fi Fan Girls, just a lot of cool people that we wanted to get involved. We called them all together and had two days of punch up to the scripts, to make them funnier and more interesting, found more character moments and developed some characters in those sessions. And once we had the finished scripts, we recorded the eight episodes over the course of two Sundays, for the most part. There were a couple people who were recording in New York or Seattle who couldn’t be in the original sessions so we recorded them separately, but for the most part, what you hear in the podcast, everyone is in the room together. It was two marathon days where everyone was a little pooped by the end, but that is basically everything you hear on the show.
Nerds and Beyond: You mentioned mashing up genres in Bubble, what inspired you, or what do you find fascinating about combining genres?
MORRIS: I think that viewers have gotten sophisticated enough to where they can watch a genre thing that has jokes, but all the jokes don’t have to be about the genre. Like, I love Spaceballs. I think Spaceballs is very very funny but it is very very different than Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a sci-fi thing that is very funny but also takes all the genre stuff really seriously. And I think it’s cool, because I think we want both. I think we want adventure stories and sci-fi and genre and monsters and violence and robots, but we also want jokes. And I don’t think the jokes should be that monsters and sci-fi stuff are dumb. And that happens a lot when people try to make funny genre stuff: the jokes end up being at the expense of the fantasy and the sci-fi. And that was something that I didn’t want to do, because I like all of that stuff, I think it’s really cool. I like monsters and adventures and portals and magic stones and robots and I wanted to honor that. I wanted to say “I think these things are cool and I think other people think these things are cool. But also I like jokes and I like to laugh.” So I think I wanted to try a thing where those existed side by side.
Nerds and Beyond: Why do you think horror (both in the existential sense and the “monsters that will kill you” literal sense) resonates so strongly in our current social climate?
MORRIS: Well the world seems crazy. The world seems insane. And because of the internet, we can see how crazy it is. I think there’s a sense that everything is falling apart. And I think that’s definitely kind of the bigger story of Bubble – that it’s people who live in this homogenized little world where they assumed everything would be perfect but it’s slowly falling apart. And it’s the kind of the modern feeling that I wanted to put into it, this feeling that “something’s wrong but it’s hard to put my finger on it. I think we might all be doomed maybe?”
Nerds and Beyond: What are your favorite moments from the first season?
MORRIS: There were a lot of great moments. But, definitely that half the time people tell me a line they love from Bubble it was something that Eliza Skinner (who voices Annie Powell) improvised. Eliza Skinner is one of the leads, and one of my favorite stand-ups, and a terrific improviser. And in general, I asked people to use improv sparingly, because we did not have a lot of time, and something that you say in one scene can affect what happens in another scene, so I encouraged people to only do it when they felt like it was really killer, and Eliza did it in every scene and it was always killer, because she is so funny. Most of her great lines are things she thought of off the top of her head. And I really love Cristela Allonzo’s villain performance: it is really serious, and I didn’t get to talk to her a lot before she recorded, because she came in in the middle of the second day. She flew in right from being on tour; she was doing a stand-up gig in Houston and then flew to L.A., went to the studio, and sat down. So I did not get to do a lot of conversing with her about the character or the tone or anything, but she immediately got in there and understood that she was supposed to be an alpha badass that made everybody feel like shit. I really loved her villain performance, and I think that her and Alison Becker (who voices Morgan Kay) have one of those great loving rivalries, and it’s all because of what great actresses they are. She just gets really sinister, and it works in a great way that I never could have even imagined.
Nerds and Beyond: What can listeners look forward to in upcoming seasons?
MORRIS: We have a new episode that should be coming out soon-ish. We recorded it at SF SketchFest, San Francisco’s sketch comedy festival. It is an episode that story-wise happens in the middle of season one. We’re calling it episode “4A,” and the characters all go to a crazy nightmarish escape room where a spider monster shows them all their worst fears. It’s got some great Mike Mitchell (the voice of Mitch Murray) being befuddled in it and it’s got some cool story revelations that I won’t spoil but are definitely important to the overall story, and I think people are going to like it. The official company line for the release date of season two is “We are looking at various ways to bring you more Bubble very soon.” I know that’s not satisfying, but I think it is all I can say at this point.
Nerds and Beyond: We have a few quick nerdy questions. Favorite Movie?
MORRIS: Can You Ever Forgive Me? — it’s not something necessarily in the geek space, but I think people should see it — it is terrific. I think the internet angle would be “there’s a lot of good cat content in it,” but it’s really great. Directed by Marielle Heller and Melissa McCarthy is the lead, she plays this alcoholic writer, and it’s based on a true story, she’s trying to make rent and get her cat cancer treatments by forging letters by famous people. And it’s just a great, really funny character movie. McCarthy and her co-star Richard E Grant both got nominated for Oscars, which they should have, and it’s just an awesome, funny, low-key movie that maybe got lost in the shuffle, but now because of the Oscars hopefully more people will see it.
Nerds and Beyond: Favorite Book?
MORRIS: I am reading a great short story collection by Lauren Groff called Delicate Edible Birds. She wrote a great book that was one of Obama’s favorites – Obama’s list, it’s a kingmaker – called Fates and Furies, so this is a short story collection, and they are really great, really weird, really tragic. Some of them are historical: there is one about a female war reporter during World War II, so you get a lot of different genres in just this one book, but they’re all really great and interesting. There’s a murder mystery in there and some kind of “slice of life” stuff, so it definitely varies in great ways from story to story, and she’s a fantastic writer.
Nerds and Beyond: Favorite Band?
MORRIS: I went to see the band Man Man the other night. They were on hiatus for a while, but they are kind of a crazy, circus punk type band. The lead singer sounds like Tom Waits and wears Druid outfits. It is really insane and makes you feel like you’re doing shrooms at a circus. It is really great high energy weirdness. So if you’re in the mood for something different, they are really great.
Nerds and Beyond: Favorite Word?
MORRIS: Oh that’s so interesting. You know, thanks to the magic of the FXX App, I have been watching classic Simpsons, and it’s basically most of the TV I’ve been watching. And there’s this great episode where they go into the history of the town founder, Jebediah Springfield, and he has a lot of made up words and one of them is “cromulent.” And people just insert it in weird ways, and it’s such a nonsense word, but it sounds real and so I just love inserting “cromulent” when I can.
Nerds and Beyond: Finally, we have a tradition that we end every interview with this question: What color lightsaber would you have, and why?
MORRIS: Boy you know, this might be controversial but, I do love the Mace Windu purple lightsaber. The prequels are a mixed bag, I think we can all agree, but I think the purple lightsaber is the best thing to come out of those. So I have to go purple.
You can listen to all eight episodes of Bubble here.