Playing Doctor with Childrens Hospital's Lake Bell
Absurdist comedy fans rejoice: Medical show satire Childrens Hospital returns to Adult Swim Sunday night after an all-too-long two-week hiatus. While the first season was originally shot for the web, the new episodes are premiering exclusively for TV. I spoke to Lake Bell, who stars as Dr. Cat Black, about perfecting the voiceover, her dark past (she was an E.R. fan), and characters deaths that don’t stick. Warning: There's some coarse language ahead—and if that bothers you, you shouldn’t be watching this show in the first place.
TV.com: Childrens Hospital began as a web series. Did you ever think it would make the transition to TV?
Lake Bell: Honestly, I didn’t even know that people did that. I had no idea that that was in the cards. I feel like we did it because it was fun, and I definitely envisioned that we would do a second season and that we would do it just for the web. And part of me, at the time, was hoping that it would be the web for the second season, because then I wouldn’t have had a conflict—I had just been cast on How to Make It in America for HBO. And it sure enough was a conflict for HBO to have me on the air twice, on two shows as a series regular. So I had to do only four episodes of Childrens Hospital this season, but I will say this: HBO’s cool, because they’re letting me do, back to normal, the third season of Childrens Hospital. They said I could do as many episodes as I want.
So only four episodes, but are you going to have memorable performances in those?
Oh, yes. Yes, you could say that. I get ugly. It’s all good.
Do you ever worry about the show being too offensive? The humor is definitely on the edgier side.
The thing is, it’s called Childrens Hospital, so the only time I’ve ever felt any sort of “oops” factor to it was when I sent it to my mom for the first time. I said to her that it was a comedy and it was online. But I guess she just saw the subject heading, Childrens Hospital, and thought it was for charity or something, and she sent it to all of her friends without watching it. And that was a huge disaster in our family for a second. But now we can all laugh about it, because I don’t think that the humor—I think it’s so obviously absurd that you can’t take it too seriously. I’ve actually never heard anyone say, “You should be ashamed of yourself.” I’ve not gotten any weird tweets about it or anything. Not that people who would be offended by Childrens Hospital would be on Twitter, but point is, the feedback has been great. I think people know it’s a comedy.
How does a non-animated series like Childrens Hospital fit on Cartoon Network? Or is it just an Adult Swim show?
It’s interesting. Adult Swim is making a transition. They’re comedy folk, and I think that Nick Weidenfeld, who sort of championed the show, is interested in this kind of content. So I feel like, with Delocated and Childrens Hospital, there’s 15-minute programming on television now. I feel like that kind of format is more welcomed, and Adult Swim isn’t really just cartoons. That’s why they call it Adult Swim.
In terms of the research you did for the role, how many hours of medical dramas did you have to sit through to get your voiceover just right?
That’s really funny. You don’t need a lot of hours to get it. I watched a couple episodes and was like, “Yeah, I know. I got this.” But I used to watch E.R. when I was younger, and I actually did a couple episodes of E.R. when I first started out. And I used to think E.R. was really cool. I did not get on board with Grey’s Anatomy, but I had seen a couple episodes with girlfriends who loved it when it was first coming out and they were obsessed. It’s just not my cup of tea, but it’s not poo-poo. It’s just not my thing, that’s all.
Yeah, I mean, I definitely prefer Childrens Hospital to Grey’s Anatomy, but I guess it’s a different audience.
[laughs] At this point, I feel like the people on Grey’s Anatomy should have a sense of humor about it.
You have some new cast members joining you in the upcoming season. Who was the bigger diva on set, Malin Akerman or Henry Winkler?
[laughs] Well, here’s the deal. I wish I could give you even a joke answer, but I just feel like, the set is so anti-diva that it’s more like everyone feels lucky to be there. Because it’s kind of like the cool comedy camp that you want to go to. So if you get invited into the cool comedy camp, you kind of just want to shut up and smile and enjoy. There are literally no divas. There’s barely crafts service. There’s barely hot coffee, let alone—you kind of know what you’re getting into.
You definitely have a great rapport as a cast. The Childrens Hospital panel at Comic-Con was the best one that I attended.
I know, I like, didn’t get to say anything. It was such a barrage. It was kind of insane. Erinn [Hayes] and I were bummed, because our mics were broken in the beginning. So we kept saying little things, and then I was like, “That’s not landing!” It was like, wait a second. “Dude, it’s not working. Our mic is on low.” I was like, “Do you think they did that because we’re women?” [laughs]
Speaking of Erinn, Cat’s relationship with Lola—is that totally over now that Lola died a little bit?
You have exactly the right attitude, which is, “died a little bit” is totally our style. Because nobody really dies. Things happen. We’re not big on logic, you know. Let’s just say, I might come close to death at one point, a la for the HBO of it all. And, you know, I’ll come back in Season 3. We don’t really pay attention to death… and taxes.
So what else can we expect from these new episodes? Did anything change because the show was shot for TV?
You know, what’s cool is that we just had more money, so the absurdist and cockamamie ideas that the writers and Rob [Corddry] and everybody want to realize, they’re just more readily available and doable. So we have a little CGI action occasionally. We’ve got fancy hair and makeup gags. We just get to have a little more fun with props and weird outfits, basically.
Tell me a little bit about the upcoming live episode you guys teased at Comic-Con.
We are doing a live episode. You have to look out for it, because I don’t have the exact date, but it is epic. And it’s gonna be a mess, and it’s gonna be really fun. So I hope that people tune in for that, and we really want to spread the word.
So you’re more excited than nervous about it?
I mean, it’s nervewracking because it’s live, but I feel like because the show is pretty forgiving—we’re going to have rehearsals and stuff, we know basically what we’re doing. But with enough rehearsals, and then we do it and if we fuck up, it’s OK, because we’re kind of … you know. I hope we’re not gonna fuck up.
Well, I wish you good luck. Or break a leg. Whichever applies to TV.
Break something. It’s a hospital for chrissakes.
Now that you’ve tackled the medical drama. What TV genre needs to be parodied next?
Are you gonna steal my idea?
No, no, I promise I won’t.
Let’s think about it. Are we in a mini-writers’ room right now? … I guess a kind of bad vampire C.I.A. mix. Like, a vampire C.I.A. agent.
I’m so excited: I’m doing, for Adult Swim, a pilot. You know that guy Major Lazer? He’s like a cult reggae-dance-trance persona out of Jamaica. And his name’s Major Lazer and he kills zombies. That’s just his dance-trance persona, but they’ve made it into a series, and it’s kind of bonkers. And I’m doing that.
Childrens Hospital airs Sunday nights at 10:30pm on Adult Swim.
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