It’s not often a show from first-time creators gets renewed for a second season before it even premieres. But Josiah Johnson and Quinn Hawking aren’t your average creators. Both of them were benchwarmers for the UCLA basketball team and their experiences inspired the raucous adult animated high-school basketball comedy Legends of Chamberlain Heights, which they write, executive produce and star in. The show premieres September 14 after South Park’s 20th season premiere on Comedy Central.
Daily Brief spoke with them about how intimidating it is to follow South Park, the differences in the sport and entertainment industries, and the creative life of a benchwarmer.
DAILY BRIEF: How does it feel premiering after the 20th season premiere of South Park?
HAWKING: We originally thought we were going to air in June, so we were stoked. But when they pushed us to September, we were like, ahhh, they’re pushing us back. Everybody was like, no this is a great thing. Does this add more pressure? It kind of does if you’re following something like South Park. It’s going to have a lot of viewers and you have to live up to what they did, even though our show is different.
JOHNSON: I’m not lying to you, I was nervous as fuck. South Park is the GOAT (editor’s note: Greatest Of All Time), nothing compares to that show, and what they’ve been able to do for 19, now going on 20 seasons, you dream to be able to do the same things they do or even half of what they’ve done. We’re both confident guys, we have a basketball mentality, so we both approach it as a healthy competition. We love and respect South Park, but we want to be better than them. You shouldn’t be in this game if you don’t want to be at the top of it. No better way than to come off the block with South Park.
You guys both worked in sports media before this show. How different are the industries?
JOHNSON: We joke, we’re never going back to that side. Sports is great, but it’s a little more anonymity, you’re trying to do everything behind the scenes, you’re doing everything you can for the talent or the network, but now, we’re like, not the main attraction, but we’re staying at a nice-ass hotel.
HAWKING: Sports is where we got our foundation. When we graduated college, we didn’t know what we wanted to do, so we got jobs in sports TV. It’s a lot more challenging to make an animated show than it is to work in sports TV. In sports, you’re producing and editing based on the footage you get. Whereas, this is the ground floor. These characters we created, they didn’t exist.
If you could be the benchwarmers for any team in sports history who would it be?
JOHNSON: I would say the 2015-2016 Cleveland Cavaliers. That would be heaven on earth. Maybe a team with Deion Sanders or Randy Moss, or someone like that.
HAWKING: Probably the Bulls teams with Rodman, Jordan and Pippen. They had a dude on that team named Jack Haley, who recently passed away. He was a perennial benchwarmer waving the towel. He went to UCLA, and we grew up going to his basketball camps in Southern California. He helped inspire this show, because you see this guy at the end of the bench but he still has this legendary presence. We tried to adapt that. Once we were at UCLA, we wanted to be like Jack Haley.
Did you guys start creating the show on the bench back then, or only after the fact?
JOHNSON: You hear all these terms that apply to writing, writer’s rooms or punch ups, we were doing all that stuff 15 years ago, we just didn’t know what it was. We had a crazy crew of friends, so whatever we could do to make each other laugh, we were doing. We would challenge each other: who could do the best voice impression, who could dance the craziest or whatever it may be.
HAWKING: We weren’t writing or thinking of TV shows at UCLA, but we planted the seed for it. We were always thinking creatively. We weren’t always paying attention to the game.
JOHNSON: As a benchwarmer, you have to be creative with how you spend your time, because you’re sitting on the bench for two, three hours. What are you going to do to occupy your time to make this game go quickly? Obviously you cheer for the team and do all that stuff, but in between that, we catch up on life, tell stories or get numbers from girls in the crowd. You do have a UCLA jersey on, so you take advantage of it.
Who’s your favorite UCLA alum?
HAWKING: Did they have to graduate? I say Jim Morrison.
JOHNSON: I’ll go with Ed O’Bannon. I was a ball boy on the ‘95 championship team, and got a first hand look at Ed and how amazing and incredible a person and leader he was. Just being around him for that year was one of the greatest memories of my life. Every time I see him I get like a little kid, oh it’s Ed O’Bannon, even though we’re friends.
If you could be benchwarmers for any other sport, what would it be?
HAWKING: My senior year of high school, after basketball season, I randomly went out for the baseball team. I played when I was little and I enjoyed it, but focused on basketball. I basically was a benchwarmer for the baseball team, but it was one of my funnest sports experiences ever. That year I went to a high school that was mostly Hispanic, so I was this tall white dude, and I would just be crazy in the dugout. Randomly, our team won the league championship that year. I’m not giving myself any credit or anything, but I do feel like I brought some energy. I’ll never forget that experience. I also batted 1.000 for the season. I went up to bat twice. I got a hit in my first at bat, and I walked in my second at bat.
JOHNSON: I literally sucked at baseball my entire life after tee ball. In tee ball I was dominant, on pace for the Hall of Fame. But then…I would probably dominate at being a benchwarmer in baseball. You get to chill in baseball. It’s still a sport, you still have to go out and perform, but it feels like guys can pop off and go get hot dogs, go in the locker room and chill out, do whatever. That would probably be the ideal sport to benchwarm besides basketball.
HAWKING: Just give me some bubble gum and eye black. I use to do ridiculous stuff with eye black. I would give myself beards.
With a bigger team in baseball, you have an even greater variety of personalities.
HAWKING: Baseball’s a different beast.
JOHNSON: They were kind of our arch rivals, secretly, in terms of going after girls. Everybody thinks football and other sports, but the baseball dudes had their own shit going on. You turn around and go, wait there’s no baseball dudes and all the girls are gone.
I highly recommend Everybody Wants Some!!
JOHNSON: Quinn won’t stop talking about it.
HAWKING: I’m mad at myself that we didn’t make that movie. Because, tonally, that’s like very much our show. It’s my favorite movie I’ve seen so far this year.
You’re both co-creators, executive producers, writers and voice talent. Which of these titles are you most proud of?
JOHNSON: Probably creator. Like Quinn said earlier, you’re taking something that didn’t exist before, and you’re working with a crew that included Brad Ableson, Mike Clements, Michael Starrbury, the other creators of the show. It could have been shut down at the pitch, or in the pilot phase, and now to be sitting here talking to you with two seasons coming up…wow we created all this?
HAWKING: It’s definitely romantic. We do two things: we write and do voices. The writing is more of a thought process that takes patience. That’s rewarding in its own right. Doing the voice work, in the booth or at the table read, that’s very in the moment. The creativity is different. Both are fulfilling. It’s cool because when you’re frustrated with the writing, you go in the booth and let out that frustration. It’s a dope balance. I’m glad we get to do both. If we were only able to do one of those, it wouldn’t be as satisfying. To be able to do everything is a blessing, especially because we didn’t go to film school, we weren’t classically trained to do this. We taught ourselves by just doing shit.
Was there ever discussion about other actors doing the roles?
JOHNSON: When they ordered the pilot, they were like, we like you guys’ voices, but we just want to see what else is out there. We can’t blame Comedy Central because we go back and see the shit we did initially, and I was fucking terrible. I would’ve recast us too. We had to sit through 2 or 3 days of auditions with every famous person you could think of coming in the booth reading your lines, reading your character. I don’t think we ever doubted we would do the voices, but it was like fuck, this sucks. Imagine doing your job and they bring in a bunch of other people to try and do it too. It challenged us and lit a fire under our asses. We gotta bring it and take this shit serious. We definitely thank the network for that challenge. They tried and they failed is what I like to say.
What’s your least favorite show on TV?
JOHNSON: Anything on Fox News. But other than that, we love all Viacom shows. Just throwing that out there.
HAWKING: That’s a tough question to ask us right now.
Everyone always asks what your favorite show is…
HAWKING: We saw Will Forte yesterday, who also went to UCLA. He chatted us up for 30 minutes. He’s my favorite person on TV with Last Man on Earth. I love MacGruber, which a lot of people don’t love. To be here and meet him and see how interactive he was with us. It was like, what the fuck is going on? It was dope.
JOHNSON: We reached the pinnacle. We met Will Forte. We met Bill Paxton. It was like, oh shit, it’s Bill Paxton. He’s like coming up to us, what’s up, what’s up…We’re like whoa. We don’t need to meet anybody else.
The first two episodes of Legends of Chamberlain Heights premiere September 14 after South Park on Comedy Central at 10:30/9:30c.
[All images courtesy of Josiah Johnson & Quinn Hawking]