Eric Petersen on creating Kevin in ‘Kevin Can F**K Himself’

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
Provided by AMC and RLJE Films

Eric Petersen is one funny guy and has the resume to prove it. He stars as Kevin in AMC’s hit dark comedy “Kevin Can F**K Himself.”

Created by Valerie Armstrong (“Lodge 49”), “Kevin Can F**K Himself” is directed by Anna Dokoza (“Up All Night,” “Flight of the Conchords”) and Oz Rodriguez (Vampires vs. the Bronx, “A.P. Bio”). The series stars Emmy winner Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek”), Mary Hollis Inbodin (“The Righteous Gemstones”), Eric Peterson (“Kirstie”), Alex Bonifer (“Superstore”), Brian Howe (“Vice Principals”), and Raymond Lee (“Here and Now”).  

Allison McRoberts is the prototypical sitcom wife married to Kevin, her self-centered husband. When she learns that the perfect future she envisioned is impossible, she teams up with her neighbor Patty as she attempts to escape her confines and take control of her life. A completely original new dark comedy, “Kevin Can F**K Himself” shows what happens when you leave the brightly lit sitcom set and see the reality behind the laugh track.

What was your first reaction to the script when you read the pilot?

Eric: My first reaction was to the title before I even read the script. I was like, ‘wow, okay. All right. This is a bold swing for a title of a show.’ And then they were like, ‘you’re auditioning for Kevin, you know, said person who can f**k themselves.’ I was like, ‘alright, let’s see where this is going.’ And then once I read the script, I mean, you really can tell within the first five pages or the first five minutes of the show, and I think this has been the case for viewers as well, it has one of the strongest opening moments of any show I’ve ever seen of just establishing what our show is and how it’s going to go. The fact that we opened in this classic sitcom way, it’s well lit, there’s the audience laughing, the jokes are broad and sort of easy to digest, it feels very familiar. And then the second that Annie leaves the room and hits that kitchen door, it’s like boom, now we’re in single camera, it’s dark, it’s gritty, the laughter is gone, you see the sadness on her face, you see the real life that she’s living and it tells you everything you need to know about the show so quickly, it’s awesome. And the fact that it was doing a new thing, you know, we were making a show that was truly kind of breaking the format and approaching it in this new way that also felt familiar. It was very exciting. So I loved it right off the bat. I thought it was smart and funny and a great idea.

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
Yeah, this isn’t your standard sitcom, it’s a lot darker. Did this make you think about other sitcoms differently?

Eric: Yeah, it did. And you know, it is a good thing because it’s always better when we’re more cultured, more aware and more intelligent, obviously that’s a good thing, but I was a little sad in that I love sitcoms, I am a diehard multi-cam sitcom aficionado. I mean, I’ve worked in the form a lot, so obviously that’s a big part of it, but also I just love watching, you know, “All in the Family” and “The Honeymooners” and “Cheers” and “Seinfeld” and all these old classic sitcoms that I grew up just completely idolizing and wanting to be a part of that world. And now, when you go back and watch some of those shows, it’s like, ‘oh, gosh, I can’t believe that we laughed at that or that we accepted that that was okay or that gender roles were so clearly like you’re the wife, you have to go in the kitchen and make the food all the time and always wear an apron,’ nobody questioned that. So, it does make you go, ‘oh gosh, what have we been accepting as okay for so long? What have we been laughing at?’ Annie says in our show, she’s talking to Patty (Mary Hollis) and she says, ‘what have you been laughing at for all these years?’ And essentially, she’s posing the question to the audience as well. What have you been laughing at all these years? So it definitely made me look back at some of my favorite sitcoms and sitcom characters and just kind of have more of a critical eye. I think you can still find enjoyment in those shows and you can still laugh at them and there’s still good stuff and then but there is definitely a more heavier critical eye that I’ve taken when watching them.

I spoke to Mary Hollis the other day and she brought up laugh tracks and how they are sometimes used to cover up the problematic bits. Would you agree with that?

Eric: Well, I don’t know. I do think sometimes laugh tracks get a bad rap. When you say something like, ‘oh, that show has a laugh track,’ sometimes people think ‘oh, well the actors said the lines and it was totally unfunny and no one laughed and so they had to put a fake laugh in there.’ That’s not really how laugh tracks work. Laugh tracks are a sweetener, like the audience laughed but they wanted the producers to feel like the joke needs a bigger laugh. So I will say that I think sometimes laugh tracks get a bad rap as being like, ‘oh, the show has a laugh trick, it must not actually be funny.’ But I do think that Mary Hollis is right in that the idea of a laugh track covering up a joke that could be hurtful or insulting or un-pc or just really cruel definitely has happened and has covered up a lot of things where at home, if there was no laugh and they just said the line, you’d go, ‘oh, gosh, I didn’t feel funny, that actually felt mean and mean spirited.’ So it definitely is true that laughs rights have covered up things that I think we for years would have maybe taken a more critical eye to but because the laugh was there, we were just like, ‘I guess that was supposed to be funny…’

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC

And I’ll tell you, saying some of the lines that I had to say, I was like, ‘oh gosh, I feel so gross saying this.’ It’s also interesting because when we filmed all the multi-cam stuff, we did it kind of in block shooting and so we had these Laughers, as they were called, that were bought out, like, if it had not been for the pandemic, the plan was to have a full live studio audience. But because of the pandemic, we couldn’t do that so we had a group of 10 to 15 Boston locals who are hired to be Laughers, who basically came in, they sat off to the corner and they watched a live feed as we were recording and they would laugh to give us some sort of approximation of what it would be like had we had a live studio audience. And they laughed exactly where they should because the rhythm of the multi-cam stuff lets you know, it’s like set up and boom, you can just feel it because we’ve all watched TV for years, you can feel when you’re supposed to laugh. But there was stuff that they laughed at that I think, had those people who were our Laughers, had they seen any of the single camera stuff, which they had not, had they seem that, they would not have laughed at what I was saying because they would have seen how cruel and just terrible the things that Kevin says and does to his wife are. It’d be very interesting to me to know what their experience was. I’d actually love to interview some of those Laughers and be like, ‘when you ended up watching the whole show, did you regret laughing at everything that you laughed at when you were on the soundstage?’ I don’t know.

Since sitcoms have been around for quite some time, were there any sitcom husbands that you kind of used as inspiration for Kevin?

Eric: Yeah, the two big ones are Ralph Kramden, played by Jackie Gleason on “The Honeymooners” was number one and then number two would be Peter Griffin from “Family Guy.” Those were kind of my two main archetypes that I was kind of smashing into Kevin. But there’s so many others, too. I mean, you got Archie Bunker from “All in the Family,” Ray Romano from “Everybody Loves Raymond,” Tim Taylor from “Home Improvement,” there’s a lot of these sort of dumb, goofus-y kind of husbands on sitcoms. I wanted him to land in that world where people watching would feel familiar, comfortable and like ‘oh, yeah, I get it. I understand who this guy is. I get his rhythms,’ and then it would feel relatable because the thing is, I think, that while it is obviously a TV show, so everything is tightened, a lot of people that I’ve spoken to have been like, ‘yeah, my husband does stuff like that all the time,’ or ‘he thinks that way all the time’ or he’s always trying to say, ‘Oh, I got this great idea. This is what I’m going to do. Just don’t don’t ask any questions. It’s gonna be fine. It’s gonna be fine.’ And then everything falls apart. So I think that, while the character of Kevin and all of those sort of classic sitcom husbands are, yes, they’re heightened because they’re on TV, it’s not super far from the truth for a lot of people and I think that’s why the show works and I think that’s why sitcoms work and it’s why people always return to sitcoms because they do feel familiar and you like to sort of be like, ‘Oh, that’s us.’ Maybe not the bad parts of it, but we got to take the good with the bad so I think there’s a reason that it feels familiar.

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
What was it like working with Annie and creating your sitcom relationship?

Eric: She’s great. I can’t say enough great things about her. Obviously, I was a huge fan of her from “Schitt’s Creek.” My wife and I were actually binge watching “Schitt’s Creek” when I got the job. So I was like, deep in the throes of like, ‘oh my god, I’m gonna meet Alexis Rose. This is amazing!’ It was very exciting just meeting her. And then when you meet Annie, you’re so like pleasantly, I’m not gonna say surprised, but just happy because she’s exactly how you want her to be. She’s just so nice and she’s so present with you when you’re talking to her and she’s so smart and she’s so cultured and just with it and cool. Working with her has been great for me and my friendship with her has been great. All the scenes that we got to do together were some of my favorite bits of the whole season one. She’s a real comedian, you know, in the likes of Lucille Ball and people like that. She just gets comedy intrinsically. And so when we were finding bits and working on our scenes, she would look at me and be like, ‘what if we did this?’ And when I pitched an idea and she’d be like, ‘yes!’ So we were really kind of spitballing and working off each other in such a great way comedically, and then to also be friends, it’s just a total win-win. She’s the absolute best.

What was it like navigating Kevin, knowing that there was also that single cam aspect to the show?

Eric: Well, I think one of the big parts was I didn’t read the scripts of the single camera stuff, but I did try to sort of actively not concern myself with it. I think part of what makes Kevin, Kevin, is his complete obliviousness to everything else around him, let alone the people in his own multi-cam world. He’s oblivious to Allison when she’s right next to him in the multi-cam world, let alone when she’s in another room and living in her single camera life. It was kind of important to me to actually not know anything about that, like obviously, from an actor’s point of view, you know, finding out information that I had spent our life savings and stuff like that, I tried actually to not, like I [Eric] know it, but I try not to like subtly paint that in because I don’t think that’s what the purpose of Kevin is in the multi- cam. I think it should feel conflicting for you because hopefully, you see Kevin and you’re like, ‘oh, he’s kind of goofy and fun and lovable,’ but then you see the bad stuff in the single camera stuff. But if I try to put that in the multi-cam stuff, I think it just becomes muddy and it’s better to be more like, ‘oh, look at me, I’m such a nice guy. I just do everything right, I’m just a lovable goof.’ But then you hear the truth on the other side, but he can’t live that, he can’t show that. So to answer your question, I sort of tried to actively not concern myself with single camera stuff. But as an audience member watching it, I love it. I love it.

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
Yeah, that makes sense. So season two is coming soon. Have you started filming? Can you say anything about it yet?

Eric: I can’t really say much about it. I can say that we start filming in January, in just a few weeks. It’s very exciting. I’ve read the first couple of scripts and they’re great. They’re very exciting. I can’t tell you anything that happens in them, but they’re very good. Everybody is back and doing the things that you’ve loved them doing, in the first season. And so we’re very excited. We head back to Boston in a couple of weeks to start filming. We’ll be filming in the same location and same soundstage. So we’re all anxiously awaiting getting back at it because we had such a good time making season one. We’re so excited that people have been responding to it. People have been enjoying it. We know that there are a lot of questions about what’s happening plot-wise, and we hope to answer some of those questions with season two.

I just have one last question before I let you go, was it hard learning Kevin’s accent?

Eric: I personally love all accents. I love doing accent work. I fancy myself pretty good at them. I love picking up new accents and being able to kind of master them. Boston was one that I had never done before, shockingly. I just never had a project that required me to do that. So I was nervous going in because it’s a fun accent to do but it’s also one that is done badly, I guess, as a nice way to say it, and so I just didn’t want to do a bad Boston accent. We had a dialect coach on set all the time, but I also had a good friend who was helping me when I was auditioning for the show, who was from Boston. She explained to me, she was like, ‘it’s a lot about attitude. If you kind of have your face just always like you smelled something a little bad, if you just sort of have this face, that’s the first stp. So, imagine you smelled like some rotten eggs and you’re kind of ‘what was that? What was that?’ And then the next thing to do is to really, not slur your words, but connect as many words as you can in a sentence. Instead of being like, ‘what was that smell? You’d say, ‘whatwasthatsmell?’ Then once you start to get it and then once you drop the R’s, and there’s a few specific dialect things, it just flows, it just comes out. So now I feel pretty good at it and I really enjoy it. When we filmed in Boston, I would try it occasionally. Like if I was at the store or something, I would just put it in my regular voice to see if any locals would spot me and say, ‘you’re a liar. You’re an actor.’ I can tell you nobody did so I guess I’m doing okay.

Photo credit: Jojo Whilden/AMC
RLJE Films, a business unit of AMC Networks, will release Season 1 of the dark comedy series “Kevin Can F**K Himself” on DVD and Blu-ray on November 16, 2021.