Ken Marino is the kind of celebrity you totally recognize but can’t quite place. You might know him from the cult comedy series Party Down or as Katie Holmes’ slimy professor on Dawson’s Creek. But to men of a certain age, he’ll always be Louie, the mega-obnoxious character on MTV’s The State who repeatedly yelled out, “I wanna dip my balls in it!”
After two decades of steady work as a supporting comedy actor, Marino is finally the star of a movie, Bad Milo! It’s about a burned-out husband who realizes that the horrible pain in his stomach is actually a demon named Milo who lives in his ass. When Marino gets into a stressful situation, Milo comes out and starts killing people. It’s even crazier than it sounds, but the reviews have been surprisingly positive.
Recently, Marino also teamed up with his wife, Erica Oyama, to create the web series Burning Love, a hilarious Bachelor spoof that E! picked up. The couple is also writing a big-screen adaptation of the parody children’s book Go the Fuck to Sleep. Rolling Stone checked in with them by phone as Bad Milo! was hitting theaters.
How are things going?
Marino: Really well. In honor of doing a Rolling Stone interview, we trashed our office and we’re really wigged out on coke.
Oyama: Ken is wearing guyliner.
Nice. Tell me how you guys met?
Oyama: We met at the very first Jimmy Kimmel Live [in 2003]. It was on Super Bowl Sunday and it was kind of a big party. Coldplay was playing and Ken and I were both there. We hadn’t really planned on being there, but we were just having beers and we met. . . We started dating three days later.
Marino: I started courting her.
Erica, did you watch The State when you were younger?
Oyama: I did watch it a bit when I was younger, but not in a creepy way.
Marino: I also watched it when I was younger. I saw early cuts of sketches.
Erica, did you know Louie and all his characters before you met?
Oyama: I had seen him shout “I wanan dip my balls in it!” on TV.
Marino: But who hasn’t?
Did you worry that working together would strain your relationship?
Oyama: Definitely. There’s some pressure we face, but I think that’s what makes it work. We also do things apart professionally. It happened very naturally. We were dating and we were both writing. We decided to write things together.
Marino: But we highly don’t recommend it.
How do you tell each other you don’t like something the other person did when you’re writing comedy? That couldn’t be easy.
Marino: We treat it like we’re working with anybody. You say what you think is funny and what you don’t think is funny. It’s also for the greater good of whatever you’re working on. I don’t think we get hurt feelings about that stuff.
Oyama: Not anymore.
How much of The Bachelor did you watch before you started writing Burning Love?
Oyama: Hours and hours. Every episode is two hours long, sometimes three. It’s so unnecessary. It’s like you’re watching Titanic, but not much happens.
Marino: Not much happens in Titanic either.
Oyama: I guess I watched it as a sincere fan before it even dawned on me that I could do anything with it.
Do you think anyone watches Burning Love and thinks its a legit reality show?
Marino: Many do. One of the fun things we do is read the comments of the episodes.
Oyama: People get angry and are like, “How is this garbage on TV?”
Marino: Then it becomes this fight with people who are trying to explain it to people. They start yelling at each other.
Oyama: They’re like, “You realize that was Jennifer Aniston?”
Ken, what are you working on right now?
Marino: I just wrapped on Eastbound and Down. I’m in this upcoming season, which is awesome. And now I’m back at home. Erica and I are writing a couple of screenplays and we also just sold a show to Fox that we’re writing. If we’re lucky and it goes that far, we’ll be in it. Season 2 and 3 of Burning Love just got picked up by E! What else? Bad Milo! is out.
Did part of you worry that Bad Milo! was simply too weird?
Marino: No. [Producer] Mark Duplass called me up and said, “Hey, do you want to be in this movie that I’m producing about a butt demon?” And without hesitation, I was like, “Absolutely. When’s the fitting?”
How did you guys wind up writing the Go the Fuck to Sleep screenplay?
Oyama: We heard about it from our agent. He was like, “I think this is a great opportunity for you.” We have two young kids, so we’ve lived that book and are living that book still. So we came up with the pitch and we were lucky enough to get it, so we’re writing it now.
That’s got to be a pretty challenging task. There’s not much story in that book.
Oyama: Yeah, it’s just taking the spirit of the book and expanding it into a story longer than eight pages.
Marino: Yeah, I think that’s right. Of course you can’t write a screenplay based on that book. It’s just in the spirit of it.
Writing screenplays for major studios has to be a bitch. You hear so many horror stories about writers seeing their work just get butchered when the studio gives it to other writers.
Oyama: I think we understand we’re just starting out. I mean, Ken has written a few movies with our friend David Wain and, by himself, he’s been doing a little bit. This is my first time through, so I’m noticing it’s just a different beast. In Burning Love, it was sort of our vision and our baby. If anybody tried to make a change, we would have freaked out. In this situation, somebody came to us and were like, “Hey, we want you to work on this.” Our job is to do the best we can and whatever happens after that, we have no control over.
Marino: But ultimately, we’re there to serve the president. We want to write the best thing we can write, but if they have different ideas, we’re happy to facilitate those ideas.
Oyama: We’d like to do our own thing in smaller movies and also have these cool, bigger jobs too.
Marino: We’d also like a helicopter.
Are you putting moments from your real life into the screenplay?
Oyama: I don’t know if it’s there anymore, but at some point, we had the mom have a breakdown at Costco. This happened to me while I was at Costco with my new baby. They wouldn’t let me use Ken’s membership card and I was standing there, yelling at people with a baby strapped to me. It’s fun to take moments from our lives and put them into the scripts.
Ken, do fans ask you more about The State or Party Down?
Marino: It’s a toss-up. There’s a lot of questions about Party Down, and it’s more of a recent show so people are kind of still discovering it. But don’t underestimate The State. People are still coming up to me and saying, “I wanna dip my balls in it.” It’s got legs, for whatever reason.
Oyama: It’s a little awkward when they yell it out to him and we’re with our kids. My son’s old enough now to pick it up.
Do you get asked more about a Party Down movie or a Wet Hot American Summer prequel?
Marino: I get both requests quite a bit. I’ll say Party Down, but I get a lot about Wet Hot American Summer. I always say, “If Mike Showalter and David Wain write it, I’m definitely in it.” As far as the Party Down movie. . . That was an incredible experience. It was a magical experience. Everybody in front of the camera and behind the camera wants to do it, so hopefully it’ll get done. That was a great group of people.
It’s hard to explain why, but the scene in Wet Hot American Summer where you crash the van is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. I have no idea why it makes me laugh so hard every single time.
Marino: Oh, thanks man. I think I lull you into a nice, calm sleep by singing my Loggins and Messina and I think my voice is very soothing to you. It just calms you down, and then we crash into a tree.
Oyama: It’s like, what did he see?
Marino: Somebody explained it to me and I went back and looked at it. It’s kind of ridiculous. I’m not looking away. I’m looking straight forward and I just crashed into the tree. It’s not like I was distracted.
Oyama: And the crash is so violent. It’s a really intense crash.
Marino: I still remember the day. They got a stunt guy and they put him in this old van with a shitty belt and they made him ride into the tree at 40 miles per hour. And there’s this whole thing with stunt men where they’re not supposed to say they got hurt. It’s kind of a code. So the guy came out and he clearly had the wind knocked out of him. The stunt coordinator ran over to him and they both walked in the opposite direction of the camera for a minute, and then came back and gave the thumbs up and everything was cool. But yeah, it’s a pretty violent crash. The tree doesn’t move.
I just can’t visualize a prequel now, since you guys are all in your 40s and you’ll be playing teenagers.
Marino: Well, we were in our 30s when we were supposed to be 19. I think that would be the meta joke of that one. We’re 40 now playing 18. I’m 40ish, mid-40s.
What can you tell me about the sitcom that you’re working on for Fox?
Oyama: It’s based on our good friend Sam Calagione, who is the founder of Dogfish Head Beer.
Marino: It’s based on a book he wrote about the earlier years of putting his business together and building a brewery.
Sitcoms are a tough business. I feel like every year, the networks cram out 20 sitcoms all at once, and almost all of them get yanked immediately. It’s gotta be frustrating working in a business like that.
Marino: It can be frustrating, but I think that ultimately, you know that going in. You know the odds, but you just have to believe in the project. With any job in this town, the success rate is tiny. If somebody gave us the statistics on Burning Love being a successful web series, we would be like “Oh my God! Those are terrible odds.” You just try to do what you believe in and what you think is funny and you stay true to that and you hope the stars line up.
Are you thinking about doing any more web shows in the future?
Oyama: I would love to go back to web at some point. It was really fun and really free and just a great way to get all these funny people who we know all together.
Marino: But we had to pay our electric bills, though.
Oyama: Right now, we’re juggling a few things. I’m also writing a movie called White Girl Problems. It’s based on the Twitter feed that became a book. That’s with Elizabeth Banks and Max Handelman. They’re producing.
It’s gotta be a challenge to carve a story out of that.
Oyama: To me, it’s more of a freedom. When it’s just kind of thematic things, broad ideas, then it opens up to going wherever you want. It’s as far as your imagination will take you.
Ken, do you think [the crew of] The State are going to do any movie projects in the future?
Marino: You know, I think we would all love to do that. There’s so many of us. We’re like rats or cockroaches. It’s kind of hard to get us all together in one place.
Oyama: That’s beautiful.
Marino: Yeah, isn’t that beautiful? We are still very good friends. We all love each other. We work with each other in small groups. We have been doing that for the last 20 years. The hope is to do some sort of pure State project in the future. Whether or not it will happen, only the gods can tell.
Do you think it’ll be a movie or a stage show of some sort?
Marino: I mean, my hope is to do something similar to what was successful about the group in the first place. Whether it’s a movie or a series or something, I think kind of trying to reinvent what we do is not necessarily where we should go. Who knows? It just requires us all being available. That’s really difficult because right now, luckily, we’ve been able to, for the most part, work in this town and make a living doing really silly things.
That’s pretty amazing when you stop and think that you were just a college sketch comedy group, and so many of you went on to these huge careers. That’s a pretty unlikely turn of events.
Marino: It’s super unlikely and I think about it all the time, how unique and special it is. I hope that we get to do something together as a full group again. I think it would be a nice kind of reunion.
Are you being approached about more projects because Burning Love did so well?
Oyama: I think that Burning Love brought up a lot of opportunities for us. We kind of got our plates full right now, but we do gets e-mails now and again from different studios about different products. We’re just trying to deliver well on these scripts so that we can keep working and keep busy.
Marino: So hopefully I won’t drive my wife too crazy and we’ll continue to work together.