You know the guy in the movie who doesn’t get the girl? Michael Showalter’s The Baxter is his story.
Michael Showalter, the witty 34-year-old writer-director of Wet Hot American Summer, is back, and this time he’s neither hot nor wet in the slightest. (He is, to our knowledge, still American.) Showalter, who began making the college set laugh in the early ’90s as part of MTV’s cult hit sketch show The State, is presently enjoying the (relative) success of his current troupe’s show Stella on Comedy Central, as well as celebrating the release of his new movie The Baxter this Friday.
The film tells the story of one Elliot Sherman, an insufferably well-meaning CPA who personifies “the Baxter,” the kind of polite, all-too-earnest nice guy who always gets dumped for the leading man in romantic comedies. Showalter, who wrote, directed, and stars in the film, sat down with Radar Online and tried to explain just what makes a Baxter.
RADAR ONLINE: Are you, Michael Showalter, a Baxter?
MICHAEL SHOWALTER: Not autobiographical. Not a Baxter. At least, I don’t think I am. I think I have Baxter qualities, but part of what this movie does is purport that maybe all of us have Baxter qualities. We’re all losers in one triangle and winners in another. We’ve all been dumped, and if you’ve ever been dumped, you’re a Baxter.
Still not quite clear on the Baxter concept. Can you name some famous Baxters?
You mean from movies, or anything?
Jimmy Carter’s a Baxter.
Really? Former president Jimmy Carter? Why?
Peanuts… I mean, if you want to play the game with American presidents…
Okay: John Kennedy’s not a Baxter. Richard Nixon… Richard Nixon’s kind of a Baxter. Gerald Ford: Baxter. Clinton: not a Baxter. G.W. Bush: not a Baxter.
The elder Bush: biiig-time Baxter.
You’ve lived in Brooklyn for 10 years, and the borough plays as large a role in your movie as Elliot Sherman, the Baxter. Yet in the film one character calls it “Brooklyn, Wisconsin,” because “it’s out in the middle of nowhere.” Is Brooklyn a Baxter?
I think for most of the world Brooklyn’s still a Baxter, yeah.
Still? Even with Manhattan-grade rents, the hipster parade, and the big bad Nets coming to town?
Certainly not Williamsburg. Williamsburg is sort of the cool guy. Not the leading man, but the pot-smoking weirdo. Yeah, I think most of the world has still yet to catch on to how cool Brooklyn is. I mean, you don’t get a lot of tourists in Brooklyn. You still feel as though everyone you pass on the street lives there.
How about L.A.? Is L.A. a Baxter?
Nooo. L.A.’s the leading lady. The vixen. Now, Sacramento… Sacramento’s a Baxter. The California Baxter city.
In the movie Elliot says his grandmother came up with the term “Baxter.” How did you come up with it? And why does it work better than, say, “Showalter”?
I wanted a name that would suggest a certain stodginess, but without being dorky, like “Dexter.” There’s a certain handsomeness to Baxter, but it’s also a little square.
Elliot seemed kind of British to me. He almost had a Monty Python quality.
I do think there’s a kind of Britishness to him, and he definitely has a kind of John Cleese “Ministry of Silly Walks” quality. It wasn’t a conscious choice; I just kind of fell into that character. Maybe it’s because the British are still stuck in their traditions, with all that chivalrousness, politeness, and manners. Elliot has the same kind of ideas in his mind about how you’re “supposed” to act. I think that lent itself to a certain stuffy Britishness.
Does your Baxter have anything to do with the French film called Baxter about the evil dog?
Yes, it is “loosely based” on it. It’s just an English remake. Sort of like Three Men and a Baby was also a remake of a French film about an evil dog.
Do you consider The Baxter to be a sort of polemic against romantic comedies like Three Men and a Baby or Sleepless and Seattle and the leading men who always get the girl?
No, I love those movies. This is an homage, and I hope that comes across. If anything, though, I loved the Bill Pullman character [who gets dumped in Sleepless] the most, and didn’t want to let him go. If anything, The Baxter is his story—finished.
The last time you spoke with Radar Online, your show Stella was about to premiere on Comedy Central. How’s that working for you? Is it still on?
It’s still on and doing pretty well, yeah.
Do you fear it might go the way of the Upright Citizens Brigade?
You mean no one watching it? Sure, that’s exactly what we fear. But what are you gonna do?
Why does it seem as if all good sketch shows get axed within a year, while Saturday Night Live is allowed to just get suckier and suckier?
I have no idea. A long time ago I realized that I don’t know what the pulse is. I think there’s a randomness to it. I think that some things just catch on and some don’t. Good things go away, and shit stays on forever, but sometimes great things catch on. It’s just sort of random.
In that spirit, what’s your next project about?
Haven’t finished it yet, so I don’t want to say too much. But I’m going to stay in this genre for a while. Films, Brooklyn, comedy.
Okay, just please tell us that whatever it is, it’ll have a role for Michael Ian Black, so he’ll stop doing all those VH1 clip shows.