Rich Burns, the creator of the new web series, “The Disappointments,” shares the inspiration behind the dark comedy as well some of the challenges in finally bringing the show to the screen.
“The Disappointments” follows three middle-aged gay best friends trying to figure out how to live their best lives.
In an interview with Instinct Magazine, the award-winning Hollywood screenwriter says some years ago a group of friends were discussing the news that a friend had taken his own life after losing his job.
“He was just 45, but he had these aspirations for his life,” says Burns. “And it just wasn’t going the way you wanted it to go. There were other other things that came into play, but he committed suicide.”
In the same conversation, the discussion shifted to other friends, roughly the same age, who saw that their own trajectories weren’t going in the direction that they wanted.
“They were not going to be able to fulfill the dream, so they had to sort of rethink it and come up with another path. They went back to school, and they prospered.”
“The idea of these different phenomenons for these people, in our age group and how they were dealing with getting older as gay men,” he continued. “It was kind of fascinating and, I just put it in my head saying, ‘You know, I want to write something about this someday.”
Hit the play button to listen to our full interview with Rich Burns.
While that could all turn into something very somber, Burns’s approach to the writing was to use dark humor to add a balance to the characters.
“I don’t make fun of dark things, necessarily, but I can’t help but find some dark humor in it. It’s the kind of storytelling that I like, so I couldn’t help but dive in and share my sensibility.”
In addition to writing the series, Burns is also a co-producer, co-director, and one of the leads in the series.
As the show was born out of an actual conversation, we wondered how much of his character, “Ray Russo,” comes from his personal life?
“There’s a lot of me in it,” he shares. “But I also took great liberties. Something may have happened and I said, ‘Well, how do I make that funny?’”
“Ray makes a choice to lean on his younger, fairly new boyfriend to help support him in continuing the dream, the journey. And that’s going to lead to some interesting flipped dynamics and some uncomfortable humiliation, but seen through the lens of comedy. You can’t help but groan, “Oh my God, this is humiliating for him…but it’s funny.”
The very woofy Trevor LaPaglia plays that younger boyfriend, “Dwight.” And so, Burns (who’s very easy on the eyes himself) has many scenes with LaPaglia. #luckyguys
LaPaglia handles the assignment with aplomb avoiding any stereotypic ‘younger, hunky boyfriend’ choices and bringing a hefty amount of charm to the role.
“It’s almost like he’s on the spectrum,” says Burns about LaPaglia’s take on the role. “He sees things a little bit differently. He does things that are maybe a little socially unacceptable, but he doesn’t connect to the rules that we all connect to.”
Referencing a specific scene in the series, Burns notes that how Dwight chooses to utilize a bathroom sink is not something that a lot of people do, but it makes total sense to him.
Burns also made specific choices about the music used throughout the show. Having gotten to know acclaimed out recording artist Bright Light Bright Light (aka Rod Thomas) via social media, Burns approached Thomas about writing a song an episode.
After that worked out great, Burns asked if he could utilize some of Thomas’s pop songs throughout the series: “How would you like to be our Bee Gees like in Saturday Night Fever?” Thomas was immediately onboard offering up the bulk of his catalogue.
Also included in the soundtrack are out artists Milahroy and Sergio Jackson, all of whom Burns met via Instagram.
“It was very exciting to be able to pull these guys in through social media. Social media can be a total positive force when it wants to be.”
“I have to say that like, I did not know what I was doing getting into this,” he adds. “Like, I had never directed anything on this level. I’ve never acted before…”
This is his acting debut???
“Yeah, I was trying to get some other actors, one of whom is a recognizable name. He really liked the script, but he was doing another project. Another actor who I really like, I couldn’t even approach because he was doing a shooting a movie.”
Finally, the other actors involved in the show told Burns, “YOU should do it.”
“They really had my back on it. They were so supportive of me, helping me. And my whole goal was I just didn’t want to be a distraction; in a scene where everyone’s a great actor and I was like, you know, the guy from The Room.
In addition to Burns, the series features Gedde Watanabe, James Campbell and the aforementioned LaPaglia. Steve Cubine and Burns share directing duties.
The first episodes of “The Disappointments” premiered on YouTube on November 8 and each Monday two new installments are released for a total of 11 chapters. The two-part finale will be released December 6. You can find the full series here.
(note: some quotes edited for clarity)