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How ‘You’re the Worst’ Showrunner Stephen Falk Worked on Edgar’s PTSD Story Line

“This is very embarrassing to admit, but it goes back to when I was playing paintball”

FXX
FXX

FXX’s You’re the Worst just wrapped up its third season. Don’t worry, there is more to come — the show has already been renewed for a fourth season. On the latest episode of The Andy Greenwald Podcast, Andy sat down with showrunner Stephen Falk to talk about how the comedy can still handle serious topics like post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and more.

Listen to the full episode here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

How Falk Landed on PTSD

Andy Greenwald: Did you have a connection to [PTSD and veterans affairs] before the character, or did you write the character, give him a backstory, and then, as you sought to humanize the character and add depth to him, that you wrote your way into this world?

Stephen Falk: Edgar was a total Trojan horse in that I have no personal relationship to veterans affairs, unlike the mental illness stuff. But, for whatever reason, it’s adopted me at some point. And this is very embarrassing to admit, but it goes back to when I was playing paintball in the forest.

I had just gotten divorced and these guys from high school who were two years older than me asked me to go paintballing. Every summer we’d go paintball in the middle of California in the middle of this forest. I’d always said no. This year, I said yes. And I went and I was in the forest waiting to be killed and trying to kill people and I was like, ‘Holy shit. I do not like this at all. I do not like this.’ Then I started thinking about actual war and not being a well-to-do 35-year-old and an actually-scared 18-year-old. Then I couldn’t shake that afterwards. So yeah, he has PTSD — we talk about his issues in the pilot episode. Then I wanted to get away from it in Season 2 and let him be a human and let him find other likes and hobbies, and then [in] Season 3 I knew it had to come back in a big way.

The Versatile Actors Give Falk Flexibility

AG: One thing that has to have been a gift is that [Desmin Borges] is a very good actor. He’s very funny, but he also does theater acting, he does other things.

SF: I mean, I hired all five-tool players. Inherently in dumb comedy, you’re using maybe two or three [tools]. For me, I’d be stupid to leave anything on the table. That’s sort of my approach to the show in general is: If I’m allowed to use physical comedy, scatological comedy, music, heavy drama, … neorealism, why wouldn’t I use all of them? Why wouldn’t I do that? If they don’t say no, and I can tonally make it all hold together with spit and mirrors, why wouldn’t I do that?

How Falk Juggles the Show’s Different Elements

AG: Are you ever surprised, though, at the load-bearing ability of this vessel that you built? You’re right, it has to be funny in a certain number of pages and you can’t get too far ahead of yourself, yet you did build this seafaring vessel that now could withstand a serious depression story line [and] a PTSD story line. The stuff you did this season with people carrying parental voices in your head, that’s real. That’s deep stuff that I responded to. Your show could do that.

SF: I think the load-bearing that you’re talking about is exactly what it is. The fans of architecture aren’t worried about what the contractor did. They’re not interested in how deep-down the pilings went. I see myself with one hand showing the fun and the sparkles, but in the other hand I’m digging those pilings. I was very aware early on that I needed to tell the audience in a subtle way without them knowing this show could be anything. Except what I would not do is quick, cut-to jokes. That’s the one thing I wasn’t going to do.

I just think it’s easy. To me, [quick jokes are] just easy.

AG: But it has been done, and we’ve become accustomed to that …

SF: Yeah, I won’t do it. And the other thing that annoys me about television is ghost characters. Hate ghost characters.

AG: Like who come back and talk to people?

SF: Like [on] Dexter. Like ghost Dad. Fucking hate it. … Can’t stand it. It’s so easy and cheap.

Falk’s One Regret With the Show

AG: But also, every TV creator, no matter what show it is, you are setting the dial on your own reality and once you set it, you have to police that or else then you sell things out. I was struck by, despite the wildness of some of the jokes and situations, you refused to sell out the characters and their humanity for those jokes.

SF: This season, I did something that I am a tiny bit regretful of, although it gave me the most joy of almost anything, and that is showing Dorothy to be kind of a racist, a drunk driver, and [to] have her life fall apart. For some reason, watching someone’s dream crumble around them tickled me. Maybe it’s because Collette [Wolfe] is so great. Or maybe it’s just ’cause that happens in L.A.