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If you’ve never heard of Jonathan Ames, that’s about to change. Because indie fave Jason Schwartzman will soon be playing Ames in what’s being called a "noir-otic" new HBO comedy series called Bored to Death


Ames, who is creator, executive producer and writer on the show, is the author of eight books, including the graphic novel The Alcoholic (illustrated by Dean Haspiel, the cartoonist behind American Splendor, from Batman Adventures to his semi-autobiographical genre-crossing “avatar” Billy Dogma). He’s also written The Extra Man, which has been adapted for the screen, What’s Not to Love, and the recently published The Double Life is Twice as Good, perhaps a reference to his double duty on Bored to Death?


The real Ames is an unconventional cult hero, and has been described as an alcoholic noir-fiction-obsessed pervert. Still, he’s a welcome fixture at New York’s coolest clubs and parties, where he sometimes appears with his strange friend Mangina, who, believe it or not is what his name suggests, when he dresses up as a “Man” with a [Va] “gina”. Ames is also known for his many wacky internet films like Jonathan Meets Throwdini & His Knives, Jonathan Reads Alchoholic at the KGB Bar, and AZDent Presents Jon Jon Ames and Ty Siminoe, an engaging but strange biker short. Ames also is, or once was, Fiona Apple’s boyfriend. 


After learning all this, it should come as no surprise that Bored to Death is by no means your average, run-of-the-mill half-hour sitcom, though it is a half-hour long. HBO is on a role, folks. And in the same way that True Blood is not your average vampire fare, and Hung is not your usual prostitute story, BTD is also, mark my words, in a world of its own.

Bored to Death Cast

 Jonathan Ames, a young Brooklyn writer, is feeling lost. He’s just gone through a painful break-up, thanks in part to his drinking and drugging, can’t manage to write his second novel, and carouses too much with his boss, a bored magazine editor (Ted Danson). Rather than face reality, Jonathan turns instead to his fantasies – moonlighting as a private detective – because he wants to be a hero and a man of action, like his idols in Raymond Chandler novels. After placing an ad on Craig’s List, Jonathan, whose only experience in detective work is his supply of noir suspense novels, starts taking cases as they come in. 


The idea of Schwartzman as a man of action is funny in and of itself, but when you add stand-up comic Zack Galifianakis (the show stealer in The Hangover) as Ames’s eccentric comic book illustrator best friend, and a premise (and cast) which lends itself to high-profile guest stars, including Patton Oswalt, Kirsten Wiig, Parker Posey, Bebe Neuwirth, Oliver Platt, and if you’re not sold yet, Paul Feig, of Freaks and Geeks.


Dish had a chance to talk with Ames in LA recently, and we asked him about the origins of the show. “This came out of my long-time love and fascination with detective novels,” Ames told us.  “And also at one time in my life, I was obsessively playing internet backgammon and crazily bored and rereading Raymond Chandler at the time. And I've wanted to be a hero. So the story that I initially wrote, which became the basis for the series, was me getting a chance to be heroic through a fictional character. It’s really a piece of fiction where I used my own name. Though right after I wrote it, someone did ask me to find a colon hygienist who had gone missing who had once given me a colonic.  It was so strange that as soon as I had become a fictional private detective, someone contacted me and said, ‘Can you find that colon hygienist that I wrote about?  He's gone missing.’  So I don't know if that makes any sense.  But my goal was to be a hero, that's why I wrote this story.”


Borede to Death- Schartzman

Needless to say, one has to wonder, especially one who’s seen it, why Ames would call his own work Bored to Death?  He explains, “That again is a little bit -- it's a risky title.  I had once called one of my books What's Not to Love, fully anticipating them saying, ‘plenty.’ I also subtitled it ‘The Adventures of a Mild Perverted Young Writer.’ And for the next ten years it was, ‘Perverted Writer’, Jonathan Ames. I'm like, ‘Oh, God, why wasn't I like Dave Eggers, and put the word ‘genius’ in the title?”  


“But Bored to Death again,” he adds, “the original short story that I wrote, there were dead bodies and the guy was bored, and I thought it was a nice play on the detective story to say Bored to Death, to imply the things that were going to happen. And it carried over to the show.  And what is interesting is that the character, the lead character, is infinitely curious and open to the world, and he's so curious that he doesn't have a chance to be bored. But it's a fun title. And so I hope that the reviewers won't be like, ‘Bored to Death,' we certainly were."  


He adds, laughing, “But I don't want to write your sentences for you, so just erase that from your mind.”


Jason Schwartzman spoke to us from Toronto, where he’s working on a Michael Cera film, "Scott Pilgrim Verses the World". But the distance didn’t stop him from talking about his new show. “To me, Jonathan Ames is the greatest writer,” he said. “And it was the greatest thing that happened to me to have Bored to Death cross into my life, and for me to be able to work with Jonathan, and to work on these scripts.  And in a weird way I never really thought of it as a television show. It's just like one gigantic long movie, and I would do it as long as Jonathan could write these amazing scripts, and have these great situations. Because it's very rare in any situation, in any environment in my life to have a Jonathan Ames right there working with you. And so to me you just follow the writing, and follow the great writing.”


Schwartzman adds, “It wasn't difficult for me to portray Jonathan Ames and have my best friend be Zach.  I love Zach, and I cared about him a lot from the second I met him, and even before I met him I loved him. So it seemed very natural for us to become great friends.  And Jonathan wrote dialogue that was conducive to us being in love with each other.”


Although I thought he was obviously joking, Galifianakis jumped right in. “I kind of have to agree with Jason. You do a show and you like doing it, and you're fortunate enough to be working, and that's the way I see it.  If this were a "Reba" sitcom, then maybe it would be an easier decision.  But this is something you want to be part of so I'm very, very happy."


Bored to Death - Galifianakis

Dish wondered how it feels to go from being a relatively unknown comedian to the big comedy star of 2009? Galifianakis relied, “If I were 26 and this was happening, it would be all great, and I would probably buy like 17 Dodge Vipers. But right now, it’s just a major inconvenience.”


 “I'm going to really miss the Uncle Chuckles in Tampa,” he adds. “Stand-up is the world that I know, and it's the thing I'm most comfortable with, as far as the freedom goes and you’re your own boss and all that. I think as soon as I'm a wash-up in a couple of years, I will return to stand-up.”


Ted Danson plays magazine editor George, Jonathan’s erstwhile boss and drinking partner. Ames explains why he chose Danson for the role. “So the George character -- well, I was lucky enough toward the end of his life to get friendly with George Plimpton, whose middle name was George Ames Plimpton, oddly enough. I didn't know that when I met him, but he just struck me as this incredible New York character, not unlike Ted with his beautiful beacon of white hair.”  


“Whenever you would go to a party at the Paris Review, you'd be, like, "There's George Plimpton."  He just seemed to glow.  And it's the same thing with Ted. You're always, like, ‘There's Ted,’ and you want to go near him.  You know, it's a little bit like Pluto with the sun. You're just -- oh, no, that's the one that's farthest away.  But anyway, I'm drawn to him, and people are drawn to him, and so he's very much an older, mentor figure, and I've kind of wanted to capture that sort of literary figure in New York City now in the 21st century.


We asked Ames about his guest stars. How did he get them? Ames replied, laughing, “Well, see, Zack would call them -- no.  I was trying to -- Zack is so good with the one-liners….”  


“Anyway, let's -- how did we get them?  Well, a couple of people like John Hodgman and Sarah Vowell were friends of mine.  So I actually contacted them directly.  In terms of Jim Jarmusch, he was sent the script, and he wanted to do it.  Oliver Platt -- almost every actor that we sent a script to seemed to want to come on board -- pun not really intended -- and so we were just very fortunate that all these talented people wanted to be part of the show. And also I think that talented people are drawn to HBO and want to be on HBO projects.  


Ames concludes, “Well, I like writing books. You know, I like making things, and I like to try to amuse people. So I feel like we made, in my mind, eight episodes, but also, like, eight short films. And I am very proud from the set design to the lighting to the acting.  I think it all – you know, I feel proud over every aspect.  I mean, nothing can be perfect, but we really made something strong, and I feel proud of it.”


“I hope people like it, and I hope it brings them moments of distraction.  Just like any piece of art, for a moment people feel a little less alone, like, ‘Oh, look at that nutty thing,’ and I enjoy it, and I don't feel quite as alone in this moment.”


Do Not Miss BORED TO DEATH premiering on Sunday, September 20 at 9:30 et/pt on HBO! / Issue 109 - September 2018
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