Oz Rodriguez directed pre-tape sketches for “Saturday Night Live” for many years, and this season he directed all six episodes of “That Damn Michael Che,” the new HBO Max sketch comedy series starring the titular “SNL” star. While the show gives Michael Che more freedom to express his thoughts and Rodriguez was able to take more time to shoot than a hectic week of “SNL,” they also happened to film during the pandemic, where strict protocols were still in place. “I used all the tricks that I learned at ‘SNL’ in how to produce a show under duress,” says Rodriguez in an exclusive new webchat for Gold Derby. Watch the video interview above.
Each episode of “That Damn Michael Che” is centered on a specific theme, whether it be police brutality, love or healthcare, through Che’s unfiltered worldview. While Che acts (as himself) in many sketches in every episode, we also flash to interstitials where the comedian sits in a room, expressing his unscripted thoughts on that episode’s theme. “It was a really interesting challenge to make that unique in some fashion and not just a comedian on stage setting up jokes,” explains Rodriguez. It was also exciting for the director to work with Che as an actor. “He’s playing himself but he’s still being in these insane situations and performing them in a real way.”
One of the highlights of the season for Rodriguez was Episode 3, “Dudley Gets Shot,” which is about the American healthcare system. Because of COVID limitations, they weren’t able to use the New York subway system to film, so the team constructed a subway on set with LED walls to make it feel real. Additionally, the episode threads the needle of tackling a very serious topic with a humorous edge. “It’s a tricky episode because you want it to be funny but also you want to approach this in a grounded way,” observes Rodriguez.
While directing the first season of “That Damn Michael Che” had its challenges, Rodriguez found it thrilling to give Che a platform for his unique brand of comedy. “It’s exciting to do comedy that will take a chance and then it’s finding the right approach at it,” the director states. “He wrote himself into some tricky scenes and narratives that you wouldn’t really expect and he delivered.”
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