Who doesn’t love a good, guiltily pleasurable dating show? The courtship market can be unrelenting in its heartaches, so it’s always a confidence booster to watch single guys and dolls fumble through awkward first meetings, dates that are systematically arranged through superficial selection processes and drawn-out elimination rituals. The participants claim to want to find true love, and, eventually, marry the person he or she connects with in front of cameras, crew members, and millions of viewers watching from the comfort of their “love” seats. As shows like The Bachelor, Flavor Of Love, and A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila have proven, of course, the unions rarely, if ever, amount to anything more than brief flings predicated on in-the-bedroom fun.
With such a low success rate, it’s no wonder that ardent viewers of TV’s most popular dating shows would readily admit to watching the programs simply to laugh at the foolish contestants, not root on the thought of someone finding his or her soul-mate. The producers behind the latest entry into the format’s catalog, Excused, definitely understand that; after all, they’re the same minds behind Blind Date, a dating show that emphasized comedy over romance. And Excused is no different; two hot women sit alongside host Iliza Shlesinger, watch a lineup of men pitch themselves to the security camera atop the mansion’s front door, and then either excuse the duds or permit four lucky gents to enter the house. Which leads to one-on-one sessions, more excused guys, and a chance for the final man to excuse one of the two ladies himself.
In set-up, Excused doesn’t sound that far removed from past shows like MTV’s Next, but the new CBS-backed date-fest, which begins airing in syndication today (check for local air-times on the official site), has something that past shows haven’t benefitted from: a host who’s really damn funny. For Shlesinger, a Dallas, Texas, native, Excused represents her first front-and-center TV gig, capitalizing on her conquering of NBC’s Last Comic Standing in 2008 and subsequent appearances on Chelsea Lately, The Soup, and Comedy Central Presents. Throughout episodes of Excused, the stand-up comedy veteran deflates the egos of excused male contestants with off-the-cuff insults and often hilarious one-liners. She, like us viewers, knows that dating shows work best when humor trumps mushy feelings.
Complex recently chatted with Shlesinger about the funniness of Excused, what sorts of dating tips guys can learn from the show, what you should not do when it comes to impressing her, and why money-grubbing women are a disgrace.
Interview by Matt Barone (@MBarone)
Complex: With the overflow of reality dating shows on TV, what do you think makes Excused unique?
Iliza Shlesinger: I’m not trying to be cocky, but I’m the thing that makes it different, because the people at Excused let me be funny and give me the comic creative license to say whatever I want to the daters—that’s what makes it so fun.
You’re pretty brutal toward the guys.
Uh, yeah. [Laughs.] But we really try to walk a fine line, because you don’t want anyone leaving feeling bad for themselves. If you’re a douchebag, you probably need to hear some of this stuff, but I would never want to hurt anyone’s feelings, like, “You’ve got an ugly face! You’re out of here.” The important thing people have to realize, so as to avoid anyone attacking me in public, is that I just carry out the wishes of the contestants; you’re excused by them, so I just have to find a way to do it.
It seems like the perfect gig for a comedian, then. How’d you land the job?
Good old-fashioned auditions. I went in at first, and it was one of those auditions where I wasn’t really thinking too much about it; I was just like, “Oh, it’s just a dating show.” So I went in, threw out the lines, and just made my own thing up, and made them laugh. They kept calling me back, and it was one of those things where, as they kept calling me back, I thought it was some kind of mistake. Like, I never book anything. [Laughs.] But then I got it, and here I am.
You just referred to the potential job as “just a dating show.” Are these the kinds of shows that you actually watch?
Not lately. I was a huge Blind Date fan, though, when I was younger; that was on when I was in high school. Excused is made by the same people who made Blind Date, actually. I think Blind Date and Singled Out were the first shows to make it actually funny and lively and young, at least for this generation. I was a huge Jenny McCarthy fan, and then Blind Date was such a great show because they had all the thought bubbles and everything like that.
We’ve now gotten to this weird place where all these dating shows are so serious, and people are competing and they’re in a massive house. It’s just gotten so crazy, so why not have a half-hour of just fun and make fun of people, and also try to hook them up?
Lately, most, if not all, of the dating shows feel totally scripted, and the contestants talk like they’re reading off of cue cards. Excused, on the other hand, feels much more natural. Why do you think that’s the case?
I think the stakes aren’t that high. We’re not here trying to find love; we’re not here because someone needs to get married. These are people that just want to have fun. Some people are actually looking for a boyfriend or girlfriend, or someone to actually date, but it’s very light-hearted. Everyone on set is really comfortable, and the whole crew offers everyone drinks as soon as they arrive on set.
It’s almost like a game show. At the end of the night, when I’m sitting next to whoever’s left, I’m always like, “Did you have fun today?” And they’re always like, “Oh, I had the best time.” So even if you do get excused, or someone hurts your feelings, people still have fun, because it’s about finding love, but it’s really about having a good time.
In the episodes I’ve seen, even the guys who get excused leave either laughing or with smiles on their faces, not throwing furniture and wigging the hell out.
Well, that has definitely happened. [Laughs.] I think the key to excusing someone is, if you’re excusing someone in a funny way—I mean, they’re on the show in the first place, so they have some interest in being in front of the camera—but if you excuse someone in a funny way, I think they can’t help but laugh. Like, “Oh, yeah, I do look like Ronald McDonald—OK, she got me there.” So most people have a sense of humor about it. And, again, it isn’t like there’s $2,000 at stake if you can get in the front door; people aren’t so disappointed if they get excused. [Laughs.] And I don’t know why I picked 2,000—that’s not even that big of a number.
Yeah, they’d be disappointed if they won only $2,000.
[Laughs.] I know I sure as hell would.
For a comedian, it must be a great job to be able to make fun of people on the fly, rather than have to write up a whole long stand-up routine.
Totally, it’s so fun. It’s like I’m getting to do crowd work, and I’m getting to say stuff that I probably wouldn’t normally say to people. Again, the last thing I want to do is really hurt someone’s feelings, but if you have a stupid shirt on then you probably need to know that. I don’t know any other show…. This is a real show, it’s not some crappy reality show that they shot for $10 on some random network that nobody’s every heard of—it’s CBS Syndicate, and they really have put a lot of faith in me and have just said, “Just be funny.” There’s no script, and everything that comes out of my mouth I’ve pretty much made up right then and there, after we clear it with the producers. [Laughs.]
So that’s cool, because I get to make it up based on the people who come to the door, instead of a script, and I think that adds a real element to it. I think people can tell that it’s real comedy, and people seem to gravitate toward that.
Have there been things you’ve said that the producers have called you out on, for crossing the line?
Yeah. Oddly, they don’t like the word “douchebag,” which is such an apt and perfect word for so many things. [Laughs.] It’s just little things here and there. I’ve gotten used to saying whatever I want, so it is hard sometimes. I’ll be like, “But the guy is a douche!” And they’ll come back with, “Sorry, you can’t say that.” And obviously I can’t curse. It just pushes you to find a more creative way to get your point across, and I can’t argue with that.
The female contestants excuse guys for small things like wearing the wrong shirt, little things that will make guys think twice before they step out of their homes. Do you see Excused as a cautionary tale for men?
Kind of. Look, at the end of the day, everyone should have their own separate style, and there are plenty of girls that would be like, “Oh my god, that’s so hot—his shirt is always buttoned in one place!” But I’m not one of those girls, and obviously the girls on the show are judging you for a reason. In some cases, we’re doing it to be nice. A guy might have something on that’s undeniably unattractive, so I’m letting him off easy by being like, “Yo, your pants are not cute.” And it’s so funny because it’s like, “Well, who’s this girl to be saying all of this?” I’m certainly not a supermodel. But I am funny, so, at the end of the day, I think that wins. And they also can’t talk back because I’m the one with the microphone—that conquers all.