If you’re a fan of Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, or The League, I’ve got some good news for you: Netflix has launched a new show called Brews Brothers that comes to us from the minds of real-life brothers Greg Schaffer (creator of the show) and Jeff Schaffer (former Seinfeld writer, co-creator of The League and current executive producer on Curb Your Enthusiasm).
To get the inside scoop on Brews Brothers, I spoke at length with Greg and Jeff to learn all about how their new clever, addictive and start-to-finish funny new series came to be...
In “Recreate the Opus,” the second episode of Brews Brothers’ first season, Adam—the older of those shows two central siblings—regales Wilhelm, his younger brother, and their employees at the brewery with a tale from their childhood.
“Every night,” Adam proudly explains, “I would creep down [from the top bunk], pull back the covers [of Wilhelm’s bed], and weeeeeeeeee.”
As a result, Wilhelm concedes, “I was convinced I was a ten-year-old bedwetter.”
PART 1: REVENGE OF THE BEDWETTER
Forty years earlier, circa 1980, a pre-teen Jeff Schaffer approaches the bed of his sleeping, unsuspecting younger brother, Greg.
GREG SCHAFFER: Let’s just say: the show is loosely autobiographical.
JEFF SCHAFFER: Maybe when Greg was little, maybe I snuck into his room and folded the covers down and peed in his bed, then folded the covers nicely back up so he thought he was an 8-year-old bedwetter.
GREG SCHAFFER: [laughing] That 100% happened! So, yeah, this show is my therapy.
Alright, I want to return to this traumatic peeing incident. But let’s get a little bit of background first. Let’s start at the beginning: how long have you two been brothers for?
GREG SCHAFFER: All my life. Not all of his life.
JEFF SCHAFFER: Yeah, almost my entire life.
So what’s the age difference?
GREG SCHAFFER: The age difference is a couple of years. I realize that looking at my brother’s less-fat-face (but-more-fat-belly), he looks a little younger than me. But he’s older than me, he’s a couple of years older than me.
JEFF SCHAFFER: I have a very special power to age people around me. I’ve done a number on Greg because Greg’s spent the most time with me. So he’s been aged the most.
[Laughs] And where did you guys grow up?
GREG SCHAFFER: We grew up an hour outside Cleveland in Warren, Ohio. A magical land where the abandoned steel mills meet farm country and home to the most magnificent McDonald's" in America in the 80s.
JEFF SCHAFFER: That wasn’t flowery speech. It really was called “The World’s Most Magnificent McDonalds. It had a player piano with Mac Tonight behind the ivories. People came all the way from Sharon, PA to eat there.
Ha! Nice. Okay, so I already know there was some friction between the two of you, but what were some of the “good times”? What are some of your favorite memories growing up together?
JEFF SCHAFFER: We used to make all these little movies. These little home movies. With this giant Betamax camcorder.
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah, we were certain Betamax was the way to go.
JEFF SCHAFFER: Yeah, our dad—for whatever reason—was sure that Betamax was better than VHS. That’s what professionals use and so, goddamit, we’re a Betamax family! [laughs] So when there were only four movies we could rent on Betamax, Greg and I were forced to make our own movies.
GREG SCHAFFER: I would say another thing we bonded over—this was a little later in life—was, for lack of a better word, it was “drinking.” [laughs] And, yeah, that’s where you could say my research for the show began.
Yeah, so let’s get back to the “loosely autobiographical” aspect of Brews Brothers. Was it just that one incident in the second episode, or other things too?
GREG SCHAFFER: I’d just say the overall relationship is…[long pause] yeah, Jeff likes to say it’s an homage to him—the a-hole older brother. And that is true.
JEFF SCHAFFER: Oh yeah.
GREG SCHAFFER: Except it’s not just here, it’s everything in life.
JEFF SCHAFFER: Yeah, Greg and I would be talking about the character, and we’d be saying: oh, Adam, you know, he’d be doing this because “he’s such a prick” and I’d go “yeah, that’s really funny” and then I’d go: wait, are we talking about [the character] Adam? Or are we talking about me? And Greg would go: does it matter?
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah, even on the set. We’d be arguing, you know, in an episode he’s directing. And the actors who play the brothers—Mike [Castle, who plays Adam] and Alan [Aisenberg, who plays Will/Wilhelm]—they were looking over at us like: Ohhhhhhhhh! Yeah, yeah, that makes sense! Okay, yeah, we get it now!
JEFF SCHAFFER: But you know what? If the show is his response to me, like, torturing him all these years, all I can say to him is: you’re welcome, Greg. You got a funny show out of it.
GREG SCHAFFER: Thank you, Jeff.
As a former (and maybe still current) Asshole Older Brother myself, I have to ask you, Jeff, why were you being such an asshole at the time? Like—in your head at the time—what was your reason for peeing in Greg’s bed. Why’d you do it?
JEFF SCHAFFER: Why did I pee in the bed? I could say it was to strengthen his moral character. I could say it was to teach him a lesson. But I really did it because I thought it would be funny. And I was right!
And Greg, did you, uh, appreciate the humor in the moment?
GREG SCHAFFER: Uh…what do you think? I was very concerned that somehow I may have been regressing. I had some serious concerns! And then finally the realization came: I was not actually a bedwetter and Jeff had just been doing I for the joke.
And so, Jeff, who exactly was the “audience” for this joke? Just you?
JEFF SCHAFFER: That’s all you need!
GREG SCHAFFER: [cracking up]
JEFF SCHAFFER: That’s all you need! By the way: just like Adam in the show. If Adam thinks the beer is good, the beer is good. If Jeff thinks the joke is funny: the joke is funny! I didn’t need anyone else to tell me that peeing in my brother’s bed to make him think that he was a bed wetter was funny. I knew it in my heart!
Alright, I think I’m starting to understand why the Schaffers were a Betamax family…
PART 2: A fun, slow-motion disaster of a workplace comedy
So let’s flash forward…Greg, as the creator of the show, tell me what you remember about the first kernel of the idea for Brews Brothers.
GREG SCHAFFER: So, yeah, as I said earlier, I have been “researching” most of my adult life for a show like this. Certainly on the consumption side. And a few years back I was sitting at a local brewery in Van Nuys (where the show takes place). Which is just one town over from where I live. And the special thing about this small brewery at the time—which is now doing very well; it’s called MacLeod’s [MacLeod Ale Brewing Co.]—it’s in a really rundown area of Van Nuys. Which, as you probably know, is known as the “Porn Capital of the World.” It’s just basically Shitsville. Autobody shops and porn shops. And, yes, this actual brewery is next to an autobody shop. And there’s a strip club just down the street. And I’m just sitting there having a beer and I’m thinking, “Oh my god, this is like the perfect setting for a show.” Like I can’t believe that this actually exists. And on top of that, just kind of realizing that breweries, especially now, have become like today’s bars around the country. And they’re stupidly full of comedy for all the wrong reasons. Where, you know, you used to go to a bar to get drunk; and now you go and you have to listen to your friends (or frenemies) pontificate about the apricot notes in the beer they’re drinking now.
GREG SCHAFFER: It’s just disgusting and hilarious at the same time…and, slowly, I’m becoming one of these people! And talking about beers in the same way. So that’s really where the kernel of the idea came from.
JEFF SCHAFFER: And he started telling me about it. And, yes, I was instantly intrigued by the “Adam” character. I don’t know what that says about me that I’m like: “this guy’s such a funny asshole. I love it!”
GREG SCHAFFER: Of course that’s what appealed to Jeff.
JEFF SCHAFFER: [laughs] But also just the idea of a small craft brewery. It’s such an ill-fated endeavor. Because people get into these breweries because they love drinking beer. And now they’re supposed to be around beer all day and yet somehow run a successful business? Never going to happen! And then our poor characters, Adam and Will, they’re trying to do this in Van Nuys. What are the three things you need for a successful business? Location, location, location. And they don’t even have the first location! So it seemed like: this is going to be a fun, slow-motion disaster of a workplace comedy. Then when you throw in the brothers stuff, I was like: oh, this could be really funny! And the way Greg talked about the characters, that was really appealing. I think the way he said it best was, “These two are radically different, and usually when you see two people who are completely different than each other, they complement each other—and that makes a whole person.” But that doesn’t happen here. They just make things worse for each other.
GREG SCHAFFER: It all comes down to the characters. What will make this [idea for the show] personal and, ideally, comedic? So…write what you know: the fraternal relationship, I thought was a necessity. Let alone having one brother come back so there’s that new element that starts in the pilot. So, like, the fraternal friction that is inherent in most sibling relationships, but then with the backdrop of—as Jeff was saying—just the crazy craft beer scene. The idea of trying to run any type of thing in the food industry, let alone a bar (or brewery) where you may really love the product; but to love the product you’re probably drinking too much of the product.
GREG SCHAFFER: Which makes things harder to operate. So that really was the genesis of it. And then it was really: let’s flesh out the rest of the world. And just having stupid fun in this setting. But at the same time, the one thing I wanted to do—and I hope it comes through in the show—is that when it comes to the beer stuff I really wanted it to look and feel authentic. And that was the beauty of actually shooting in a real brewery. This place called “Iron Triangle,” downtown. And we even had the cast go to this beer school thing with the people who worked at Iron Triangle so they got to learn how to make beer, serve beer, clean the tap, etc so that everything became second nature to them.
So, Greg, when you were first telling Jeff about your idea for this show, were you just telling him as, like, a brother? Or did you want him involved?
GREG SCHAFFER: You know, it’s funny: with the “Adam” character, I felt that just to make him as authentic and annoying as possible, it definitely felt like Jeff should be involved. I also thought it should be the type of show that was in The League and Curb-style type of show that Jeff has done before well. Which is just kind of these…the shows are certainly scripted, there are scripts, but they are just jumping-off points. And finding these new, young, value-added actors. That’s definitely his expertise and I wanted to jump on that and use that. And I think it’s just important for a show like this where, yes, there’s a structure; and maybe there’s a little bit of a Silicon Valley (like watching a business succeed or fail) as the arc of the season. But at the end of the day, I wanted young improvisers who could just let loose on this script. And that is Jeff’s specialty.
And, Jeff, did you have reservations about working with your brother?
JEFF SCHAFFER: Nope. Because like I said before: I thought it was such a funny idea and I loved the area of a craft brewery. And then I loved the idea of having this brother struggle—and that being lodged in this struggle to keep this business afloat. And like Greg said earlier: we wanted the show to feel authentic, so we shot in a real brewery and brought in beer experts. And so if you need an expert on A-hole Older Brothers, you call in the A-hole Older Brother.
GREG SCHAFFER: Can’t argue with the expert.
JEFF SCHAFFER: I felt like I had been training for this job my whole life!
And at what point did you start pitching potential distributors?
JEFF SCHAFFER: We pitched to Netflix in…
GREG SCHAFFER: …2018. End of 2018. Yeah, so about a year and a half ago.
JEFF SCHAFFER: We had a pilot script.
GREG SCHAFFER: And a rough outline of basically what the season would be. And some ideas for a Season 2. And just kind of created the whole world.
JEFF SCHAFFER: And Netflix was great. They basically said: you don’t have to do a pilot, go make eight [episodes] of them. Here’s not-very-much-money, but do whatever you need to do as long as you don’t use more than this amount of money. And go make a really funny show. Which was very cool of them. They were great partners along the way.
GREG SCHAFFER: Fantastic partners. It was great. They really kind of let us go once they understood what kind of craziness we were trying to do. And then it was like doing a little movie for 28 days.
What were the biggest changes between when you met with Netflix and what actually was shot?
JEFF SCHAFFER: In casting, our original conception of “Chuy” who’s their one sort of employee (who’s not the best employee) was that this was going to be a sort of older, thicker guy. Someone who worked as an auto mechanic next door for a long time. And then just started hanging out at the brewery and picked up a mop one day and started working there. And then in auditions, Marcus Ray—who had once been on The League and was just on the last season of Curb—he came in and he was so brilliant and so funny. So we were like: let’s re-write the character to this guy because this guy is GOLD.
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah and I will say: Netflix had a lot to do with that too—pushing us to sort of have a younger feel to the cast all around. Initially, it was a hard thing for me to grasp (just because I’d never envisioned that before), but having someone like Marcus really helped though. And I’m so glad we made that change.
JEFF SCHAFFER: And what else? I think in terms of like…in terms of making the show versus what we pitched: a lot of it was, Greg, what did we have? 3.5 days per episode?
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah.
JEFF SCHAFFER: So you have 3.5 days per episode. And you want to do improv. And there’s a lot of big things we want to do. Like: we want to have this crazy monk fight! But then: how are we gonna fit all this in 28 days? So what I think we got better at as the production went on was really streamlining the scripts into: okay, this is what we really need and taking away scenes that might have been funny but weren’t as necessary. And those are the kinds of things you need to do when you want to move that fast, but you also want to gather every joke you can.
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah…you gotta pick your battles, basically.
PART 3: Wish Fulfillment in the Time of Corona
So since all the craziness happens in this brewery—and, as you’ve both said, you wanted it to be as authentic as possible—were you worried at all that, like, some actual craft brewers might feel like you’re mocking this thing that they love?
GREG SCHAFFER: Beer makers are sticklers, we knew this. So we tried really hard to make sure when talked beer we were being as authentic as we could be. And we tried to really address issues that craft brewers deal with—even down to can actually spend the extra money to put my beer in a bottle instead of a can. But we are also trying to have as much fun as possible in this arena. And we hoped they would see we weren’t laughing at them but just shining a light some of the more bizarre and funny personalities in the industry. We aren’t saying all craft brewery owners are idiots who can’t get out of their own way. But we are definitely saying and showing that our guys are that.
JEFF SCHAFFER: In a lot of ways, that’s actually what happened when The League first came out. Initially, a lot of the hard-nosed fantasy sites thought we were mocking them. But I think that when those sites started to see that actual fantasy players were enjoying our show—and that we were fantasy players ourselves—that’s when they started to come around. They realized: we’re not making fun of you—we’re celebrating how gloriously stupid everything is!
GREG SCHAFFER: Well, that’s a way of making fun…
JEFF SCHAFFER: Yes, but we love it too. We know how dumb it is, but it’s still super important to us too! We’re trying to celebrate this…we’re trying to take a little bit of the piss out of some of this stuff. Because some of this stuff is ridiculous. Everyone and their uncle doesn’t need to tell me about how “hoppy” their beer is.
GREG SCHAFFER: [laughs]
JEFF SCHAFFER: And going back to The League…for me, one of the attractions to this show was the chance to do another show like that. With this young cast of really strong improvisers, a really fun loose show. Except here: just replace “RB2” with “this is a doppelbock!”
GREG SCHAFFER: All of that said, we realize it’s an especially tough time to be a brewer right now—with the pandemic. A lot of folks are suffering.
JEFF SCHAFFER: It’s funny…when we shot the show, we thought it would be wish fulfillment. You know, who doesn’t want to own their own brewery? Of course, due to the coronavirus, it’s now wish fulfillment just to see people at a brewery.
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah, we never thought that would be the carrot that’s dangling.
[still laughing] Let me just ask you a couple more questions—the first is about you guys. As we’ve established, you’ve been brothers for all of Greg’s life (and most of Jeff’s) so you obviously know each other quite well. But you spent—what was it?—28 days together filming this. What’s one thing you each learned about the other?
JEFF SCHAFFER: Going in, I knew Greg was a hard worker. But, you know, never having been on a show with him before, I’d never seen it firsthand. And these shows are hard, and Greg was basically running all of it. It’s not like there was this giant staff or anything. I mean, I watched him work his ass off every day! Because we’re doing a giant medley of shows (because we’re cross-boarding all the time) so keeping all the re-writes of all the different shows in his head, coming up with all the alts on stage and everything…I realized: oh, this guy works just as hard as I do. And I thought I was a really hard worker.
GREG SCHAFFER: For me, I guess, I hadn’t seen as much of Jeff directing. So I was definitely impressed with the control he had on the set for one. And also; how nice he was on the set. [laughing] I guess he just saves the assholeness for me. It’s our special thing. But seriously: he’s very inclusive to everyone on set. And that was nice to see.
JEFF SCHAFFER: The set of a comedy show has to be this really fun place—this really fun, loose place where everyone feels like they can come up with great ideas and no one feels like they can’t. Even when you’re moving fast and even when you’ve got big-time pressure, you always want to leave room for these magical moments.
GREG SCHAFFER: One thing that’s interesting that Jeff does…because I’ve worked on other shows where we’ve done improv, but the usual way you do it is: the actors do the scene as is and then we give them alts. Or you let them try something after we know we have it. Jeff kind of does it the opposite way. And I knew that, but it’s definitely not something that I realized until we actually shot it. And it makes the actors feel more comfortable with their character and with giving you a funny performance. They know their lines. They have the script. But just fucking do whatever you want from the very beginning, basically. If there’s something we know we need because it’s kind of a plot point…I would go in and say “just make sure you say this line” but Jeff was much more loosy-goosy from the beginning. And then we’d work off of those things. And then maybe we’d throw in a joke or something.
JEFF SCHAFFER: And the reason why is…so on Curb or The League, there’s an outline; and the approach is basically: say it how you want [initially] and then we’ll start shaping it. But in this case, we had a script. And typically, when you have a script but you still want to improv, you usually do the full script first, and then after that’s shot, you go “alright guys, now let’s improvise!” But I’ve found that if you do it that way, the actors aren’t sure which parts of the script you want them to keep versus what you want them to improvise. And you’re already in a rut—you’re not getting any new fun. So [instead] let’s do the fun at the beginning; which is basically a combination of how we do The League or Curb; say it how you want and we’ll start shaping it. You’ve got these early takes, which are looser and you start shaping; and you know you’ve always got the safety net of the scrips. And you’ll always get every line in the script that you like. But if you do it with a looser improv first you’re going to get a lot more interesting digressions. Because there’s no “governor” first.
GREG SCHAFFER: Now mind you: it’s a great way to get awesome, funny performances. But it’s a hell of a lot harder in the editing room!
JEFF SCHAFFER: And I will say: we had so much fun making this.
GREG SCHAFFER: Absolutely.
JEFF SCHAFFER: Just being able to play around in this real brewery. We got to use every inch of the place. The actors were amazing. We had a blast making it. And I think when you watch the show (a lot like when you watch The League) you can tell that everyone was having a lot of fun making it and doing it. Some of that fun may be at other people’s expense, but they were still having an amazing time. And that, I think…when a show is made with that much fun, it actually radiates some of that...
Alright, the last thing I want to ask you guys: what would you say to someone who reads the description of the show and goes “Oh, this is just Netflix trying to do their version of Cheers or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia"?
JEFF SCHAFFER: First, I would say this show, we tried really hard to do things we had not seen before on television. And I think we’ve got a lot of those crazy moments. From one of the most insane monk initiations you’ll ever see…
GREG SCHAFFER: …to getting a little revenge on someone for being a racist…
JEFF SCHAFFER: I mean, you’ve got a dog with a drinking problem (who has his own keg and bowl) and with each one of these things we basically tried to…we tried to tack onto the arc of: here’s how a small business would get a little more successful. And I hope that our friends in the craft brewery industry will come to see this: we are really dealing with the problems of a small craft brewery. From 1) how do we get customers in to 2) alright, we’ve got some customers, but now should we start bottling or canning our beer? And what’s the cost difference? And our guys are insane enough that they end up pissing off both the bottler and the canner in the Valley. So now they have to go to another thing. But the point is: we are actually dealing with real problems facing real breweries…just in an insane way.
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah, exactly.
JEFF SCHAFFER: Beyond that: it’s not a show about a bar as much as it’s a show about two brothers who haven’t seen each other in a while coming together to try to save a bar. The same way that The League wasn’t about fantasy football; it was about a bunch of friends who played fantasy football but had a lot of other issues. So while everyone may not go “Oh, I need to see a show about a bar”; everyone does have family. And, in the end, this is a show about coming to terms with your family.
GREG SCHAFFER: Yeah. I was gonna say the same thing. It’s really a brother show. And it happens to be set in a brewery; and the brewery really is the “new” bar. And there are differences about it… those are the two main differences. But if anyone was going to say it’s just another Cheers or Always Sunny I’d say: sure! I’ll take that!
JEFF SCHAFFER: Yeah! Look, those are amazingly funny shows; and we think this is a funny show that’s just getting started. And I think that if people watch it, they will laugh a lot.