After four seasons and counting of playing Lana (the most competent character in an office of mostly incompetent secret agents) on "Archer," Aisha Tyler has since come up with her favorite way to describe the show's particular brand of comedy: "smilthy." Or in other words, a combination of smart and filthy. Which in many ways could just as easily describe Tyler herself, who's a talented stand-up comedian, host of "The Talk" and the new "Whose Line Is It Anyway?," and has her own popular podcast and book, in addition to starring on the hit show.
In advance of the Canadian Season 4 premiere of "Archer," HuffPost TV Canada talked to Tyler about her initial doubts that the edgy show would make it on the air, what happens on the rare occasions when the whole cast gets together, and why "Archer" deserves more credit for its intelligence.
HuffPost TV Canada: What was it that originally drew you to "Archer" and playing Lana? And has that changed at all from what appeals to you about the show these days?
Aisha Tyler: I had been a fan, actually, of Adam [Reed's] and Matt [Thompson's] work prior to this show. So when I found out that they were interested in me for "Archer" and that those were the people behind it, I was pretty much on board without even reading the material. I think I read maybe 10 pages of the pilot script, and it was just so smart and so funny and so outrageous that I said yes before I even finished it. But I didn't think it was going to make it on the air. I just thought it was just too smart, like too smart and too dirty of a show.
I thought the writing was brilliant and she was a great character. Just ballsy and didn't take any crap. So that hasn't changed now that the show's doing as well as it is and it's been on for as long as it is, other than that I really love [Lana] and I feel like the network has been so supportive of us that the show has been able to consistently deliver this really outsized, dirty brilliance. For me, what I love about the show is that it's a show that doesn't underestimate the intelligence of its audience. As edgy as it is, it's also incredibly literate in that you can watch an episode three or four times and get different references every time. And there are references in the show that we don't explain, and if you want to figure them out you can go online and look them up. I think that's the best kind of writing.
I love when I read a book or watch a show and I don't know all the references. I don't want to spend my time ahead of the writing, I want to be pulled along by the writing and I want to feel like I learned something. So to me, what's been great about the show is we've maintained this wonderful literacy and this pop culture complexity, and the show has also stayed as edgy or even gotten edgier than it was when it started. I mean, when we did our cancer episode, I couldn't believe it. I remember going, "We're going to make fun of cancer right now?" And it was so well-done that I've had friends who were in chemo at the time who loved those episodes. [Laughs] I just feel like this show's incredibly brave. So I just love it more now than I did before.
Are there any limits on you guys in terms of content?
I asked Adam about that a while ago, and he said that the network has never asked him to dial anything back. In fact, they typically tell him to push. There are some general basic key rules about language, but even those we're able to circumvent on occasion. Never gratuitously, but just in the context of the way that adults normally talk. I think that's why people love the show, because it's truly a grown-up show. Even though it's animated, people talk like grown-ups and we act like incredibly immature malformed grown-ups, but grown-ups nonetheless. It's a show that's smart and that's for adults, so I think all those things go hand-in-hand. I think the network has really empowered us to make a really funny show in the way that we see fit. And I think that people are surprised and delighted by that and that it's not pedantic and it doesn't speak down and doesn't dumb down or infantilize. So I think that's why people really love it. And no, from my experience and what I've heard, we've never had to dial anything back.
The show really is surprisingly literate in terms of the jokes and references. Do you think people sometimes make a bigger deal out of the edginess and don't realize just how smart and intelligent the writing actually is?
I think that people do, they can get distracted by the edginess of the show. There's just spread across episodes a multitude of literary references, a multitude of cultural references, and not just pop culture references, but references to like 18th century physicists. [Laughs] It's incredibly smart, and then there was the episode where we found out that Pam was this underground fight club champ and she had a poem on her back, and everybody was pausing the show and reading the poem. But it was one of those things that was so layered that you didn't need to know [the reference]. You could just watch the show and be like, "Oh, Pam's bad-ass and she's got a back tattoo." [Laughs] But then if you took the time to learn, it was this apocalyptic biblical poem by Lord Byron that was extraordinary, and recurs -- that's another great thing about the show. Even though it's a cartoon, we don't hit the reset button. Archer got a tattoo in Season 2 and it's still there, and when he's in a tank top, you see it.
So there is this continuity of narrative and these layers that I think are why people obsess about the show and watch the episodes over and over again, because it is such a layered show. So yeah, if you just watch it one time, you may just be struck by the fact that it's dirty. But to me, there's this beautiful kind of bravery in letting the people on the show say what a lot of people are thinking in the real world. Which is another reason why I think people connect with it so much. There's just this element to all the characters that's just like unadulterated id.
What do you get more enjoyment out of satirizing, the James Bond/spy element of the show, or the office comedy?
It's a great hybrid of the two, isn't it? To me, the brilliance of it is that we've made James Bond into an office comedy. We made something that has always been presented as worldly and sophisticated and elegant and superlative and put it into this very mundane, workaday context, and I think that's why it's so delightful.
Adam was talking about when he created the show, he was traveling in Europe and he saw some woman who was beautiful and he thought, "Oh, I'm too nervous to talk to her, but if I was James Bond, I would talk to her. I could just go up to her and say something fabulous." So he started thinking about James Bond and the fact that James Bond is really a misogynistic, alcoholic prick. [Laughs] When you look at the films, he's a dick! He has sex with women and abandons them, he kills without remorse or compunction and we idolize this guy. So why not paint him in a little bit more of a realistic way? And what's more realistic and mundane than putting him in a place where he's got to go and get office coffee and fill out paperwork? I think that the brilliance of the show is that it's a hybrid of the two.
You get to play something like a straight man to the rest of these pretty insane characters on the show, but Lana isn't exactly a model citizen herself. Is that the best of both worlds for you in terms of a character?
Yeah, she's the person who's the most competent out of this entire group of people, but then of course she has a myriad of her own problems as well. I always tease those guys that sometimes she's got to lay a lot of pipe, which is television writer talk for moving the story along and communicating information to the audience that they need to know. [Laughs] But she also gets to be as wild and insane and as ridiculous as anybody else on the show. And then she's got this very specific challenge ... I don't know if this is a spoiler or not, it's out there in the world, but she's pregnant now [in Season 4]. So she's going to be dealing with a very specific set of constraints because she's not gonna stop working, and it's not like she goes to an office every day and sits at a desk. She's a field operative. [Laughs] So it's going to present its own unique set of problems and issues. And maybe make her a little bit more emotional, we'll see. But also she's the only one that tends to keep operations on track, so she can't step away from the field, because ISIS would fall apart.
Are people surprised to find out that you're all recording your parts separately, usually in different cities? You'd never know it from listening to the back-and-forth on the show.
People are very shocked to hear that, continually shocked. It's just a testament to how brilliant the producers are and how great the editing is on the show that we are never together. And in fact, for me, I don't even have anybody read the other dialogue on the show, I just read my lines one after the other. So I just say lines over and over and over again a bunch of different ways until I find the funniest way to say it and when I hear the guys on the line [the producers] crack up, I know I've gotten it done and then I move on. But we're never in the booth together and we rarely see each other in the making of the show. The only time we see each other as a cast is at Comic Con or TCA or if we're on tour. We toured the show this year, we did an "Archer" live tour, so we got to actually spend a bunch of time together. But other than that, we rarely interact. I think Amber Nash said at Comic-Con this year, it's probably why everybody gets along so well. [Laughs] Because we do rarely see each other, so when we do, we kind of lapse into the same dynamic that our characters have on the show and everyone gets very drunk and there's a lot of wrestling.
Season 4 of "Archer" premieres on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 10:30 p.m. ET on Teletoon at Night in Canada. "Archer" Season 4 already aired on FX in the U.S.
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