Ali Wong, celebrity interviews, Lisa Hanawalt, Netflix, New York City, Tiffany Haddish, Tribeca Film Festival, Tuca & Bertie, TV
May 1, 2019
by Carla Hay
Netflix’s “Tuca & Bertie” is an animated comedy series, which the streaming service describes as being about the friendship between two bird women in their 30s who live in the same apartment building in Birdtown, a fictional place that is clearly inspired by New York City. Tuca (voiced by Tiffany Haddish) is “a cocky, care-free toucan” and Bertie (voiced by Ali Wong) is “an anxious, daydreaming songbird.”Among Tuca and Bertie’s friends, colleagues and neighbors are other animal creatures with human-like qualities. They include Speckles (voiced by Steven Yeun), a robin who is Bertie’s loving boyfriend; Pastry Pete (voiced by Reggie Watts), a baker penguin; Dapper T. Dog, a prissy neighbor; and Dirk (voiced by John Early), an arrogant rooster who works with Bertie at their job at a media company called Conde Nest—an obvious nod to Condé Nast.
“Tuca & Bertie” has several of the same executive producers as Netflix’s Emmy-winning animated series “BoJack Horseman,” including Lisa Hanawalt (who created “Tuca & Bertie), Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Noel Bright and Steven A. Cohen. Haddish and Wong are also executive producers of “Tuca & Bertie,” whose 10-episode first season premieres on Netflix on May 3, 2019. The first two episodes of “Tuca & Bertie” had their world premiere at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, where Haddish, Wong and Hanawalt did a Q&A after the screening. Here is what they said:
Lisa, how long were Tuca and Bertie in your head, and when did you realize they needed a TV show?
Hanawalt: I started making comics about Tuca about four years ago, and then I started making comics about Bertie a little bit later. When I was thinking of TV show ideas, they just seemed like two of my favorite characters I ever made up. They just basically write themselves. They know exactly who they are.
I just wanted to make a show about female friendship. I thought the two of them would go well together. They’re kind of opposites, but Bertie has Tuca qualities and Tuca has Bertie qualities. And you can kind of see why they’ve been friends for so long.
Tiffany and Ali, what did you first think when you heard about “Tuca & Bertie”?
Haddish: When first I heard about it, I was like, “OK, two friends. That’s what’s up. I’ve got friends. This is funny … Where do I sign up? Do I get an executive producer credit?”
Wong: I didn’t know much about it. The only things I had heard that Lisa Hanawalt created a show about two birds that were best friends, and that Tiffany Haddish, who I’ve known for a long time and hadn’t worked on anything yet, was attached to it. That’s all I needed to know. “Yes, I’ll do it right now!”
Ali and Tiffany have executive producer credits on the show, right?
Wong: We do, but we didn’t do that much to deserve it.
Hanawalt: Yeah, you did.
Haddish: Yes, we did. I don’t know about you, but my feet hurt. I deserve it.
How are you like your Tuca and Bertie characters in real life?
Wong: I suffer from crushing anxiety, like everybody else.
Hanawalt: You hide it well. You’re fearless.
Wong: I try. Yeah. I didn’t even know what you guys were looking for. I just went in [for the audition], and it was really short. I was like, “Oh, I didn’t get [the role], because they kicked me out so fast.”
Haddish: I was like, “Y‘all better get my homegirl, or I ain’t playing with y’all.” And ta-dah! We’re working together! That’s how you do it. I’ve been watching Hollywood. I see what y’all do.
Wong: I met Tiffany 10 years ago in San Francisco. She was so positive and so sweet then, even though it was the shittiest time. We were struggling and everything.
And then I saw her the next time in New York, when she had auditioned for “SNL” [“Saturday Night Live”]. Everybody around town knew she killed it. She knew she killed it, and she was like, “If they don’t give it to me, it’s fucked up.”
Haddish: No, I said, “If they don’t give it to me, fuck them!” That’s what I said.
Wong: “Fuck them, until I host for them!
Haddish: Yep. I said, “Next time, I’ll be hosting.”
Wong: And she did it in that white dress she’s worn a million times to maximize the value out.
Haddish: That part. It’s about saving our dollars, girl.
Wong: And then after I saw her after she auditioned for “SNL,” she had just booked a role for this movie with Queen Latifah and Jada Pinkett Smith [2017’s “Girls Trip”].
Haddish: And then boo-yah. I told you we were going to do it, girl.
Tiffany and Ali, what qualities do each of you have that bring out the best in each other?
Haddish: We balance each other out. I can be really over-the-top sometimes. And I look in her eyes and I’m reminded that I can bring it back down a little bit. It just depends. [She says to Wong] I really value you a lot.
Wong: Thank you.
Haddish: I like having her around. I wish we could be in the studio together more often, like when we made that song.
Wong: Oh my God. That was so fun. Tiffany is a good singer. I had to some training in the studio.
Hanawalt: You’re both really good.
Wong: Please don’t make me sing. I’m an executive producer. I command you to not make me sing. Please don’t make me sing!
Hanawalt: Ali has a whole musical number in Episode 4. She sings about having an anxiety attack.
Wong: We [Haddish and I] have duet that’s very catchy. I wish I wrote it so I could get residuals for it. It’s amazing. Tiffany’s really busy, if you’ve noticed. She’s doing five movies a year, all the time.
Haddish: You’re really busy too. You’re raising human beings.
Wong: That is true. When we got to see each other and work together, it was great. I hope we get to work together again.
Haddish: Yeah, more often. Season 2! Let’s go!
[Haddish and Wong then led an audience chant saying, “Season 2! Let’s go!” Wong also got up on her chair and twerked to the chant.]
“Tuca & Bertie” is one of the few adult animated series that was created by a woman. What did you want to do differently in this show that you don’t see in other animated shows?
Hanawalt: I just wanted to make a show that I’d want to watch. I love watching adult cartoons. I’ve always loved watching animation. I wanted to see one about women and female relationships and women in the world, with stupid jokes I would laugh at and spicy chips for lunch and the kind of stuff that I want to watch.
And a lot of animated shows don’t have characters in their 30s. The characters either under 30 or over 40, right?
Hanawalt: I wanted to make a show about me and my friends and what we’re going through and right now … When you’re in your 30s, people really start to split off in drastically different directions.
Suddenly, your friends have a bunch of kids, and they own their own home and they have a husband and they seem super-stable, but inside they’re still like, “Do I really want this? I don’t know. Am I doing the right thing?” Meanwhile, I still feel like a big, sloppy baby, but I’m sure I look like I might have my shit together on the outside.
“Tuca & Bertie” tackles some serious topics, like sexual harassment and Tuca’s struggle to stay sober. Tiffany and Ali, how much of this did you know in advance before signing on for the show?
Wong: I honestly knew nothing. Lisa and the [other] writers were breaking the stories on as we were coming in to read the script. We’d just show up at the table read, and that’s when I would find out what the story was. Some of the twists and turns—you’ll see in the season—they shocked me in a really cool way. It’s serialized. That’s something you don’t usually see a lot in animation.
Hanawalt: It starts out light and fun, but there’s definitely some darker stuff that happens. I think overall though, the show is very optimistic and feels like safe place, but we go into some darker things. I didn’t want to tell them, because I didn’t want to scare them away.
Haddish: Yeah. I was like reading it, and I was like, “What just happened? Oh, hell no! For real? Okay, then. Continue.”
Hanawalt: There were definitely things I wanted to tackle. I like shows that are really silly and surreal and then also have some very real, relatable moments and darker themes.
What were some of the things you were most excited about in the look and design of “Tuca & Bertie”?
Hanawalt: I was thinking about things I’m not allowed to do on “BoJack.” There’s going to make talking plants. Fuck it!
Haddish: I was most excited about Tuca’s ass. In Season 2, let’s see if she can get some titties! Just putting it out there, boss lady.
Wong: I was excited to see the scenes with Tuca and me together. Also, the scenes with Steven Yeun, who plays Speckles, my boyfriend.
What do you want people to get from watching “Tuca & Bertie?”
Hanawalt: I hope people find it funny and relatable. I hope women see themselves in these characters.