Game shows are nearly as old as TV itself, but IFC’s new series Bunk is not your grandmother’s game show. Premiering Friday, June 8 at 10:30 p.m., Bunk’s contestants are all comedians, participating in off-the-wall challenges like “Who’s Got the Heaviest Head?” Dialogue is improvised, creating an environment where literally anything can happen – the taping I attended had multiple takes interrupted by a crowing rooster.
Bunk, created by Eric Bryant and Ethan T. Berlin, is also the first selection from the New York Television Festival to make it to air (IFC chose it from the independent TV fest in 2010).
Ahead of Friday’s debut, I spoke to Bunk host Kurt Braunholer about the long process of getting the show on the air and why he doesn’t wear shoes during filming. An edited version of that interview follows.
When did you become involved with Bunk?
I was involved with the project from the beginning. Ethan and Eric are the creators and they asked me to come in right when they decided they wanted to do this and kind of help develop it with them and also to workshop it as the host.
Originally [IFC was] just going to do a few live shows to see how it worked, and then they decided to go for a full-on pilot and then bought 10 episodes.
What was the process like after it was picked up?
We did an enormous amount of workshopping. We did a lot of live shows, just testing things out, seeing what works, what didn’t work. Taking the ethos that the New York comedy scene takes to comedy, which is try stuff out, get it up on its feet and kind of applied it to television.
Was that the inspiration for the show, the New York comedy scene?
Ethan and I were writing for a game show on another network, and he was continually frustrated that all our funniest ideas couldn’t be made because of the legality of actual game shows. Essentially the simple idea was what if we were able to make a game show that used actually all of the funniest ideas and that was how Bunk was born.
Besides the fact that you were familiar with the format, what was the appeal of doing a game show?
There’s a thing about game shows in that the structure is so ripe for parody. There’s all these inherent tropes and structure that we know from game shows and are kind of ingrained in our subconscious almost. So it’s really fun to be able to take those and kind of unpack them and find out what’s inherently funny about them.
How has it been working with IFC?
IFC has really been fantastic. They saw it in an early, early stage. It’s so rare that you get to make a TV show completely on your terms, and that’s what we got to do because of the fact that we shot the first pilot on spec. So IFC saw that and they were very smart about it, they said that’s what we like, so we’re going to protect this idea. Looking at the thing that we shot on our own, just scrappy kids putting a TV show together, and looking at the show that’s on-air now, I’d say they’re incredibly similar. And I’d say the heart of the show has been completely maintained and protected and that is a complete credit to IFC.
How are you feeling about finally seeing the pilot get to air after two years?
You know something’s becoming real in theory, I don’t know how we’re going to feel until it actually happens. We’ve known it was going to happen for so long, ever since we just shot a pilot on our own. It’s a long time coming. I think it’s going to feel really cool to finally watch it on-air.
If IFC renews Bunk do you have ideas for what you might do in season two?
We generated so much content for challenges and for jokes and stuff like that, that we literally didn’t get to fit it all in to that first season. So we have a jumping off point right away. If they order more episodes, we’ve got so many ideas that we really want to try and that we didn’t get a chance to try. I think once comedians see the show on-air, they’re going to be chomping at the bit to be on the show, because it is such a fun show to be a part of if you’re one of the comedians.
Was it hard to explain the show to comedians you were trying to recruit as contestants?
We could show them the two pilots. The one thing that I think scared a lot of people off was people were being approached saying this is an improv show. And it really isn’t an improv show, because the trappings of improv, none of those are there. Are we improvising with each other on the answers? Yes, of course we are. That’s more almost in the way that a chat show or a late night talk show does it, where we’re just kind of riffing with each other and having fun. It’s really more having fun.
Why do you host the show without shoes?
That was a super dumb choice I made right before we shot the first pilot. What I like about not wearing shoes is that it flips the idea of the authority of the game show host on its head a little bit and makes you just a little suspicious of this host. Almost like he could maybe be a homeless man who just walked in off the street and he just happens to be very confident. I did it for the pilot we shot on our own, almost thinking this will never go to television and then afterward everyone was like we think it’s funny so it just stuck.