‘Detroiters’ Shines a New Comedic Light on Motor City

A love letter to the city of Detroit might be the last thing you’re expecting to stumble across on the Comedy Central schedule, but, if the only image of Detroit in your mind is of an urban wasteland or possibly RoboCop, then Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson have a show for you.

It’s called Detroiters because that’s who Tim and Sam are. They grew up in the suburbs of Detroit. They earned their comedy bona fides, first on the main stage of Second City in Chicago, then in Los Angeles and New York, respectively: Robinson was a writer for Saturday Night Live and Richardson is best known as campaign aide Richard Splett on Veep. But in the back of their minds, they always dreamed of returning to their roots.

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Like everything in the show, the main characters are near and dear to their hearts. “Sam and I would always talk about the commercials we would watch growing up,” says Robinson. “So, we were, like, ‘Oh, we should be the guys who make those bad old Detroit commercials!’” Sam Duvet and Tim Cramblin are small-time admen who get by making ads for the likes of the Hot Tub King, Eddie Champagne (Steve Higgins), but their dream is to reel in the big one: Chrysler.

“It was really great to bring this thing home,” says Richardson. “It was something we always wanted to do.” Not that their triumphant return to film a TV show in their hometown wasn’t without its pitfalls. “My mom legitimately got so mad at me for not coming around all the time while we were filming the pilot,” he recalls. She didn’t relent until he brought her to visit the set. “She was, like, ‘Wow — there are hundreds of people working on a show.’” She quickly realized, “‘Oh, OK. My offer to have everybody come to lunch at the house doesn’t make sense now.’ I’m not shooting this thing on my iPhone, Mom! This is the real deal.”

Filming in Detroit, they got to see the city in a whole new way. Robinson was excited to shoot in the Chrysler headquarters. “I come from a Chrysler family,” he says, noting that his grandfather, mother, and wife all work or worked for the company. “It was pretty surreal.” And though he’s too scared to ride a motorcycle, Tim and Sam were hooked up to a trailer for filming, and, “I got to feel what it was like to be a motorcycle driver driving around the best city in the world.”

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Richardson’s favorite scene was in the Detroit Institute of Art. “I do this monologue in front of the Diego Rivera, and it’s really blasphemy. I’m talking about my balls,” he admits while giggling. “That was definitely my favorite: to get to do that in this place I used to come for field trips! One of the nicest art museums in America, and here we are getting to do this scene in there.”

There is a laundry list of guest stars, including Keegan-Michael Key, Kevin Nash (aka professional wrestler Diesel), Malcolm-Jamaal Warner, Cecily Strong, George Wallace, and Richard Karn. Michael Che, who shared an office with Robinson on SNL, also writes and guests. The one name that both Tim and Sam agree is a name you will know soon — if you don’t already — is Chris Powell. If you’ve seen his standup, you know him as CP; if you’ve seen him on Empire, you know him as L’il Prince. “He plays a character named Ned, a security guard,” says Richardson, “and he’s great. We got him on the show, but he’s a rocket.”

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The true mark of verisimilitude is not how much of real life bleeds into the show, but how much of the show bleeds into real life. So would they live next door to each other like their onscreen alter egos? “I would, I definitely would,” says Richardson, laughing. In fact, he continues, “Tim just moved out to California, to Burbank, and I’m seriously considering, I’m trying to see what’s up in that area so we can live the real-life Tim and Sam.”

Detroiters airs Tuesdays at 10:30 p.m. on Comedy Central.

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