October 23, 2023
How a Gay Comedy Team Turned 'Dicks! The Musical' Into a Film Sensation
Frank J. Avella READ TIME: 12 MIN.
When Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp were performing their wacky 30-minute musical comedy – "Fucking Identical Twins," in the basement of a Gristedes grocery store in NYC – the two lunatic members of Upright Citizens Brigade never once imagined the raunchy underground skit show would become a full-blown queer movie musical directed by Larry Charles ("Borat") and released by A24! But that is just what happened.
The journey was a bit complicated but, ultimately, Sharp and Jackson (who co-wrote the screenplay and penned the lyrics, with music by Karl Saint Lucy and Marius de Vries) got their film made mostly on their terms, paying homage to irreverent musicals like "Book of Mormon" and "Little Shop of Horrors."
The basic plot of "Dicks! The Musical" centers on two "straight" egotistical (one more than the other) business dudes who discover they're long-lost identical twins (even though they barely resemble one another), torn apart as infants by estranged parents. Before you can say, "Parent Trap," Craig Tittle (Sharp, dreamy eyes) and Trevor Brock (Jackson, gorgeous long flowing locks) set a plan in motion to bring mommy and daddy (played to the hilt by Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane) back together again.
Things get even more bizarre from there as our twins realize just how insane their parents really are. A lisping mom's "pussy fell off." And dad is enamored with two gremlin-like "Sewer Boys" he keeps caged in his living room. Oh, and everyone periodically bursts into song, including boss-lady Megan Thee Stallion. And Bowen Yang is God.
The boys eventually discover their queer identities and before you can say twincest... okay I'll stop right there.
"Dicks! The Musical" manages to poke fun at many things including the straight-men-playing-gay trope.
Besides successfully creating an immediate (and hil-fucking-larious) queer cult film, the two gay artists also get to showcase their outrageous thesp talents.
EDGE enjoyed chatting with the zany duo, who were constantly smiling, laughing and truly having a blast.
EDGE: How did you two meet?
Aaron Jackson: We met at Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, doing improv comedy...
Josh Sharp: There weren't many gay people there, so we managed to find each other.
EDGE: Tell me a bit about how your collaboration began.
Aaron Jackson: We started doing improv together. It was like, 'Oh, wait, he's funny.' And then we were both branching out of UCB at that time trying to explore wider New York comedy, so we started hosting a variety show called "The Gay Show" for all people, that had mostly queer comics, or just women we liked. And singers from the Broadway world. That was going well. And we decided we wanted to write a two person show together. And that's what eventually became "Fucking Identical Twins," which eventually became "Dicks! The Musical," which eventually became this interview.
EDGE: Take me through the Cliff's Notes version of Gristede's basement to A24 film musical.
Josh Sharp: Well, that's a classic developmental track. Most A24 movies started as a two-man show in a basement. (laughs) We were just doing it for ourselves. We've been asked from people, when you were doing it, were you thinking of it as a movie?' And we're like, 'Fuck, no!' We did it for negative money in the basement of a grocery store... And it became a weird little hit in New York. And we did it a bunch in LA. And then a producer from Chernin Entertainment saw it in LA and was like, 'Would you want to sell this as a movie?' And we were like, 'Funny story, it's based on a movie called 'The Parent Trap.' That led to us selling it as a script to Fox. And Fox paid us to write it as a feature script and then read it and were like, 'Well, we'll never make that.' And we were all like, 'Agreed.' The script... bopped around for a little bit. And then found A24, which is probably more of the logical home for a standard fare such as this. That's the Cliff Notes version.
EDGE: And that's where Larry Charles's involvement came in?
Aaron Jackson: Yeah, once it was at A24, they started deciding who they wanted to direct, tossing out ideas, and he was the one that they landed on. Then we had a meeting with him, and we loved him.
Josh Sharp: Yeah, he very much got the DNA of the piece and was very protective of it and pushed it to be even like crazier than it was. He understood that if the audience feels like you're doubting yourself for even a moment, it falls apart, so you'd rather swing big and go for it than ever hold back because the center does not hold when it when it's filled with doubt.
EDGE: Did you have any pushback about you both playing the twins?
Aaron Jackson: Not really. When it was at Fox, we didn't have any cast attached, but we were not being considered because you would have had to get bigger names for that kind of bigger budget movie. But then when we got it back, we met with the people at Chernin and Josh and I, we always wanted to play the twins, but we thought it was just going to be this crazy long con that we were gonna have to trick everybody into it. And then Jenno Topping at Chernin... was like, 'Well, you guys should play the twins.' We were like, 'Totally.' ... Larry saw a video of the stage show. And he'd read the script and didn't know that we were semi-attached. When he saw that, he was like, (in gruff voice) "It has to be them. It has to be the boys.' So, we didn't receive too much pushback.
Josh Sharp: No, which again, is the joy of making it with a company like A24. They were a lot more permissive of letting you do things other people wouldn't let you do – like making this film at all. So there wasn't much pushback on something like that, which at Fox would have probably been insane. At Fox, the train never left the station. Frankly, we never got to the point of casting, but I would be shocked if Fox had let the two of us do it. But they also would have made it so it's sort of proof in the pudding.
EDGE: Tell me about casting Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane.
Josh Sharp: Truly, they were the only people on our heads.
Aaron Jackson: We love them.
Josh Sharp: We wanted someone funny and also who'd get this specific piece which is very stylized and gonzo. And then on top of that we want them to be able to sing and not in the way that sometimes you let a movie star sing in a movie, even though they suck at it. We need real singers. So, when we were whittling that list down, we're like, 'Okay, so there's really only two humans.'
Aaron Jackson: We were very happy to get our first choices.
EDGE: Was Megan's tribute to Ellen Greene's lisp (in "Little Shop of Horrors") her own idea?
Aaron Jackson: Definitely! All of that was her own idea. I think. Yeah, she came in with that very fully realized. She is a true character actress where she develops a complete character.
EDGE: It's a bold choice, off-putting at first but then it works.
Josh Sharp: Yeah. And there's a lot of Iris Apfel and Edie Beale. There's a lot of fun references that she's clearly pulling on. I do think it's very much a Mullally invention and not really an impersonation of anyone or a character anyone else could have thought up.
EDGE: And the other Megan in the film?
Josh Sharp: She's the best. She's brilliant at her job, which is rapping and dancing, as it turns out. And then on top of that was so funny in a way that exceeded our expectations. So, we were all like, 'Well, I'm sure she'll be a pain to work with.' And she was also very nice and lovely. It was just a dream across the boards having her for those four days.
EDGE: Whose wacky gay brain invented the Sewer Boys?
Aaron Jackson: Josh and I were actually talking (about that) the other day--we're so collaborative when we write we're in the same room. We don't do like a Josh pass, an Aaron pass. And sometimes we truly can't remember who came up with what joke.
Josh Sharp: Most of the time!... It was very much both of our brains. And then we black out and the Sewer Boys exist.
Aaron Jackson: I don't know how they came about. I don't really remember whose first idea they were. I know, we were writing the dad's character, we wanted him to be misunderstanding gay culture. That's the comedic game he's playing in that first scene where you meet him. And we tend to heighten, so he has to misunderstand it, not a little. He has to have a creature from another dimension in his home.
Josh Sharp: It's so in complement with the Evelyn scene which comes first because the straight guys want the perfect family and then they meet this mom who's fucking insane. So, really the only way you can heighten it is – you can't make him more insane. It's more fun to make him almost seem normal for a while and then have this one thing that manages to be crazier than what we had just done. It was trying to heighten on her, but put it all into one demonic creature. And then also it was like, we just love the joke of those fabulous Chelsea gay men who are obsessed with their dogs. What if it's that, but awful? It's the worst creature of all time.
EDGE: Were you prepared for the incredible TIFF (Toronto Film Festival) reaction?
Aaron Jackson: Larry opened 'Borat' there. And he was like, 'I have a good relationship with TIFF. I have a good feeling about it.'
Josh Sharp: It was also opening night. Midnight. So, it felt very Kismet.
Aaron Jackson: I was hoping people would like it. I know it's a rowdy crowd, but I mean they were laughing so hard you'd miss the next four jokes. It wa a very fun night at the movies.
Josh Sharp: I do think it exceeded our expectations, and then certainly (winning the) Audience Award, we never expected... But even just being in that room at midnight was like, 'This is the best this film can play.' 1000-seat theater, midnight and people screaming at the screen in a way that you were like, 'Oh this is why we made the movie.'
EDGE: How do you guys feel about being potential Best Song Oscar nominees?
Josh Sharp: Well, I think we're a lock to win. Billie Eilish is done. (laughs) That's also crazy. That seems like a long shot to me. We do love the songs. But it's hard to imagine this film being at the Oscars. It wasn't made for Oscars but think Megan Thee Stallion's song is such a wonderful choice. You would die to have Megan perform it. And then "Lonely," Nathan and Megan's ballad is our favorite song. It's just such a gorgeous song.
Aaron Jackson: So why wouldn't they have Megan Thee Stallion Meghan Mullally and Nathan Lane on their little show? They'd be so lucky.
EDGE: What are you guys working on next?
Aaron Jackson: We have another a screenplay, also with A24, that we are set to direct so we're very excited about that. But it's in very early stages of pre-production.
EDGE: Can you tell me anything about it?
Josh Sharp: It (takes place in) a big zany witch town.
Aaron Jackson: Yeah, it's a witch comedy.
EDGE: In terms of your collaboration, what is it about working with one another that works?
Aaron Jackson: There's so much that works. We're very good friends, and we love each other. And I do think we have a very similar absurdist streak that I think is unique. I've been saying this a lot, it's like that friend you go shopping with where you try something on, and I'm like, 'Oh, just buy it.' We both have that bad influence on each other where we bring out the best and worst.
Josh Sharp: It's a lot like, "Is this too stupid of a joke?' No, it's not stupid enough. Go for it.'
Aaron Jackson: And we both really, really love jokes. I know a lot of people write comedies, but there'll be one joke every seven to 10 minutes, and we're more like...
Josh Sharp: Seven to 10 a page!
Aaron Jackson: There's a lot of just like mindedness that makes it special. And I think we have a chemistry on stage that people seem to respond to. And we just have a good time doing it. So, we're heating the stick, in that way.
Josh Sharp: We're optimistic nihilists.
"Dicks! The Musical" is currently playing in theaters. For more information, follow this link.
Watch the trailer:
Frank J. Avella is a proud EDGE and Awards Daily contributor. He serves as the GALECA Industry Liaison and is a Member of the New York Film Critics Online. His award-winning short film, FIG JAM, has shown in Festivals worldwide (figjamfilm.com). Frank's screenplays have won numerous awards in 17 countries. Recently produced plays include LURED & VATICAL FALLS, both O'Neill semifinalists. He is currently working on a highly personal project, FROCI, about the queer Italian/Italian-American experience. He is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild. https://filmfreeway.com/FrankAvella https://muckrack.com/fjaklute