Voices from the Edge of Culture: Interview with MTV Writer Kevin Chesley

(Note: This interview was conducted before Hard Times‘ cancellation.)

MTV taught writer Kevin Chesley how to swim with the sharks at the cutting edge of culture. (He even brought one home!)

I can only hope that Randy Elrod‘s posts on edgy artists helped prepare you for today’s interview with Kevin Chesley, screen and television writer extraordinaire. Kevin’s current assignment is writing for MTV’s hit series The Hard Times of RJ Berger, whose Season 2 Premier is TONIGHT at 11pm.[1]

MTV.com describes The Hard Times of RJ Berger as orbiting the “hilariously-hellish lives of a deeply unpopular fifteen year-old (Paul Iacono) and his scheming, sex-obsessed best friend, Miles Jenner (Jareb Dauplaise).

Other than pining after the girl of his dreams, Jenny Swanson (Amber Lancaster), receiving daily beatings from the meanest jock in school, Max Owens (Jayson Blair), …there really isn’t much excitement in RJ’s life. That is, until his anatomical gift is accidentally exposed to the entire school.”

Yes, that is the show’s gimmick — the ultimate revenge of the nerds on the jock value system — and if your goal is to create a morality tale that reaches the youth demographic, then you have to say it works.

Warning: If you loved Rob and Laura Petrie’s twin beds in the The Dick Van Dyke Show, or thought Happy Days was racy, then you’re probably NOT part of the target audience for RJ Berger. (Uh… it follows MTV’s reality sensation Jersey Shore, so what does that tell you?)

'The Hard Times of RJ Berger' premieres TONIGHT (March 24th) at 11pm (EDT and PDT) after the 'Jersey Shore' finale.

It is not your typical “calling,” but Kevin has worked hard to become a respected voice on the cutting edge of culture. An alumnus of both Emerson College and the Act One screenwriting program, Kevin is a founding member of two sketch comedy groups: TROOP! and The Riot Act, and served for many years as the sole Writer’s Assistant for Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Robert Nelson Jacobs (Chocolat, The Water Horse, Extraordinary Measures).

Before getting his first staff writer position at MTV, Kevin sold short-form pieces to The Onion, Showtime, and National Lampoon and performed sketch comedy on stages like the UCB, Comedy Central Stage, and The Viper Room. He also directs The Apple Sisters – a live 1940’s radio show spoof currently in residency at Largo in Los Angeles.

Oh, and he’s also a new dad to the beautiful Lucy Chesley, thanks completely to his long-suffering and gorgeous wife, Heather. (Please pray for her.)

I asked Kevin if he would answer a few questions in honor of the season premier of RJ Berger tonight. He graciously agreed.

Voices from the Edge of Culture: Interview with Kevin Chesley

THW: What is the edgiest thing you’ve ever written, I mean besides RJ Berger?

KC: Just last year, the LA Times hired me to write a false cover for their newspaper featuring a hoax headline that described a city-wide attack by King Kong. (See story.)

Kevin made his "mark" in the LA Times, (and hastened the end of print media as we know it), with an Orson Welles-ish mock attack from King Kong

THW: How did that go?

KC: Well, Universal Studios (who purchased the ad space) likened me to a 2010 Orson Welles.

THW: That’s good.

KC: Yeah, but most readers dubbed me, “The End of Print Media”… which is probably why you’re writing this piece on the Internet.

THW: So that was your fault, huh?

KC: Sorry.

THW: So, then, what is it like working on ‘The Hard Times of RJ Berger?’

KC: It wasn’t lost on me how apropos it was to be working my first staff job on a show about the travails of high school.  While scripting the struggles of teens navigating the murky waters of early adulthood, sexuality, and identity – I was also getting my first taste of catering to network notes, plotting episodes, and just all around trying to not look like an idiot.

THW: How did that part go? I mean, not looking like an idiot?

KC: Not so well.

The tender-hearted RJ Berger (Paul Iacono) with his unrequited love-interest Jenny Walker (Amber Lancaster).

THW: Tonight is the Season Two premier. What was it like getting ready for a second season?

KC: Some of the work I did on Season Two was literally performed in a real high school cafeteria, breaking stories beneath paper banners announcing the theme of the next big school dance.  It couldn’t have been a better setting to display the excitement and fears of dipping my toe into professional screenwriting for the first time.

THW: Fun?

KC: I haven’t been this psyched and bewildered since Freshman Year. Which, to beat an analogy to a bloody pulp, is almost exactly what I’m experiencing all over again.

THW: So who are the cultural influencers we should blame… uh, I mean, credit for making you the writer you are today?

Under pressure, Kevin confesses the influence of comedy writing legends Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd.

KC: Wow! Let me think about that.

THW: Actually, I’m only giving you fifteen minutes to answer.

KC: That’s not a lot of time…

THW: The clock is running…

KC: (A look of deep concentration fills Kevin’s face, kinda like when Yoda raises Luke’s ship out of the swamp.) Ghostbusters, Roald Dahl, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” C.S. Lewis,  The Goonies, Chris Claremont, Anne Lamott, Neil Gaiman, Star Wars (Episodes 4,5,6 only!), Led Zeppelin…

THW: Five minutes…

KC: (Sweat beings to trickle down Kevin’s brow.) Mary Poppins, Alan Moore, Monty Python, J.J. Abrams, H.P. Lovecraft!

THW: Time’s up!

KC: Wow! That happened really fast…

C.S. Lewis, one of the few comedy writers in history to land on the cover of Time (for 'The Screwtape Letters'), helped shape Kevin's understanding of comedy with a purpose.

THW: Any surprises?

KC: There’s almost NO TV on there!

THW: How does that make you feel?

KC: Mortified!

THW: Anything you want to retract?

KC: Looking back on it… No, that’s kind of right… that’s pretty much me… I’d better let you publish that before I start second-guessing everything.

THW: Wouldn’t want that now, would we?

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Please join me in praying for Kevin and other two-handed warriors seeking to make a difference in a culture desperately in need of salt and light.


[1] The Hard Times of RJ Berger regular time slot is 10pm Monday nights.

7 Replies to “Voices from the Edge of Culture: Interview with MTV Writer Kevin Chesley”

    1. Thanks, Scott. I'll put you on the weekly update list. -Gary
      PS You're based in Atlanta. Is that right?

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