What could be more timely than a comedy about a group of friends who have turned their former Sunday night dinner get-togethers into a weekly Zoom chat in the time of COVID-19? That is the idea behind NBC’s new series Connecting. A group of seven friends come together and share the highs and lows of their lives in these extraordinary times.
“What we are doing with this show is taking everything that you can think of that is uncomfortable and we make it funny,” says former America’s Got Talent finalist Preacher Lawson, who stars as Ben.
Prior to the COVID-19 shutdown, Lawson had been traveling 52 weeks of the year doing standup across the country, but then everything came to an abrupt halt.
So, when he first was offered a comedy about the pandemic, he thought, “I hate the pandemic. I don’t want to do a pandemic show. Who wants to be here? Even introverts are like, ‘I like being at the house by myself, but I don’t like when people tell me I have to do that.’”
But after some consideration, Lawson who believes the best comedy comes from truth, soon realized that this show was about the reality of life as we know it right now.
“Comedians, we take things like the pandemic and not seeing your friends and losing your job and not dating, and we make it funny,” he said. “You take things that feel uncomfortable, you make that funny.”
Connecting, premiering Oct. 8., has a diverse cast. In addition to Lawson, it stars Jill Knox as Michelle, Keith Powell as Garret, Ely Henry as Rufus, Shakina Nayfack as Ellis, Otmara Marrero as Annie, and Parvesh Cheena as Pradeep.
Knox and Powell are married in real life, so they have been quarantining together and were already connecting, but as for the others, the producers came up with an idea to make the friendships seem real.
“Immediately before they started filming, they added a group chat, so you get to know people, and we started playing games on Zoom. It became more like a family, especially because you are spending most of your time with them anyway,” Lawson explained.
Following is more of the conversation with Lawson on how America’s Got Talent changed his and his mother’s lives, what it was like for him when America shut down, and more.
Monsters & Critics: Would you say that AGT completely changed your life?
Preacher Lawson: Are you kidding? I don’t know the extent of America’s Got Talent, but I would not be on Connecting if it wasn’t for America’s Got Talent. I wouldn’t have the opportunity. My mom would still have a job right now if it wasn’t for America’s Got Talent. I am so much forever grateful for what it has done for me. It put me in front of an audience, in front of people, and it changed my life. Absolutely. I love AGT.
M&C: Are you saying that your mother doesn’t have to work anymore because you are successful enough to take care of her?
Lawson: Absolutely. She doesn’t have to work again unless she wants to. She lives 10 minutes from me. She will never have to work again in her life. That’s because America’s Got Talent helped me get in that position.
M&C: You’re a comic who writes his own material. Did you contribute to the writing of this at all?
Lawson: I contributed to the ad libs. They did a great job writing it, but if I had an idea, I would throw it in there, and they were loose and openminded. They were incredibly openminded. This is my first TV show and I am hearing it is not normal how openminded they were. I definitely got looser as the show went on, but early on, I was, “I’m just going to say the funny parts.” I definitely started ad libbing the longer the show went on and the more I got comfortable.
M&C: How was this filmed? What kinds of protocols?
Lawson: We didn’t get tested, so I could have had corona this whole time. No, I’m joking. The protocols were showing up on Zoom and record. We had to record with iPhones at the house, which was great.
People are like, “I’ve got an iPhone, I’m going to do a TV show, too.”
No, the heck you can’t because it’s not the same thing. When we record through Zoom, we don’t record through Zoom, we communicate through Zoom. We are filming with these cameras.
My house is all set now. It’s not my house anymore. All the equipment, I’ve got a pile of stuff, the equipment from the show, that’s just sitting in my living room. They took over my house, but it doesn’t matter to me, because who am I going to have over here?
We shoot with an iPhone, we connect through Zoom and the lighting crew, the microphone, the director, everyone, we communicate through Zoom.
Sometimes it is a little weird when we’re acting and we look at the camera because we can’t see each other’s faces, so we assume we know what these people look like by their tone of voice, what kind of facial expressions are going on.
I think we are doing a great job. The fact that we communicate so much, we know a lot about our castmates. We know each other at this point, so it is easier to gel.
M&C: What was it like for you when comedy ended? America’s Got Talent got you out there and then everything shut down.
Lawson: You know what was crazy? At first, I just assumed I was going to be severely depressed and I was, right? I was pretty bad.
I think a lot of the reason it is easy for artists to become depressed is when you’re doing standup, when you’re making people laugh, you’re singing to people, you’re performing, I was performing three years straight with only two weekends I missed.
I was always on the road. I performed a minimum of seven times a week. I was used to getting that dopamine, and then when I didn’t get it, my body was like, “Hey, man! What’s going on? Where’s that rush that we get almost every night?”
So, it was a little hard in the beginning and this TV show was a great supplement. I was honestly going through my issues – everyone’s going through their issues – so, when I found out I had this role, I just broke down crying.
Not only because I was happy to have this role, because I was happy to have this role, but I was overwhelmed with everything that was going on.
It was around the time the George Floyd thing happened, and I was a little drained. There was so much emotion going on.
M&C: Do you have a group of friends that you are Zooming with?
Lawson: I do have a group of friends that I Facetime with. But we don’t Facetime together. We individually Facetime. And then we will communicate through social media, like Instagram and stuff.
Connecting premieres Oct. 8 at 8/7c on NBC.