Ted 2 is a different beast from the original with Ted's fight, as a talking teddy bear, for civil rights. Where did the idea come from?
Originally, we'd written an outline for Ted 2 about John and Ted trucking a pot shipment across the country - which is obviously not quite as deep a story as the one we ended up with - but then We're The Millers came out, which was essentially that story and I was like, 'Aw shit, we can't do this now ...'
Then we were shooting A Million Ways to Die in the West and I was reading John Jakes' North and South series about the Civil War and there was a whole section on Dred Scott - the slave who sued the Supreme Court for his freedom and lost. It made me think; 'What would be an interesting way to tell a version of that story in the modern era?' I realised you could only do that with someone like Ted, who's not human, who doesn't have the legal status of a person. So, that was the genesis of the idea. It seemed like a great opportunity to do something that's both funny and also a legitimate story that would separate it from being just another big, loud, wacky summer comedy.
So you wanted Ted 2 to not be just another sequel?
Yeah, we wanted it to be its own, unique story because I've seen a lot of comedy sequels that are essentially safe re-runs of the original and that just seems like a poor approach to take. One of the most important things, to me, was ensuring we didn't just rehash the first movie. But at the same time we wanted John and Ted's relationship to remain the same, to reinforce the fact that this is a real relationship, a true friendship - not just some Abbott and Costello sketch - because that's what people know and remember as the core of the first movie.
But it's tempting to try and be more outrageous than before?
Yeah, that's where the sperm bank scene in this came from. But we never try to shock just for shock's sake: the gag has to be funny first. But if it's funny and it shocks people, that's even better! The audience will tell you when you've crossed the line though; if you do a test-screening and something gets a gasp or a groan every single time then you know that, no matter how much you love a joke, it's got to go because you've gone too far.
You kept in jokes about the Charlie Hebdo shootings [in a scene set in a comedy club improv night].
We tested that scene in front of several audiences and every single time the laughs were more overwhelming than not. So, even though we realised we were right on the razor's edge of what's funny and what's offensive, with that scene, we decided to keep it in. Also, we're not mocking anyone and we acknowledged that these are all tragedies, that don't belong in a comedy club, but they do work in the context of an improv night because anyone who's ever gone to improv knows that there's always some asshole, at the back, shouting totally unusable, offensive remarks. To me, it seems like John and Ted would be those assholes.
Jerry Seinfeld recently said that political correctness is killing comedy. Do you agree?
To some extent, I think Seinfeld is correct. But I don't think that the public feels the same way about political correctness, in comedy, as we're led to believe by the media. The media paints a ubiquitous picture of the public being outraged by racism, sexism and inequality but my experience is contrary to that; it's almost never the case - especially when it comes to comedy. I think there's a real disconnect between what the media presents and how the public actually feels.
Do you get reproached by people you spoof in Ted 2 or Family Guy?
Surprisingly, most people tend to be pretty easygoing about it. We've had a couple of phone calls on Family Guy and at one point I got an earful from Adrien Brody at a party, but that's about it. It's strange that that hasn't happened more often but people seem to take it as a weird kind of compliment that you're taking the time to have a crack at them. In general, what happens, more often than not, is people will call and say; 'Hey, you took a shot at me, are you going to put me in the next one?'
How did you convince Morgan Freeman to appear in Ted 2 in a bit part?
It's not a bit part, it's a great part. He's going to win an Oscar for it. Seriously, though, he's a great guy and he liked the script and sometimes, for a serious, dramatic actor, it's fun to go and do a comedy that's silly, like this. I got the sense that this was a kick for him because he was a huge fan of the first one. At least that's what he told me.
Who: Seth MacFarlane
What: Ted 2
When: In cinemas now