EXCLUSIVE: 'Detroiters' Duo Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson Bring Surrealism to the Motor City

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Photo: Comedy Central

A friendship can go a long way. And in the case of Tim Robinson and Sam Richardson, it’s brought them to Comedy Central with Detroiters, the buddy comedy about two advertising executives, which is halfway through the run of its first season.

Both from Detroit, Michigan, the two comedians first met when Robinson was Richardson’s improv teacher and quickly bonded, forming the traditions -- like an annual holiday viewing of a Frank Sinatra Christmas special -- that only two best friends can share. They honed their shared sensibility of humor at Second City in Detroit and later, on the mainstage in Chicago, before striking out on their own.

Robinson joined Saturday Night Live as a featured player, later moving to a staff writing position on the long-running sketch comedy series. Meanwhile, Richardson found success in Los Angeles, picking up small roles in We’re the Millers and The Office before landing HBO’s Veep, on which he plays the delightfully clueless Richard T. Splett. 

But it wasn’t long before the two came back together to form Detroiters. “Even when we started out in Detroit, we always knew we wanted to do stuff together,” Robinson tells ET, with Richardson adding that the two had a desire to come together on a series “pretty early.” It wasn’t until SNL alum Jason Sudeikis, who serves as an executive producer on the series, got involved, that things really got moving. “[It] lit a fire under our a**es like, ‘Oh let's really try this now,’” Robinson continues.

The result is a (hilarious) love letter to their hometown, which not only serves as a backdrop for Sam Duvet (Richardson) and Tim Cramblin’s (Robinson) budding ad agency but also as an unofficial third character. From the very beginning, the duo knew they wanted to film in the area, bringing an authenticity to the humor inspired by the Motor City’s low-budget local ads. “That’s where we started doing comedy,” Robinson says as if to say there was no other choice for their show.

While it’s certainly not a realistic portrayal of the city, Detroiters does come packed with the zingers that only locals will truly appreciate. “Things that are funny as a joke period, but if you're from Detroit, you really get the references,” Richardson says, especially when it comes to the commercial parodies, such as the recent episode “Devereux Wigs,” which saw a spokesperson riding a horse in an ad for discount wigs. The commercial is based on Dittrich Furs, which has its own version of a woman riding a horse to music. “It was like, ‘We got to have that,’” Richardson says with a laugh.

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But unlike Veep, which is rooted in a certain amount of reality tied to the American government, Detroiters enjoys a surrealistic approach, which heightens its sense of humor and point of view. Even the characters, Sam Duvet (Richardson) and Tim Cramblin (Robinson), are heightened versions of the real-life duo. Though, Robinson points out that TV Tim is far more quick-tempered.

There are certain sketch-like elements, Richardson explains, that creep its way into the narrative and jokes seen on the show. “You can do ‘hot beers,’ which is a completely made up thing,” Robinson says, with Richardson adding: “Jokes like those can live in that world.” A prime example of that is ET’s first look at an all-new Detroiters episode, “3rd Floor,” which sees Tim and Sam facing the horrors of losing access to an alternative bathroom. 

But with all the jokes landing so close to home, one has to wonder how friends and family are responding to the series. “They’re going to lie to us,” Richardson jokes, adding that his mother’s response was the best so far. “She was like, ‘Wow. Sam, I am satisfied.’ That’s the best way to say, ‘It’s OK.’”

Detroiters airs Tuesdays at 10:30 ET/PT on Comedy Central.