Last week when I watched the first episode of The League (FXX, Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m.), I was surprised when Ted, the douchey dude who won last year’s fantasy football league, was revealed to have AIDS—a condition the rest of the guys in the league immediately … envied. Of course, HIV-positive characters have shown up on television before, but I couldn’t recall another example of AIDS being played for laughs, so I called up the show’s creators, Jackie Marcus Schaffer and Jeff Schaffer, to ask how they came up with the storyline.
June Thomas: I can’t remember seeing a TV character with AIDS being treated in a comedic way before. Where did that come from?
Jackie Marcus Schaffer: We already knew from last season that Ted was a guy they’d all known from high school, and he’d won the league. So, as is always the case when anybody has any small shred of good fortune in The League, the rest of them are insanely jealous and angry about it. We started to think, “Who is this guy we’ve never met before but have alluded to for years as the guy who never shows up for the draft. Why hasn’t he been around?”
And then I was thinking a lot about Magic Johnson. Obviously, he’s a really prominent businessman in Los Angeles, having made this successful play for the Dodgers, which is something that every businessman in Los Angeles had wanted to do. There he was in this news report, just sort of strolling down a street in Beverly Hills, looking dapper in his linen sports coat, having a great day, having made a successful bid for the Dodgers. I thought to myself, “What if the reason they haven’t seen Ted for a while is that he’s been really busy, he’s been really successful. Oh, and by the way, he has AIDS.”
You should’ve seen the look on my husband’s face. I was like, “I have some thoughts about Ted.” I was literally making a chopped salad for dinner as our baby is asleep, and I said, “Let me just throw something at you: Ted has AIDS.” Because what is more insane that a bunch of guys trying to figure out if somehow the AIDS has made him more successful and more focused. Is it the drugs? Because that’s what our characters are like. They’re completely obsessive.
Jeff Schaffer: This isn’t a pity story; it’s a jealousy story. We get to play with something you usually don’t see a lot in comedy—people’s discomfort around AIDS and someone who has AIDS, all of the miseducation about how you get it, and when it’s contagious, and all that kind of stuff. But that comedy only lasts for a beat. Then the real fun for us was that these guys are jealous of him. They’re jealous of his AIDS. They’re jealous of his life. As Kevin says, “Full-blown Ted has a better life than I do. I want to be like that guy. I want to be the guy with AIDS.”
Jackie: And then naturally we started to think about Ted’s AIDS medication. He’s been on a great cocktail in the last year, and Kevin’s becoming obsessed, wondering if there’s something in those drugs that gave him an advantage.
Jeff: Ted’s still the same smug, intolerable, cocky bastard that he was in high school. Aside from him getting to make fun of their fears about AIDS, we always wanted him to have the upper hand. In Episode 2, when he’s playing volleyball, he puts fake blood on his hand. He’s going to keep joking about it, and I think that’s very refreshing. Just because he has AIDS, that doesn’t mean he’s all of a sudden become a saint. He’s the same person he was. It didn’t affect his personality.
Jackie: Sometimes a tragedy happens and people learn a lesson. In the world of The League, that would not be the case. A guy would not get AIDS and then suddenly be less of a dick.
June: So there are no sacred cows in The League’s comedy?
Jeff: I do think that a lot of shows wouldn’t touch this, and we’re very happy to. We’re not looking to shock, we’re just looking for what’s funny, but this is a real thing that you don’t see a lot of stories about.
June: How did you come to cast Adam Brody as Ted?
Jeff: The thing about Adam is that there’s never an ounce of pity shed for him. We wanted to have a handsome guy, young and fit.
Jackie: He really should look healthier, better, and more well-kempt than our guys who do not have an immune-deficiency.
June: Is the AIDS storyline just in the first two episodes?
Jeff: Adam’s a very busy guy, but we’d love to have him back, for sure in the next season. And a little bit of Ted lives on in Episode 3, Kevin is still going to be suffering from having taken Ted’s cocktail. He literally says, “This AIDS cocktail’s really messing with my digestive system. I don’t know how those guys do it.” And Pete says, “Well, the alternative is the end of Philadelphia.”
This interview has been edited and condensed.