Adam Pally and Sam Richardson, the two comedy actors behind YouTube Premium’s new series Champaign ILL, are best known for their respective work with other teams or duos. For Pally, it’s the cult favorite series Happy Endings, which ran on for three seasons at ABC, was prematurely canceled in what Vulture has dubbed one of the worst TV decisions ever made. For Richardson, it’s the critically acclaimed buddy comedy Detroiters on Comedy Central, which he co-created and co-stars in with Tim Robinson.
So of course the pair has another duo, comprised of hip-hop artists Killer Mike and El-P, to thank for what would eventually become their new show.
Adam Pally and Sam Richardson have Run The Jewels to thank for Champaign ILL
“I had met Sam at a Run The Jewels concert. We ended up hitting it off and hanging out for the whole show,” Pally tells Metro. “So then when I started doing an off-broadway play with Anna Chlumsky not long after that, I was telling her about this new show I was doing with David Caspe, the creator of Happy Endings, she was like, ‘You have to meet Sam.’ That’s when I fell in love with him and he has to live with that for the rest of his life.”
“Adam is a fun dude,” says Richardson. “He’s a funny guy, very kind and thoughtful, so it’s easy to assume there’s a history there. It’s easy to be familiar with him in this show. I just found it easy to jump into an assumed relationship between our characters, Ronnie and Alf. It’s that kind of thing where the people have been friends for a very long time. With Adam, it’s a pretty easy thing to do.”
Champaign ILL follows Ronnie (Pally) and Alf (Richardson), the two main members of their friend-turned-rap star Lou (Jay Pharoah). They’ve supported their high school buddy’s hip-hop career ever since they gave up their own dreams to do so, but now that Lou is dead, the duo must fend for themselves. As a result, the show manages to find itself tucked squarely into the “dramedy” genre that’s been so popular on television as of late.
“Nine times out of ten, unless you’re playing it super wacky, the approach is to play things as real as possible,” says Richardson. “Even with the more out there things that I do with this character, superficial things like his blonde hair, chains and clothes, I play it as real as I possibly can. The blonde hair isn’t blonde for the sake of being or looking crazy. These things all have a reason for being.”
“I wouldn’t say dramedy,” Pally suggests in turn, “because I think what we’re interested in doing is going back to this kind of era in comedy where the stakes mattered. You have to play with them as if they’re real, though you can still make a big giant hooky idea come to life with it. For example, you still care about all of the people in Tropic Thunder, even though that movie is an enormous idea and a little crazy at times. We’re trying to go for something like that.”
Whether or not viewers will categorize Champaign ILL as a comedy, a dramedy or some other television hybrid remains to be seen. According to the marketing materials YouTube has released so far, it seems the streamer is definitely leaning into the wackier side of the show’s comedic elements. Judging by the first few episodes and Richardson and Pally’s rapport on and off camera, however, a convincing argument can be made for its more dramatic elements.
Champaign ILL premieres Wednesday, Dec. 12, on YouTube Premium.