Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams were the stars of the classic TV show Laverne & Shirley. They played the title characters, after all. But Lenny and Squiggy often stole the show. Michael McKean and David L. Lander played the upstairs neighbors. McKean said they were allowed to write their own scenes.
McKean was a guest on Tig Notaro’s Don’t Ask Tig podcast on May 26. When Notaro asked him about Laverne & Shirley, McKean explained how he and Lander would write Lenny and Squiggy scenes.
‘Laverne & Shirley’ producers encouraged Michael McKean and David L. Landers to write Lenny and Squiggy
Garry Marshall was executive producer of Laverne & Shirley with Edward K. Milkis and Thomas L. Miller. Robert L. Boyett also produced all 173 episodes with additional producers. McKean said they not only gave him and Lander room to improvise in rehearsals, but encouraged them to rewrite anything scripted.
“A lot in rehearsal and also they expected us to rewrite our stuff,” McKean said on Don’t Ask Tig. “David and I had stuff that was sort of standalone and wasn’t about how are we going to help the girls or how are we going to help save the Pizza Bowl or whatever was going on. That was all nailed down.”
Michael McKean and David L. Lander knew Lenny and Squiggy better than anyone
Lenny and Squiggy were aspiring musicians and quirky in their own right. That wasn’t something just any staff writer could capture. So, Laverne & Shirley trusted the actors with those scenes. McKean put his improv skills to use in many movie comedies since.
“They wanted us to rewrite our stuff because it’s not that easy,” McKean said. “It’s not just Bazooka Joe dumb. There’s a kind of a logic to what Lenny and Squiggy did. They had their own mentality which just didn’t jibe with your normal mentality but it was for real and it had to have a certain logic. So they said go, do so we did. Sometimes we actually got a script on the first reading and it said Lenny and Squiggy enter and do something, and then they say this to the girls. ‘All right, I guess it’s the horse costume.’ Whatever.”
‘Laverne & Shirley’ was a team effort
McKean also gave credit to Penny Marshall and Williams, along with the floor crew who made Laverne & Shirley what it was.
They were great. It really was the four of us had a pretty good squad going and we really had something to do. There were times when it was very explosive and there were times when it was the opposite. There were times when it just seemed well, we’re simmering. We’ll get through this and we’ll be home by 11:30 which is not the way you want to feel. In those days, we didn’t do scenes over and over again. We shot everything once and there were no monitors. So you find the old camera coordinators and get them to explain how it ever got done. But it was three guys, three cameras on three dollies shooting the whole show, real audience reaction. Very little sweetening on our show. We had some really good houses.Michael McKean, Don’t Ask Tig podcast, 5/26/22