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Michael Showalter Aims for a Breakout Hit in ‘The Big Sick’

Variety logo Variety 6/21/2017 Jenelle Riley
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Fans of offbeat comedy know Michael Showalter well from his years on “The State” and “Stella,” not to mention writing, co-producing and starring in the cult movie-turned-Netflix-series “Wet Hot American Summer.” Now Showalter is winning raves for his work directing “The Big Sick.”

His debut feature as director was 2005’s “The Baxter,” which he also wrote and starred in. Though it grossed less than $200,000 in theatrical release, it showcased Showalter as a director to watch. But he didn’t direct another film until last year’s Sally Field starrer, “Hello, My Name Is Doris.” “It wasn’t like I had a script I was peddling and couldn’t get made,” he says of the break following “The Baxter.” “But I think maybe I was hoping that it would open some doors for me to be in consideration to direct some movies. And that didn’t happen.”

Not that he wasn’t keeping busy, creating shows like “Search Party” and “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” in addition to writing, directing and acting on a variety of programs. He also taught a screenwriting course at NYU, which eventually led to “Doris”—his cowriter Laura Terruso was someone he met through the college. But in addition, he says he learned about “practicing what I preach in my teaching.”

Producer Judd Apatow says Showalter landed the “Big Sick” directing gig after an impressive presentation, and it helped that he was already a friend to writer-star Kumail Nanjiani. “I always think when people are tight, you can get better work,” Apatow says. “It’s easy to tell your secrets to people you care about.”

With praise for his work on “Sick” rolling in, Showalter promises it won’t be another 12 years before he directs his next feature. “I’m making up for lost time,” he notes. He’s about to shoot Season Two of “Search Party” and already has “Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later” in the can. “It’s 1991 and all the characters are in their mid-twenties,” Showalter reveals. “We’ll see what kind of people they’ve blossomed into.”

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