A Conversation with Bob Clendenin and Kirsten Gronfield of “10 Items or Less”
BY KEVIN CARR
Hear the entire interview…
Ever since the groundbreaking show “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a popular trend of comedy is the improvised show. One of the latest creations in this genre is TBS’s late-night show “10 Items or Less.” Filmed in a working grocery store in the San Fernando Valley, yet set in Ohio, the show highlights the dysfunction and struggles of the working stiff.
Bob Clendenin plays the quiet stock boy Carl, and Kirsten Gronfield plays the quirky but explosive clerk Ingrid. I had a chance to sit down with the pair to talk about how the show works and what can be expected in its second season.
The show is not scripted like a classic series. Instead, the writers develop outlines of what happens in the episodes, and the actors make up the dialogue as the show goes on. “Unless you start to catch on to what is happening, which we tend to do after twenty minutes, it’s all made up,” Gronfield explains.
So how do they keep things from devolving into chaos? “We wouldn’t know ‘cause it turned into chaos every day,” Clendenin says. “Luckily, it’s not our job to keep it from turning into chaos,” Gronfield adds.
And speaking of chaos, working in a functioning supermarket offers its own challenges, like the true story of a little old lady trying to wrestle dog treats from the top shelf with her cane. “We get that,” Gronfield explains, “but that’s usually the best part of the take.”
“Eventually, the cameras just sort of wander from us to what’s better in the background,” Clendenin adds. “Let’s get the real comedy, which is at the far end of aisle three.”
With three cameras taping digital video over three days per episode, and takes lasting as long as 45 minutes at times, the producers of the show allow much of the writing to happen in the editing room.
“They’re getting a lot of credit for not doing a whole lot,” Clendenin jokes. “Their treatments are like three pages. I could do that.” Still, Gronfield praises producer/director Nancy Hower for being able to juggle emerging and changing storylines throughout the shoot. “Nancy is like a savant,” she says.
Another struggle both Clendenin and Gronfield face is the emerging sexification of their characters.
“They’re putting eyelashes on me,” Gronfield explains of the changes her character went through from season one to season two. “And there’s a dress I wear in the second season that has a lot of boobies happening that are supplemented in many ways,” she adds.
“I did not have my boobies augmented,” Clendenin offers me, much to my relief. Gronfield quickly breaks the tension in the room by saying, “They always try to sexify the ladies.” Then things get all awkward again when she quickly adds, “They don’t need to do it with Bob.”
“No,” Clendenin agrees. “I’m bringing it.”
And Clendenin will be bringing it even more in season two. “Oh, I krunk,” he explains. “Yeah, I had to look it up. I had to go to YouTube to find out what it is ‘cause Nancy said ‘You need to learn to krunk. You have two weeks to get some king of krunking action going.’”
And, Carl also gets a shot at a sex scene too, what he describes as “going balls-out making out” with co-star Roberta Valderrama. “It was weird,” Clendenin recounts. “It was at craft service. But I’ll tell you what, That’s the first time I’ve kissed somebody… ever.”
“Ever?” Gronfield asks. “That’s weird, because you have two kids”
“And an ex-wife,” Clendenin adds.
“Well, that explains why,” Gronfield replies.
So if you wander into a grocery store in Reseda, California, and see some cameras filming chaos at the far end of aisle three, you just might get your chance to be on television.
Otherwise, you can heed the advice of professional actors with their own series: “Always set the bar low. You’ll continue to impress people,” Clendenin told me.
“I’ve been doing that my whole life,” Gronfield agreed.