Alan Spencer is the mastermind behind the ’80s classic Sledge Hammer! and the upcoming IFC action comedy Bullet in the Face. The show’s being hailed as “the most violent comedy in television history” and has been given an odd scheduling pattern: three episodes back-to-back on two consecutive nights.

Bullet in the Face is already getting lots of attention. It stars Canadian actor Max Williams as Gunter Vogler, who’s described as a “brutally psychopathic, deliriously misogynistic German assassin-turned-cop.” He’s without conscience or filter, shooting people indiscriminately and accompanying it with radically offensive invective. As you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of bloodshed. Williams is joined by Eric Roberts and Eddie Izzard, who co-star as two wacko mob bosses.

ScreenCrave recently talked to Spencer about violence, comedy, and his early writing career.

You’ve made what may be the “most violent comedy in television history.” Are you proud? Was that your intention?

Alan Spencer: Not necessarily. The IFC network wanted an action comedy on their schedule and came to me because of my past success with this very genre. Sledge Hammer! had been defined as an action comedy, but we were severely constrained by the network’s broadcast standards back during the 80s. Basically, I felt I was revisiting familiar turf I knew well, but taking full advantage of the current times. There’s more permissiveness on television presently than when I did Sledge, especially on cable. This new show looks like a feature film, so it’s logical that feature film style action encompass legitimate violence. What can I say? I make violent sitcoms. It’s my niche.

You obviously like to explore the dark side of humor. And it takes a certain intelligence to pull this kind of comedy off. How did IFC’s inquiry develop into the gore fest that is Bullet in the Face?

Alan Spencer: The show isn’t a ‘gore fest’ at all. While some might consider it a bit gory for a comedy, we have nowhere near the carnage to warrant a title such as that. All the procedurals tend to be pretty bloody with graphic crime scenes, so we’re no different than those. I’d actually consider us to be on the lite menu of gore. On a side note, I was once in a restaurant and they were showing one of the CSI series on the television. They were in the middle of an autopsy scene. It was pretty grisly and going on forever. It was like they were cutting into a large elephant. The patrons started protesting and asked the restaurant manager to change the channel. Some people don’t like to look at internal organs while they’re feasting on chicken parmesan.

Does the title Bullet in the Face have anything to do with what they call “pie in the face” humor? Both sound rather messy.

Alan Spencer: If the pie has bullets in it it does. If you’re referring to slapstick, I wouldn’t necessarily characterize it as that. It’s a legitimate modern film noir that a few people have compared to graphic novels. It adds a layer of comedy onto this that hasn’t really been seen before. It’s plotted like a thriller and I would say that the majority of the humor comes from character. Max Williams portrays a strangely likable sociopath who’s not predictable. He speaks his mind and that mind is crazy. The character is basically a homicidal maniac with a badge, which isn’t too far a reach. He’s a walking id. Eddie Izzard and Eric Roberts played diametrically opposed gang leaders. Since one is a sophisticated euro criminal and the other is an old school, East Coast racketeer. Besides a mob war, this is also a culture clash. Their styles are very different. One plays chess and the other plays Parcheesi.

What you’ve created has been described as ‘pulp comedy.’ It’s basically a new genre, which is exciting, but can also come with some risks. What are your biggest concerns with Bullet? Are you breaking any social barriers?

Alan Spencer: I didn’t coin that phrase ‘pulp comedy’ and don’t really know what it means. It was designed as a weekly series, but isn’t being aired as that. That doesn’t allow a window for word-of-mouth or an audience to build, so I suppose that’s my concern. Now, the other argument might be no one watches TV live anymore; it’s invariably viewed on a DVR or perhaps via iTunes or some other on-demand service. Darwin theorized that any species unable to adapt won’t survive, so I’m glad to still be around and working in a business whose paradigm keeps changing. I’m not concerned about breaking social barriers. Even though there’s a lot of murder and destruction in the series, the characters use good grammar and reference literature on occasion… so this is classy chaos. I’m just glad I got the opportunity to try something different. Those are hard to come by these days. Not just on TV, but dating too. I hope it does well for the network. I guess my philosophy is similar to what Glenn Close‘s character said in fatal attraction: ‘I don’t want to be ignored.’

What makes your brand of comedic violence over-the-top in comparison to other shows? Why is it so shocking in a culture where violence, gore, etc. reign supreme pretty much everywhere? Was it the violence or the un-PC stuff that made execs pause?

Alan Spencer: I think the singular nature of the show made it a challenge to program. Reruns of Malcolm in the Middle aren’t necessarily compatible with a series where people are getting repeatedly shot in the head. I suppose if IFC were rerunning Just Shoot Me, that would have at least sounded like a better fit. Half-hour series invariably need a copacetic lead-in and there is no sitcom version of Fight Club to pair us with. I hope there is a Fight Club brand of soap so that it can be our sponsor.

That’s an excellent idea. Comedy and what’s acceptable as comedy, has changed over the past 20 years. Do you think people are tired of fluff, and are more interested in shows like Bullet?

Alan Spencer: I think people are tired in general… of politics, television, life. Whenever people are disenchanted they tend to gravitate towards more provocative fare to shake up their own stagnant systems. That’s obviously going on with that Fifty Shades of Gray book. I think people hunger for entertainment that is immersive, that they can lose themselves in. I don’t necessarily consider myself having a finger on the pulse. There are lots of dead bodies in this show, so they have no pulse. All I can say is this is a show that if I weren’t involved in it, I would personally watch. That’s the criteria I tend to use for projects. This is a comedy with more of the sensibilities of a drama. Let’s face it; most comedies on TV aren’t plot driven. This is an ambitious half-hour and people are generally surprised how much I could pack into 20 some minutes. I’d love to see more risky shows on the air. Those are good for television. I don’t just mean risk of injury, but risky ideas.

Risky ideas are sometimes the best ones. Guns played a prominent role in Sledge Hammer! and now in Bullet in the Face. Are they your preferred weapon of choice?

Alan Spencer: I suppose they are, just like a car is my preferred transportation of choice. Guns have always been a predominant part of our culture. The size of one defines the man holding it. A woman holding one asserts her power and encroaches on the turf of men. I don’t think James Bond would be considered as cool if he were holding a musket or switchblade. Their proliferation and usage of guns fuels most headlines as well as the debates about tougher legislation. Putting a gun into someone’s hand changes them. It’s the ultimate moral barometer to see what they do with it.

We’ve heard Bullet is already getting Kate Kelton noticed. Was it difficult getting the show’s casting right?

Alan Spencer: Not at all. I brought in a casting director that I trusted implicitly named Ivy Isenberg. She did a terrific job and found some people that will undoubtedly make a breakthrough with this. It’s also helpful to have established stars like Eddie Izzard and Eric Roberts. My dear friend Larry Wilmore also provided a hilarious cameo as a personal favor to me.

What fictional character have you enjoyed writing the most?

Alan Spencer: Probably the character of Tannhäuser that Eddie Izzard plays, followed by Gunter Vogler who is the lead in Bullet in the Face. Neither one of them have a filter so I was able to express some more unbridled thoughts and concepts. This is a very good show to be writing while frustrated. I got a lot out of my system. Plus, this pays better than cutting letters out of a newspaper and sending a hostile note anonymously.

In the past, you’ve mentioned your early influences were Marty Feldman, Mel Brooks and Andy Kaufman. What is the best piece of advice they gave you that you still apply to your current work?

Alan Spencer: They led by example. Marty was a great proponent of just trying things that were unorthodox. Taking a quantum leap with concepts you would toy with in the back of your mind, but ultimately talk yourself out of doing. Andy represented remarkable fearlessness and conviction. Comedy was a never-ending experiment to him, which is a lofty ideal as opposed to getting comfortable and playing it safe. You have to be able to risk failure in order to make a potential breakthrough. Otherwise, you’re just standing in place. Mel is a revolutionary comic talent. Besides his illustrious reputation and much awarded career, he remains remarkably down to earth and completely in touch. It was a thrill to see Mel Brooks receive a Kennedy Center honor from President Barack Obama. So appropriate in every way.

You’ve got quite a story behind you – writing for television at the age of 15 is still unthinkable to most people. What sticks out in your mind from that time? Any memories you can share?

Alan Spencer: There are many, many people [who] are encouraging me to write a book. Maybe I will one day. Fundamentally, my fondest memory was the ability to help my parents who were struggling at the time. My mother referred to me as their “miracle boy,” because my teenage writing career was able to halt foreclosure on our home. By writing jokes, I was able to mitigate serious problems, so there’s a unique irony in that.

Is there a possibility you could take Bullet any further? Or will that depend on the response it gets? Would you want to keep it going?

Alan Spencer: I’m fine with whatever happens. Patrick McGoohan‘s The Prisoner is one of my favorite series and exists within a short order of episodes. If there are only six episodes of Bullet in the Face, then I feel very secure that I didn’t hold back and put a lot into them. There are no guarantees in this business, so I always approach everything without great expectation.

Lastly, do you have any other projects in the works? What’s next for Alan Spencer?

Alan Spencer Similar to what The Joker said in Christopher Nolan‘s The Dark Knight, I don’t really make plans… I just do things.

Great answer to end with! Thanks for taking the time to be this awesome Alan, and good luck with the show!

Don’t forget to watch Bullet in the Face on IFC, August 16 and 17. You can find out more about the show on the IFC website, including an inside look at the stars and characters.