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Interview and Portrait By Matt Price

Tim Robinson is the creator and star of “I Think You Should Leave”, which is one of the best sketch comedy shows on Netflix right now. Tim Robinson is also a skateboarder. We’re not talking about someone who skated for a few years when they were 13. In between writing and performing for a hit show, Tim still skates multiple times every week and can currently Frontside Flip your face off. He was at one time in the cast of Saturday Night Live and also fanned out on Baker 4. That might be an NBD. When we found out Tim was a skater we knew right away we needed to learn more about him, so we sat down and asked a few questions.

MP: Hey Tim, start us off with your name, age and I guess tell us what you do?

TR: Well, my name is Tim Robinson, I’m 38, and my profession, what I would say, is a comedy writer.

MP: So you consider yourself a writer before an actor?

TR: Yeah, I didn’t always, but now I kind of consider myself a writer first.

MP: Did you end up performing as a default because you would write shit that only you could pull off?

TR: That’s kind of what I’ve fallen into. I also wrote for SNL for forever… but sometimes when I was writing for them, I was like “oh I wish I was able to be in this.”

MP: That totally makes sense. So let’s go back a little. You grew up in Detroit?

TR: Yeah, in the suburbs.

MP: What year did you start skating?

TR: I probably skated in elementary school off and on, and it was just like big boards and a little ramp, and you know I couldn’t really do anything. But then I think I really got serious about skating when I was (in) high school, so that would’ve been ‘97, I think.

MP: So late 90’s kind of? Did you get into it through like a brother or something?

TR: It was just that boom era of skating in the 90’s. Everybody in my neighborhood skated. It was like everyone was just cruising around the neighborhood.

MP: Was that like when the X-Games was big? 97-98 or something? What year did Tony Hawk do the 900? That era?

TR: It was pre the 900. I don’t know why it was but there was some boom in the 90’s when everyone was skating. It was like the height of Alien Workshop and World Industries and stuff. So we all started skating in the neighborhood and then slowly over time everybody kind of faded out except for me and like four guys who kept skating the entire time.

MP: You said Alien and World, but what other stuff were you into when you started skating? What was your first video or first favorite skater? What else got you stoked in that era?

TR: You know, we were crazy into 411’s. Also, Rodney Vs. Daewon.

MP: Round 2 was so good.

TR: Yeah! I used to watch that over and over.

Rodney VS. Daewon Round 2 was some seminal skating for Tim and his crew.

MP: It’s funny how like certain things are burned into your brain right from skate videos. Like you say "Rodney and Daewon," and I just instantly think of Daewon’s song from round 1. I love that shit. 411 intro music…

TR: (imitates bass sounds of 411 intro). We’d get ‘em and after school we’d go to one of our houses, watch 4-1-1, and then we’d hit the streets.

MP: Did any of your friends have a subscription? We had a kid in our crew who was subscribed.

TR: No we didn’t have a subscription. We had to go down to the skate shop and buy it.

MP: This kid would get them every 2 months and it was like “Oh my god! He must be rich!”

TR: It totally feels like a rich kid thing!

MP: Like he goes to skate camp and he gets 4-1-1s?!

TR: He goes to skate camp?!?

MP: Yeah, dude.

TR: That is a rich kid.

MP: That was like crazy as a kid, but now it doesn’t seem that insane to send a kid to skate camp.

TR: Dude, I was totally like “these are a bunch of rich kids” *laughs*

Um. Did you look at skate mags much as a kid? Transworld or Thrasher?

TR: Transworld, yup. I did have a subscription to Thrasher, too.

MP: Wasn’t it like $8 for a subscription back then, or something like that? My dad would always get it for me cause it was cheap and it would get me to read.

TR: So my parents are divorced and I kind of grew up with two dads, and one of my dads is Jewish, and we’d have Hanukkah and I got a subscription to Thrasher every Hanukkah.

MP: Oh that’s sick, so you just got a re-up every year?

TR: Yup, and I loved it. I was so hyped for it.

MP: My dad would always spring for a skate magazine because it involved reading, but like getting a deck or anything was impossible.

TR: I remember back then I’d skate a deck for so long. Until it was all waterlogged and chipped up.

MP: The nose and tail gone?

TR: Just brushes!

MP: It seems like you don’t see kids riding decks that harsh as much these days. Maybe it’s just cause we live in L.A., but you don’t run into kids with like the nub tail and nose.

TR: They’d show up and their boards would be so loud…

MP: *laughing* everything’s banging around and shit.

TR: Two bolts right here and the rest are missing…

MP: *laughing* Totally. So skating in Detroit in the 90’s, did you mainly stay in the suburbs or did you go into the city to skate at all?

TR: No we skated in the city. We’d skate all over. We did skate the suburbs a lot though. You know where we would skate a ton at the time was Flint. There was this river walkway and there was never anybody down there, and everything was waxed up.

Riverbank Park in Flint Michigan was one of the spots Tim grew up skating in the 90's.


MP: So it was kind of like your EMB?

TR: Yeah, it was all pretty flat, but there were all these like ledges and stuff, and everything was waxed.

MP: So did you get CCS catalogs when you were a kid?

TR: Yeah yeah yeah, absolutely.

MP: A lot of people I talk to have memories of circling shit in the catalog, but never getting any of it ad they’re still salty about it. Did you order stuff from the catalog as a kid?

TR: Absolutely. I would get decks from it. We had a skate shop where I was from called, Metro Trend Skate Shop, and I’d get a lot of boards from there. But I do remember certain ones I got from CCS. I got a Koston 101 from CCS. It was a slick skin, and I just remember the anticipation of like how long it took to get there. I couldn’t wait for it to get there.

MP: Yeah! You’d send the thing in the mail which was going to take few days to get there, then process the order, then ship it, so it was probably like 2 weeks, right?

TR: It took forever, and I remember paying C.O.D (cash on delivery) where you actually pay the mailman for the board when they drop it off.

MP: If you broke your board on a Friday you weren’t skating for like 2 weekends.

TR: Well back then if you broke your board, one of your friends would just give you a waterlogged one.

MP: Totally, you’d skate anything you could. You’d take the board that was just nubs on the nose and tail.

TR: Yeah, your friend would be like “well I have this shitty board,” and you’d switch to that one before getting a new one.

TR: I’d always break boards on Frontside Flips. Frontside Flips were my trick, so I would do them off gaps and down stairs, so I broke boards all the time.

MP: Stomping noses and shit? I used to break so many boards on 360 flips. I don’t anymore though which is weird.

TR: Well we’re also just not going as big. Back then I would jump off like – a 7-stair, and I’m not doing that anymore.

One of Tim's first decks was this 101 Koston slick from an old CCS catalog.

MP: Yeah, I’m not skating anything higher than a curb! So at what point did you start getting into comedy?

TR: I started getting into comedy in high school. In Detroit at the time (it’s gone now), there was a Second City (improv comedy troupe). I’d gone to Chicago with my mom, she worked for Chrysler, and I’d gone there for a work trip with her with my girlfriend (who’s now my wife) and we saw a Second City show. When I came home I realized there was one in my backyard, so I started taking classes there in high school.

MP: So did that overlap then? You were still skating when you kind of got into that?

TR: Yeah, I was still skating when I was starting comedy.

MP: Did you ever get any inspiration from some of the comedy bits in skating? Things like the Girl/Chocolate video skits or even stuff from old Powell videos?

TR: Absolutely. You know we all cruised around with like camcorders and stuff like we were trying to make our own videos and of course, we’d have bits in there that we thought were funny because we were just kinda trying to be those guys.

MP: Totally, like Jason Lee singing in Video days or something.

TR: Yeah yeah yeah. I just rewatched the Owen Wilson part in Yeah Right! It’s so funny.

MP: The Owen Wilson thing was one of my favorite things ever. It was the ultimate blending of these two worlds of skating and comedy and actors.

TR: Yeah it was great! So many people who skate are funny. Tom Green skated! Remember that when Tom Green skated?

MP: YEAH! He had that show too.

TR: Yeah and he’d skate around and you’re like “HE SKATES?!?!”

MP: He had a board on Birdhouse for a minute too! Anyway… Was Second City what took you to Chicago after Detroit?

TR: Yeah, I worked for Second City Detroit for a long time, then that got me a job in Chicago. I moved to Chicago, and did their touring company, then eventually did the main stage there.

MP: Second City has been kind of a feeder to SNL right? A lot of people have ended up on the show who came from there? Was that how you got involved with SNL?

TR: I actually didn’t get SNL through Second City, I got SNL through Montreal JFL. They do this comedy festival in Montreal called Just For Laughs, and I got asked to go up there and do some solo character stuff, and when I did that John Mulaney, was at the show and he recommended me to audition for SNL. So I got SNL basically through Mulaney.

MP: That’s sick. So how terrifying was that process? It seems like for someone who is writing comedy or performing it’s kind of this pinnacle thing…

TR: It was very scary. I had to do one audition in front of a live audience, like in a packed theatre. Like people givin’ it up cause they’re wanting people to succeed. And that one wasn’t as scary. I mean it was still scary, but then you do the screen test. You go into 30 Rock. You’re waiting all day in a green room, and you wait and wait, and they call you, you walk in, you’re on home base on SNL, and they’re shooting it, and all the producers are out there.

MP: That sounds terrifying.

TR: Yeah, and they’re all comedy snobs so it’s scary.

MP: But you got it, right? Did you get hired as an actor first or as a writer?

TR: I got it. I got hired as an actor. I was an actor on the show for one, one season.

Tim spent one season in the cast at SNL then another three seasons as a writer.

TR: They took me out of the cast and were like “do you want to stay as a writer?” I stayed for another three years after that, and I actually loved being a writer. But the performing part on SNL was kind of hard and scary.

MP: And it’s hectic, right? Like you essentially have one week to create a live show, and you work what, like 20 hours a day?

TR: It’s a lot of hard, hard work, but being a writer was just fun. When you’re an actor there’s more pressure, but being a writer was simply just fun. I mean there are still times I got mad and stuff. It could still be stressful.

MP: Was it scary to work for Lorne Michaels? I have heard lots of stories of people being scared of him.

TR: No. At first he was scary, but then he’s not. I mean he’s a boss, so there’s that – he’s terrifying in the way that any boss is. But, I think once I got taken out of the cast, the weight fell off my shoulders, so I was never scared, or nervous around him after that.

MP: That’s cool. So the decision to move you from performing to writing didn’t bum you out?

TR: Oh it bummed me out. It bummed me out terribly. I just, I felt a little, I was upset. When you’re upset that can be the best way to get over fear though.

MP: Because you have the worst possible thing happen, right?

TR: Yeah, cause then you’re kind of like…well, fuck it!

MP: Yeah it’s like I guess you get fired essentially.

TR: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly what I was worried about, but luckily I was still there. So I was like “I’m only going to do what I think is funny,” if they put it on the show or not.

MP: I’ve seen other interviews with you, where you talk about how a lot of the stuff that ended up in I Think You Should Leave was stuff that you had written for SNL that didn’t get used.

TR: There were a couple that were based on those ideas. The hot dog guy one was one of those.

MP: This may be a dumb question, but is it kind of validating to see ideas that were turned down before doing really well in the show?

TR: No, it’s not a dumb question at all. I’ll say this, that the sketch show (I Think You Should Leave) scratched an itch that I had after I left SNL.

MP: How does it feel to make something exactly the way you want to and have it be accepted by people? I mean, how many talented people do you know who like – made something amazing but like, for whatever reason didn’t hit?

TR: I didn’t expect to hit. When Zach and I did it (the guy I write with), we were like there’s going to be one season of this, and we’re happy for getting the opportunity, to do the things we find funny with like…very little pushback from Netflix. They were just like “go ahead, do your thing,” so to be honest we just kind of felt like…“alright, we’re getting to do this. This feels good and therapeutic. No one will watch it. We’ll do one season of this, it’ll go away, but we’ll feel like we did something, and even if we’re just making ourselves happy we feel good.” So the fact that people liked it, other than just us - it does feel good. It feels nice.

MP: That’s cool. It’s rad that you fully put yourself out there and you’re like “is anyone else like me?”

TR: Totally! Totally. I was prepared for it to be “this is what I like”, and if nobody else liked it, then that would have been okay.

MP: It’s like as long as you feel like you did it the way you really wanted, you’re not going to be bummed.

TR: I’m sure my feelings would have been different if…. It’s easy to say that now, but I’m sure I would have been devastated if no one liked it. (both laughing)

MP: Totally. So, do you know any other people in comedy that skate? Or does anyone else on your show skate?

TR: Yeah, yeah – Andrew Fitzgerald, one of our editors. He rips! He’s great. Dude’s fast as hell. It scares me.

MP: Did you know that when you hired him?

TR: No…no…

MP: Really?

TR: Yeah, he came in on the first day of editing and we were watching cuts with Akiva (Schafer), the director, and I was talking about how I had skated Ritchie Valens park and it was pretty fun, and Fitz was like “oh I’ve skated that park – it’s like a street park…” and I was like “OH!” And then now we skate all the time!

Tim and Will Forte from a sketch in I Think You Should Leave.

MP: Crazy! Your son skates too, right?

TR: Yes

MP: How old is he?

TR: He’s 10. He’s been skating since like last year.

MP: Is he into it?

TR: He’s very into it, yes.

MP: That must be so rad to watch your kid get into something you love and you guys can do together.

TR: When they start doing something that’s important to you, I feel like I have to check yourself a little bit. I don’t want to get too eager with it, like if he wants to take breaks from skating or something, I don’t want to push it too hard, but like…inside I want to be like “come on! Let’s just go!” cause also it’s fun for me! It’s fun for me though, cause if he wants to go out skating I’m like “hell ya” even if I’m tired and he wants to do it, I’m like “yes” I will go do it. But I also don’t want to put that pressure on him. You know that feeling of not wanting to do anything your parents want you to do, so I try and keep my distance a little and be like, I’m not gonna ruin this for you.

MP: Nah that makes sense cause you don’t wanna be too gung ho about it and bum him out, like, how many 10-year olds skate for 2 years and then stop, or 5 years, like he might not end up being a lifer.

TR: Don’t say that, man! (both laughing)

MP: What’s it like to see what kind of skating a 10-year-old in watches in 2020? What kind of videos does he watch, just like Youtube and stuff?

TR: It’s really…I cannot believe the access kids have to watch skating now. It’s crazy. Like we were talking about 4-1-1s…

MP: Every two months! That was like the soonest you could get anything.

TR: Yes. And they can just go on YouTube… l can tell you, he loves Baker, It was a nice moment when Baker 4 came out, and we like watched it together. It was great.

MP: So he’s into cool shit! Does he watch vlogs and stuff like that too?

TR: He does. He watches the…I don’t know too much about them, the Braille – do you know the Braille guys? He watches those.

MP: Yeah, they’re wild. They’ve built their own little Youtube skate industry.

TR: They combined what he was watching on YouTube before he skated, with skating. They’ve really done it brilliantly where it’s like they’re inviting the people who grew up on YouTube to get into skating. I don’t know a lot about YouTube so I don’t know if they’re the first to do it or what, but he watches those all the time.

MP: Sick. Now I have a random Detroit skate trivia fact for you, did you know Tony Hawk bought a house in Detroit?

TR: I did know that. I think his wife is from the area?

MP: Oh, okay, that makes sense.

TR: I did a show called Detroiters and the house we lived in on the show – me and my wife on the show, it’s just honestly like…half a block away from where Tony lives.

MP: Rad! So that’s pretty much all I got. What’s next for you? Working on a new season of the show?

TR: Yeah, Season 2. I don’t know when it’s gonna air yet though.

MP: Well, we’re all waiting… Everyone’s ready. Thanks for taking the time to talk, Tim!

TR: Dude, thank you.

Check out Tim's show I Think You Should Leave available on Netflix now!

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