If you rent a cabin in the Big Bear or Frazier Park/Pine Mountain areas of Southern California, or near Nagshead, North Carolina, check for a guest book in the house. Flip through the pages—you just might find one of more than a dozen short stories (hand-) written by Greg Garcia, creator of the TBS comedy The Guest Book.
The series, which is based on Garcia’s guest book stories, features Kellie Martin, Charlie Robinson, Carly Jibson and Lou Wilson as residents of a podunk mountain town who interact with—and sometimes blackmail—different guests of Foggy Cottage.
During a recent phone interview, Garcia—best known for the sitcoms Yes, Dear, My Name Is Earl and Raising Hope—talked about turning his quirky hobby into a quasi-anthology series; using the Americana duo HoneyHoney as the show’s house band; snagging a stellar lineup of guests at Foggy Cottage; and making his Broadway debut in 2018.
Paste: Are all of The Guest Book’s episodes from stories you’d written before?
Greg Garcia: From the 10 episodes, seven of them are stories that I actually left in guest books. I obviously adapted to script form and changed along the way… There were two [stories] that I just came up with for the show; however, I’ve created guest book versions, short story versions of those, and I’m actually going up to Big Bear [to] leave those in places. I like very much the idea that all these have been left in guest books. Episode 10 is a culmination of all the stuff that happens to the regular townspeople [in the show], and I had to come up with an original story. I have seven or eight stories that I haven’t used yet, and hopefully I’ll get to use those further down the line.
Paste: So I take it you’re not a fan of upscale hotels?
Garcia: No, I’m not a big fan, especially if I’m going to write. I like to be as no-frills as possible. [Cabins are] actually a step up for me. Back in the My Name Is Earl days, I would actually go to terrible motels where I would be scared to touch anything because it was just so bad. It would just force me to sit in a chair and type. I need to force myself sometimes to write.
Paste: How did your guest book hobby begin?
Garcia: It started [when I was] just going off to write, and then a couple times I was with my family in Big Bear. One time in North Carolina, my wife was actually with the family, and I wasn’t there, so she sent me pictures of the house. She told me there was a guest book, and I sent her a story to write.
The Guest Book isn’t a true anthology series. Talk about how you landed on the format for the show.
Garcia: The truth is, when I was really trying to sell this anthology, people were scared of it. [I added] another component to it so that people will want to come back every week and not miss an episode. With so many straight anthologies… there’s no reason to watch every episode. You can pop in and pop out. I wanted at least with mine that there’s a great payoff if they do watch all the episodes.
Paste: The music of HoneyHoney, and its band members, are a big part of the show [reminiscent of Jonathan Richman’s cameos in Something About Mary]. How did you get them involved?
Garcia: I like to put music in my shows, but I knew we didn’t have a lot of money budgeted for music…. I went out and I saw this guy Hayes Carll in Hollywood, a singer-songwriter, and turned to the person sitting next to me, and said, ‘Wait a second…what if there’s a band that plays at the bikini bar [in the show], and we use them as the music?’
I talked to my music supervisor [Jonathan Leahy]. He loved the idea, and gave me like four bands. I listened to Honey Honey… they’re great. So they came in for a meeting, they read the scripts, they dug the scripts and we all got along really well. We decided what we would do for every episode is that they’d record a cover version of the song that I had scripted in the episode, and they would also write an original song for every episode. In editing, we just played both of them and figured out which one we thought worked better. Sometimes, it was the cover—which saved me money because when you cover a song you only have to pay for publishing—and in other episodes, we liked the originals better than the cover.
And then the fact that he’s in an exterminator outfit, and she’s in a mail carrier outfit, I just wanted once in awhile to put them in episodes so they really feel authentic: These people live in the town and they also have a little band together.
Paste: How did you get this stellar lineup of guest stars?
Garcia: It was a combination of things, really. People like Jaime Pressly, Michael Rapaport and Margo Martindale and Eddie Steeples and [Garret] Dillahunt, they’ve obviously worked with me in the past many times, and we’re all friends. A lot of them have been reading these stories that I’ve been leaving in guest books for a long time. So when I told them I was doing the show, they were excited to be a part of it.
Other people, like Danny Pudi, Lauren Lapkus, Jenna Fischer, Michaela Watkins, Tommy Dewey—I was just a fan, and they were on my list of who I wanted to play these roles. We sent them a script and a little note that said, ‘This is not a huge commitment, we just need you for five days over the course of two weeks, we’ll work with your schedule, read this and see if you want to do it.’ Thankfully, they read them and thought they were funny.
Paste: I read that you’re working on the book for a Jimmy Buffet musical. Is that true?
Garcia: Yeah… I co-wrote the book [for Escape to Margaritaville] with Mike O’Malley, actor-slash-writer. We started working on it about four-and-a-half years ago, and we just finished up about three months at La Jolla [Calif.] Playhouse, where it did very well. I have to go to New York for the month of September to rehearse with the latest additions to the cast and get ready for the changes to the script. We then go to New Orleans, Houston and Chicago this fall. It starts previews on Broadway at the Marriott Marquis this February, and it opens March 15, I believe, on Broadway.
Paste: What’s that feel like, knowing you’re going to be opening on Broadway?
Garcia: It’s bizarre, right? This is the first theater thing that I’ve ever written, and I’m very blessed that Jimmy Buffet was a My Name Is Earl fan. They sought us out to write the book, and I didn’t really know what I was getting into at the beginning, but I’ve always liked to incorporate music in my shows. I can remember on Raising Hope coming in and going, ‘Ok, this song is our ending. Let’s figure out what the story is. I want to end with this song.’
We certainly took his greatest hits and went from there, then we picked some that we liked, and he wrote a couple original songs to help tell the story. It’s like Mamma Mia, where they took Abba songs and have an original story. It’s not like Jersey Boys or The Story of Jimmy Buffet—which would have been a lot easier.
The Guest Book airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on TBS.
Christine N. Ziemba is a Los Angeles-based freelance pop culture writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.