Since beginning their hilarious and successful partnership in 2016 on their first web series Killing It!, actors/comedians Jonathan Kaplan and Marianne Bayard (a.k.a. “Mares and Kaps”) have remained one of the Internet’s most prolific comedic pairings. With viewers getting big laughs from Kaplan and Bayard’s short yet silly online skits (all streaming on YouTube), the duo re-developed their popular streaming act into an uproarious audience-based spectacle as they debuted their first live performance this past January.

While Kaplan and Bayard continue offering their newest, now-socially distanced vignettes under the title The Pandemic Series, the pair has already completed production on the pilot episode of their new series Mares and Kaps. In that series, Mares (played by Bayard) and Kaps (Kaplan) attempt to transform their lives from dull to delightful when they travel to the glamorous world of fictional showbiz capital Glitzburgh. 

As Mares and Kaps try to become the town’s newest stars, though, their high school enemy-turned powerful movie studio chief Kitty Arachnis offers her former rivals a chance to finally see their names in lights. Unfortunately, Kitty’s incredible opportunity could also tear Mares and Kaps’ sibling-like connection apart.

Last November, Mares and Kaps’ latest adventures were filmed in Pittsburgh with a production team that counts among it series director/Hollywood stalwart Steve “Stevo” Parys (first assistant director on Fear The Walking Dead, Holiday Rush, Concussion, Foxcatcher), producer Caroline Collins (also an actor in Adventureland, NBC Universal’s Gone and WGN America’s Outsiders), director of photography Mark Fallone and editor Amy Grove (both Pittsburgh natives). 

While post-production of Mares and Kaps’ pilot is still in its concluding stages, Bayard and Kaplan recently shared with Snobby Robot how they’ve kept their creative juices as active as ever on both their new episodic project and their continuing set of bite-sized comedies during the coronavirus pandemic.

Chris Hadley: What (and/or who) inspired you to create both the series as a whole, the characters you play, and the season-long arc presented in it?

Marianne Bayard and Jonathan Kaplan (co-creators/co-stars – Mares and Kaps, The Pandemic Series): It’s funny. 2019 ended on a high note, we both just turned 40, shot our pilot and were about to debut our variety show Mares and Kaps Live! in January 2020. The live show was a hit. We started talking about doing another show for New York, Boston, and other cities while developing a plan of making short content when we’d be together for those dates. Little did we know that COVID was right around the corner. 

The Pandemic Series developed out of the need to keep creating together, with no idea of when we’d be able to be in the same space again. It’s been such a worthwhile experience and has challenged us as writers and creators to be more ‘out of the box’ thinkers. 

We have been working together since 2015 and started Killing it! in 2016. It was borne of (a) necessity to create something, but escalated into an important vehicle for our personal expression. After 9 episodes of Killing it!, we wanted to take on the challenge of writing a complete story together as a way to explore our duo in a deeper way, but also take Mares & Kaps out of their static setting.  

At the time, we were so enamored by Breaking Bad and the coherence a story could have, we wanted to make something with that clarity.  The new series takes place in a pseudo reality. It’s our satire of the world, and we follow Mares and Kaps’ desires and dreams to the edges of that world with both an inner and outer journey.   

CH: Are the characters you play comically exaggerated versions of yourselves, or are there any similarities between your real life personas and those you portray on screen?

Bayard/Kaplan: It’s all based on our personal issues. Mares and Kaps are just us with our own flaws dialed up to an absurd level. We’ve been working together for so long that we can make fun of ourselves and heighten our flaws for comic material, but also find humor in our friendship: how we are jealous, needy or protective of each other. In the Mares & Kaps season, we thread through all of these aspects and how they conflict with ideas of success, fame and jealousy. 

CH: In what ways have your own real life experiences, as well as the rapport you’ve built up in working with each other for the past few years (on Killing It! and previous episodes of Mares and Kaps) helped you to prepare for making this project? 

Bayard/Kaplan: One of the great things of working together for so long is that we are more fearless with our vulnerability. Writing the season took almost 2 years. We wrote together for probably a full year, version after version, starting with index cards and mining every aspect of ourselves and our fears until we had an epic 120 page script that we’d both fought over. Then, working with a screenwriting coach, we spent another 8 months distilling the script down to 60 pages, at around 8 pages an episode.  

Getting to that point took hundreds of hours of work and was an emotional rollercoaster.  It’s a great emotional cost to write probably over 30 drafts, to scrutinize, cut and rework something with personal meaning to you, and be able to give criticism without destroying each other. There needs to be a joy and hope that stays alive beneath the whole process. We have a unique creative partnership and we’re grateful to have weathered it all, completed our script and to move to the production aspect, which brought further challenges!

CH: How did those factors ultimately help you both to overcome any difficulties during the show’s production?

Bayard/Kaplan: We became stronger. There were so many difficulties. We didn’t have the budget to do the whole series. We had to make a compromise and just shoot the pilot. Then, giving our vision to a producer and director was new for us, because we aren’t used to that.  There were places we had to step up and have each other’s backs to make sure we were getting what we wanted. 

CH: Who do you think would like to watch Mares and Kaps, and are there any specific comedies/comedy duos you’d compare it to?

Bayard/Kaplan: Mares & Kaps is a buddy comedy. In today’s world, friendships between men and women are still somehow scrutinized, but while we don’t dwell on it, it’s surely part of our appeal. Mares & Kaps can be compared to the relationship between Kenny Powers and Stevie Janowski from Eastbound and Down. It was certainly a template for us during Killing it!, but as we’ve worked together on Mares & Kaps we’ve evolved.  It’s certainly an upper/lower clown relationship, like Kenny & Stevie or Ren and Stimpy.  

We both come from clown theater, so that’s how we think about it. In our lives we’ve never felt part of ‘the mainstream’, so Mares & Kaps carry an “outsider” perspective too. We live in a time where thought conformity feels mandated by the internet, and Mares & Kaps either let that go over their heads or actively reject it. In our YouTube page’s welcome video we say as much. 

CH: In your opinion, what makes Mares and Kaps unique from other comedies – including your previous collaborations?

Bayard/Kaplan: The series was written and developed by a more sophisticated pair of writers. Since Killing it! (with the last episode shot in 2017) the two-year writing process helped us become better, smarter and more efficient writers, storytellers, and editors. Ultimately, we know and trust each other on a deeper level.  

Killing it! was about two besties, but honestly, we were still just getting to know each other in real life. Mares and Kaps goes way further, as does the new Pandemic Series. The thing that’s so special about our series is we, through these two characters, show ourselves bare and ugly. We see their warts and vulnerabilities, and that’s what makes them so likable and relatable. All that we do is rooted in truth and hopefully that’s what people love about it. 

CH: Overall, what do you hope people take away from watching Mares and Kaps?

Bayard/Kaplan: We want them to laugh! We want them to laugh at us and at themselves. We want them to think about what their hang-ups are or who their best friend is or what is important to them at 40…or 20 or 60!  We want them to be reminded that no one is perfect, that there is love for all, and everyone is just trying to get by as human beings. Life is short! Do what you love, f*ck everyone else. Be true to you. 

NOTE: Regarding closed-captioning/subtitling of both Mares and Kaps and The Pandemic Series, Bayard says: “We will probably subtitle (those shows). It’s part of the long list of things to do after you finish something and get ready to upload.”

Watch The Pandemic Series on Mares and Kaps’ YouTube channel: