An ugly American in Israel

As Channel 2’s surprise-hit comedy ‘Bobby and I’ winds up its second season,co-creator Roy Iddan promises more raunchy, imaginary fun to come.

Bobby and I 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bobby and I 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
‘HOW DARE YOU?!” may be the catchphrase for the fringe Channel 2 series Bobby and I, but the exclamation should really be posed to Roy Iddan, the co-creator and the ‘Bobby’ of the raunchy comedy.
How dare he attempt such an off-the-wall premise as a scruffy Haifa detective played by co-creator Yuval Segev sharing his mind space with an imaginary friend he’s had since childhood.
And how dare he portray that chum – Bobby – as a loud, vulgar, leisure-suited American circa 1975 who effortlessly puts the ‘in’ back in inappropriate with his stream-of-consciousness, profane, selfish utterances.
And how dare the adult-only late-night show, which started as a lark last year on HOT’s Bip comedy channel, graduate to a second season and turn into an unlikely cult hit on national TV? “I try to be as outrageous as possible, because you can say whatever you want in English on TV in Israel,” said a decidedly sensible, non-flamboyant Iddan recently, sitting in the living room of his north Tel Aviv apartment he shares with his wife and year-old daughter.
“I don’t think Bobby’s ever gone too far – I think he can do much worse,” he added, referring to the his bespectacled fictional character with a penchant for four-letter words and a tendency to vomit at inopportune times.
Despite his unattractive portrayal of the “ugly American,” the 33-year-old Iddan has great admiration for the Anglo world. He was born in Haifa, where he met lifelong friend Segev in grade school, but spent many years in the US with his family while growing up (his father Gavriel invented the world-famous “camera in a pill” diagnostic for Given Imaging).
There, he perfected the American vernacular and was smitten by the cream of American comic talent like George Carlin and Andy Kaufman.
Iddan explained that Bobby was based on a number of characters – some fictional like the obnoxious Tony Clifton, Kaufman’s lounge lizard alter-ego, and Jimmy Glick, Martin Short’s insufferable talk show host – and others very real.
“There are all sorts of people I came across – real Hollywood types I’ve worked with over the years – and they’re all in Bobby,” said Iddan, who had a successful career in animation before delving into TV.
After graduating from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, he received an MA in animation from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta and worked with renowned animation director John Dilworth at Stretch Films in New York.
That led to a stint as production designer on MTV’s DJ and the Fro and a job upon his return to Israel at the JVP Animation Lab in Jerusalem.
IDDAN’S DESIRE, however, was to create a successful TV series concept, and together with Segev, they sold an idea to BIP for an adult comedy show about the animal underworld called Hayot Hapesha.
“I can’t believe they gave us money for that; it was just outrageous,” he said of the 2008 series.
“They couldn’t even show it during the day. Back when BIP was on video on demand, they couldn’t put it on because kids couldn’t be exposed to it.”
But the short-lived show gave the duo a track record, around which they devised the concept for Bobby and I. However, when they went in to BIP to give the pitch, they were met with some resistance.
“They didn’t really want Bobby to speak English, but we were insistent,” said Iddan.
“At first they rejected the show, so I started talking like Bobby in character, and they laughed so hard. They changed their mind.”
“People have been asking me if I had an imaginary friend when I was a kid, and the answer is ‘no.’ I don’t understand even how you can have one. But it turns out that other people who work on the show did have imaginary friends, so it’s a universal theme.”
Iddan and Segev had devised the character of Bobby – the imaginary childhood friend who grows up to be a full blown adult – specifically for Iddan. However, he had no formal acting experience, an obstacle that the he’s overcome.
“When you study animation, you also have to study acting,” said Iddan. “It’s an intricate process of learning how to do animation – the acting out of the character you’re going to animate. But it was, and still is, very strange to be in front of the camera. It’s very hard work to be an actor.”
The initial season of the series, directed by the multi-talented Segev and featuring veteran actors Miki Kamm and Ido Museri in supporting roles, snuck up on its unsuspecting audience.
Segev’s detective character Ofer played the victim surrounded by a cast of nuts, including a psychotic employer, an unstable girlfriend and a kooky mother.
The fact that he had an imaginary friend riding on the back of his scooter and lying in bed with him didn’t subtract from the fact that he was the most normal person around.
THE DIALOGUE is all in Hebrew, except for Bobby who peppers his exaggerated American slang with some well-placed, broadly pronounced Hebrew terms.
When the owners of the BIP channel – Keshet and HOT – dissolved their partnership last year to make way for Comedy Central, each company walked away from the shows they had brought to the channel.
Keshet bought a second season of Bobby to air on Channel 2, and Iddan and Segev went to work on developing its premise.
“Given the budgetary constraints, it made us think about having the show take place in one location, as opposed to the first year, which was all around Haifa,” Iddan said.
“So we thought of placing Ofer in an insane asylum for observation, and that kind of helped things along. Once you set things up there, you don’t have to worry about writing or the characters; they just come naturally.”
On mainstream TV, despite its late night placement, the show has made a strong showing, with an 11.2 percent rating last week, an accomplishment that Iddan is thrilled about.
“I never would have believed it. I couldn’t even believe they decided to air the show on Channel 2,” he said, adding that he and Segev made a point of not toning down Bobby’s dialogue for the sake of decorum.
“It just shows that people want to see stuff like this – at least 11% of the Jewish households,” he joked, scoffing at the speculation that the average Israeli really thinks Bobby represents the average American.
“I think that most Israelis who brave the show are smart enough to know that Americans aren’t really like that. If they know English well enough to understand the jokes, they understand American culture.”
With the phenomenon of Israeli TV concepts being sold to the US in record numbers since B’Tipul opened the floodgates a few years ago, it’s natural that a US version of Bobby and I would be on the way. However, Iddan is doubtful that it will come to pass.
“It’s imperative that there’s a US version of Bobby, and Keshet is trying to sell one.
But I’ve noticed that there are suddenly many imaginary friends shows on the air now – there’s Wilfred about a dog, not really an imaginary friend and also Fitz. None of them are nearly as good as Bobby is, but that’s ok. I’m happy knowing that we captured the Zeitgeist.”
Iddan expressed affection for Bobby, from his woman’s wig that he dons to the custom made blue leisure suit that he wears that was designed by a Darfurian tailor Iddan met in Neve Sha’anan. And despite his coarse, self-centered veneer, Bobby is really a sweet human being, he explained.
“There’s definitely a vulnerable side to him. And his heart will be broken this season,” he hinted.
Bobby and I airs on Saturday nights on Channel 2 at 11 p.m. If you’re easily offended by profanity, scatological jokes, bodily functions and blatant sexual references, then this show is for you. If you dare.