Can the Cobra Kai Guys Save the R-Rated Comedy?
Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald broke into Hollywood with raunchy laugh-out-loud movies. Now they’re back with Obliterated, an eight-episode Netflix mini-series from another era.
The big-budget, raunchy comedy movie is dead and buried. At least, that’s the commonly held belief in Hollywood, where Marvel Studios has a lock on quippy action-comedy, and not even Jennifer Lawrence can find success with R-rated humor. Adam Sandler sold his soul to Netflix years ago, Judd Apatow and his cohorts had the last laugh (literally), and the best we’ve got now is some Peacock original called… (*checks IMDb*) Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain. But if anyone can save the comedy genre, it might just be the guys behind Netflix’s mega-hit Cobra Kai.
Wait a second! Hear me out! Yes, Cobra Kai is an (occasionally funny) action-drama lega-sequel set in the world of the Karate Kid movies. But its creators Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald also happen to be the guys behind some of the best R-rated comedy movies around.
“We come from that world of Something About Mary and American Pie,” Schlossberg tells Inverse. “We always love big shocking scenes.”
Hurwitz and Schlossberg co-wrote Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle while they were still in college and moved to Hollywood after selling the script. The 2004 stoner comedy classic turned its young stars John Cho and Kal Penn into stars, revived Neil Patrick Harris’ career, and turned its creators into Hollywood royalty in the making. Heald followed close behind, playing the role of Air Marshal #3 in the 2008 sequel (Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay) before selling his own script for Hot Tub Time Machine, which premiered in 2010 with a star-studded cast including John Cusack, Craig Robinson, and Chevy Chase.
Now, they’re returning to the genre with the big-budget R-rated comedy they always wanted to make through their production company, Counterbalance Entertainment. But there’s just one catch: It’s a TV show. That show is Obliterated (streaming now on Netflix) and it’s based on a concept the trio have been kicking around for a decade and a half.
“Obliterated was originally a movie idea we had about 15 years ago, around the time we were making the Harold and Kumar movies,” Schlossberg says. “It really spawned out of wanting to do an action comedy where it wasn’t just another funny pairing of different actors, but something where the situation itself led to big laughs.”
That situation came directly from their own experiences as young Hollywood writers. The trio noticed that after every movie, there was typically a wild wrap party. “You’re not going to see these people again,” Schlossberg says. “So you’re willing to let it all out and tell off your boss or people hook up. Crazy things happen.”
“It’s the White Lotus of action comedies.”
They wondered if the same thing happened to special forces teams. After SEAL Team Six killed Osama Bin Laden, for example, did they celebrate over drinks? This led to another big idea: What if after the party has already escalated out of control, it turns out the mission isn’t over? That all happens in the first of Obliterated’s eight hour-long episodes, which track an elite military team as they race to stop a nuclear bomb from wiping Las Vegas off the map — all while trying to fight off the effects of enough drugs and alcohol to neutralize a small army. There are multiple sex scenes, plenty of ultraviolent action, one torture sequence involving a sharp electronic device and a man’s exposed penis, and a hallucinated gremlin voiced by Jason Mantzoukas.
It’s a return to the kind of big, R-rated comedy that Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and Heald are clearly familiar with, but they aren’t walking away from the Cobra Kai empire they helped build, either. After speaking to the trio for 20 boisterous minutes over Zoom, however, one thing is clear: 20 years after breaking into the industry, they’re still just getting started.
Believe it or not, the biggest inspiration for Obliterated wasn’t any of Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and Heald’s raunchy comedies (or the movies that inspired them). It was their own Netflix series, Cobra Kai. While the Karate Kid spinoff might feel like a detour in the trio’s career (albeit a career-making one), their pivot to the TV format is what finally cracked open their original idea.
“We saw how we could have this huge ensemble and with the real estate of a series really explore all these different characters and storylines,” Schlossberg says. “The movie version of that was always tricky because it becomes a two-hander with a bunch of supporting characters.”
Obliterated features a sprawling ensemble, all playing characters who are the “best of the best” at something, whether that something is hacking computers, flying planes, or just killing terrorists. (If it helps, think of it like the A-Team, only slightly more grounded and way raunchier.)
One thing that ties the cast together, however, is that they’re all unknown actors. Obliterated is as far from a star vehicle as you can get, and its creators say that’s a direct response to the struggles they faced getting their movies made back when they were first getting started.
“We spent 15 years writing R-rated movies and then the studio would say, ‘OK, we love this script. We can’t wait to make this movie. Now, there’s three guys in all of Hollywood that will get you the green light on this project, and those guys are writing their own stuff or doing their own thing,’” Hurwitz recalls.
So when they pitched Obliterated to Netflix, the guys took the opposite approach. Thankfully, the streaming giant was instantly on board.
“Their attitude was, ‘Find Your Friends, find the right people for the roles,’” Hurwitz says. (To the company’s credit, he says Netflix also loved the entire concept for the show. “They encouraged us to go as hard as we wanted to and they said, ‘Make us blush. Go for anything and we’ll tell you if you’ve gone too far.’ There was no moment where they held us back.”)
The trio re-teamed with their Cobra Kai casting directors Alexis Koczara and Christine Shevchenko and blanketed Hollywood looking for their new A-Team, making sure to admit up front that taking a role in Obliterated would mean agreeing to do some “crazy gross-out kind of stuff,” Hurwitz says.
“We’re excited to be working with our partners at Sony on an adaptation of another nostalgic title, which we can’t wait to talk about.”
But while the goal was always to bring together a cast of unknowns, Obliterated’s creators made one big exception: a foul-mouthed gremlin who shows up when the team’s pilot starts hallucinating after eating some psilocybin-spiked guacamole.
There was never any question over who would voice the gremlin. The answer was always Jason Mantzoukas, the actor best known for his unhinged performances in comedies like The League and Big Mouth.
“We’ve been fans of Jason since we first saw Jason,” Heald says. “As comedy guys, he spoke to just every instinct we had and had us rolling on the floor for years with every character he’s played.”
While there was some initial debate over what type of character the gremlin might be — early ideas included a longshoreman or some sort of British gangster — Heald says, “Mantzoukas was first and foremost in our brains.” So they reached out and, thankfully, he said yes. “He’s the perfect person to play the Gremlin. The only person to play the gremlin. And we just couldn’t be happier to have him be the icing on the cake of this project.”
Without getting into spoilers, I’ll just say that Obliterated’s ending leaves open the possibility of a Season 2. That obviously wasn’t a mistake, but the guys also know that getting renewed by Netflix is easier said than done.
“If there’s a demand for it, we’re certainly going to be looking for that next party city where our team could get into mischief and have another adventure,” Hurwitz says.
“It’s the White Lotus of action comedies,” Schlossberg riffs. “So we’re looking at Ibiza, Miami, Rio, Cabo. They should be courting us.”
At this point, Heald can’t resist getting in on the joke.
“We’re open-minded to being flown around in a five-star kind of way,” he says.
“I straight-up accept bribes,” Schlossberg adds, jumping back in to deliver the punchline.
Beyond turning their R-rated Netflix show into a globe-trotting franchise, the trio also has plenty of other projects in the works. There’s Cobra Kai, of course. The show’s sixth and final season is expected to air in 2024 now that writing has resumed after strikes ground Hollywood to a halt.
“We’re writing the final season as we speak,” Heald says. “The writers’ room had been in process, we had writing left to do, and we’ve resumed. We are preparing to go back into production and really begin production anew right after the new year.”
While they were careful to avoid giving anything that might even resemble a spoiler away, the trio did confirm a Deadline report stating that actor C.S. Lee had joined the Season 6 cast as Master Kim Sun-Young, a character previously only seen in flashbacks.
“What’s in Deadline is accurate,” Schlossberg says. “We like to keep things cryptic so fans don’t know what’s going to happen.”
After Season 6, the future of Cobra Kai is uncertain, but almost everyone involved seems determined to keep expanding the “Miyagi-verse” with new stories and spinoffs. Shortly after our interview, Sony Pictures announced a new Karate Kid movie starring Ralph Macchio and Jackie Chan, which Hurwitz, Schlossberg, and Heald are reportedly consulting on. But in the meantime, the guys have their own plans for the franchise.
“We’re definitely thinking about leaving our characters in places that we think are interesting and to the potential places that we can go,” Hurwitz says. “There’s nothing imminent to announce with anything, but the idea of spinoffs has always been in our minds while we are writing this season, that there’s potential for things to do in the future.”
Even putting the Miyagi-verse aside, there’s plenty else keeping the guys busy. They’re working on a Ferris Bueller spinoff movie about those two parking lot attendants who took Cameron’s car on a joyride, along with a Duke Nukem movie based on the long-running video game series. Hurwitz also teases a new, unannounced project in the vein of Cobra Kai.
“We’re excited to be working with our partners at Sony on an adaptation of another nostalgic title, which we can’t wait to talk about,” he says.
And if all goes well, there are plenty of other fandoms and franchises they’d like to take on next. “We hope over time to continue earning the trust of our friends and partners around town so we can deliver upon some of our bucket-list ideas within the Back to the Future, Goonies, and Star Wars galaxies,” Hurwitz says.
If you’re reading all this and starting to worry that Jon Hurwitz, Hayden Schlossberg, and Josh Heald might be leaving R-rated comedies by the wayside yet again, there’s at least one project in the works that should put those fears to rest.
When I ask if they’ll ever make another Harold and Kumar movie, Hurwitz jumps in with enthusiasm.
“We’d love to make another Harold and Kumar movie,” he says. “It’s something we discuss with John Cho and Kal Penn all the time. The four of us had a blast making those movies, and it would be really fun to pick up with those characters at a new stage in life. The biggest challenge is finding a time that would work with all of our schedules. It’s not something that can happen in the short term, but I’m hoping we’ll be able to make it happen at some point.”