Taking their locally legendary sketch show from a cramped stage beneath a Chelsea grocery store to movie theaters across America, the only thing Aaron Jackson and Josh Sharp couldn’t save was its original title.

“In 20 years, when the culture has changed, we’ll put out a director’s cut,” Sharp joked to IndieWire in a deep dive with Jackson ahead of the pair’s feature film debut. “The movie will be the exact same, just with the name ‘Fucking Identical Twins.’”

The creative partners’ basement triumph, better known these days by the only slightly more family-friendly moniker “Dicks: The Musical,” was stuck in Hollywood development for over a decade. Now, it’s A24’s scrappy first stab at the song-and-dance genre: a raunchy-bordering-on-rancid “Parent Trap” redux born out of the Upright Citizens Brigade, with Jackson and Sharp playing opposite bonafide Broadway legends Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally.

It’s campy, controversial, a cult classic in the making, and, against all odds, critically well-liked.

“For a long time, it just felt like maybe our job till we die would be to chip away at the script that we never ever got made,” Sharp said.

“The time I really was like, ‘Oh, shit, they’re going to make it!’ was when they were swinging hammers and building sets,” Jackson said, recalling “Dicks’” small, Summer Stock-like set nestled in the outermost edges of North Hollywood where they shot for less than three weeks. “I was like, ‘OK, they’re going to make it now because they’re spending too much money.’”

“Dicks” tells the story of Craig Tiddle (Sharp) and Trevor Brock (Jackson), two straight* Manhattan businessmen who discover they are in fact “fucking identical twins!” during a company merger. “FUCK YOU, THEY ARE!,” declares Bowen Yang as God in the first of many hand-waving moments that define the charmingly shabby, gleefully queer, absurdly unafraid production.

(*It must be noted that Sharp and Jackson look minimally alike. They are also gay, a casting-against-type victory the film’s prologue cheekily notes as “brave” — twice.)

DICKS: THE MUSICAL, from left: Megan Mullally, Nathan Lane, 2023. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Megan Mullally and Nathan Lane in “Dicks: The Musical”Courtesy Everett Collection

The script was first picked up by producer Peter Chernin, who helped develop the concept and got it set at 20th Century Fox in 2016. But a real-life merger between the more adventurous studio and its pearl-clutching purchaser, Disney, saw the film shelved not long after that. Remarkable grassroots support from the New York comedy scene for Jackson and Sharp got them that far, with sensational word-of-mouth saving them from ever having to properly pitch the tale of two fully-grown dickheads tricking their estranged parents into a romantic reunion.

“I don’t even know how you pitch it,” Sharp said. “I do think it’s a film that, if you were in a room being like, ‘Here’s why this movie should be made!,’ the reaction would be, ‘What are you even talking about?’”

“Luckily, we did have this very strong proof of concept,” Jackson said, mentioning a YouTube video of the original stage performance that gained a sizable following online before it was taken down ahead of the film’s release.

The 30-minute show featured Sharp and Jackson playing the twins as well as their deeply strange parents “clump style” on the since-shuttered UCB Chelsea’s thrust (fitting!) stage. Like the guys themselves — who have no qualms with having the parts they once played taken over by the “Will and Grace” and “Producers” titans (“I’d let them steal my whole career,” Jackson quipped) – the sketch show did double duty as a pitch for both their writing smarts and their star power.

Still, “Dicks” needed a cinematic champion.

DICKS: THE MUSICAL, from left: Nathan Lane, Bowen Yang, 2023. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Bowen Yang in “Dicks: The Musical”Courtesy Everett Collection

“When A24 came in and distributed, that just rang truer to the DNA of the project,” Yang told IndieWire. The “Saturday Night Live” actor is a close friend of Jackson and Sharp, who came up with them and “Dicks” composer Karl Saint Lucy in the improv and sketch scene long before landing the role of The Almighty: a fiercely catty addition for the film who serves as a critical framing device for the story and mouthpiece to its finale number, “God Is a Faggot.”

“I was really on the ground with these boys every step of the way, so I’m incredibly emotional to see the movie come out,” Yang said. “I would just hang out with Josh and Aaron every week and they’d be like, ‘We’re out to Nathan Lane and Megan Mullally — fingers crossed!’ ‘Megan Thee Stallion said yes!’”

Yang was a loyal lover of the stage version long before it included a cameo from trap music’s reigning Hot Girl Queen, who plays Craig and Trevor’s terrifyingly toxic boss Gloria Masters and performs an original song in the movie. Yang recalled feeling ever-so-slightly possessive of “Fucking Identical Twins” before its adaptation. “It’s like rebooting a show that’s beloved from your childhood,” he explained. “You are incredibly protective of whatever idealized version of this piece of art is that you have in your mind.”

But you didn’t have to be a (well-meaning!) gate-keeping disciple of “Fucking Identical Twins” to clock the show’s magic. “It’s great when you have relatively simple decisions and choices,” director Larry Charles, known for “Borat” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” told IndieWire. “When I have a need to make a movie, I trust that instinct and with [‘Dicks’], I knew it from page one, then page five, then page 20. I read the whole script. Then I watched the UCB show and that further convinced me to do it. All those things were just screaming at me, ‘You must do this. You are the one to take this movie to where it has to go.’”  

DICKS: THE MUSICAL, from left: Josh Sharp, Megan Thee Stallion, Aaron Jackson, 2023. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Megan Thee Stallion in “Dicks: The Musical” Courtesy Everett Collection

Jackson and Sharp delighted in messing with each other from the sketch show’s inception. “The original production was heavily scripted, but we loved to fuck with each other,” Sharp said. “You’d know the beats, but then you’d mess with them or you’d amp them up or you’d call something out.”

But it was Charles who would harness that unpolished feel for the film, carefully treading the line between endearingly incomplete and “fake and shitty-looking” — a repeat meta joke in the movie applied most memorably to the guys’ Party City-esque disguises when they swap places and the better-left-unspoiled Sewer Boys: an homage to “Gremlins,” “The Dark Crystal,” “Labyrinth,” and more of the fucked-up ‘80s and ‘90s stuff Sharp and Jackson love.

“We had such a great collaboration with Larry because we didn’t have it in the script, the audience seeing a dolly track or the puppets rods being left in or a moment where we break,” Jackson said. “That was all his decision; that was never in there.”

“Larry always had this vision, saying, ‘You should feel like you’re breaking down the wall between us and the audience,’” Sharp added. “Some of the embracing of improv is that too; it should feel live and electric and like you’re in the room with the movie while we’re making it.”

DICKS: THE MUSICAL, The Sewer Boys, 2023. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
“Dicks: The Musical”Courtesy Everett Collection

Drawing from John Waters’ films, Robert Greenwald’s “Xanadu,” and cinema’s all-time greatest musicals (“All the great musicals — the Gene Kelly musicals, the Stanley Donen musicals — they all break the fourth wall!,” Charles said), the filmmaker was intent on pulling off a balancing act that invited the “Dicks” audience further into the nooks and crannies of Jackson and Sharp’s ridiculous story via happy accident. How do you pull that off?

“First, you get entrusted with a very, very small budget — and that kind of forces you to make certain choices,” Charles said. “But I like that. Politically, for me, I’m more comfortable with a small budget. I don’t really believe in indulgent, big-budgeted movies that have to make a billion dollars to make their money back.”

“I started to really draw from all these different musicals that were special to me, where they are addressing the audience, where they are using their resources, where there’s a scrappy kind of punk rock quality to it, and you are erasing the division between the performers and the audience,” he continued. “We’re telling you right off the bat: This is a movie. Enjoy it that way.”

Whether it was a camera reflected in a window, the mountains of Burbank behind what’s ostensibly Manhattan, or Nathan Lane falling down a manhole “Looney Tunes” style, Charles painted “Dicks” with myriad choices masquerading as mistakes. Pay attention and you’ll notice the same background actors appearing throughout the entire movie.

DICKS: THE MUSICAL, Aaron Jackson (center), 2023. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Aaron Jackson in “Dicks: The Musical” Courtesy Everett Collection

“That was my goal: how to best make this an immediate experience for an audience in the theater and feel like they’re part of it, that they’re invested in it, that they’re interacting with it,” Charles said. “And that’s what we’ve achieved, as far as I can tell. The experiment is working. Or as they say in the movie, ‘The plan is working, king.’”

That energy is matched in the effervescent script: a tightly crafted product of two men who “yearn for the days of funny comedies” and elate in featuring timelessly quirky details (characters use iPhones, flip phones, and rotary phones in “Dicks,” hilariously and weightlessly set in “the year that it is”) in what they hope will become an evergreen favorite that fans will not only enjoy quoting, but could even spur themed screenings with costumes and call-backs.

Alternatively, Yang said, “It’s destined for cult classic status, but I do hope that for some reason it’s also like a lovely Christmas movie. It’s about family and it’s about God — kind of Christmas-y!”

Likening their movie to recent comedic efforts like “Bottoms,” “Barb and Starr Go to Vista Del Mar,” and even portions of the surprisingly out-there “Barbie,” Jackson tidily summed up his and Sharp’s decision-making as writers, saying, “Most things in the movie, the end of the discussion is: it was funny to us.”

“I think a lot of comedies are trying to either represent certain stories or have a really compelling dramatic element too,” Sharp said. “But we really like some of those joke, joke, joke things where you get a sense of what the people who are making it are trying to say through their point of view more so than through their message.”

DICKS: THE MUSICAL, from left: Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, Aaron Jackson, Josh Sharp, 2023. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Nathan Lane, Megan Mullally, Aaron Jackson, and Josh Sharp in “Dicks: The Musical” Courtesy Everett Collection

“We just sort of made a movie for us and all of it feels like an extension of that,” said Sharp. “You’re trying not to sell it out. It’s just an internal logic that the film operates under.”

“It doesn’t need to be grounded and relatable,” Jackson continued, noting that the film’s final protest scene could have included MAGA-style detractors before they decided on a more Mel Brooks-like approach featuring two nuns, two cowboys (one of whom is Mullally’s partner and mustachioed icon, Nick Offerman), two Mormons, and more twinning archetypes.

“We really responded to that idea that you don’t want to make these into people you exactly know from the real world,” Sharp added. “You just want them to follow comedic rules that work in this universe.”

“Dicks: The Musical” is the most fun Charles has ever had making a movie — “making anything, really,” the director said. “‘Curb’ is a super fun show to do because everybody is so friendly and knows each other and the schedule is really loose. But this was a 20-day shoot and really hard conditions,” he continued. “This was a facility that was limited in its resources, I think everybody pulled together because of it. I assured people they weren’t going to make money, but they would have an unforgettable trip. The people that worked on this movie bought into that.”

Walking onto the “Dicks” set, Sharp remembered being struck by the sense that his first-ever movie felt like summer camp: “All of these 150 or so people you saw, you’re like, ‘Oh, you all work on this crazy little movie?!’”

“That was sort of the ethos of the whole thing,” Sharp continued. “The mailman is my long-term partner.”

DICKS: THE MUSICAL, from left: Josh Sharp, Aaron Jackson, 2023. © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection
Josh Sharp and Aaron Jackson in “Dicks: the Musical” Courtesy Everett Collection

“Sister Tammy the nun is my sister,” said Jackson. “The Cooperman brothers were the choreographers, and they hired all the dancers and some of them they’ve known since they were 14 years old. The dancers all had a chemistry and we loved them.”

“The garbage man we used to perform with at UCB,” Sharp said. “D’Arcy [Carden] is an old friend and she has a three-line part. It felt like a family band. It felt like the Muppets.”

“It really does feel like a little play,” Jackson said. “That Megan Thee Stallion did it is still wild to us.”

Former “Saturday Night Live” costume designer Val Klarich even designed Yang’s gorgeous stained-glass, fellatio-laden robes for the final scene. (It was hand-painted by Wilbert Gonzalez with a headpiece designed by Diego Montoya.)

“It’s just a beautiful progression and such a touching 4D image if you take a snapshot of the whole thing,” Yang said of the collaborative process. “It’s really incredible that this is the endgame and that it was ultimately so perfect in every capacity.”

Reflecting on his last day on set, Charles said, “I was up on a crane at the time, and just felt like, ‘Wow, we did this. We actually have done this.’ It was a tremendous sense of accomplishment, but the destination almost was secondary to the journey in this case. We had an amazing journey, and it turned out the destination was more beautiful than we could have imagined.”

An A24 production, “Dicks: The Musical” received a limited theatrical release starting on Friday, October 6; it opens wide Friday, October 20.

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