November marked the 40th anniversary of Marlo Thomas’ Free to Be… You and Me album, the touchstone of self-esteem-boosting songs such as “William Wants a Doll.” To celebrate the occasion, comedy writers Rob Kutner (Conan, The Daily Show), Stephen Levinson, and Joel Moss Levinson got some of their famous friends together (Andy Richter, Megan Amram, Eugene Mirman, Samantha Bee, Wyatt Cenac, and others) to both pay homage to and poke fun at the classic album. The result, It’s OK to Do… Stuff is the send-up of ‘70s era feel-goodery, featuring songs like “Divorce Makes a Family Twice as Big,” “Swallow Your Dreams,” and “Wally Wants a Real Doll.”
In the Christmas spirit, the album is a charity project to benefit Marlo Thomas’ own cause, St. Jude’s Children’s hospital, which will receive proceeds.
The video above, “Divorce Makes a Family Twice as Big,” featuring actors Colin Hanks and Kimmy Gatewood, premieres exclusively here on BuzzFeed.
BuzzFeed caught up with Rob Kutner and Stephen Levinson to hear all about the project.
BuzzFeed: How did you come up with the song “Divorce Makes a Family Twice as Big”?
Rob Kutner: I think that was the first song that occurred to me for the album. That was an area that Free to Be… You and Me never would have touched. That was the first sort of concept of what this thing was: taking a negative thing but doing it with the positive spin of Free to Be… You and Me.
Stephen Levinson: I feel like a lot of parts of this album came together serendipitously. We didn’t plan for this video to have a Christmas theme, but the place we filmed in had a tree, and we thought, Great! We’ll go with it.
RK: Kimmy [Gatewood] is part of this group called the Apple Sisters and they filmed a lot of their videos at one of their mother’s houses, and it was this perfect kind of classic, Americana house that happened to have a Christmas tree, so it was the perfect location for this kind of sweet-sounding thing about a house falling apart.
BF: How long did it take to put the album together?
RK: It was just a two- or three-week process because we got into this frenzy of creativity that was really cool. We were just emailing each other constantly different ideas. I think the fact that it had a preexisting voice that we were playing off of helped set the table for it.
SL: Joel has sort of made a career out of winning online video contests. He finds these contests, and he can’t put too much time in any one contest because he doesn’t know if he is going to win or not, so he’s very used to coming up with a concept, writing a song, doing a very professional recording of it, filming himself, and submitting it and being done with it.
BF: What kinds of contests?
SL: He won like $100,000 for Klondike Bar, he won Nature Valley, he won two cruises around the world — he’s won some crazy prizes.
BF: Were you Free to Be… You and Me kids yourselves growing up?
SL: I’m actually the same age as the album — we both came out in November ’72. My parents bought the album, and I would play it incessantly, probably not getting half the messages on there, just liking the tunes. When Rob came to me with the idea for the project, I hadn’t heard the album in ages, but I listened to it again, and it was just amazing how I knew all the words still.
BF: Do you feel like the album influenced you?
RK: I’m not sure if I was, on a conscious level, aware what was going on. Looking back on it, [Free to Be] drove home the message that anything was possible — this very open-minded approach to life, which I like to feel has governed what I do, including the idea that you could openly spoof this album, that it’s OK to mock stuff.
BF: How did you get everyone involved with the project?
RK: I’ve been in comedy writing for about 10 years or so, and you run across a bunch of people and have all kinds of random emails, and I know some people from Twitter. I just sort of went to various groups of people who I just sort of had this sense would be into it and most of them were like, “Yeah, totally!” — especially when we mentioned that we were doing it for charity.
BF: Did you consciously choose Marlo Thomas’ charity, St. Jude’s, as the beneficiary of the proceeds?
RK: I think it was actually Joel’s idea, that Marlo’s charity would be a way — a very cheesy, sophomoric way — of participating in her mission.
SL: And when I heard it was going to that charity, I thought, Oh, this isn’t just a parody making fun of the original, it’s kind of an homage with the same goal.
BF: On the YouTube page, you have a note: “With apologies to Marlo Thomas…”
RK: That was something our lawyers made us put in.
RK: No. We don’t have lawyers — c’mon. I think that was sort of just a gentle little joke to say like, it’s possible that you might be upset that we’re kind of trampling through this beautiful thing that you made but it’s all in good fun.
(Interview has been edited and condensed.)
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