From Bitter Lawyer to MSNBC: Interview with Bottom Rung Creator Matt Ritter

Matt Ritter is the creator and writer of Bitter Lawyer’s original webseries, The Bottom Rung. He also played the lead role, Dave. Matt has since been tapped by MSNBC to write and produce a new TV series for the cable network called Chained To My Ex. It premieres on MSNBC this Sunday, December 23rd, 9pm ET/6pm PT.

Bitter Lawyer caught up with Matt recently in L.A. and, after convincing his two body guards that we knew Matt, he spoke with us briefly about law school, The Bottom Rung, his new TV series, and getting the girl.

BL: Who is Matt Ritter? I’m talking about the real Matt Ritter.

Matt: Hmm, not sure what you mean, am I the character I play on stage? Probably a little bit of an exaggerated version of me. I’m a pretty normal guy, I have back problems, terrible IBS and I’m hopped up on Propecia.

BL: What’s your background? Give us an abbreviated résumé.

Matt: My mother was 7 months pregnant with me when she tried standup for the one and only time in her life. She bombed and the emcee told her she didn’t have an ounce of funny in her. That has been my motivation in life, to prove him wrong. The emcee that night in 1979: Eddie Murphy.

BL: Why did you go to law school? Did it destroy all of your preexisting creative superpowers?

Matt: I was working as a cabana boy at a hotel in Santa Monica, all ready to start my standup career, but I got accepted into Penn Law, if I didn’t get in, I would have been doing what I’m doing now, only without Sallie Mae harassing me every four hours. I think law school numbed my powers like when Superman has that chain of kryptonite around his neck, but once Miss Tessmaker takes it off, he slowly regains them.

BL: Given The Bottom Rung and your recent success, which we’ll get to, clearly you did retain some if not all of your superior creative skills. So how we’re you able to protect these powers from the soul-sucking, independent-thought vaporizer that law schools deploy on all incoming law students?

Matt: Dirty little secret, we didn’t really work that hard. It was a totally different time, everyone was secure in the future soul sucking job, plus Penn didn’t have class rank, so we mostly took the three years to explore the underbelly of Philadelphia. I can give you a list of most of the massage parlors that give you special treatment.

BL: What did law school do for your entertainment career? I’m being serious. Quit laughing.

Matt: Truth be told, the connections I made through both Penn and the legal community have been hugely influential in launching our standup group, Comedians at Law. Who do you think fills the seats at our shows: You law students and lawyers do!

BL: Is Jess Garvey who plays Paige in The Bottom Rung who you . . . .err . . . your character is always trying to sleep with, as hot as she looks in the episodes? Is that really her singing voice?

Matt: I can’t believe you just asked me that. I guess maybe nobody knows that’s my girlfriend in real life? I suppose when you look at her and you look at me, it seems pretty unbelievable, but look at Woody Allen and Judd Apatow, they are both schlubby Jews who end up with hot women that they don’t deserve, so why can’t I. Actually, it is her singing voice, she just landed a role in the upcoming CW show, The Carrie Diaries, because she sang Carole Kings “I Feel The Earth Move.” I’m extremely proud of her. I assume within a year, she will have broken up with me for Bruce Willis.

BL: Was it really necessary for yNo daydreamerour character to wear a string bikini bottom in the daydream sequence in Episode 6 of the Bottom Rung? I’m serious. Couldn’t you have at least provided a warning at the start the episode?

Matt: We filmed that at the Santa Monica Pier and I think most of the homeless people wandering the beach were shouting for me to put my clothes back on. Honestly, I’m just comfortable with my body. I’m sorry that America has an unrealistic expectation for what a 33 year old former lawyer’s lower body should look like!

BL: Sheesh. Sorry! Seriously now. Has The Bottom Rung helped your filmmaking career?

Matt:  Yes. I learned a ton about how to actually make a show. Not just write something and not just shoot a sketch, but an actual show, with a crew and cast and craft services and a PA to yell at. I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and if anyone thought it could have been filmed better or funnier, I agree. Next time, I hope to do better. The budget constraints limited our movement and settings, but I think under the circumstances, we got a lot of bang for our buck and the actors were all awesome. I mean, we got Eddie Pepitone for god sakes, he’s a comedy LEGEND.

I would never have been able to jump right into producing a real TV show without this experience under my belt.

Editor’s Note: We don’t know what Matt is talking about when he references “budget constraints”. Bitter Lawyer was extremely generous in its funding of the webseries. Those old Bitter Lawyer t-shirts and coffee mugs I found in the trunk of my car that we gave Matt for producing The Bottom Rung are surely worth a fortune today.

BL: Are blogs like Bitter Lawyer the new distribution model for independent filmmakers – or at least part of that model?

Matt: I think they are one of the many distribution models, one that is probably outside of the Hollywood box, but if you are an independent filmmaker, you should look everywhere and anywhere that has an audience. Youtube has now paired up with hundreds of production companies that are begging for high quality content and are paying, not huge sums of money, but at least you can probably get your costs covered and get your stuff out there.If you’re sitting around with an idea, you have no excuse not to find a place for your web series, there’s just too many places to look.

BL: Were you ever worried that by having the show out there in cyberspace that you could probably never go back to law? I mean, Google – and therefore your potential employer – knows all.

Matt: Yes, I am a disgrace to the legal profession and between this series and my standup about what a terrible lawyer I was, I’m fairly certain that bridge is as blown as the one over the River Kwai. But I don’t want to go back and I think burning these bridges just motivate me more to succeed in what I really want anyway.

BL: So, anything going on this weekend?

Matt: Ha, good one. Yes, I will be attending a premiere party at the home of the Executive Producer, Sam Mettler (he created Intervention), he and I paired up to create this show. I’m really looking forward to watching Chained To My Ex with everyone who was involved in making it. Well, except for the couples, that would be weird.

BL: How did you land that – a TV series on MSNBC?! Details please.

Matt: Long story short, I came up with this idea 4 years ago after watching my parents live together post divorce because they couldn’t sell their house. It was nuts. I started researching and asking around and I found that it was becoming a rather huge phenomenon. I moved out to LA shortly thereafter and landed a comedy manager. I mentioned to her that I had this idea and we took a bunch of meetings. Sam immediately saw the potential in the idea, so we signed a deal called a shopping agreement. We then cast a few couples and shot a sizzle reel, which we used to pitch to the networks. MSNBC loved it and now here we are!

BL: Did you bring Jess Garvey or anyone else from the cast and crew of The Bottom Rung with you to Chained to My Ex?

Matt: No, this is a serious docu-series about divorce, but since everything I’ve done before is comedy, people assumed this would be too.

BL: On a scale of 1 to 10, one being “my life is total shit” and 10 being “holy crap, I’m living the dream!”, where do you rank what Chained to My Ex means for your career?

Matt: Very tough question. If I say 10, I am limiting this moment to the pinnacle of my existence, and if I say 1, I’m just a total a-hole. I’ll say a 5, if this is the halfway point, then I feel pretty good about myself. But truth be told, I will always feel like my life is total shit, that’s just part of being a
comedian.

BL: What happens after the premiere this weekend? I’m talking about the parties immediately afterward and then your next project.

Matt: Fingers crossed, people actually watch it and like it, we wait to find out if MSNBC orders a bunch more episodes. If that happens, I will then change my ranking from a 5 to a 7. I have a few other scripted and unscripted projects in the works. But in the meantime, I gear up for another few months of touring with my standup group, Comedians at Law. We are hitting Nashville and Atlanta in January and Philly, NY, Dallas and Houston in February. True story: I went to a really cool party last week and was leaving to watch Dowton Abbey with Jess as Lena Dunham was walking in. The only party I’ve been invited to all year and I missed all of the excitement so I could watch Mr. Carson order people around.

BL: The burning question: Did you have to sleep around to get where you are today? Chris Matthews? He’s a screamer, isn’t he?

Matt: I didn’t have to sleep around. I just chose to. And I didn’t choose that wisely. Except for Jess, that was the one good decision I’ve made in my entire sexual history. If I were going to choose an MSNBC anchor, I’d choose Maddow, she seems like she would have good bedside reading material . . . and another woman in the bed.


Check out what Matt is up to at his website and follow him on Twitter. Again, don’t miss his series premiere Chained To My Ex this Sunday December 23rd,
MSNBC, 9 ET/6 PT.

Bitter Staff is a collection of current and former editors, contributors, and various other lawyers who have written for Bitter Lawyer over the years. Posts include interviews, contests, and other general lawyerly and bitter content.

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