Danny McBride is setting his sights on religion — but not passing judgment.
His new HBO comedy The Righteous Gemstones tells the fictional story of a world-famous televangelist family with a secret history of deviance, greed, and corruption. Every member of the Gemstone clan sins in one way or another, while preaching absolute faith to the public and profiting from it greatly. So while it would be easy to assume that The Righteous Gemstones is McBride’s attempt to satirize the institution of religion, he promises that the series isn’t skewering anyone’s beliefs.
“The goal of it is not to be a takedown of anything,” McBride said at the summer edition of the Television Critics Assn. press tour Wednesday. “It’s setting a story in a world that I haven’t seen. When Hollywood decides to take on religion, I think they make the deadly mistake of lampooning people for their beliefs, which is not something I’m interested in doing. I would not go and pass judgement on other people. For us it’s about lampooning a hypocrite, lampooning somebody who presents themselves one way and is not that way.”
As the creator, executive producer, director, writer, and star of Gemstones, McBride is more interested in shining a light on anyone who doesn’t “practice what you preach.”
“I don’t think that’s something that is just relevant to the world of religion and televangelism,” he said. “I think that’s just relevant to the world we live in. We’re constantly being exposed to people who present themselves one way on social media but act another way in person.”
The comedian also revealed that he didn’t use any one megachurch or televangelist as inspiration for the Gemstone family. “It was, as a whole, how massive these operations are, they’re just ripe for satire,” McBride said.
The main reason reason McBride doesn’t want to make fun of religion is because it was such a big part of his life. “I grew up in a very religious household,” he said. “My mom did puppet ministry growing up, she ministered for children. I spent every Sunday, every Wednesday, every Saturday night at church. A lot of my family is still very involved in the church. My aunt is a minister in Atlanta.
“When I say we’re not taking aim at people’s faith, I’m being honest,” he added with a smile. “I’m not just saying it to try to shy away from controversy. I wanted to make something that my aunt as a minister could watch and find the humor in as well. Ultimately I’m not taking a swipe at her or what she believes in, I’m setting a story in a world she’s familiar with.”
And unlike his previous series Eastbound & Down and Vice Principals, McBride wanted to center a comedy on someone who has actually achieved all his dreams and reached a level of success his former characters could only imagine.
“The Gemstones have gotten exactly what they always wanted in life,” he said. “We wanted to show how corrosive and damaged you can still be getting everything they want. We’ve always wanted to kill more people on our shows too, so it was nice getting to evolve into that.”
The Righteous Gemstones also stars John Goodman, Adam Devine, Cassidy Freeman, and Edi Patterson and premieres Aug. 18 on HBO.