When you tune into Disney Channel’s latest hit “Bizaardvark” on Sundays at 8:30 p.m., you may think you’re watching a clever spin on the social media world starring Paige and Frankie, two comedians at Vuuugle (read: YouTube) headquarters. However, what you’re really doing is staring into the show’s creators’ souls.
Josh Lehrman and Kyle Stegina developed the pilot with Disney on their 20-week stint with Disney Storytellers, a program that develops up-and-coming writers. Disney Channel then ordered and shot the pilot, and tested the show.
From the testing, Disney pinpointed the great chemistry between the lead actors Madison Hu and Olivia Rodrigo who booked their roles as Frankie and Paige respectively. However, the major shift was taking it from a family show to a friends show, and setting it in the world of Vuuugle.
“We had these two girls who played comedy songs which really worked, but we just put them in a more exciting, more current setting which is Vuuugle, our version of YouTube,” said Stegina. “The world is really relevant right now.”
Paige and Frankie’s channel is called Bizaardvark—however, the two masterminds never thought it would actually become the name of the show.
“It came from me trying to combine words with any synonym of strange or bizarre or weird,” explained Lehrman. “The one thing that I love about the show that has remained consistent… is the theme of weirdness. It’s about embracing your weirdness. We wanted to create these two Disney girls you don’t really see on the network, who are a little more offbeat.”
When Disney evaluated the list of hundreds of possibilities for the show title and returned with Bizaardvark, both Lehrman and Stegina were blown away with the choice. In hindsight, however, it fit perfectly, describing the quirky characters and the endearingly odd tone of the show—not to mention, the souls of the creators.
“Because this is about two girls in a comedy team, Kyle and I know that very well,” said Lehrman. “We’ve worked together for years. We know what that is like. The episode [we filmed today] was entirely based off of Kyle and me. I’m the Frankie. I’m the one who’s always telling him don’t get excited, don’t get your expectations up, you’re going to get disappointed. A lot of this still comes from us.”
It’s almost meta with the two creators’ lives closely mirroring Paige and Frankie’s challenges in coming up with videos, or episodes, every week.
“We understand what it means to be an artistic partnership,” said Stegina. “A lot of that stuff goes in the episodes, [such as] the back-and-forth game in the pilot—that’s an old improv game. It’s fun to add those things into the show. It’s little snippets from our lives, and not just us—the creative community as a whole I’m sure can recognize a lot of the things that Paige and Frankie do.”
And it’s not only on the creative level that the creators deeply relate to their characters, but also on the social level. Paige and Frankie attend a stuffy prep school where they feel their creativity is stifled. They escape to Vuuugle, the birthplace of everything odd, where they feel perfectly at home. This experience is much like what Stegina and Lehrman have experienced in the past.
“There’s something about being a comedian where you don’t feel the same as everyone else,” reflected Stegina.
“Kyle and I don’t fit in,” added Lehrman with a smile. “The great thing about Vuuugle is that for these girls, even if you don’t fit in a particular part of your life, there’s a place for you somewhere. And that’s what Vuuugle is supposed to represent.”
In addition to comedians Paige and Frankie, “Bizaardvark” features daredevil Dirk (Viner Jake Paul) who hosts “Dare Me Bro!”, beauty guru Amelia (DeVore Ledridge) who hosts “Perfect Perfection with Amelia,” and wannabe agent Bernie (Ethan Wacker), “who every once in a while has his moment,” described Stegina. It’s a testament to social media that these five different characters are brought together, united in an artistic niche.
“Everyone is united by a certain type of creativity that is personal to them. That is the soul of YouTube and the soul of social media,” said Stegina. “People who are extraordinarily different come together on that bond of art in some way, to express themselves. It also humbles you because you’re never going to be more viral than a sneezing panda. Dog Licks Lemon is going to beat you and you have to deal with that.”Bizaardvark’s viral songs have already racked up views in the real world—”Comeback Song” has amassed over three million views, signifying that this latest Disney Channel venture is here to stay. And with upcoming guest stars such as Calum Worthy, Jiffpom, Meredith Foster, Logan Paul and more, Bizaardvark is sure to excite viewers—including the creators themselves.
“I’m always surprised by myself about who I’ll get starstruck over,” said Lehrman. “We had Grumpy Cat on the show, and Kyle and I took a picture where we were holding the cat. Admittedly the cat is worth millions of dollars, so I was shaking.”
Catch Bizaardvark on Disney Channel, Sundays at 8:30 p.m.