The Please Don’t Destroy Guys Are Living the Dream

Three years ago, Lorne Michaels surprised Martin Herlihy, Ben Marshall, and John Higgins at a comedy show—and offered them a job. A couple of dozen sketches later, they're rolling out a movie. How the fuck did that happen?
Published: 20 November 2023
Caro Scarimbolo/NBC//NBC Universal

About three years ago, the sketch group Please Don't Destroy—which consists of Martin Herlihy, Ben Marshall, and John Higgins—was backstage at a claustrophobic New York City comedy venue, ready to perform. Covid-19 precautions just lifted, and people were finally going outside to see comedy again. At some point, the trio learns some thrilling, if anxiety-rattling info: Lorne Michaels is in the crowd. Back then, the guys were just NYU comedy graduates and popular TikTok creators. Not only was Lorne Michaels in the audience, but he was about to see them open with a batshit idea they’d never even tried before.

“We had these three 70-year-old men walking out who kind of looked like us, and they were our future selves,” Ben Marshall tells me over Zoom, sitting in the same little room where they write and film their sketches. John Higgins adds, "The guy who played future Ben was maybe 91 years old." After the show, the Saturday Night Live! producer came backstage. “He was wearing an N-95 mask, and he spoke so quietly that I could barely hear him,” Marshall recalls. “You would just laugh after whatever he said because you weren’t sure if it was a joke. Then he said, ‘I’m sure we’ll be seeing you guys soon.’” Michaels then turned around and walked out of the room. “It was scary.”

Of course, "seeing you guys soon" meant "you're hired." Now, Please Don't Destroy is entering its third season working under Michaels, populating Saturday Night Live! with increasingly surreal sketches. But yeah—that night was pretty weird. “If you ask him about it, I’m sure that he wasn’t trying to be weird,” Higgins says. “He was just trying to be nice, like, ‘See you guys soon!’ But for us, it was such a big deal that we were like, ‘What do you mean?!’” The comedians are also releasing their debut film, Please Don’t Destroy: The Treasure of Foggy Mountain, exclusively on Peacock. With the SAG-AFTRA strike finally over, they’re thrilled to talk about it. “I feel like the article should just be called, ‘Download Peacock,’” Higgins jokes.

Below, Higgins, Marshall, and Herlihy open up about about making of Foggy Mountain, casting Conan O’Brien as Marshall's dad, and their earliest comedy shows (one of which may or may not have involved a cow costume).

Anne Marie Fox / Universal Pictures//NBC Universal

ESQUIRE: Has reaching a certain level of fame set in yet, or do you still leave the stage after talking to Seth Meyers and go, "Boys, this is insane?"

JOHN HIGGINS: It never gets more normal. We were just on Seth Meyers and we’re told, "Oh, Jimmy [Fallon] has an idea for you guys to rush the monologue. So, while we’re doing Seth Myers, in the back of my head I’m like, "We have to go back downstairs to go do Jimmy?!"

MARTIN HERLIHY: What kinda helps is that we’re working all the time. So, there’s very little time to feel insane.

Have you gained any wisdom since you were college freshmen?

HIGGINS: It would be really sad if we hadn’t.

BEN MARSHALL: When you start doing comedy, you have all these weird rules in your head where you decide you can or can’t do certain things because they’re not cool or smart, or funny. But as you become more comfortable with yourself over time, those things just fade away. Like, our first show was just 10-15 minutes of medieval music playing with John on stage in a cow costume and Martin milking him.

HERLIHY: We look back on some of the earlier shows and just think, What the hell were we thinking? We were like, That’s genius. Just make sure right off the top that they get a bad taste in their mouth.

I’ve heard a lot about this show: Please Don’t Destroy My Farm. It’s your origin story as a comedy trio. Martin plays a farmer, Ben is an angry businessman and John is a cow who doesn’t talk. I heard that John once asked you both if he could talk next time.

HIGGINS: Finally, somebody’s asking! I wouldn’t think that it was going to be awkward, but when they were like, ‘I don’t know, man,’ then it got awkward. I was like, "Fuck, what?"

HERLIHY: I barely knew John at the time, and I really liked the bit of John not talking. It was working, but it was so insane. I was like, "I feel like the best thing we got going for us is that John doesn’t talk."

MARSHALL: We all have very different memories of this event. I thought we were at John’s parents’ apartment, and we were also talking about whether or not we wanted to keep doing shows with the title of "Please Don’t Destroy My X," or just do sketches. So, we were talking around it, in my memory, like, "Well, it’s nice that it’s eventised in that way." I will say, we talk about those first shows all the time as if they’re the worst shit in the world, but I do think—for our first shows ever—they’re pretty funny.

How did it come to be that many of your SNL digital shorts see the host coming to your writing room to do a sketch with you?

MARSHALL: When we were brought on as writers, we were told that we might be doing videos, but after a bit, we thought that we just had to do it. Once they see that it works, maybe they would start letting us do it. Let’s just not tell anybody, get a couple of cameras, and just do a short thing. So, we made that "Hard Seltzer" video as our first.

HERLIHY: It was also production constraints. It was easy to just shoot in our office and we knew when people weren’t going to be here. But we had done so many apartment Tik-Toks that we weren’t going in blind. We knew what to do.

MARSHALL: It’s like a little sitcom we do. Every sitcom has a living room, and ours is the office. Sometimes it’ll even start here and then we’ll go somewhere crazy.

HIGGINS: Rami [Malek] was the first host to do it with us. We just pitch them an idea and if they say yes, we’re like "Great." But in the beginning, we didn’t know if anyone would do it. Rami doing it really set it all off.

Who surprised you the most out of the hosts you’ve worked with so far?

HIGGINS: It happens a lot with dramatic actors. So, whenever they’re even slightly funny it’s like, What the hell? Rami was super funny.

MARSHALL: Brendan Gleeson. Hilarious, amazing guy. Loved him so much. Bad Bunny was so funny.

"Our first show was just 10-15 minutes of John on stage in a cow costume and Martin milking him."

You guys make a lot of jokes about each other’s appearances. Are there ever any when you’ve thought, Guys, that one hurt a little bit?

MARSHALL: I remember one time when we were about to start pitching a joke where someone would be making fun of me, and then like 10 people chimed in all at once and I was like "OK, whoa! Maybe I’ll just write it myself."

HERLIHY: Usually, it’s not our mode of writing. When we know that we need something like that and someone else comes up with it instead of us, we’re like, Oh, thank God.

What was the hardest part about making your first film?

MARSHALL: Editing was probably the hardest. We’re so used to having total say in all our edits and being extremely involved. It was hard to relinquish a little control. We were working here in New York, and it was being edited in Los Angeles. We were still involved. It was just logistically pretty crazy. Also, improv was very difficult to edit. So much of the process is just endless piles of unusable improv. Just hours and days.

HERLIHY: So much of the funniest shit was like a minute and a half of improvising that wasn’t usable. Even if there was one killer thing, we would still have to cut it. We were just so obsessed with making every scene as funny as possible.

Did any bits of improv make it into the film?

MARSHALL: X Mayo is one of the funniest improvers I’ve ever seen in my life. So many of her jokes were pitched on set or just done in the moment. The songs in the tent—where John and Meg are earnestly singing at each other—were both improvised.

Conan O’Brien stars as Ben’s dad in the Please Don’t Destroy film.
Anne Marie Fox / Universal Pictures//Universal

When the Internet became obsessed with the nepo baby stuff, did you guys ever think, Look, no one even brings this up unless we’re on Jimmy Fallon? [Editor's note: Higgins's father is Steve Higgins, The Tonight Show's announcer, and Herlihy is the son of former SNL writer Tim Herlihy.]

HIGGINS: Yeah. it was weird but we understood it.

HERLIHY: We’re also three white guys who went to NYU, so we’re not out here pretending like we had the hardest time getting our foot in the door. But I think the work speaks for itself.

Was getting Conan O’Brien to play Ben’s father an inside joke just to get Ben a famous SNL dad as well?

HIGGINS: What’s really funny is that I didn’t think about that at all. It wasn’t until I was watching the movie that I thought, Oh yeah, in this one Ben has a dad who is famous.

MARSHALL: Yeah, it’s funny that it wasn’t a larger conversation.

HIGGINS: We were just like, "Who should play Ben’s red-haired father? Conan O’Brien."

MARSHALL: We also think it’s really funny when guys are obsessed with their dad. Just always vying for their approval. That’s where that came from. Not us, though. We all have great relationships with our dads. [Laughs.]

I feel like a lot of people don’t know that this is Conan’s first substantial role, playing a character in a film that isn’t himself.

MARSHALL: His character’s name is Farley, for some reason.

HIGGINS: I don’t think anyone in the movie even says it.

HERLIHY: I was just calling him “Sir,” which worked for both the character and how intimidated I was.

What would it take to become the fourth member of Please Don’t Destroy? Is there some sort of blood oath, or do I need to find a secret treasure?

HIGGINS: Just show up with two and a half million dollars and you’re good.

related posts