Ross and Carrie sit down with Paul and Oscar, two members of the Aetherius Society, for a long and insightful conversation about George King, rocks of attainment, and this podcast's investigation methods. Find out what happens when four people all want to talk at once!
Donate to support this investigation at http://maximumfun.org/donate
And don't forget to "like" us on facebook to see the pictures!
Interview by Chris Bowman, edited by Chris Berube.
Nat Luurtsema is a busy stand up comedian with a penchant for extra curricular activities. Well, activity. Writing. She’s written a book Cuckoo In The Nest in which she recounts a time not that long ago when, at the age of 28 she had to move back in with her parents. There area lot of deep breaths involved with your parents hanging over your shoulder while you make tea, or banning microwave use because you set a bowl of Weetabix alight. She loves her parents but as you can imagine, there was a period of adjustment.
She’s just written a feature length screenplay called Lex Has Body Issues and an award winning short called Island Queen (in which she also starred). The film, directed by Ben Mallaby, is about a woman named Mim who has never left the island she calls home. She decides to do something drastic. She gets pregnant. What follows is funny, horrifying and sweet. Luurtsema claims she’s unaware of the workload until she stops to think about it. Which is understandable because she doesn’t seem to have enough time to stop.
International Waters: Your book Cuckoo In The Nest is about having to move back home. When did you realize that was the only option?
Nat Luurtsema: It was about 11 days before we had to vacate our flat, and I had spent 6 weeks saying “in a film everything happens at the last minute, so it'll be fine”. It was a flawed plan and when we hit 7 days before homelessness my boyfriend and I both agreed we'd have to go back home to our parents and try to find a flat from there. Given we'd struggled to find anywhere while we were in London I couldn’t see how relocating to Watford and Bath was going to improve our chances.
IW: Being a funny person did you see the potential for humour in the situation right away?
NL: It did seem ridiculous and I found the whole situation funny at first. Then after a month reality started to bite, I was a nocturnal person living with two people who got up at 7am and I was lonely and bored and couldn't see the situation improving any time soon. So I started blogging to smear my misery all over the internet.
IW: The sweet, affordable therapy that is blogging! Often our parents will treat us like the children we once were (and admittedly sometimes can still be). How did you get past that?
NL: I didn't! I just struggled against it for 6 months in an ultimately futile protest. That's why I took to blogging, because it's the only place I could ever get the last word. That's why I write. It's the only aspect of my life over which I can exercise any sliver of control.
IW: You wrote the screenplay for Island Queen. The story does really well to strike a balance between funny and touching. How did you come up with the idea?
NL: Thank you! That's so kind of you - Island Queen was the first short I've ever written and it taught me so much. I've just completed my first feature-length screenplay - it's a comedy thriller called "Lex Has Body Issues" and I can't wait to get it filmed. The story of Island Queen is really grotty and based on a story I read that said some very under-populated places in Iceland were having to temporarily shut their sperm banks… and I will say so more as I realize anything I say next is a big fat spoiler.
IW: You've written for the stage, a book, and now both short and feature length films. How difficult is it to switch from one style of writing to the other?
NL: I love it, it’s like a holiday from stand-up, where you have to present your whole self to an audience and hope they like you. That’s my biggest problem, I’m not an easily-likeable comic, so I love film and books because it’s just my writing I’m presenting to people and I feel safe to be bolder and nastier with my comedy.
IW: "Not an easily-likeable"? Why do you say that? Any stand-up stories?
NL: I was a very awkward, shy act when I started, and I think this was me at my funniest. Then I did 3 years of gigging around the country and trying to be one of those charming friendly acts (the bastards) and now I've realized I'm funnier just being uncharming me ;> As I say in my act, other comics can hop on stage and remark on how they look like a particular celebrity, I don't. I look like your ex's mate from work that you never warmed to. The laugh this gets makes me happy and sad.
IW: How would you describe your style of comedy?
NL: Argh. Gah. The hardest of all questions! I don’t know, I’ve never pinned it down - Really, I’ve written about 10 words here and deleted them - it just changes depending on what mood I’m in - the jokes are the same but I can be sweet or scathing or filthy or prim. Now that reads like a 'business card' in a Soho phone box! I’m sorry, I’m not trying to be difficult but I lack any objectivity and no one has ever kindly summed me up. That’s what I want for Christmas.
IW: Is stand-up something you still enjoy then?
NL: I love stand-up, it's the 'Thing' I always dreamed of doing and it's my main job. But it's funny how I get opportunities to do other things thanks to people liking my stand-up - things like writing, acting, voiceovers, and they are so much easier than stand-up. They're not easy, they're different challenges but stand-up is insane, it's like a constant fight with a prickly hedge. You're endlessly pulling your own personality apart to find and dissect your funniest bits, always working on new bits, and even the bits that always work can stop working without any warning and then you have to try to discover why. So "enjoy" is probably not quite the right word! But I'd be lost without it. Though if a boyfriend ever treated me this badly my mum would stage an intervention and an assassination.
IW: Loving something that doesn't love you back and pulling your personality apart sounds terrifying. It also sounds like something more people should do from time to time.
NL: Yes, it's like an emotional workout - it breaks your muscles to have them grow back stronger. Or leave you emotionally broken. I find I can enjoy it more when I have other things on which to prop my flimsy shriveled self-esteem. That’s where Jigsaw and my book and my films come in handy and make my stand-up much better. It’s like having a career harem.
IW: Chris Hardwick (@nerdist) has something he calls his confidence theory. Basically, he says that confidence comes from having options. In a strange way having a few projects on the go takes the pressure off.
NL: I agree completely! I get all my confidence from knowing when I step on stage that this gig cannot make or break me. I suppose I do a lot of things, it never seems so until I summarise it - but I write in a very focused, rapid way, my feature film reached a third draft within a fortnight, and I wrote a 70,000 word book in 5 months. If I enjoy writing something it comes together very quickly, which makes me want to abandon anything that happens more slowly, but I have to be disciplined as stand-up is so much slower to create, much more trial and error and fiddling with every single word. I also don't sleep very much, that might be the key to it. 1-4am are the most productive hours for me, then I sleep until 8am and that's enough for me.
IW: Those are some magical hours, the epiphany hours. What piece of advice have you been given that’s stuck?
NL: I think the most useful philosophy I've ever heard came from Sarah Millican, who said (and I'm sorry Sarah, I couldn't find the exact quote!) that you have 12 hours after a bad gig to brood about it, and then stop. And the same goes for gloating over a good gig. This is very useful if you often have to travel miles back from your gigs, you can do all your sulking/gloating in the privacy of your own car and emerge into decent society as a non-self-obsessed dickweed.
Interview conducted by Chris Bowman
Matthew Crosby is an all-around lovely guy. He’s one-third of the award-winning sketch group Pappy's. Their Edinburgh Fringe shows have achieved critical success over the years in the UK. They’ve got two podcasts: Pappy’s Bangers & Mash, which is based on conversation and riffing; and Pappy’s Flat Share Slamdown, which is a panel show. The group is currently wrapping up production on a new BBC 3 show called Badults coming out sometime in July. Crosby also performs as a solo stand-up act.
International Waters: Pappy's is a well-established comedy act here in the UK, but you also work as a solo comedian. Which came first: the desire to perform as part of a group or as a stand-up?
Matthew Crosby: I think the desire to be a comedian came first and performing alongside other people seemed like a good step towards making that happen. Most of my biggest comedic influences when I was growing up weren't straight stand up or straight sketch: Vic & Bob, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, Monty Python, Spike Milligan. So, when I started performing comedy, it was always as part of a gang show with other people. Partly because that was the sort of comedy I enjoyed the most; partly because I was too scared to do it on my own.
IW: Two things I'm glad you mentioned, fear and Vic & Bob. I guess that's three. Let's talk about fear for a minute. It's a great motivator as they say, but it also prevents people from taking the first step or the next step.
MC: And I certainly experienced that when I first started. Although, if you'd asked me at the time, I wouldn't have put it down to fear. I'd probably have said that the open mic circuit just wasn't ready for my type of comedy. Which wouldn't have been true: the open mic circuit is always ready for people who aren't that good at comedy but think they're spearheading a comedy revolution.
IW: I’m not naive enough to think that I am going to revolutionize anything, and certainly not comedy. I'm just generally afraid. Vic & Bob, Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, and Monty Python. What was it about that off-kilter comedy that drew you in?
MC: I think when I was younger I was quite into "stuff my friends don't know about". Now I'm a lot more evangelical when I find things I like. But old TV shows, stuff that was on late-night channel 4, obscure indie bands; that was exactly the sort of stuff that fueled my feeling of superiority over my peers.
IW: It's nice to get past the "it's mine" feeling to the "have you seen this?" phase of your life, isn't it? I want to go back to fear for a minute. Pappy's has become an Edinburgh Fringe favourite and well received around the UK in general. There has to be a certain confidence that comes with critical acclaim. How much attention do you pay to that sort of thing?
MC: Well, we did our own PR this year (which is becoming increasingly and depressingly rare in Edinburgh) so we had to read our reviews. But as for how much attention we pay to them? They're undoubtedly useful for selling a show; but they are no indicator of how good a show is. If an audience is laughing and clearly enjoying themselves, you don't have to wait for tomorrow's papers to see if the show was good or not.
IW: What was the last thing that frightened you professionally?
MC: I suppose the scary thing with success is that you feel compelled to better yourself next time around. That's scary. But what we've been lucky enough to be able to do is constantly change medium. In 2010, we felt like we'd done all we could with Pappy's live shows, so we took a break and started podcasting. That introduced us to a whole new audience, gave us a new enthusiasm for working together, and helped us clearly define our dynamic. It also gave us a chance to miss doing live stuff so when we came to write the 2012 show, we were really excited about getting back to it. Then we had our television show commissioned, which was a whole new challenge; but at least it didn't feel like, "well, we've done a good live show; we have to immediately do another one..."
IW: The new BBC TV show is tentatively called Secret Dude Society. What are some of the challenges you faced in making the show?
MC: The first challenge was coming up with a new name for it. The pilot script has been around for a few years but when we came to write the next five episodes, we decided that the title didn't quite fit. So now it's called Badults.
I guess the biggest challenge comes from handing over responsibility to other people. In our live shows we write and perform everything ourselves; we make all our own props and costumes. In TV, you have to trust other people to help you realize your vision. Luckily, we had a superb team who all seemed to understand what we were aiming for.
Actually, the thing we had on our side, that perhaps a conventional stand-up might not have, was that, because there's three of us, we are already used to collaboration and compromise. If you're used to the total autonomy of stand-up, I imagine the step towards authoring your own TV show could be much harder.
IW: On the subject of compromise, how do you decide on when to fight for (or insist on) an idea and when to give in?
MC: If you completely believe in something, there's usually a rational way of explaining why you think it's a good idea. We're all pointing in the same direction- we want to make a brilliant show. Obviously, if it's for a live show, there's the "let's put it onstage and see who's right" test. If it's for the television show, we just have to go on instinct. If any of us really dislike an idea, then what we try and do is present an alternative. It's easier to deal with someone saying, "Instead of that, how about this?" rather than "I hate your idea but I have nothing of my own to bring to the table."
IW: Of course. That makes perfect sense. Basically just be a rational, decent person when dealing with people you respect. If you had to give a "best of” Pappy's sketches or bits to the uninitiated what would they be?
MC: And people you don't respect. Why not just be a rational, decent person? That's my revolutionary philosophy and the central tenet of my newly formed cult. Donations welcome via my PayPal page.
As for "best of" sketches for Pappy's, there's something a bit "bleurgh" about hearing sketches described; but, here goes: we do a version of the Wizard of Oz where we... No I can't do it. It'll sound embarrassing. Come and see us live. Or watch Badults when it comes on TV (probably July on BBC 3 in the UK).
IW: Say something funny.
MC: I thought of this joke today so I've got no idea of whether or not it's funny but here goes: my family are so middle class that when I was sick they gave me tiramiSudafed.
Matthew Crosby can be found on twitter at @matthewcrosby
This interview was conducted and written by Chris Bowman.
The U.K. team for this month’s episode of International Waters is composed of Helen Zaltzman and Michael Smiley. Helen Zaltzman hosts an award-winning podcast with Olly Mann called Answer Me This! It’s a funny and insightful show that is definitely worth your time. She is also a writer and maker of things which are available for your perusal at helenzatlzman.com. Michael Smiley is a stand up comedian and award-winning actor. Some may recognize him as Tyres O’Flaherty from the geek-friendly sitcom Spaced. His role as Gal in the Ben Wheatley film Kill List garnered him the award for Best Supporting Actor from the 2011 British Independent Film Awards and should not be missed. It’s twisted and graphic, but man, is it good. The common thread here is that they are both lovely people. Not to mention funny.
International Waters: Helen, you’re a writer and podcaster, what comes more naturally to you: writing or talking?
Helen Zaltzman: Well, talking takes much less time, so I’d say that.
IW: How often do you hear back about the advice you give to listeners who write in?
HZ: Oh, they’re quite vocal. Some of them are quite grateful, I think others are a little bit hurt. But we’ve probably saved many lives in our podcasting career.
IW: Do you have a particularly memorable bit of feedback?
HZ: We had this 17-year-old guy who wrote to us a few years ago and said, “I’m thinking of having an affair with my 43 year old neighbor who’s my mum’s friend. She sent me some sexy texts so I know she’s up for it”. We said, “She’s your neighbor and she’s married as well. Don’t shit where you eat, basically. And she’s your mum’s friend so they might talk about your sexual performance. Very traumatizing.” He wrote back and said, “Actually I did decide not to do it because she sent me some photos of herself undressed and I decided I didn’t fancy her and also her husband is really frightening.”
IW: Oh God.
Corey Stoll is one of those actors that you’ve seen but might not recognize. He’s been in a handful of cop shows, most recently he played Detective Thomas "TJ" Jaruszalski on Law and Order: Los Angeles until that show was cancelled. He was in an episode of The Unusuals, which was a great show in my opinion, but it too was eventually pulled. Lately, he’s gained accolades for his turn as Ernest Hemingway in Woody Allen’s fantasy Midnight in Paris starring Owen Wilson. It’s a truly fantastic tale where larger-than-life characters from the Lost Generation of Paris in the 1920s (Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Picasso, Gertrude Stein) are visited by Wilson’s character who gets lost one night while walking through Paris…you guessed it, at midnight.
Chris Bowman: What were your thoughts on Ernest Hemingway as a person before playing him in the film?
“Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadvanture” is a documentary about audio verite: the art of capturing and reproducing audio from day-to-day life without commentary. It centers around two young men, Mitch Deprey and Eddie Lee Sausage, who live in a cheap, run-down apartment in San Francisco in the late 1980s. Their neighbors, Peter Haskett and Raymond Huffman, are two old drunken men who belt out profane yet oddly comical arguments nightly. Mitch and Eddie record these arguments and begin sharing the resulting audio with friends. Although the circumstances around the arguments are disturbing and even mildly frightening, the material is also weirdly compelling and sometimes amusing as Raymond and Peter exhibit a unique and intricate style of verbal abuse. Over several years, the tapes are circulated via underground networks throughout the country and become a viral phenomenon that inspires songs, plays, comic books and essays by artists and writers as varied as Kevin Peaty, Daniel Clowes and Devo.
The film explores how the tapes spread so widely and the impact of the material’s popularity on the lives of both the recorders and the recorded. It also examines the thorny legal, artistic and moral issues around developing commercially successful projects from material that the artist found and recorded, but did not create.
It was directed by Australian filmmaker Matthew Bate who kindly answered a few of my questions about the film.
Follow this link to read our discussion.
Nathan Rabin has been the head writer of The Onion's AV Club for over ten years, his first book The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture delves into the unusual upbringing that helped create the pop-culture savant that we know and love today: in a way that's both hilarious and heartbreaking.
Jesse Armstrong is one of the co-creators and writers of the BAFTA-winning BBC sitcom Peep Show. (A BAFTA is like a British Emmy.) Now entering its sixth series, with a US version in development at Spike TV, Peep Show is a funny, but cringe-inducing, depiction of the lives of two twenty-something flat mates, played by past TSOYA guest David Mitchell and comedy partner Robert Webb (above). Its first season recently became available in the US on Hulu. No less an authority on UK comedy than Ricky Gervais called it "The only British thing that I was really blown away by in the last few years."
Armstrong has also written for other acclaimed television series, including the sketch series That Mitchell & Web Look and the political satire The Thick of It.
MaxFun Contributor Matthew Phelan spoke with Armstrong from the UK.
Matthew Phelan: You've said that you and co-creator, Sam Bain, and the show's stars [David] Mitchell and [Robert] Webb, met in something called a "writing team experiment" within the BBC …
Jesse Armstrong: Yeah. [laughs] It was fascinating because there is a definite mystique around American writing techniques in the UK--the long runs, the more successful audience figures. We have a problem getting mainstream comedies to work and people often think that it may be something to do with [not using] the team system. I think there are interesting things about having teams of people on a show, but I definitely don't think it's a magic bullet.
So, this was a really ill-thought-through plan to create a British, team-writing situation. The people behind it thought that, to do a team show, you got six people (in this case who didn't know each other) in the room with a producer and a one-line idea--which was, "What if there was house that was squatted and these people all lived together." We wrote the script between the six of us. Each taking, one sixth of the script and we came up with this horrible, kind-of "Frankenstein's monster" as anyone would imagine. Anyone with any knowledge of the US system knows that you still have a show creator who writes the pilot, sets the tone.
So, that was disastrous, but we went into it not knowing David [Mitchell] and Robert [Webb] and came out knowing them quite well, as we sniggered behind our hands and went, "Oh, god. This is terrible what we're doing, isn't it?"
Click "Read More" for more with Peep Show Co-Creator Jesse Armstrong, including audio of the full interview.
Charles Spearin is a member of Do Make Say Think and Broken Social Scene, whose first solo project was released in February under the moniker The Happiness Project. To construct the album, Spearin interviewed his Toronto neighbors on the subject of happiness, then built melodies around fragments of their speech. Spearin recently spoke with Chris Bowman about community, life, and the likelihood that your neighbors are as amazing as his.
You could say this project was inspired by silence. Can you explain how The Happiness Project began?
Well there are a few different origins to the project that kind of came together nicely into one neat package. My father’s a Buddhist, and I was raised with Buddhism in my house and in my early twenties I started doing meditation retreats. In the practice of meditation there’s a lot of emphasis on reflection and awareness of your breath and that kind of thing. And in coming back home you really start to notice a lot of things you wouldn’t normally notice. And one of the things, in this case, would be the melody of speech. When people talk they’re so concerned with getting the meaning across that they don’t pay attention to the sound of their voice, unless they’re a radio announcer or something.
The main theme of the record is happiness, but you’re also making a statement about community. What made you turn to your neighbors?
Well, my neighbors are right there. That was one of the convenient things about the neighborhood. You know, I have two little kids now, and when you have kids the neighborhood becomes very significant. You live in it, it’s your home, it’s their world and I started to appreciate just how fortunate we are to have this community. It’s very mixed, it’s very healthy, and everybody looks out for each other. It’s downtown but it’s still safe. In a way I wanted to do a musical sketch of the community. So combining the thoughts of doing music on speech with the idea of doing a musical sketch of the neighborhood was putting two and two together and bringing my neighbors over to talk about happiness and life and listen to their voice for musical cadence.
Were you aware of how inspiring they were ahead of time?
Well, no. They’re just ordinary people. I think when you bring people into your home and give them a comfortable place and give them a chance to open up and be even a little bit philosophical a lot of people have a lot of wise things to say. It’s amazing, you never know what your neighbors are going to say, you never know who they are unless you encourage this kind of communication. Which really kind of amazed me. At first I was just using them to some degree as guinea pigs to just get the melody of their voice. But they kept saying the most wonderful things. So I shifted the focus a little bit.
It’s a shame you had to use such small snippets. I’m sure the rest of the interviews were peppered with other wise words.
Yeah, there were some great moments. Mrs. Morris had a great talk about her grandmother living to be 126 years old in Jamaica. She’s got lots of great stories.
At a recent live performance you mentioned (jokingly) that you had decided to become an expert on happiness and that you were reading Stumbling On Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. Do you think at some base level there is a universal formula for happiness?
Certainly in Buddhism there’s a universal formula for suffering. That’s, basically, thinking about yourself. Become self absorbed and you’ll become miserable. So the natural opposite of that is to think about others and you’ll be happy. Or let go of your idea of self then you’re more likely to find happiness. That’s part of The Happiness Project as well. If you’re listening to the world, you’re less likely to be self-absorbed.
You admitted to being unfair to one of your subjects, Marissa, by asking this question. So I’m going to play the role of you and ask, what quality do you think is the most important quality in life?
That’s a hard question. That’s a bastard question actually. I can’t believe she got through it. (After a long deliberating pause) I can’t believe she answered it so quickly! It doesn’t take much to feel lucky, you know? Maybe that’s the important quality I’m looking for. Appreciation. Being able to appreciate the life that you have without struggling to find something else.
The Happiness Project is available now on Arts & Crafts. You can hear the beautiful music Spearin created here.
If you haven't already heard of the funnyordie series Drunk History, now you have. Now please go tell your friends. Series creator Derek Waters (he's the Derek in Bob Odenkirk's Derek and Simon web series) spoke with Chris Bowman and explains how alcohol + academics = comedy.
CHRIS BOWMAN: One of the great things about the Drunk History series are the lessons that can be learned. What are some important lessons as an actor/writer you have learned while filming this series?
DEREK WATERS: The most I've learned making Drunk History is working on timing. The whole way it works is all in the timing. In the narration and the re-enactment. Also I've learned in the bigger picture that telling people about this idea was very hard. It has taught me that if you find something funny, you should DO it and not worry what others think. Just make it.
CB: Not everyone who drinks to excess throws up, and yet it seems you have a knack for finding the ones that do. Eric Falconer in episode 2 is an absolute champ. How do you select the storytellers for Drunk History?
DW: Everyone we have filmed does puke. This isn't anything I do to him or her. It just happens. Eric Falconer is the winner though. We only show it once. I don't find puking funny...but Eric's puke was beautiful. All the people that are storytellers, I've known for a while. I know they are smart... and drink. Then I ask certain people, what their most passionate time of history is, and what they feel more people should know about. All the stories they tell, they really love and are excited to tell. Works better that way, rather than some idiot making stuff up.
CB: There are some very funny people involved in this series. I can't imagine it feels much like work when you all get together. What is a typical shoot day like?
DW: Man...I don't know. I'm working with people I look up to, in front of the camera and behind. Everyone is there for fun, and wants to be there. With no money, it means you are doing it just ‘cause you love it. Very few things you get to work on are ones that everyone around you wants to be there. I only want to work on stuff like that. That's my dream.
CB: It's not everyday an actor is asked to mime along or lip sync to a drunk retelling of history. How do they initially respond to the challenge?
DW: It's hard. Jack Black said he had never done anything like this. We have the narrator voice on a computer playing as we shoot. It takes awhile, but it's very fun. The actor has to talk like the narrator, and act like the character they are playing. It's a lot to do.
CB: I think this series needs to be shown in classrooms (although, I see the problem with that). It's a great example of the fun you can have with history after actually learning it. I guess it could apply to most subjects. Why did you go with history?
DW: Thanks! I was going to do a different subject, which I'm going to do soon. But I think you have to start at history. Most people don't take drunk people seriously unless they too, are drunk. And most of the time drunk people don't talk about anything important. So I thought it would be great for them to talk about stuff that actually does matter, and on a subject we all know. And if we don't know it, we might remember some of it from school.
CB: Given that DH is a labor of love, do you only work on it when you have time, or do you have some sort of schedule?
DW: I wish I could make them every day. It’s hard because I want to do it all the time, but I also don't want it to ever get old to me. When Jeremy Konner and I go to the narrators houses it takes a lot out of us too. Watching someone drink a lot and get sick isn't always fun.
CB: When can we expect the next episode? Who do you have lined up to appear?
DW: I would love to tell you but that is a surprise! Please don't hate me for that answer. It's the most amazing thing to me how many people want to be in these little videos. That's been the biggest surprise to me.
CB: Anything you'd like to add for The Sound Of Young America listeners/readers?
DW: Please watch Drunk History and send it to your friends if you like it. You will see it on TV hopefully in July. I wish I could say more but people make me keep my mouth shut.